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A Brand New World
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Consumers are running the show themselves. They can fast forward, switch off and turn the dial in search of the brands with conversations that really engage them.

An ancient Chinese proverb says, "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand." The Chinese obviously knew a thing or two about engagement marketing, which is where our industry is now headed.

The days of advertising-led brands are over. There has been a major shift from monologue to dialogue... from a single message broadcasted at everyone to conversations and engagement with specific people and groups... like the contrast between ten pin bowling and pinball.

In response, advertising and communications are moving from limited-duration "campaigns" to continuing "always on" dialogues and experiences that are supported by digital channels and new technologies. According to AdTech, brands grow four times faster when there's positive conversation around them. The digital dialogue is an incredibly powerful one and can force changes in brands - remember the Gap logo change when consumers rebelled against the new brand identity and forced the marketers to return to the previous version or when Woolworths were forced to put Christian magazines back into their stores following a huge online outcry?

Now, consumers are running the show themselves. They can fast forward, switch off and turn the dial in search of the brands with conversations that really engage them.

Consequently, emotion and speed are now key components of building engaging brands that bring value to their consumers. Brands therefore need to change the speed at which they not only engage and communicate, but at which they gather insight about their market. It's less about historic research and long, annual trackers and more about what millions of people are doing RIGHT NOW and what brands can do RIGHT NOW to connect with them and generate feedback.

This approach marks a fundamental shift in the role and purpose of marketing - from manipulation of the consumer to genuine consumer involvement; from telling and selling to conversation, engagement and knowledge sharing. This means more experience creation, participation and advocacy, more engagement and more presence! Today, if brand communication is not relevant, it will be lost or ignored. If it is not original, it will attract no attention. It needs to make the audience stop, look, listen and respond.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." - Nelson Mandela.

By communicating in a language that people understand, brands will strengthen their connection with their consumers. MTN brought this concept to life. They talk and communicate with different consumers in their language... a language that means something to them. Other great brands that have already made the "hop to the heart" are Nike, Apple and even FNB, who now appeals to the heart in a once emotionless category.

As a result, digital dialogue is no longer an opportunity but a business essential. iMedia states that by 2012 it's expected that 65% of the global population will be on social networks, as consumers now place more trust in their social groups than messages from advertisers. They found that 30% of moms comment on products on blogs and 50% tell others about products and services on Facebook. 40% trust friends and family whilst only 13% of moms trust "the company." Marketers need to pay attention - we're not talking about an optional communication channel anymore, we're talking about a constant dialogue that the consumer is having, with or without us.

So how can brands succeed in this new game?

  1. First listen, and then speak up... quickly! Look at how Nando's immediately joins the conversation by being relevant.
  2. Be useful and create value that extends your brand into the consumer's world. For example, the Nike Tag Your Run app is a source of motivation for joggers.
  3. Act like a social brand, not a brand being social. Woolworths does this well by engaging consumers in everything they do.

If you haven't already, it's time to change your game from ten pin bowling to pinball. Get involved, and keep the ball moving at all times; don't just throw it and hope for the best. Invite participation and let others also have the opportunity to decide where they want the ball to go. The game should be more fun and last longer that way, right? It is indeed a new brand world.


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