Addictive video games. Device proliferation. A “golden age” of streaming series by Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. A new global middle class seduced by international travel and “retail entertainment.” 24/7 available of pornography algorithmically targeted to every predilection.
How can brands possibly compete in this technologically-fueled era of consumer choice?
Marketers must acknowledge that brands don’t only compete with other brands. They compete with life. Brands need to become relentlessly relevant by connecting with human passions.
This is easier said than done. It requires a steadfast commitment to a framework that alignstimeless truths of “traditional” marketing with short-term transactional and engagement opportunities unleashed digital technology. There are four inter-connected elements:
· Identification of a powerful consumer insight;
· Articulation of a compelling brand purpose fueled by the insight;
· Deployment of “worthy content,” creative expressions of the brand purpose that connects people with their passions;
· Design of an “experience plan” that maximizes intimacy with creative content.
The Consumer Insight: From Passion to Profit
Despite the advances of artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT), the magic of insight is eternal.
We are obsessed with data. We fear forfeiting incremental sales generated by programmatic message delivery. But the best brands touch hearts.
Insights answer the question, “Why?” They are fundamental motivations for behavior and preference.
The most compelling insights spring from competing desires, or conflicts of the heart – between love and money, standing out or fitting in, future financial security and indulgence today. Tensions can spring from cultural truths (what differentiates us) or human truths (what unifies us). But if a brand can resolve a tension, its importance will be greater. And manufacturers can charge a higher price.
Nike, a quintessentially American brand, enables people to buck against the conventions of society without becoming outcasts. Basketball courts morph into altars of individualism. In Asia, Procter & Gamble’s SKII allows women to adhere to conventional standards of beauty while celebrating individual uniqueness. In China, DeBeers diamonds resolves the tension between the passion of romance and the pragmatism of material commitment.
The Brand Purpose: From Unity, Strength
In the midst of stormy seas wrought by the digital revolution, every brand needs a North Star.
That is the brand purpose, a long-term relationship between consumer and brand that underpins all subsequent engagement with that brand. Like a marriage, it deepens over time because it is inherently bilateral, a “value exchange” rooted in enduring appeal.
It articulates a brand’s calling and how it contributes to consumers’ lives and the world at large.
Seduced by the allure short-term sales, few brands have a genuine purpose. What’s Uber’s, Verizon’s, Amazon’s, Tata’s, Tencent’s or China Mobile’s?
The most basic benefit of a well-crafted brand purpose is consistency, the first step in breaking through the distractions of daily life. As the number of media platforms burgeon, a clear brand purpose forges order from chaos -- across the digital-analog divide; between traditional media and digital engagement platforms; and between long-term equity-building and short-term promotions – by focusing marketing efforts.
The spirit of Lego’s brand purpose, “inspiring the builders of tomorrow” is infused in everything from online “inspiration portals” to Legoland parks and retail “building centers” to history’s most successful product placement, the Lego Movies.
Red Bull’s brand purpose, “uplifting mind and body,” permeates all activities, none of which include traditional advertising. Red Bull Stratos orchestrated Felix Baumgartner’s sky dive from space. “The World of Red Bull” gives wings to talents in fields like sports and music. Red Bull Media House is a multi-platform company that focuses on sports, culture, and lifestyles that breathe Red Bull’s spirit.
Importantly, the brand purpose is a shield against commoditization. Purpose weakens the pull of price-driven transactionalism. Digital platforms have the potential to lower margins through discounts or elevate brands through meaningful engagement. Unfortunately, ecommerce is the enemy of premiums. It promotes deals, rarely incorporating purpose into the sell. (The social media landscape has become degraded as well. “Pay-to-Play” describes everything from awareness generation on Instagram to endorsements by online opinion leaders.)
Worthy Content: From Passive Exposure to Active Engagement
Creative ideas are the currency of connection between consumers and brands. The brand purpose lives through ideas which: a) provide on- and offline platforms that transform passive exposure into active participation and b) connect consumers with their passions to form communities of like-minded loyalists.
On a purely executional level, we know ideas that are impactful, original and relevant get noticed. But let’s take advantage of the Internet’s free-wheeling nature. Toyota “went native” with Buzzfeed by seamlessly integrating its “car for grow ups” into content featuring what young adults should “just say no to.” In Germany, retailer Media Markt transformed live-streamed rabbit race into a sweepstakes. Procter & Gamble’s Pampers zeroed in on a pain point – kids not sleeping through the night – by airing ZZZ.FM.
Again, in an attention-starved world, content doesn’t compete with other content. It competes with life. So content must be authentic and non-commercial. It must be “worthy” enough for people to spend time with it.
There are four principles of worthy content.
Inspired by Brand Purpose. First, and most obviously, content must be born of the brand purpose. In a helter-skelter universe of buzzy stimulation, consistency is divine. (No one likes to be confused.) Dove soap’s content always dramatizes “real beauty.” From Twitter feeds that say no to hateful tweets on Oscar night to journalistic investigation into cyber bullying, Dove’s content speaks with one voice. Until Coca-Cola shifted its brand purpose to the lamentably bland “letting the world taste the refreshment,” its content made “creating moments of happiness” – small gestures that unite humanity – more immediate and resonant.
A Gift. Second, content must be a gift, not an offer. What’s a good gift? When the receiver feels, “You know me.” Great gifts are solution to life – on individual, group or for-a-better-world levels. American Express’ “Small Business Saturdays” killed two birds with one stone by helping local stores sell more goods and strengthening community bonds. Rolex, a brand the celebrates human achievement, produces episodic content that educates high-end consumers on art, yachting and classical music. Canon Australia’s “EOS Photochains” platform transformed photography from a solitary experience to a shared passion. In emerging markets, Lifebuoy, a germ-kill soap, offers hope for a brighter future. It uses online content – and offline roadshows -- to “help underprivileged children reach five” by “saving lives through hand washing.”
Given big data and AI, marketers have the opportunity to personalize – or even hyper-personalize at the individual level – content based on an intimate understanding of desire. Imagine athletic shoes designed “only for you.” Or a curated fall wardrobe based on insight into an individual’s personal style. But beyond loyalty clubs and Netflix suggestions, intimacy born of data remains an alluring mirage. This is due to corporate structural barriers, data Balkanization and technology that’s not ready for prime time. But, ten years from now, possibilities will be boundless. Marketers should begin laying the groundwork now.
Behavioral Change. Third, content must lift people off the couch, spurring action. Content must change behavior – noticing more, learning more, buying more and advocating more. Microsoft doesn’t publish articles on its technological breakthroughs; it invites tech enthusiasts to virtually tour laboratories. L’Oreal doesn’t present lipstick color charts. Its “magic mirror” displays different personalized looks at cosmetics counters. Procter & Gamble’s Always doesn’t focus on absorbency. The brand created a movement, a community that turned the phrase “like a girl” into a rallying cry of empowerment. In India, P&G’s Ariel detergent launched a crusade for husbands to “share the load.” In China, Xiaomi mobile phones unleashed the passions of an online “fans” to update its operating systems.
Technology enables immediacy. We live in a Tinder world of instant gratification. Popular Chinese singing competitions are streamed live. Viewers buy their favorite celebrity’s outfits parallel websites. And geo-targeting offers discounts where and when folks want them. But, in 2018, we still don’t have a strong enough command of data to make offers relevant – that is, aligned with brand purpose – to desired audiences. However, that day could be around the corner.
User-centricity. We must move from an era of “we tell you” to “you tell us.” But engagement needs to be both authentic and constructed. Marketers must forge a paradigm that allows freedom within a framework, pulling off the trick of simultaneously permitting consumers to participate with brands while empowering marketers to manage the message and dialog. The “Why It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign, built upon a pre-designed creative template that travelers could personalize, resulted in more than 50 million user-generated Google images within three months. Each reinforced Tourism Philippines’ brand purpose of “letting the world experience the happiest place and people on Earth.”
Experience Planning: From Broadcast to Intimacy
We must rededicate ourselves to impactful engagement across touchpoints. Consumers should interact with brand when and where it matters. (A cliché low-tech example: working woman care most about how their hair looks as they step out of office elevators.) This will require a rebalancing of power between media buying and planning, between programmatic optimization and creative use of media.
Redeployment of holding company assets is crucial. Media and PR empires must be disaggregated. Media planning and buying are different animals. Media planners belong back in the advertising agencies, as do programming and syndication specialists, because they determine how and when consumers interact with ideas. Media buyers, including hi-tech programmatic buyers ("performance marketers"), focus on efficiency and cost.
A similar divided Red Sea of talent exists in PR companies. The vast majority of revenue is still generated through traditional churn-and-burn media mentions. Higher-order peer-to-peer community builders remains on the fringes. These latter conceptualizers must move closer to organizations dedicated to brand elevation.
In an attention-starved digital era, brands and creative ideas compete with everything life has to offer. Marketers, media specialists and agencies must align timeless communications imperatives with the transactional efficiency enabled by technology. This requires a disciplined approach to building high-valuation brands: a) identifying a penetrating consumer insight, b) articulating a brand purpose that addresses the insight, c) generating “worthy” content as expressions of the brand purpose and d) designing an “experience plan” that maximizes intimacy with creative content.