Not Every Occasion is an Occasion to Advertise

Throughout the course of a year, there are plenty of opportunities for brands to link with current events or noteworthy commemorations, through messaging on social platforms. Anything from Mother’s Day, to the Golden Globe Awards, to mocking this year’s frigid winter can be considered fair game. In fact, no doubt one of the biggest events for brands to participate in is coming up on February 2nd – Super Bowl XLVIII. Eyes will be on you too, Oreo.

Inherently, most attempts by brands to connect with an event are advertisements. With proper thought and planning, most notably a smart creative team, such endeavours can work beautifully.

However, marketers and agencies need to realize that certain events or commemorations are so poignant, so important in our history, that they are best left untouched by brands. Or, at the very least, handled in a much different and more dignified manner than they are (for the most part) today.

The latest example occurred earlier this week, with the Martin Luther King Day holiday in the United States. Martin Luther King Junior was one of the most important figures in the history of the country, providing hope and leadership in the advancement of African-American civil rights – in the most dignified manner possible.

Yet what happened this past Monday? Many brands posted MLK Day-related content on their social accounts, with a number of brands tying in promotional messages.

Say what?

I’d like to think that most marketers and agencies have good intentions, but I must admit at times I have my doubts. MLK Day, the anniversary of 9/11, natural disasters and conflicts that we now bare closer witness to through social media – it’s becoming all too common for brands to fumble their way through posting content in relation to them.

In most cases, there is nothing to be gained for a brand in linking to such noteworthy events. In fact, brands place themselves at risk of (justifiable) backlash for their insensitivities.

I repeat: inherently, most attempts by brands to connect with an event are advertisements

Now, that being said, there is another approach worth considering. In fact, it’s actually quite a simple one.

Do something that matters.

Companies could make a donation to a charity that is somehow related to the event or commemoration, or better yet, encourage employees to volunteer in the community. Yes, contributing to a charity can be communicated through social media, but that’s not the point.

Not every occasion is an occasion to advertise.

Embracing Discomfort

oreoSometimes, I wonder if brands need to become better adept at embracing a certain level of discomfort.

What do I mean by that?

In my view, brands that are bold and openly portray their core values tend to build a greater sense of affinity amongst customers. People gain an understanding of what the brand, and company, stand for – and as a result, to a certain extent at least, potentially view the brand in a more positive light.

At the same time, in making a brand’s values known, no doubt there will be people – including current customers – who don’t share the same values and become turned off as a result. They may, in fact, be so vehemently opposed to a brand’s values that they stop being a customer.

And that’s where embracing discomfort fits in.

As a brand steward, are you prepared to risk alienating some people from your brand by conveying what your brand truly stands for?

Or, a related question, are you prepared to take a stand in sharing your values, potentially drawing a stronger connection and sense of loyalty from those who can relate to your values?

Over the last couple of years, a number of brands have come out in support of lesbian and gay rights. Starbucks, Oreo, and Gap to name a few. While it is sad, very sad in my opinion, that open support for LGBT rights is such a polarizing topic – these brands both embraced and made their values very clear, amidst backlash and boycott threats from a (thankfully) very small minority of the population. To these brands, I say bravo.

From a different lens another great example is Patagonia, truly a values-led business. Over the last couple of years, Patagonia has executed holiday advertising campaigns encouraging people NOT to buy their products. Yes, you read that correctly.

Why? Each jacket Patagonia produced leaves behind two-thirds it’s weight in waste, which contradicts Patagonia’s brand promise of investing in the environment.

There is no doubt that Patagonia embraced discomfort in moving forward with these bold campaigns. However in doing so, they reinforced their values, likely building and strengthening trust amongst customers.

What does your brand stand for? Are you prepared to embrace discomfort?

The Long Run: Thoughts on Effective Social Media Execution and Marathons

IMG_1917As I write this, I am just under one month away from the Chicago Marathon. It will be my second marathon, having completed the Vancouver Marathon in 2007. It’s also a bucket list item for me – one that I am looking forward to putting a checkmark beside!

In thinking about how I approach marathon training, I have come to realize that there are a number of parallels with respect to developing a social media strategy. No, I am not thinking about social media while I run, at least usually as sounds from Songza occupy my head! But I thought I would share a quick comparison here.

Proper Planning is Required

Unless you are a uber-athlete, you don’t just wake up in the morning and decide that you’re going to run a marathon today. Well, you could, but that certainly isn’t advised! At the same time, a brand shouldn’t just execute social media in an ad hoc manner.

Experienced marathon runners will tell you that a planned and disciplined approach is a necessity in preparing for the big race. Ideally, runners set up a training calendar months in advance, encompassing regular runs and workouts leading up to the race – geared towards the objective of completing the race by a specific time.

Brands need to approach social media with similar rigour, first establishing goals and then developing a plan focused on achieving the goals. An ideal framework includes an overview of strategies and supporting tactics, along with a detailed calendar.

Perseverance and Dedication

Most days, I absolutely cannot wait to go for a run. The mere thought of running is enough to energize me. However, I will admit, I do have mornings in which my bed feels a bit too comfortable, and an extra kick is required to get my feet onto the trails or pavement. When these mornings happen, I again think about my end goal of running the marathon, and I find a way – knowing that hard work in the short-term will lead to long-term gains.

Similarly, social media also requires perseverance and dedication. It takes time and resources for brands to develop the right infrastructure for their social activities, and even more time and resources to develop content and cultivate healthy communities of ardent fans and followers. At times it may seem overwhelming as community engagement builds, and brands need to respond to and engage with more and more people. But remember, each awesome experience you provide for individual people through social represents another step towards nurturing longterm brand affinity.

It Takes a Community

Yes, in many respects, preparing for a marathon is a solo pursuit. However, maintaining a focus through the long hours of training is a lot easier when you have a community of family and friends supporting you. It really can be a team effort, leading right up to the cheering as you cross the finish line.

For brands, having an active presence on social media is one thing. Developing a community of ardent fans and supporters, people who will actually advocate for the brand, is quite another. There are many ways through which brands can create community advocacy on social media – common to them all is a genuine, personable approach. One that makes brands likeable.

Tracking and Measurement

In training for a marathon, I benefit immensely by tracking my runs – including measures such as distance and pace. Doing so enables me to monitor my progress, with the end goal of completing the race within a specific timeframe in mind. If my pace doesn’t match what I need to achieve in training to attain my desired goal, then I either need to ramp up my training or recalibrate my race expectations.

At the same time, it’s critical for brands to track social media progress and activity, with end goals always in mind. For example, if a target has been established such as attaining 60% share of voice by year end, and the brand is currently only tracking at 40%, then the plan should be reviewed and perhaps adjusted. Investing in measurement and analysis goes a long way towards ensuring desired outcomes are achieved.

Long-Term Focus

A marathon is 42.195 kilometres. That’s a long distance! Don’t even consider running it as a sprint, or you’ll soon be out of energy.

Similarly, social media should be a long-term investment.

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Image courtesy of Benjamin Lipsman.

Brandtainment

Brands that invest in creating content that entertains and delights are poised to stand out, through genuine fan engagement and sharing of the content. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Create a video, or a picture, or a blog post that in some way makes people glad they spent the time watching the video, viewing the picture, or reading the blog post, and they’re more apt to like what you created, comment on it, and perhaps even share it with their friends.

My question is very straightforward. Why are so many brands still creating boring content?

Here are a couple of examples of the kinds of videos brands should be producing more of. NBC Sports will be airing English Premier League games this year, and they created a very funny promotional video – “An American Football Coach in London”. The video could easel be a Saturday Night Live sketch, and in fact it stars SNL alumni Jason Sudeikis. One week after launching, the video has generated over 3.5 million views. Golden!

At Intuit, we were brainstorming triggers that would entice people to file their taxes using TurboTax in advance of the April 30th tax deadline. With a week left to go, I saw an ad on CBC mentioning that the NHL playoffs were starting on April 30th. Bingo! With the Maple Leafs returning to the play-offs for the first time in nine years, and the Canucks and Habs also participating, we found our trigger. Within 72 hours we assembled a team, authored a script and produced a video using iPhones – “The Great Canadian Face-off: Taxes vs. Playoffs”. No, we didn’t have SNL talent, but we did poke fun at the situation and managed to garner over 12,000 views.

(Guess who’s wearing the Canucks jersey!)

Brands don’t need to invest a lot of money to create an awesome video. However innovative thinking and creativity are definite musts. I foresee a lot more brands going this route in the future.

Building a Customer-Centric Company: Lessons from Coca-Cola Content 2020

Marketing was much simpler when information flowed in one direction, from company to customer. However, with the rapid proliferation of touch points over the past decade or so, and the ability for customers to generate and share their own content about brands, the nature of the game has truly changed – forever.

While most companies realize and understand this, the extreme rapid pace of change has left many somewhat bewildered and slow to adapt in shifting from a product or company-focussed organization to one that truly is customer-centric.

Last year, Coca-Cola produced a visionary and informative video communicating their vision for marketing and communications over the next decade. I recently learned about and watched the video, and I wanted to share my key takeaways – I have done so below.

First, here is the video. Trust me, it is well worth spending twenty minutes of your time to watch.

Key takeaways Coca-Cola’s Content 2020:

1. Content Marketing is Going to Become Critically Important

 

People are drowning in a vast ocean of information and content. Most of it, when viewed from the perspective of a particular individual, is completely and utterly irrelevant. However brands that are able to create interesting and meaningful content – in the mindset of customers, that is – will be better positioned to set themselves apart. In developing a compelling brand story, companies most focus on fitting into the unique individual narratives of a customer’s everyday life, and in someway creating real and genuine value. Marketing “fluff” just won’t cut it.

2. Company Structures and Processes Need to Evolve

The environment has changed, and company structures that were well-suited for the mass marketing era have become antiquated. In particular, companies need to become more open and willing to partner with different contributors in an effort to collaboratively achieve objectives. Essentially, companies need to consider new ways of doing things – such as, for example, inviting input from customers through crowdsourcing or perhaps partnering with a technology company to reach customers in a new and innovative way.

3. Companies Must Adapt to an On-Demand Culture

 

Digital technology and social media has truly facilitated the development of an on-demand culture. While marketing and communications campaigns, finite in nature, will still play an important role – companies need to focus more on being present when customers want them to be present. Engagement opportunities now exist 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, across multiple touch points.

4. Think Big, But Keep Business Objectives in Mind

The rapid pace of change necessitates that companies become more innovative in how they engage with customers. An innovative corporate culture requires big thinking – ideas that push boundaries, perhaps getting companies out of their comfort zone. However, in developing innovative approaches, companies must not lose sight of their business objectives. Connecting the dots might not be easy, and the path might not always be clear, but companies must consider how “idea X” will help the company achieve “objective Y”.

5. Learn to Operate in Perpetual Beta

 

Test, learn, measure and refine. Companies like Google continually test and refine products – often not even dropping the “beta” label once a product has been launched.  Big, creative thinking and innovative content requires testing, and the reality is not everything will work. But companies that focus on identifying successes through measurement, and refining those successes based on insights gained, will be well-poised to create relevant content for customers that truly has meaning and provides value.

What are your thoughts?

Create Hype for Your Brand – Engage Cultural Curators

One of the more interesting events I attended during Social Media Week Toronto was an interactive discussion, “Cultural Curators – Creating and Controlling Hype in the Digital Age”, led by Daniel Berkal, Director of Knowledge and Insights at The Palmerston Group.

Berkal provided insights on how things, such as brands, events, people or news items, become popular in a digitized, connected world that is ridiculously abundant in media sources and information – all competing for attention. He encouraged the audience to think about what garners their attention, and more specifically who communicates or delivers relevant information to them.

It is an open playing field, with people often gathering their information from the same sources. Social media enthusiasts look to websites such as Mashable, ReadWriteWeb and TechCrunch. News junkies might turn to CNN or The Globe and Mail. Fans of celebrity gossip rely on the likes of TMZ and Lainey Gossip.

There are certain people, however, who wield more influence than others on just what becomes popular and gains attention in the online world – Cultural Curators.

According to Berkel, Cultural Curators have a number of common traits. Most notably, they tend to be spontaneous, open-minded, uncensored, truthful, accessible, confident and, perhaps not surprisingly, opinionated. Their voices, for the most part, are louder than others, enabling their influence to spread.

Content is king, and Cultural Curators are most definitely concerned about the quality of content they produce. However, it’s also important for curators to be connected with the right people, and have knowledge of the role each person in their network plays. They need to know their audience, and provide information that is timely, relevant and authentic.

They also, quite notably, engage with their audience – and provide them with information that is leading edge, ahead of the masses, to keep them engaged.

Using the above as a guideline, over time Cultural Curators become recognized and build clout, expanding their influence and their following. Now, the trick is for companies and brands to attract, engage and build relationships with the right curators for their target customers.

Communications Providers and Customer Service

It never ceases to amaze me how often communications providers rely on promises of “better network coverage”, “faster Internet access”, or “better pricing” to differentiate themselves from competitors and lure consumers. Such advertising, in my opinion, does very little to make their brands truly stand out in the consumer mindset. Other than perhaps offering exclusivity for a particular product, such as an iPhone, it seems that you could insert any brand in any campaign.

How can a communications company stand out and be remarkable? How about innovating around customer service? Wouldn’t it be amazing if your cellular provider contacted you mid-contract, to advise you of a better and more cost-effective cell phone plan based on your usage? Would that perhaps build your loyalty to the brand, and reduce the chance of you switching when your contract expires?

Communications companies could also benefit from establishing themselves on social media, to open themselves up to customers and engage with them. Yes, they can and will receive criticisms from customers that can be viewed by anyone. However, putting a human face on a cold, corporate brand has a tremendous upside. As an example, read about Comcast Cares.

What are your thoughts?  How should communications providers innovate, so they can stand out from the competition?

The Need for Innovation at Retail

I feel that innovative marketing at retail, specifically grocery stores, is currently lacking. Studies have shown that shopper marketing, done properly, can be a very effective driver of brand awareness and product purchase – more than mass and digital media. A recent trip to a Vancouver, BC grocery store revealed both good and bad examples of shopper marketing.

The good: When purchasing deli meats, a Hellman’s mayonnaise coupon was placed on the package. Right beside the deli was a well-placed, visible rack of Hellman’s mayonnaise.  Two complementary products, and a coupon presented in a unique manner  – well done. I had never seen that before, it caught my attention; a “purple cow” in Seth Godin lingo.

The bad: The same grocery store, for the last year, has been playing a short promotional video for a particular brand of meats near the frozen sausages section. I shop there every week, and I don’t think I ever recall anyone stopping to watch the video. It is not engaging, there is no incentive to watch. Who really cares, and who has the time? What a waste.

How can brands be more innovative at retail? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Add value by promoting quick, easy to access digital recipes on packaging.  A simple link to a website, or perhaps Facebook group, will suffice. Enable consumers to easily share the recipes with their friends, perhaps using the Facebook “like” feature.
  2. Consider a cause-related incentive to purchase. People care about brands that truly strive to make a difference, through genuine relationships and partnerships with charities. TOMS donates a new pair of shoes to a child in need, for each pair purchased. How about donating a portion of proceeds for each sale to a relevant charity?
  3. Ensure that your packaging is innovative.  Employ functionality wherever possible, making it easy to store. Also make sure that your design truly stands out, without adding to the messaging clutter found in grocery stores.


Robbie’s Home on Howe – Experiential Marketing and Social Media

Experiential marketing enables customers to engage and interact with brands, products and services, allowing for personal experiences that aid purchasing decisions. Max Lenderman, Director of OuterActive at agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, mentioned in his best-selling book “Brand New World” that experiential marketing is often used in India, a country in which few families own TVs, and that it is poised to become more prominent on a global basis over the coming years. I agree.

Recently, at an event hosted by the BC Chapter of the American Marketing Association, furniture retailer Urban Barn, in conjunction with ad agency and design firm Spring Advertising, PR firm Elevator Communications, and retail consultancy DIG360 presented details of an innovative experiential marketing and social media initiative.

Faced with the prospect of a significant drop in sales at their Howe St location during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, due to street closures and excessive Olympic crowds, they transformed their retail store into an interactive experience. The store became a fully functioning home, inhabited 24/7, by Robbie, the store manager. People had an opportunity to walk through and experience “Robbie’s Home on Howe”, while also enjoying Olympic events on several TVs that were set up.

To support the initiative, a microsite was created, and advertising was placed on the store front as well as inside. Awareness was in part generated via social media, notably via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. At the end of each day, Robbie recorded a video diary.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w42iKtNXwE]

The initiative was also promoted at Urban Barn’s 38 stores across Canada.

Urban Barn did not set a specific sales objective to measure ROI. I believe doing so would have been quite difficult, particularly given the unique nature and circumstance. However, qualitatively speaking, it does seem that “Robbie’s Home on Howe” was an effective brand building exercise. Urban Barn tracked over 2000 people going through on a daily basis, and even had to hire a bouncer to control crowds. The store became a destination.

“We set out to attach Urban Barn’s name to something memorable and unexpected and without a doubt this was achieved,” states Brianna Doolittle, Senior Marketing Coordinator at Urban Barn. “Over the course of 17 days we were able to touch thousands of people with an experience that will stick with them, and we feel confident that next time they need some furniture or accessories for their home they will think of Urban Barn.”

Urban Barn’s effort also received significant PR coverage, both locally and nationally through mainstream press, as well as through social media.

I believe we are truly at new frontier in marketing and advertising, and it is great to see companies like Urban Barn that are willing to take a risk and experiment. Urban Barn has remained active with the connections created with customers through social media, and they are currently working with their partner agencies on follow-up strategies.

I look forward to seeing what they do next!

Imagine if …

Men were not portrayed as being naive in TV commercials, as they are in so many (sorry, Fountain Tire).

Cheap advertising gimmicks and jingles, and cheesy copy altogether, became relics of an advertising era gone by.

Volume was not raised for commercials, because they’re all compelling and relevant enough to gain our attention anyways.

People stopped fussing about “logo size” in print ads, realizing that logos don’t always need to be increased by 10%.

Celebrities were chosen to endorse brands on the basis of who they are and what they stand for, and not just their star power alone.

More companies introduced campaigns that, as part of driving business, also focussed on giving back to the greater good. Way to go, Pepsi Refresh Project.

Companies like Zappos, Starbucks and Lululemon, building brands and communities that engage, using methods once deemed “non-traditional”, were the norm rather than the exception.