The media landscape has been transformed and fragmented by the power of digital, mobile and social technology. It seems increasingly difficult to work out a plan to get traction for brands. Now, anyone can tell a story through their own channels and the democratisation of information via the internet means the balance of power has shifted into the hands of the consumer. All this has required a radical re-evaluation of the approach we have had to set up as an agency.
In my opinion Rob Malcolm, a legendary P&G stalwart, articulated it best recently when he phrased this rapid transition to be like shifting from a game of ten pin bowling to one of pinball. Without adaptation to this new game, our job as marketers and agencies will become redundant and we will disempower ourselves to deliver on businesses’ objectives.
As Malcolm notes, when marketing was bowling, we had control. The game was to hit as many objectives with one bowl as possible. The metrics for success were clear: awareness and reach, tarps and impressions. Now, we’re facing a world of ‘up in the air’ pinball where the outcomes are less clear, harder to control and constantly shifting.
To further this, he suggests—and we as an agency believe—that our role in this ‘pinball’ world is more about keeping the ball in play than trying to knock down pins with force when it's your turn. Yes, we are still there to deliver business solutions through consumer insight and creativity. However, the approach of successfully doing so is infinitely more challenging in a world where getting attention is no longer okay, and consumers are gravitating toward brands that show more human values over those that just shout and sell.
We are there to spark, shape and lead conversations, provide ideas that allow for longevity (if not infinite) consumer interaction. We aim to create loyalty that makes people confident in what they’re standing for. The humanised brand is here to stay, and the best brands have recognised this, adapting their whole business, not just their short term communications strategy.
The following three areas help give some food for thought and an opportunity for marketers to stay ahead of the game in a world that is moving faster than ever.
1) Nail your strategy, then be ‘always on’
With the enchanting and sound-bite friendly pursuit of clicks, views and likes, we can get lost in superficial metrics that don’t deliver anything to the business. The best brands have evolved from campaign and burst approach to developing sustainable 'participation ideas' with meticulously planned and dynamically executed managed engagement plans.
Because of the amount of content required in today’s environment it is more important than ever to nail down and articulate the brand’s values and strategy among the senior leadership team. All the technology and platforms springing up that require content will seem like distractions unless you can tie everything back to the business goals, with strong consumer insights and the brand values at its core. The tighter this is, the more you can involve the consumer in your brand. If it’s loose, you won’t know where you are going and any road will take you there.
Telling the same story over all of these touch points by threading your digital, mobile and social goals back to business outcomes is absolutely essential. Burberry have nailed this with their move to becoming a social organisation. With digital and social being their channels of choice, a strong vision and brand identity will allow them to take their brand into the future.
2) Beyond viral: why service is the new social model
To create something that will go viral normally requires high production. It is also relatively high risk and normally has a short lifespan. When this approach comes off it has dramatic effect for conversation, but because of its trending nature, the lifespan is often so short it is hard to show its attribution toward conversion. This is fine when you are a challenger brand like Air New Zealand in the global marketplace, and they have used this to great effect in recent times. But the best way of reducing the risk and getting your brand shared and forming a more permanent place in your customers' lives is by designing something once that provides a sense of utility.
This requires really diving into your customer’s lives, as this insight is key in getting to a place where you can deliver something exceptional and useful. This gives consumers the opportunity to use the technology in a way that facilitates a much deeper connection between you and your customers than an ad ever will. What’s more, they can share their experiences with friends everyday. That’s a far more effective way to use digital and social budget. Storytelling that’s not a flash in the pan viral, but something than grows and evolves with input from your users. And no one has done this better than Nike with their Nike+ Running application (and now into Fuelband, Kinetic and beyond).
As Ajaz Ahmed, AKQA founder, and Stefan Olendar, head of digital from Nike, explain in their book Velocity, almost all customer touchpoints are going digital, so every brand needs to think about becoming a software company. With Nike + they have moved from a product to service model, where like Apple and iTunes the purchase of the product is only the beginning of the transaction, not the end. By driving ongoing interaction and engagement they can drive loyalty and advocacy, and every time someone runs, they are building a stronger connection with Nike through the application, which is something so much more than shoes.
3) 'Designing gaps for participation'
Forbes now states that co-creation is the most accepted form of innovation. And with sites like Kickstarter and Crowdspring disrupting the way we fund and deliver innovation, we need to take advantage of this trend and embrace it by identifying gaps for consumer participation in places where agencies and marketers traditionally saw as being off limits, such as product design or content creation.
For consumers who have helped co-create a brand, whether that is designing or contributing to products in the NPD cycle or creating content in a social way, they will feel intrinsically linked to the brand and, by feeling ownership, will form an inherent loyalty.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fu20GZ_6rIWith Stories Beat Stuff for Tourism New Zealand, we moved from targeting 18-30 year old backpackers with retail banners and search to a social engagement campaign that inspired them to think about what a trip to New Zealand would be worth to them. By creating relevant content rather than ads to spark the conversation and then asking for young people to be part of the initiative, we moved the communications dial from a push mentality of ‘come to New Zealand', to one where young people from all of the world were telling all of their friends why they want to come here.
Over the next year, we then brought six groups of influential youth to New Zealand and captured this content. So now when searching for information on New Zealand, instead of seeing generic information, global youth see young people like them having the time of their life.