Here are all of the posts tagged ‘advertising’.
For the past few decades, marketing has been dominated by a mass-media paradigm.
During that time, we’ve defined the ‘best’ marketing as that which makes the most efficient use of broadcast media, and as a result, we’ve spent decades perfecting an approach that’s all about reducing the cost of interrupting people.
The result is communications that have been distilled down to their lowest common denominators: a selection of sound bites designed to be shared as succinctly as possible across a range of media, repeated again and again in the hopes of eliciting a pavlovian response that will deliver optimum scores in campaign tracking.
But this paradigm is broken.
We’ve become obsessed with media efficiency, and as a result, we’ve lost sight of what effective communications look like.
[As an aside, effectiveness is about doing the right thing, while efficiency is about doing that thing right]
Back To Basics
The very roots of the word ‘communication’ highlight where we’ve been going wrong.
The English word stems from ‘communicare’, a Latin verb meaning ‘to share’.
Critically, therefore, real communication is about creating shared understanding.
So, at its essence, communication isn’t really about what you say; rather, it’s about what other people understand.
However, as part of marketing’s relentless drive to maximise media efficiency, we’ve become overly fixated on ‘the message’ (i.e. what we want to say), and consequently, we’re missing the huge opportunities that come with building a better, shared understanding of our brands and their offerings.
In Context: Brands As Social Entities
But in order to build a better, shared understanding, we need to get a better understanding of our audiences’ motivations, and the dynamics that drive our exchanges with them.
We’ve already explored motivations in a previous post in this series that covered the evolution from ads to added value.
However, in order for brands to achieve their full potential, they also need to integrate more actively into the social dynamics that define the contexts in which they come to life.
Sadly, many brands still behave like newborn children: entirely egocentric, and almost totally oblivious to the needs of others.
However, studies have found that the traits we find most appealing in other people are those that are socially oriented (more on that here).
Interestingly, these appealing human traits are the same as those that define great brands:
Popularity is more pull than push, and trying to become popular through hollow flattery and false mirroring is unsustainable. Impressing people is much easier if you lead by example instead of screaming for attention. As a result, it’s far better to champion the cause than it is to ride the bandwagon.
People appreciate a good listener, so don’t talk about yourself all the time. Take time to hear what your audience wants to say to you, and not just to work out what you want to say to them. Embrace the everyday people as well as the celebrities.
If you want to build trust, give before you take. What does your audience want, need and desire? How can you help them achieve it through your communications alone?
Stay true to your ideals, but don’t force them upon other people. Strength, honesty, humility and kindness are far more valuable brand values than ‘dynamic’ or ‘cool’.
Conversations are as much about the social discourse as they are about the sharing of information. Avoid an over-reliance on monologue and one-line statements, and engage in dialogue as much to reinforce bonds as to establish new relationships. Treat others as you’d hope to be treated yourself, and always be ready with the proverbial olive branch.
For brands, this last point – Be Social – is perhaps the most important when it comes to building enduring success.
Of course, as a conversation agency, we’re biased here, but our positioning isn’t an accident; here at We Are Social, we genuinely believe that there’s far more value in dialogue than there is in the broadcast paradigm of a repetitive monologue.
But how do brands ‘grow up’, and evolve from their current communications infancy to become more socially engaged entities?
The Art Of Conversation
To start with, it’s important to remember that you can’t ‘win’ a conversation. Conversations should be about a mutual exchange of value; if you’re trying to win, that’s an argument.
A significant part of this mutual exchange of value is the opportunity to deepen bonds and strengthen relationships, at the same time as sharing information or knowledge.
This is one area where marketers often fall down: in our arrogance, we believe we have more to teach audiences about our brands and offerings than we might learn from our audiences in return.
However, it’s only the brand that exists in our audiences’ heads and hearts that has any value.
To this point, there’s a wonderful post on Wikihow entitled “How To Stop Talking About Yourself” – it’s a fascinating read, and offers this wonderful piece of advice that brands everywhere should heed:
Respond to questions without turning the focus onto you. When asked, “Did you see Survivor last night?”,
[Avoid:] “Yes! I never miss an episode; in fact my husband and I watch Survivor, American Idol, and Dancing with the Stars. Did you see how well Kristen danced last night?” You answered the question, but redirected the focus onto you.
[Try:] “I missed it; was it good?” Simply answer the question they asked you, and give them a chance to talk with you. After all, they like the show, and it was their topic.
In other words, making people feel like they’re an important part of your brand’s world, and welcoming them into your communications, are both huge opportunities to improve success.
Of course, for most brands, it’s still financially infeasible to have one-to-one conversations with every individual member of the audience, but channels like social media make such interactions much easier than they were when we only had broadcast channels to choose from.
Having said that, taking advantage of ‘conversational’ channels involves a very different approach to the lowest-common-denominator approach we’ve become used to.
Change Is Coming
It’s becoming increasingly clear that Big Advertising Ideas are not as relevant to social communications as they are to TV.
A single-minded comms approach may be the key to driving media efficiency, but it only works effectively if we get it right first time, and the reality is that most people’s brains work in slightly different ways.
This isn’t a new assertion of course; the wonderful Mark Earls has been challenging it for a number of years now:
One of the reasons why this approach is rarely the best option is because lowest-common-denominator messaging rarely delivers the highest possible value.
The challenge is that single-minded communications are only designed to convey that single message, and that’s only truly efficient if conveying that single message successfully establishes the desired understanding across the whole audience.
Conversely, in order to maximise effectiveness, we may need to convey our ‘message’ in a variety of different ways over time, and to different groups of people, before we can establish a sufficient level of shared understanding across the whole audience.
That wasn’t often an option in an expensive, TV-dominated world, but our media mix options have evolved.
It’s time to rethink our commandments.
Enter The Leitmotif
In musical theory, a leitmotif is:
“a musical term referring to a short, constantly recurring musical phrase, associated with a particular person, place, or idea… In particular, [it] should be clearly identified so as to retain its identity if modified on subsequent appearances, [but] it is transformable and recurs in different guises throughout the piece in which it occurs.”
If that all sounds a bit complex, this Star Wars explanation nails the concept beautifully:
“Each important idea [and character] in Star Wars has its own leitmotif. At the beginning of A New Hope, Luke watches the suns set, wondering what his destiny in the world could be. His leitmotif [or 'Luke's Theme', if you will], is played wistfully and slowly to reinforce this idea. Later, when he is in the midst of rescuing Leia, his theme is stronger, more percussive, and rhythmic. Essentially, the same notes are being played, but the style with which they are played makes all the difference in the tone of the scene.”
Critically, a leitmotif does not represent the constant repetition that defines music like techno (and broadcast advertising); it’s about a theme that changes and evolves over time to add new value or meaning.
Adopting such a ‘communications leitmotif’ may hold the key to more effective marketing within the reality of today’s multi-channel media mix: rather than relying on repetition of the same message over and over again, marketers can adopt a broader, richer ‘communications agenda‘ which enables them to use a variety of activities to build towards success in different ways over time, engaging more of the audience in more meaningful ways, and ensuring a greater chance of success.
Evolving The Story: From Theory To Practice
There are a variety of different ways to bring a strategic leitmotif to life – here are some we’d advocate:
The Dandelion Approach
As Cory Doctorow asserted in this seminal post from a few years back, the dandelion doesn’t put all its eggs (or seeds) in one basket. Rather than investing all its efforts in nurturing a single offspring, the dandelion spreads as many seeds as possible in the hopes that at least some will fall on fertile ground. This is not about random dissemination though; despite slight variations in each seed, every one contains the DNA of its parent plants, and each one is designed to travel as far as possible. Critically, though, the ‘costs’ associated with producing each different seed are low enough that individual failures are not an issue.
The Tapas Approach
Meals comprising many small, shared dishes are popular all over the world, from Tapas in Spain to Dim Sum in the Orient. Each individual dish can be quite different, but they all ladder up to an overall meal ‘experience’ which is both reliable and enjoyable, even if not every dish is to everyone’s taste. This approach can work well for communications too: by harnessing a variety of smaller, disparate creative executions across a number of different channels, brands have a greater chance of delivering something that resonates with the different members of the audience, and shares the necessary understanding.
The Kaizen Approach
Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning “change for the better“, and is a central part of a continuous improvement approach. The same concept lies at the heart of effective conversations too: each time a participant in the discussion shares new insights or information, the other participants can refine or modify their opinions or approach, in order to reach an optimum, collective understanding. The Kaizen approach is a bit more direct than the previous two, but it has a clear role to play in a variety of brand situations, particularly where the topic is more complex, or where rational motivations dominate.
There will be many more ways to bring such an ‘evolving theme’ approach to life, but the ones that will win through will be those that deliver a new kind of efficiency: the ability to identify when the necessary understanding has been shared with relevant audiences, and when investments can move to a new communications task.
In order to achieve this efficiency, however, marketers will need to get much better at listening to – and measuring – audience response and reaction, and using these to refine and evolve their communications approach.
We’ll cover these Active Listening techniques in the next post in this Social Brands series.
David Gillespie has been burning the midnight oil producing this epic 260 slide presentation, which covers a lot of ground, including his thoughts about the ‘Intention Economy’, in an incredibly compelling way. As you’ll see from the opening slides, it has a particular resonance for us here at We Are Social. Over to him:
Social Media is a conversation. That seems to be one thing that we all agree on
You can read all 10 in full here (which I highly recommend doing):
- Mark Earls – People not consumers
- Le’Nise Brothers – Social agenda not business agenda
- John Willshire – Continuous conversation not campaigning
- Faris Yakob – Long term impacts not quick fixes
- Katy Lindemann – Marketing with people not to people
- Neil Perkin – Being authentic not persuasive
- Jamie Coomber – Perpetual beta
- Amelia Torode – Technology changes, people don’t
- Graeme Wood – Change will never be this slow again
- Asi Sharabi – Measure and evaluate
As the IPA’s President, Rory Sutherland says:
At a time when the population of Facebook is now greater than all but three countries in the world, and when BT is delivering customer service via twitter, this is an area which forces us to question many of our ingrained assumptions about advertising, brands and intangible value.
and from Mark Earls’ scene setting essay:
For all the excitement today around the Twitters and Facebooks, the tougher problems for the advertising industry to get to grips with are all rooted in the way social media – the stuff that connects humans with other humans – changes the game for our clients and society at large.
IPA Social is an admirable initiative, one which we’ll continue to participate in, and their 10 principles are an excellent overview of how brands need to come to terms with social media, representing the thinking of some the greatest minds in modern advertising (all of whom are good friends of ours). The launch event was also a great evening, focused on starting conversations rather than presenting a revealed truth.
However, it still was very focused on traditional ‘advertising’, with a large proportion of time spent hearing about VCCP’s Compare the Meerkat campaign. We split out into groups towards the end of the event and in the group I led, we discussed whether campaigns like Compare the Meerkat are really social media campaigns. Although the campaign has rich presences in social media, we’re weren’t sure that was a factor in it’s success. We felt it was the strength of the creative idea and the media spend at work here – and the fact that Oasis’ Rubberduckzilla has substantially more fans than Aleksandr the Meerkat on Facebook, despite no attempts to engage with social media helps re-enforce this point. It was felt that real social media campaigns are ones where the conversation itself drives the success of the campaign (like our This is Now campaign for Ford).
I also couldn’t miss joining in the discussion about which types of agency were best suited for social media. The point I made was as follows. Over the last ten years digital agencies stole a march on above the line agencies by building bigger, better and more motivated specialist teams. This let them innovate faster and develop a critical mass of best practise that accelerated the skills gap between them and their above-the-line competitors. Specialist social media agencies will do the same to digital and other agencies. To use We Are Social as an example, who else has a team of twenty experienced practitioners, entirely focused on innovative, creative and effective social media marketing and communications? Each day and each new hire widens the gap between us and those in pursuit.
Overall, I left feeling comforted that the specialist agencies’ lead in social media was safe for some time to come…
Our friend Nick Burcher, Head of Products / Partnerships EMEA at Publicis’ VivaKi, drew me a diagram last time we caught up for coffee outlining his social media world view, which he’s since written up. I think it’s a valuable perspective (although there is something missing, which I’ll come to below):
Traditionally marketing efforts have focussed around ‘The Destination.’ Ad space is bought to push people to a main site / microsite and this could be anything from Paid Search to TV to Print. It’s all about ‘go here now!’ There is a direct correlation between ad spend and ‘Destination’ traffic. Generally increase in ad spend = increase in traffic and decreasing ad spend results in decreasing traffic.
This is changing though. New ‘Destinations’ are being created, it’s no longer just a main site or a microsite. Facebook Fan Pages are being used as an activity hub with paid ads driving traffic. Alternatively the Destination could be a YouTube channel or other social platform.
The social web is also providing new traffic driving opportunities eg Facebook Engagement ads, sponsored Diggs or socialmedia.com social banners but the biggest change to the internet landscape though is the emergence of ‘The Conversation.’
Web 1.0 was a one way street. Users went to a site and consumed information and advertisers served messages somewhere along the way. The publisher published, the consumer consumed, the advertiser advertised . On the social web the distinctions between these three areas have all blurred and changed marketing forever.
If advertisers can successfully participate in the Conversation then it becomes less about paid pushing. The Conversation is about engaging rather than broadcasting, and if done successfully it changes the equation. Instead of having to pay to recruit every visit, consumers can be co-opted as brand ambassadors who then will freely relay the advertiser message with consequent Destination traffic the result.
Activity targeting the Conversation needs this ‘kickstart’ to give it initial momentum. This is where new disciplines like blogger outreach and video seeding come in. This is where marketers need to think of taking content to the consumer, rather than expecting consumers to come to them – and make it easy to share using ‘Blog This’ buttons, Facebook Connect and more.
Nick is right to point that it’s no longer just about ad spend, that Destinations no longer need to be microsites (if they ever did), that the Conversation is about engaging rather than broadcasting, and that traffic can flow from the Destination to the Conversation. But what the model doesn’t take account of, is the fact that it’s the Conversation, not the Destination, that’s important, and that in some cases there doesn’t need to be a Destination.
The Conversation itself sometimes can fulfill your business or marketing objectives without reference to a Destination, creating demand by driving awareness, consideration and/or engagement through far-reaching word of mouth – whether that be through simply getting the product into the hands of bloggers and generating reviews, through viral seeding where the vast majority of the video views happen out there in the conversation cloud or through a myriad of other ways.
More progressively (and effectively), you still have a Destination, but it’s designed to facilitate, support and amplify the Conversation, and success is measured not in traffic to the Destination, but in the reach, sentiment and engagement with the Conversation itself.
Our friend John V Willshire has been developing the analogy that “if advertising is a firework, social media is a bonfire”. We think it’s a good one, and very useful for simply explaining the difference between advertising and social media.
And for our non-UK readers, you can find out more about Bonfire Night here.
Update: As a counter argument, read Asi Sharabi’s On bonfires and that.