This could be any city. Advertising everywhere. But it&#x2019;s Sao Paolo and people got sick of it.
So two years ago, the city of Sao Paulo took a stance. They got rid of advertising.
All of it. They banned billboards outright.
They regulated the size of logos on the sides of vans and buildings.
Simple goal: give people back the beautiful cityscape. And people liked it.
Sao Paolo went full force into a NO ADVERTISING world. That&#x2019;s not what I&#x2019;m here to talk about, but it&#x2019;s a good emblem. In a media fractured world, it&#x2019;s harder and harder to get people&#x2019;s attention in a way that doesn&#x2019;t annoy them. Advertising is about capturing and holding the consumer&#x2019;s attention in order to articulate your brand message or sales pitch. And the consumer is struggling to get away. As traditional advertising gets less effective, traditional advertisers shout louder.
Single messages to mass audiences through big reach vehicles aren&#x2019;t working as well anymore. But with so many loud blaring messages, consumer attention is shutting down.
Ack! We are over-saturated.
And when that happened, we ended up with a general backlash against advertising. Advertising has become a dirty word. It suggests that people are being tricked into purchasing something they don&#x2019;t need. It&#x2019;s aggressive, it&#x2019;s intrusive, and it&#x2019;s temporary. To be honest, it feels a little bit cheap.
But a blank billboard doesn&#x2019;t help YOU meet your business goals. If you&#x2019;re an advertiser in 2009, you&#x2019;re probably a bit confused, maybe a little scared. If you&#x2019;re an advertising agency, your mission is being undermined by the way you carry it out. The rules have changed and we all have to acknowledge that. Even embrace it.
Success comes not from reacting to the latest thing that someone else did. A platform, a technology, a tactic. Once something works for someone, it is quickly case studied and becomes what everyone wants. From our perspective, you must begin by knowing why you are communicating with your audience. You must have an insight into your audience that gives you a way to approach them on their terms. You must be willing to take a point of view and hold it. You must be willing to alienate those who don&#x2019;t like your point of view.
If you don&#x2019;t start with strategy, you wind up force-fitting tactics to your business. You wind up just thinking about the buzzwords of the moments. Buzzwords kill. Here are some, so you&#x2019;ll know what they look like.
We&#x2019;re going to talk about some of the tactics that have been hyped recently and see what about them worked and what didn&#x2019;t, and try to get some lessons out of them. As we go, think about things you might have done that fit into these labels. Try to apply the big picture lessons to your businesses. Some of what I point out as working would never work for you. Some of the things that I say didn&#x2019;t work, might work for you. Your business is unique and I&#x2019;m just some guy with a microphone.
The grand-daddy buzzword.
There&#x2019;s a lot of ongoing discussion about the desire to go &#x201C;viral.&#x201D;
And we all know what that means, right? It means millions of views on YouTube overnight. It means that we&#x2019;ll create something, and everyone will pass it around to everyone they know. Everyone will look at it, and everyone will be talking about it &#x2014; and that means we&#x2019;ll have reached everyone with our message.
But it&#x2019;s a problematic term. For one thing, &#x201C;viral&#x201D; isn&#x2019;t a strategy: it&#x2019;s a result. It&#x2019;s a goal.
And the effort carries risk and uncertainty.
You don&#x2019;t get to decide what&#x2019;s viral, or why. I don&#x2019;t pass something along because you want me to. I pass it along because I want to. It&#x2019;s because I find it entertaining, or useful, or interesting. And if I give it to a friend, that reflects on me. I get a personal glow when I&#x2019;m the first to show something good to a friend. Your marketing message is NOT that glow.
You don&#x2019;t get to control the message. Once I pass something along to friends, it&#x2019;s not your message anymore. It&#x2019;s mine. I ask my friends to look at it through my lens. And it might not be the message you were hoping for.
Guidelines for getting shared? Make something worth sharing. It sounds simple, but it&#x2019;s not.
Another buzzword. It&#x2019;s all about community.
And the meaning of community is clear, right? Communities are groups of people who share the same interests and passions, and want to spend time interacting with each other. The internet is full of communities for just about every interest. So now, there&#x2019;s a lot of talk about the importance of creating brand communities, and encouraging consumers to interact with each other around your brand.
But like viral, community isn&#x2019;t a strategy, really: it&#x2019;s a goal. And while it&#x2019;s a good goal, there are a few things to understand about internet communities before you start trying to create one.
Here&#x2019;s one of the most important: you can&#x2019;t &#x201C;own&#x201D; a community. You can develop a platform that helps people connect with each other, and you can even claim legal rights to whatever content that community might generate... but at the end of the day, the only people who ever own a community are the people who participate in it. And that means that even if you own the platform, you can&#x2019;t control what your community will talk about.
And here&#x2019;s the thing: your brand might be great. It might be a lifestyle brand, and people might identify with it. But that doesn&#x2019;t mean they&#x2019;re interested in joining your community, or setting up an account, or making new friends, with your brand as the centerpiece.
Sprite wanted to have a community all about Sprite. Seriously -- they wanted people to organize their social interactions around a shared love of a soft drink. And not only that, to get in to the community you had to text them your mobile number. Uh-huh.
Thinking that you can start a community that focuses entirely on your brand is a little bit like throwing a party, but telling your guests that they can only talk about how much they like you. Pretty awkward.
If you want to build communities around your brand, you have to start by asking the right question. And that question isn&#x2019;t, &#x201C;What do I want people to say about my brand?&#x201D;
Instead, we need to ask why people already talk about brands? Where do our brands actually fit into their lives? What needs or desires do they already fulfill, and how could they do those things better? And most important, we need to understand that communities aren&#x2019;t about brands: they&#x2019;re about connecting with other people. So if we want a community to thrive around our brand, we need to ask: how can our brand help people connect with each other?
Penguin UK isn&#x2019;t creating a community with their Penguin Dating site. They&#x2019;re fostering a community that already exists (book lovers) and provides them with real value -- a way of meeting other book lovers. Plus, they didn&#x2019;t try to build their own platform, they partnered with Match.com and went where people already go to. And they provide value: something to talk about on that awkward first date.
Here&#x2019;s a radical suggestion: brands need to think about participating in communities, rather than owning them or overtly branding them. Most consumers already participate in several communities, like MySpace and Facebook. Their friends are already there. The work of setting up connections is already done. So, rather than asking people to start over, why not take advantage of their existing networks?
Again, it&#x2019;s like a party. You don&#x2019;t always have to throw parties to be popular, and when you go to parties, you certainly don&#x2019;t have to spend the whole night talking about yourself. You know what works better? Bring a gift to the party. Everyone loves a gift.
One great recent example of this approach is the Whopper Sacrifice campaign. - Saw an existing need that it could address in a clever way. - Created a tool that added value -- mostly in the form of entertainment -- by adding a new dynamic. - This worked because it wasn&#x2019;t really about the Whopper - it was about a problem with Facebook. - The Whopper was just an added bonus -- and it showed that Burger King &#x201C;got it.&#x201D;
So brands can work in communities. But what about &#x201C;conversations&#x201D;, another popular buzzword?
Well, again: what do we mean by &#x201C;conversation&#x201D;? If communities are about getting consumers to talk with each other then conversation is about getting the consumer to talk with the brand. When clients tell us they want to &#x201C;start a conversation,&#x201D; they usually mean that they want consumers to feel that the brand is actually talking directly to them, and not to everyone. They want it to feel like a discussion between friends.
But here&#x2019;s the problem: as our friend Alan Wolk says, &#x201C;Your brand is not my friend.&#x201D; Don&#x2019;t feel wounded, it&#x2019;s not your brand&#x2019;s fault. It&#x2019;s just common sense: friendship is a relationship between people, and usually, between equals. Your brand isn&#x2019;t a person, and it&#x2019;s a lot more famous than most people. So you&#x2019;re off to a bad start.
Ever been on a bad date? The person your with can&#x2019;t stop talking about themselves. Or doesn&#x2019;t listen to you. Or won&#x2019;t express an opinion for fear of offending you. Or isn&#x2019;t that interesting. Asks no questions. Or uses the time in which you&#x2019;re talking to think of the next thing they want to say.
All the same, there are a lot of examples of brands attempting to start conversations, and there are some critical lessons we can learn from them.
Here&#x2019;s an important lesson: if you want someone to engage in a conversation, you need to accept that you won&#x2019;t always get to control the topic -- and sometimes, that might mean talking about something you don&#x2019;t like.
Being in a good conversation also means being honest -- and that means that you can&#x2019;t just resort to talking points. You have to be prepared to admit that you&#x2019;re not perfect, or that there are things you can do better -- and for brands, that&#x2019;s scary as hell.
Robert Scoble rose to fame in the blogosphere by evangelizing Microsoft (as an employee). Fine. But he rose to fame because he engaged readers in a conversation, rather than just reciting official party lines -- and Microsoft encouraged him to continue even when he criticized the company or pointed out their flaws.
No one thinks your brand is perfect anyway, so trust me, you&#x2019;ll get more points for admitting to your flaws than you will for seeming oblivious about them.
Oh, and one more important piece of advice about conversations...
Conversations aren&#x2019;t just about talking and sharing your message: they&#x2019;re about hearing what other people have to say. And for most companies, this is hard to do. How are you going to even acknowledge the thoughts of hundreds or thousands (or millions) of consumers, let alone respond to them, or act on them?
At Dell&#x2019;s IdeaStorm, it&#x2019;s real people who suggest changes in the company. And based on the participation and conversation, Dell has implemented a number of changes thanks to suggestions given by consumers, evaluated by Dell and discussed with the community.
This is just one example, of course. But keep this in mind: if you&#x2019;re not going to listen to what your consumers want to tell you, you&#x2019;re probably safer not asking them in the first place. No one&#x2019;s going to be fooled by the gesture; instead, you&#x2019;re going to make it look like you&#x2019;re ignoring them.
One last buzzword to touch on is &#x201C;UGC&#x201D;, or user-generated content.
In the last few years, and especially in the wake of YouTube, the idea that your users will create your content for you -- and for each other -- has become a popular one. And it&#x2019;s popular for a reason, right? It&#x2019;s less expensive. It&#x2019;ll be more authentic if the messages come from actual &#x201C;unbiased&#x201D; consumers and not advertisers. It&#x2019;ll turn up new ideas we would never think of. And we&#x2019;ve all seen YouTube, so we can probably assume that someone will make something good, and it will go viral, and we&#x2019;ll be able to leave work early. Right?
Wrong. UGC has its own set of problems, and like the other buzzwords, they start when we confuse a result -- content that is generated by users -- for a strategy. A strategy needs to start by answering the most difficult question about UGC: why the hell would consumers want to take the time to do our jobs for us?
Because if we don&#x2019;t tackle that question up front, the user-generated approach can backfire.
Most consumers aren&#x2019;t interested in your business objectives. They think the whole audience sees the brand exactly the way they do. They haven&#x2019;t seen your research. And they certainly don&#x2019;t feel obligated to stick to your brand message. Do you really want consumers, who have no accountability, acting as your agency of record?
The key to making it successful is to be prepared for the consumer to do what they want with your brand, and your product.
Sometimes that will mean that your brand is a supporting character, and not the star. And you know what? That&#x2019;s fine.
The Diet Coke/Mentos video. How each brand responded initially to a user-initiated act of creativity.
And, when you ask your fans to play with your content, understand that users don&#x2019;t generate content for you, or for your marketing objectives. They do it for themselves, and for each other. They do it to show off their talent and creativity, or to express their own agendas. In most cases, they&#x2019;re not interested in crafting a better sales pitch for you.
Radiohead example: 3500 remixes, and they helped users decide on the most popular and redistribute them. They facilitated users creating content for each other, and not for the brand.
So here&#x2019;s a better strategy: realize that if you let consumers use your brand in their way, that decision will say more about your brand, and your company, than any individual video, mashup or remix.
So these are some buzzwords you&#x2019;ve probably all heard. But there&#x2019;s more.
We all suffer from it: shiny object syndrome. We hear about a new piece of technology and immediately want to find a way to use it. Which is completely backwards. The business need should come first, then develop a strategy to meet it, then (finally) determine what technology can bring that strategy alive. If someone comes to you offering a widget that provides &#x201C;utility,&#x201D; take a few steps back and make sure that the utility it provides actually solves a real (not imagined) problem.
Not that iPhone apps or desktop widgets don&#x2019;t have their place and time. They do, when they make sense.
Gap&#x2019;s Merry Mix It iPhone app is a great example of trying to take advantage of a new technology to solve a problem that never existed -- helping people match clothes?
The Merry Mixed Carols is merely their TV spots available on the iPhone. What&#x2019;s the point?
The Mix Not Match feature is a step in the right direction. It&#x2019;s interactive...but do you really need an iPhone app to see what Gap clothes look like on a model?