AND THEN SHE SAID "CONTENT MARKETING"
Whether you're reading a compelling article, watching an interesting video, or listening to a thought-provoking podcast, what's the first thing that you do when you're done? You tell someone. Since the inception of media, an appreciation of content, no matter the style, has resulted in sharing, whether through face-to-face conversation, written communication, or more commonly in our modern era, through social media.
THE POWER OF WORD OF MOUTH
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
THE INFLUENCE OF CONTENT
Whose word are you more likely to believe: a trusted friend or a random article you found on a blog? When an opinion is available from a known individual, whether a friend or family member, trusted professional expert, or workplace associate, consumers are more likely to listen. Social media is an exceptionally powerful tool, especially when it comes to word of mouth marketing. In Neilsen's study, 81% of users admitted to being influenced by social media posts from their friends and family, while 78% are influenced by vendor posts. Sharable content is a great asset, but so is content that hits home with your readers. By highlighting the facets of your business that set you apart, your customers, clients, and fans are much more likely to spread the word about what makes you special. Content's prominence in the modern marketing landscape is no secret. People are much more likely to become engaged with a creative story, promotion, or educated piece of writing than they are with a standard banner ad. Consumers want to hear opinions from trusted resources, both good and bad, making it vital that the content you're creating is worth talking about.
The way a brand expresses itself through its advertising is a very public stake in the ground. It’s how they want to be perceived. But in reality, it’s also what the customer experiences that determines what they believe.
So what is the responsibility of the advertising, let alone the agencies that produce the brand’s work? Far be it for me to assume the ins and outs of any company’s internal staff motivation and training practices, but there’s no doubt that a brand’s public face via its advertising influences the way the staff feel about the company they work for. And beyond how they feel, it has the potential to significantly influence the way they behave.
Simon Sinek’s well-known TED Talk, ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’, espouses that the difference between good companies and great ones is being crystal clear about why they exist. Beyond the obvious of ‘what’ and ’how’ is understanding the deeper motivation that gets staff excited, contributing, and deeply engaged in what the company is trying to do beyond purely selling stuff. It’s their sense of purpose that defines and differentiates them. It’s their True North by which to judge strategy, ideas and actions, whether they be in the people they hire, the products and services they deliver, or how they deliver them.
We know that great advertising that is strongly linked to a brand’s purpose is going to be far more effective in the long run. Mitre 10’s ‘DIY Is In Our DNA’ platform has undoubtedly influenced staff pride and purpose in what they do. They don’t just sell home improvement products, they share the same urge as their fellow Kiwis to build and renovate stuff. And they do it in the down-to-Earth, no-nonsense style of the brand. As my client told me ten years ago when I started working on the brand: “New Zealand’s not bloody Auckland.”
Pak ’n Save’s Stickman has become a bit of a public favourite. But behind the irreverence is a brand promise: “Everything we do, we do to save you money.” Do the staff feel cheap working at New Zealand’s lowest food prices supermarket? Not at all. They feel a sense of pride that they’re giving Kiwi customers money back in their pockets, and doing it with a cheeky smile.
As part of Noel Leeming’s recent rebrand, the ‘Maximise Your Machine’ campaign celebrated the sales staff as people passionate about the joy of an electrical appliance and what it can do. Now a customer service promise is always at the mercy of the experience on the day, but getting what you need is as critical as what you pay for it—and in such a tightmargin category, the advertising is a public beacon for motivating the staff to deliver enthusiastic, empathetic and informed service. And Noels did its rebrand well; the advertising combined with an intense commitment to staff training, store upgrades and a greater focus on added services has delivered a healthy year-onyear business performance.
This month we launched a new network campaign for Vodafone. The response from the public has been glowing. The effect on the staff has been palpable. Being a service company with 2.5 million customers means it’s a tough job to keep everyone happy. So staff, particularly in the frontline, need to be fortified by the brand they represent to help them remain resilient in demanding circumstances. The brand believes in the power of staying connected and the campaign works at emotional and functional levels to keep the entire organisation focused on this purpose.
So do advertising agencies still deserve a seat at the table to help companies define their purpose? Or have we become simply a supplier executing a proposition we can’t help influence? If any agency falls in the latter category, they need to find a way to convince their client they have the skills and desire to play in this space. They need a hard-wired relationship with the exec and HR team, not just the marketing team. They have to demonstrate how their ideas can transform the organisation from the outside in—not just making the staff feel good, but motivating them to put skin in the game.
Since brands wised up to the power of digital and social it has been very en vogue to talk about consumers ‘wanting to have relationships with brands’ or wanting to ‘engage in conversations’. The way this is framed is in the language of enthusiasm, but does this remotely resemble the real world?
The result of so many brands being told that they have to be in the social space is seemingly that all of a sudden, any piece of marketing communication has been labelled as ‘content’. In fact, the focus for some brands to churn out the content has seemingly replaced the very real need for brands to develop a genuine and insightful creative editorial strategy.
This current trend is succinctly summarised by Steve Parker, strategy partner at M&C Saatchi: “Content has become the answer to a question that no one is asking.” With the explosion of digital platforms that has taken place in recent times, too many brands are guilty of ‘binge-creating’ content. In short, they are so caught up in the task of filling an ever-growing array of channels that no one is stopping to ask the pertinent question of whether they should.
This proliferation of content is completely at odds with consumers’ desires and behaviours. In many ways, a lot of social content is closer to Tinder than traditional advertising because consumers are going to give you a split second before deciding to engage further or swipe past you.
Part of the issue lies in the bombardment of information that clients have to deal with, made even harder in the digital and social sphere where nothing is remaining still for any length of time. They attend meetings or watch seminars where the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter all urge them to ‘make sure they are creating content for their consumers’. And so, all to often, that becomes the brief. To create content. The question of what would actually offer the consumers real value, or what would drive real world business results for the brand, is often all too conspicuous by its absence. The word content has become a ubiquitous catchall and there is a real concern over how many of the people who use it actually know what they are really asking for.
Moving to a ‘content first’ approach fundamentally changes a number of things. One of the most important—and in my experience, often the least considered—is what this means you are now competing with for your consumers’ attention.
Your digital content is not just competing with your traditional business rivals. When you venture into the most personal of media channels—someone’s social newsfeed or someone’s mobile—you have an entirely new competitor set. Better Call Saul, Clash of Clans, Game of Thrones, the Rugby World Cup, everything that is being created by friends (rather than brands) … This is the digital content that consumers are seeking out and engaging with. This is what you are setting up your stall to compete with. When you understand just how big a task it is to create truly ‘thumb stopping’ content when this is the competitor set, then you can start to understand the need to move (rapidly) away from an approach of ‘always on’ and instead to one of ‘creative selectivity’. In short, make sure you have something damn well worth their time before you open your mouth (and spend the money) to push it out into the world.
While ‘Zuckerberg’s Law’ (the concept that every 12 months consumers will double the volume of content that they share) still holds true, there is an ever-greater selectivity being applied by consumers, and an ever-increasing volume of brands, games, shows and films (not to mention all the real world friends that these social platforms were designed to connect) that are vying for those shares and that attention. It is also crucial to note, that while consumer content consumption is increasing, the volume of content being created is increasing about 100 times faster. With these volumes, the reality is huge amounts of content have little exposure and no impact.
Now, this is not to say that content cannot provide a huge commercial opportunity for brands. As Google UK’s head of marketing, Nishma Robb, points out, fashion/beauty blogger Zoella alone has more subscribers than the combined circulations of the top five UK women’s magazines. “We see huge amounts of branded content, and brands have an opportunity to break beyond the restrictions of the commissioning editor,” she says. However, marketers must be willing to collaborate and relinquish more control to truly embrace this. They must be consumer-centric and create things that offer genuine value rather than just occupying space with marketing messages for the sake of it. This approach offers no cut through and no chance of being remembered.
Brands who have the courage to take a deep breath and move away from the over populated content calendar for long enough to create something genuinely deserving of consumers’ precious time will be the ones who emerge from the era of content marketing ahead. As marketers, it is our job to refuse to let brands fall into bad habits or be kowtowed by bad/ ineffective KPIs. Digital media is an enormously powerful tool at driving real world benefits for a brand. We just cannot forget that the best way to do that is through offering the consumer something meaningful along the way.
As marketers, our job is getting people to do something, whether it’s buy our product, visit our store or share their experience afterwards. We’re in the business of getting people to do things they aren’t already doing, or getting them to do those things more often.
It’s why, when we look at our revenue targets or market share objectives, we have to think about what those mean in terms of what we want audiences to do. What’s the behaviour that we need to change? Do we want existing customers to ‘graduate’ to the premium offer? Increase usage frequency? Increase basket size? But if success ultimately comes down to what people do, why are so many marketers still focused on what people think? Why is so much importance placed in metrics like key message takeout or consideration? Essentially, it comes down to the staying power of neoclassical economic theory; the belief that consumers will ultimately make rational decisions to maximise outcomes. In other words, give your audience a better reason to act and they will.
However, the fundamental flaw of Homo Economicus is that it depends on people being rational actors. The truth is, we aren’t. Breakthroughs in neuroscience and psychology are proving human behaviour is far more dependent on instinct and emotion. Some psychologists suggest that upwards of 90 percent of our actions are emotionally driven. In fact, we often use that logical part of our brains to just post-rationalise the emotional decisions we’ve already made. But this doesn’t mean that your audience’s behaviour is random. In his book Predictably Irrational, the renowned behavioural economist Dan Ariely writes extensively about the ways in which people’s behaviour typically follows certain “rules” or models. By understanding them, and the unconscious biases that steer decisionmaking, we can make adjustments to our audience’s environment, or their choice architecture, to make certain behaviours more attractive to that instinctive emotional part of the brain. It’s the difference between telling people to take a particular path and increasing that path’s attractiveness by sprinkling it with breadcrumbs.
While this knowledge has been slowly making its way outside the walls of academia, its potential is barely being tapped. Concepts like hyperbolic discounting and framing are finding their way into briefs and creative presentations, but more often than not, they are propping up the same communications’ responses we’ve seen for years. There’s no denying that behavioural science can make advertising work better, but its true power lies in the nudge, not the message. Consider this: back in 2011 the area of Woolwich was torn apart by the London riots. Anti-social behaviour and vandalism were rampant and the community needed a solution. Instead of running a communications campaign, hoping to change the behaviour of would-be-vandals by changing their attitudes first, they decided to target the problem behaviours directly. Armed with a study explaining how images of babies’ have a calming effect on men, a team of artists was hired to paint the faces of local children on shop front security shutters. At night, instead of a high street boarded up with metal barriers, people found a massive gallery of smiling babies. At the end of the first year, local police reported an 18 percent reduction in anti-social behaviour, which they attributed to the paintings.
True nudges aren’t campaigns. They aren’t even messages. Sometimes nudges are as simple as the smiling face of a baby.
It could be successfully argued that the greatest science fiction films of our time all share a common, scary ability to accurately predict consumer behaviour and marketing trends. From CCTV to Skype, headphones to driverless cars, all were foreshadowed by the dark, geeky arts of sci-fi writing. In fact, a company in California has just started selling hoverboards, like those seen in Back to the Future 2. Which is doubly accurate as a prediction, because the year Marty McFly travels to in the future was 2015.
But one of my favourite predictions is that of Minority Report around personalised communication. There’s a great scene where our protagonist John Anderton walks through a mall being bombarded with ads communicating directly with him. “Hey John Anderton, you could use a Guinness right about now”, “Get away John Anderton, forget your worries”, “John Anderton, take the road less travelled with Lexus”. They implore, their voices cutting over each other in a disconcerting babble.
This is a great characterisation of where marketing communication is going currently under the data-driven marketing paradigm. Enabled by technology, marketers are now able to effectively communicate directly with individuals in a very tailored way. We now have the ability to know what each customer buys, what they browse, the web pages the visit, where they are and who they are in very specific detail. And that allows us to be much better at talking with them in a way that actually has individual meaning and relevance. A great example of this is Macy’s in the US, which uses data on customers collected via its loyalty programme to develop over 500,000 different versions of its quarterly catalogue, each focusing on different aspects of its range and tailored content, depending on what the customer has shown an interest in via their shopping activities.
All of which is great stuff, right? By giving people more tailored interaction, we enhance relationships, improve product and service offerings and drive better business outcomes. Both the consumer and the business win, and marketing does what it’s meant to do by creating a mutually beneficial value exchange.
But while data-driven marketing definitely helps businesses tailor the delivery of communications, offers and experience, there is something very concentric in this 1:1 thinking that’s worth considering in how we weight marketing activity towards this space.
With this model, we take a customer who has a relationship with a brand and we refine and refine our offer to them to make incremental gains in the returns we generate from them. And while we improve their individual experience of us, there lies a nagging wider question that marketing needs to bear in mind, as to how the customer arrived at our door in the first place—and how we keep more of them coming.
There is now a huge, undeniable body of empirical evidence to support the notion that much of a brand’s success in being chosen in the first place comes down to the salience that brands create in the market; that difficult to define sense of ‘bigness’ and ‘rightness’ about a brand. The feeling that the brand really owns the core category attributes people are looking for, and that it can project this using clear and distinctive brand assets. If you look at the evidence gathered by leading marketing academics Andrew Ehrenberg and Byron Sharp over a huge amount of very robust studies, it is this distinctive bigness that ultimately creates brand success.
And herein lies the big question: how do you create this sense of salience in a brand via a data-driven marketing route? Yes, we can effectively target current users with increasingly tailored messaging, but can you build that sense of bigness and rightness for the world more generally?
Probably not, at least not efficiently and effectively. For brands to truly achieve the sort of universal understanding and category connectedness of a Nike or an Apple, we still need a big, shared idea to connect with. We, as humans, respond well to stories and narratives as a way of imparting information. In fact, it’s the foundation of how we learn and how our cognitive processes work to store facts. And we are also herd animals so we respond to shared narratives and ideas best of all. We want to know we are making choices that align with those of others who we want to be like.
And this is where data-driven marketing falls a little short, and where the massive pendulum swing of modern marketing away from brand building has potential to create problems for business. It has a massive role to play in refining the execution of an idea for a specific individual, but it shouldn’t be thought of as a replacement for the development of story; of the shared understanding of a brand.
Interestingly, the current notion is to think mass marketing devices, such as the ‘big brand campaign’, as a sort of anachronism from the age where we simply weren’t smart enough to communicate directly with people individually. But they probably delivered us much more than that. There lies, in their vast reach and ubiquity, the creation of a shared understanding of story that may well have delivered brands more than we ever knew.
The question we should be considering is how we recreate some of this for our more fractured digital age.