In today’s head-spinning flat transmedia world, consumers can Friend, Like, Link, chat, review, tweet, download, play, ping, poke, yak, Yelp and otherwise connect with brands and each other any way they choose. And somewhere along the way (marketers hope) people find time to buy.
As we hear ad nauseum, the citizen is in control. Well, perhaps not so much not so much in control, as they are immersed in a digital downpour splintered across hundreds of different channels, drenched in a media bombardment that demands constant oversight. (Watch this. No, this! Did you read my tweet? You have to see this!!) In a media environment that seems to be refreshed every six weeks, changes abound. Angry Birds has been replaced by (or supplemented with) WordsWithFriends. Kony2012 became contagious within hours (what, you mean haven’t seen it!??). Smartphones make awareness, decision-making and purchase intent simultaneous right in the store aisle.
One need only remember that while movies were invented in the 1890s, it took until 1927 for “The Jazz Singer” to link film and sound (and another dozen years for color), to get a parallel sense of what our journey may be like moving forward through the datacloud.
The need for expertly integrated marketing is greater than ever, as marketers challenge themselves with creating a social imprint. When the social citizen is open and available 24/7/365 you’re either there, or you risk falling short of today’s expectations of what it means to be a brand in our all antennae-up bitstreaming world.
Push media is still needed to create brand awareness and purchase intent—but media agencies are finding it harder to achieve reach from one program (or even one platform) alone. Pull media like advertising is still critical to tell your brand story the way you want it told. Becoming a portal through owned media is also not a standalone solution.
So all the tubes must be open to provide push and pull and portal. Media drives social, and social drives media.
“This is just where the business is headed,” reports Claudia Cahill chief content officer of Content Collective, part of Omnicom’s OMD Group. The business unit is about custom media and content deals.
“There is tremendous opportunity and learning trying to figure out what makes sense for brands,” says Cahill. “We have moved from a one-way conversation to a two-way dialogue. It’s an amorphous, complicated space right now,” she admits. “Because there are so many ways to think about it.”
It doesn’t take Aristotle to understand that dialogue offers the opportunity to persuade. And the way in, is content. Done smartly, brand communications are no longer an interruption. Instead, your brand becomes the content.
“Smart companies understand today that good content—with an editorially-driven mindset, can be effective for driving positive customer engagements,” says Steve Rubel, executive vice president of global strategy and insights at Edelman Public Relations.
“The opportunity today is a media cloverleaf that spans tablets, cell phones, computers and televisions,” reports Rubel, and planning your narrative across different media channels is key. According to Edelman global research, 63% of people need to hear things three to five times across different media channels before it sinks in and overcomes skepticism. (In Singapore, that figure is higher at 70%—it’s even higher in Japan, at 82%.)
“You have to think about how a story unfolds with enough repetition to stick into people’s minds,” says Rubel. “Content is a key way to do that and both brands and agencies are now putting money behind it.”
The line between hard content and straight entertainment is softening. Communications (a.k.a advertising) used to be laden with hardboiled features and benefits, humor used to be acceptable only for unserious products like chips, beer, pizza, and (somehow) FedEx spots. But rarely elsewhere.
“Today there’s a blurring line between entertainment and news. Conservative companies need to understand that,” says Rubel.
If our transmedia world demands that we be present in all media 24/7/365, it goes without saying that you cannot submit your socialized consumers to a stentorian drone of product/service features and benefits. The mashup of consumer touchpoints across the media cloverleaf and beyond (including out of home media, traditional print, packaging, brand experiences, and more) dictates that you hit and low together, but in different media.
What holds it all together is a carefully thought out strategy for your narrative. “You need to have a larger brand narrative than just about what you’re trying to sell,” counsels Rubel. “You must have a higher order thing to talk about.”
How do you find your narrative? Remember that your brand is really a community of people who share your brand values. They believe what you believe. And because they believe, advocates share a communal sense of belonging. Your brand becomes a source of content for that community (and for potential zealots wanting to join your community).
“It’s the consumer’s choice how and when to seek out a brand,” says Joel Rubinson, former head of research at the Advertising Research Foundation and president of Rubinson Partners, Inc. “They do so only if you stand for values and lifestyle choices that transcend your [product’s] molecules. Starbucks isn’t just coffee, it’s the third place. Whole Foods isn’t just a grocery store, it is the supply point for a wellness lifestyle. Brand as portal is the heart of contemporary marketing. If they lose this, they lose everything.”
Marketers need to connect to values that transcend functional aspects (better, faster, cheaper, more powerful) and connect to the popular zeitgeist. This doesn’t mean rushing to the latest/greatest social media tweak. Your real social imprint creates a high order strategic link between corporate values (and the products or services you have to offer) and socialized consumer desires.
Quick examples. Beinggirl.com from Tampax answers the overarching challenges of a girl becoming a woman. Weightwatchers is a community of strength to help manage weight and its forum helps peers guide one another through this shared challenge. Threadless serves up crowd-generated designer streetwear with a heavy backdrop of social values.
The emotive touchpoints for these very different ideals are delivered through retail experiences, social media, websites, as well as blogs, tweets, and other output from their advocates’ mediastream. The community of people who agree, admire and share those values turn to the brand portal for ideas, positive reinforcement and to connect with others who share their attitudes and beliefs.
Your brand becomes a portal that generates content that helps celebrate your ideal, and becomes a destination. Those who share your values and belong to your brand community also buy products along the way.
And as Tampax and Weightwatchers suggest, you don’t have to be a 21st century start-up company to participate.
Kraftrecipes.com is a longstanding concept that has moved successfully to social media. Their eponymous site enjoys over 12 million visits per month, and they report over 800,000 fans on Facebook (Kraft individual brands mentioned in recipes also have tens of millions of fans on their respective Facebook pages). The Kraftrecipes.com strategy has been to maintain platforms and marketing channels they know drive engagement through content.
“We’ve been creating amazing content for the last 15 years,” says Jennifer Feeley, associate director of consumer relationship marketing at Kraft. “It has always been deeply important for us to provide consumers with food solutions they feel good about. What is changing are the technologies—the platforms, the greater connectivity and consumer empowerment.”
Recipes inherently include Kraft brand names so they become a form of advertorial—which has always been about content first, advertising second. Back in the stamp and postcard era, women (mostly) sent their family recipes to Kraft. “Consumer recipes used to go into a file,” laments Feeley. “Now they can share their voice and give recommendations. We curate that over earned and borrowed channels, and provide a consistent consumer experience.” The key in content marketing is to understand what consumers truly want, what their needs are, and deliver it in the time and place of their choice.
“We use data a lot better these days,” asserts Feeley. “To understand consumer needs, what their behaviors are, how to deliver great content and connective media. Having the data drive the technology enables us to deliver better content and communications. I would also say that our capabilities have deepened in order to prove out ROI on what we do,” she adds.
To that end, Kraft uses Neilsen, Google data, Cannondale shopper data, as well as their own deep consumer database to understand what people are clicking, where they engage in a time-spent perspective, meshed with learning derived from other platforms (e.g. Kraft sponsored magazines, traditional advertising stats, and other sources).
“We capitalize on the borrowed platforms that others are creating, interface with popular bloggers, and make sure that our content through all borrowed and earned marketing channels have that ongoing consumer and marketing relationship,” says Feeley.
The content has been re-framed and socialized in the minds of consumers so that it is more than a recipe share-out—it is a celebration point for members of the Kraft community. If the website was just a catalog of Kraft products, it would not attract over 12 million visits per month.
“[Media] has evolved from being advertising that pushes awareness of your brand,” adds Feeley. “Or pulling consumers into the store for promotions and point of purchase and tasting events. We try to deliver the right message at the right time in the right way. You really need all three to be compelling and differentiated.”
“Our clients see things now from a much more holistic perspective,” adds OMD’s Cahill. “It’s not media alone, it’s very strategy driven. It’s creative thinking that then drives the [media] transaction—today it’s ideation first, transaction second.”
Cahill points to their expansive Pepsi X-Factor project, which served up a 360-degree communications chart that drove everything from real-time red carpet glam-cam, to Times Square events, Facebook, a Super Bowl spot (and more). But at the heart of it was Pepsi’s mission to recreate and entrench their position as pop star. Along the way, everything they did (in some way) answered the question, What can Pepsi do to enhance the audience experience? Creating messages that actually entertain—beyond simple product placement, is new to most marketers. And despite Pepsi’s incredible success, weaving media across channels can be a challenge.
“You might spend a lot of money on an effort and it may not pay out,” warns Edelman’s Steve Rubel. “You want an Avatar, not an Ishtar.”
Every brand’s opportunity today is not only to win the purchase moment, but to widen and deepen the relationship with millions of social citizens across time and circumstance. This means mastering not only your brand’s narrative strategy, but levers of push, pull, and portal when (and if) the brand is clever enough to do so. Our new transmedia channels allow you to steer the dialogue toward your differentiated reason for being, why your company started, your brand icons, the rites of use for your product or service —and the opportunity to weave in new consumer benefits, include new promotions, line extensions, brand experiences and other efforts.
Learning your 3Ps and turning brand into content may one of the most exciting opportunities leaning toward the 21st century.