Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hello, how can I help you?

"There are just two basic strategies in digital innovation in marketing – help me‘ or ‘entertain me‘."

Paul Marsden, Author, Psychologist and Co-Founder of Brainjuicer 

This post will focus on how brands can be useful -  in the broadest sense, as entertainment can be just as useful as any kind of helpful service. My aim is also to show that this is not limited to digital innovations - but a general approach when wanting to connect with people and come up with relevant marketing strategies.

More Advertising ≠ more Attention. 

We are confronted with a growing number of brand messages every day - ZenithMedia's forecast for global ad spend in 2013 is at 518 billion Dollars. But will more spending generate more attention or even brand love? Attention alone is no guarantee for market success. And more channels and fragmented messaging make it much harder to truly get the audience interested and engaged. This isn't just the case since digital has come along - (remember what Howard Gossage said in the 60s? "People do read what interests them - and sometimes it is an ad.") but it sure has been a turbo-charger. 

Digital has brought along many new alternatives in order to strike up a conversation with people. It offers many ways to go beyond pure messaging and can offer digital services instead of plain ad messages. And still, most of the digital ad spend goes towards just that - old mechanics like banners that distract and strive for attention. With digital ad spendings at 117 billion US-Dollars, they make up 23% of all ad spendings already (Source: emarketer, 2013)

The German Harvard Business Review lets us read in their summer 2013 issue what many people today feel: "Marketing is a bullshit category that reveals the truth and wants to rake an appetite for things that no one needs."
And the CEOs themselves doubt the effectiveness: "Only 10% of CEOs value the work of their marketing managers according to a Fournaise study."

Brands are losing traction with people.

So it's not too much of a surprise that people would not miss many brands as recent Havas Media study "Meaningful Brands" showed. A large number of people would not miss 73% of todays brands if they would not exist anymore tomorrow. The UK study from the Guardian on "The Mood of the Nation 2013" shows a slightly brighter picture - still 37% of the surveyed Brits could not name a brand that makes them truly happy. 

Source: Havas Media

The so-called "Post-Growth Economy" needs concepts that reflect a growing need for meaning. Especially where most consumption needs are fulfilled people have become more critical about brands. This shows in a decline in consumption that mature markets display. Not only the latest financial crisis lets Europeans (and recently also emerging markets) adapt their consumption patterns towards a "less, but better."

According to Mintel, only 16% see brands offering "value for money", but 82% ascribe this to private label products. People are looking for brands that strongly show respect towards consumers and their needs and wishes, more responsibility towards society, environment and an overall more value oriented position (Mintel UK, April 2013/ The Guardian "Mood of the Nation"). And what is true for brands, should actually be true for brand communication just as well. 

Purpose creates Meaning. 

"People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." 
Simon Sinek, Start with Why

Brands should communicate what drives them, as Simon shows in his book as well as his Ted Talk. Not a new perspective - as Harvard Business Professor Theodore Levitt already put forward in the 1950s as the key question: "What Business are you in?". Knowing the purpose of your business is the foundation of putting meaning into your marketing and communications. 

Source: Vialogue

Still, many companies know what they do and maybe how they do it and differentiate to others - which is good, but product-wise something that often isn't really possible to keep up. Making it even more crucial to know why a brand does what it does. Only if it defines its own purpose for being can it excite others about it - customers just as employees. So in order to be meaningful, any brand should know its purpose - beyond profit and business success. 

Stop asking "How can I sell to you?"

Being meaningful has many facets - both functional and emotional. Meaningful means that it offers value to people, gives something that they see important in their lives. People attach a specific meaning to an offer - and this can be emotional entertaining content just as well.

Still there are specific drivers that push marketing communication offerings into the field of greater usefulness - and they relate to how we deal with the world around us, as author Jay Bar describes them:
1. Self-Serve Information. How we use information anytime, anywhere and expect it to be always accessible in a self-serve mode.
2. Radical Transparency. How user evaluations and comments create an environment where nothing seems to go unevaluted from our peer groups.
3. Real-time Relevancy. How the relation to our location and situation influences how we evaluate offerings - e.g. the growing use of location-based services or  comparing offers online while shopping in the store.

Still a lot of marketing communication might have good content, but too often asks the wrong question. "How can I sell something to you?" instead of "How can I become a useful, meaningful part of your life?".

„Advertisers and their agencies, for the most part, don't know how to be helpful. 
Thirty-second TV commercials, print ads, radio ads, and direct mail are all forms of content. 

But nobody's addicted to them, because most ads ask, "What can I sell you?" 
Thousands of people have saved every issue of National Geographic in their attics. How many have saved every Viagra ad ever created?"

If it improves my life, it's useful. 

Brands that look to add value to peoples life and make a useful offer with their communication will have it easier to build a relation with them. With an offer that people are willing to interact with and find so useful, that they might even be willing to pay for it, if just a few cents, as Jay Baer proposes in his book, Youtility.

„Youtility is marketing so useful, people would pay for it. Of course, you probably won’t actually ask customers or prospects to pay, but it’s marketing that has so much inherent value, they would fork over a few dollars if you insisted.“
Jay Baer, Youtility

Everything that improves life is useful - this can be anything from being helpful to being entertaining. What unites communication with value is:
  • reflecting real needs, support interests and activities and create an emotional bond.
  • offering a use that has authentic connection with the brand purpose.
  • going beyond what people expect, surprise and delight with the offering.
  • creating an experience, offer a service rather than just communicate a message.
Usefulness makes use of context, creates relationships, initiates dialouge and experience, bringing value to individuals or whole groups. The key question is not necessarily: "how can we make the world a better place?" But first of all: how can we optimize life, support the everyday with useful offerings? How can we solve something faster, easier, more inspiring, accessible, beautiful or seamless? So first we need to know the barriers the brand can support to overcome - in relation to time, complexity, knowledge, motivation or inspiration.

And don't just understand people - but the category as well. In order to improve lives, we need to understand peoples relation to brand and category just as well. Which role can the brand take credibly? Asking about the level of involvement is a first step. The whole interaction chain between people and brand or category will reveal the most relevant points of contact for useful and surprising offers. This goes well beyond bought media channels - from packaging to Point of Sale and the context of people using the products. 

Not a new idea.

The Michelin guide goes back more than a hundred years, and the Guiness Book of Records is from the same era. The idea is not new - just the packaging and naming is, name tags like "Branded Utility" or "Service Design" are just two of the labels for what should be a general aim to be relevant to people. Contagious already wrote about the topic in 2008.

„Branded utility is not just a tool or a tactic - 
it's an approach that reflects a new state of mind in marketing. 

One that is about giving something away in order to earn people's time and attention.“
Contagious 2008

The DDB philosophy around Social Creativity aims at being social and useful in that sense. With communication that people like to interact and play with, comment on and share with others. But it also means to aim at putting creativity to the use of people - by creating useful things that go beyond the expected offerings from an ad agency. Here are some examples from within DDB (and there are of course many more from other sources e.g. here):

DIESEL - Bling for Good (DDB Tribal Düsseldorf) 

A campaign that starts with the product - and creatively re-uses unsold textiles: up-cycling them into beautiful and unique pieces of jewelry to be sold for the DIESEL charity instead of re-cycling them. This way creating something useful and seeing charity as something beyond mere calls for donation but via a clear link to the product and fashion focus of the brand - and that fashion indeed can be more than just superficial and short-lived bling. 

Adding value to the Austrian beer brand via the packaging - by integrating it  as an interesting touchpoint, making it a piece of communication as well as added value. The "beer slide" lets you always slide the coldest beer right from the fridge into your hand. How better to store beer in your fridge? 

Drivers need to take breaks on long car trips in order to drive safely. This is the case in Argentina just as elsewhere. Still there are many long autoroutes - but they miss clean hotels for drivers to take a nap, this letting many drivers skip a much needed break and keep on driving. Out of this insight came the idea to provide a branded service from Volkswagen that not only creates attention and surprises the drivers - but truly answers to a real need: a VW suite to take a break and relax before going back on the road.

A social initiative that shows how with very simple means true social and individual value can be created: by re-using old carton packaging to provide simple school tables for Indian students. 

Music festivals are well known for two things: people camping. Out of this insight came an innovative approach to provide help for both issues - and attracting new target groups for Glad, producer of trashbags. The "Glad tent" is a trashbag with added use and value - or better the other way around: it is a disposable tent that doubles as a large and durable trash bag after the festival. 

Asian telecom provider Starhub has already done a lot of experiments with sound and music - but with this project the brand finds a way to truly add value to peoples lives. A broad range of places can be tagged with verbal descriptions of what you can see - and thus giving blind people to experience them without eye sight through a descriptive layer that they can access on the go. 

While on the plane we are often placed next to people that are truly no fun to talk to. This lead KLM to come up with a more useful service: "KLM Meet & Seat", where you can chose your seat neighbour at check-in - provided both passengers make their social media profile visible. 

By recycling used SIM cards students can now access textbooks in a completely new and much more hassle free way - with a simple e-reader instead of heavy books. 

Fishing is a great hobby in New Zealand - but every serious fishermen makes his individual and best fishing spots a secret not to be shared with others. This also making it impossible to trace them if a ship is in distress.  This app offers a way to help both sides - mark the individual spots and keep them personal - but on the other hand let Hutchwilco, the manufacturer of marine safety equipment, track down the fishermen in an emergency. 

So see how we can add to this - as this is truly not a new thought - in the end it is always about leaving a mark in peoples lives that will lead to action. As Bernbach said: 

 “Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make.”

Bill Bernbach

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