Snapchat, black boxes, struggling artists and a Nobel Prize in Economics – On the future of modern advertising (2/2)Read More
Last week, I outlined the rapidly changing features of the marketing landscape. We live in an era where we have all the information we could ever want on tap, and with people’s attention ever more difficult to acquire, modern marketing just isn’t keeping pace. The ‘content orientated’ approach has failed to remedy the general apathy towards marketing, except in certain cases that we will explore further in this article. If you haven’t read part 1, you can check it out here.
I stated previously that people inherently associate adverts and marketing with just ‘noise’, and that a lack of authenticity prevents people from engaging with the vast majority of the messaging out there. Why do I feel authenticity is important? Well, let’s look at some of the success stories out there, identify what they have in common, break down those ideas and suggest how you can apply them to your business.
How Boeing made a billion dollars selling planes to ordinary people
The aviation industry is one of incremental improvements and a relentless dedication to efficiency. As an example, 10 kilos saved on slightly thinner rivets made possible by material advances can amount to tens of thousands of pounds saved in fuel costs over the lifetime of a plane. This is the kind of information that carriers, the companies who buy aircraft from the manufacturers, want to hear about. For the last few decades, this is where the vast amount of messaging has been directed. This means that, save for aircraft that are particularly ‘iconic’ like the 747 Jumbo, A380 and the Concorde (which also happens to be the least profitable for both airliners and manufacturers), ordinary consumers simply are unaware about the differences between the myriad of other models out there. Unless you’re a plane geek, could you tell the difference between a 777 and an a350? Why would you even need to?
In the run-up to the launch of their newest 787 aircraft, Boeing tried something different. They put a concerted effort into a commercial awareness campaign pitched directly at the customers of airliners. Their new machine was not visually distinctive or physically impressive, so it had very little appeal in the way the aforementioned iconic planes did. Instead, they pressed the tangible benefits of travelling on their aircraft to consumers, they invited countless documentaries and news into their factories to explain their manufacturing processes, and they branded the machine the ever-so-slightly cheesy ‘Dreamliner’. They gave this huge B2B proposition a decidedly B2C face. This campaign was extremely successful, and pretty soon customers began inquiring with their favourite carriers about when they could fly in this new machine.
What Boeing had recognised is that awareness is just as important as directly appealing to the people who make the purchasing decisions. Decision makers in a B2B setting are still human, and the impact your brand has on a much wider scope of people can influence them in a very positive way. If you can sell the idea and engage a broader variety of people who aren’t even involved in the more mundane B2B calculations that go into the final purchasing decision, then you will appear all the more authentic. Not only does it convey enthusiasm for your product and forces you to articulate its benefits in creative ways, but if successful it will build a mythos. Getting your name out into the public consciousness pays itself off in spades when the person you are pitching to has already heard of you before you walk through the door.
Make art, not ads. Inform, don’t sell.
One of the key reasons why Boeing was so successful in this endeavour is because most of the marketing pitched at the public was not aimed at selling. There was no sense that it was KPI driven material, designed with financial performance in mind, but instead created as if the content itself had intrinsic value. In other words, much of what Boeing did was more like art than advertising.
One of the reasons why people are so turned off by typical advertising is because many talented marketers are not thinking like their clientele. They are under pressure to generate a high ROI, which has led to a significant impact, in ways both subtle and not-so-subtle, on their work. As we explored in the previous blog, people don’t engage with abstractions and statistics, they engage with a story and creative messaging, both of which appear completely inauthentic if they are done with transparent and negative associations of ‘the sale’. The experience of an ad or marketing message from the perspective of the customer is primarily an aesthetic one. If you want to create a positive association with your content, you must stop thinking in terms of ads and start thinking in terms of art and aesthetics. Capture the imagination of your audience.
The rise of influencers, many of whom are people who have gathered a large following from simply producing content online for their viewers, demonstrates that there are far better ways to create a compelling narrative than what most of the industry is currently capable of. Take for example a content creator like Linus Tech Tips, a tech advice channel that spends half the time producing paid for, sponsored ad spots. What companies like Intel have realised is that working with these types of people can pay significant dividends, and just by sponsoring whatever is produced, they earn very positive, credible exposure. The next step is to move from simply sponsoring and buying influencers, to becoming one yourself.
The key is to allow creatives, whether they be in-house or influencers (who will often not work without), significant creative freedom and distance from business metrics like ROI. This is vitally important because it makes it more likely that the resulting content feels independent, intrinsically valuable, and most importantly, authentic.
The curious case of Denny’s Diner
Denny’s has about 1500 locations across the US and it boasts a follower count of 374,000. Burger King conversely has about 7000 locations and has 1.5 million followers. With that in mind, note the significantly diverging engagement figures of Denny’s vs the much larger Burger King. With a fifth of the followers, Denny’s regularly gets over 10 times the engagement. What’s more is that they do not pay Twitter to place their tweets in others’ timelines (like Burger King does for its promotions), instead they rely on the strength of their content and word of mouth. Their social media marketing is so strong that other people will actively spread it for them, and although most of what they produce is related to their business (to great comedic effect I might add), it never pushes the sell. It comes across as genuine and authentic, not crafted in a corporate environment that most people just can’t, or don’t, want to identify with.
So humour is a tool that one particular consumer-orientated company is using, what could a large B2B firm possibly learn from something like that? The broader point of the Denny’s example is that intrinsically valuable content is useful for building a broad base of engagement. This will then have a positive influence on your core business through heightened awareness and a more pervasive narrative. Even if your product is not something that might be considered conventionally ‘sexy’ like a jetliner, there are alternative ways for these types of companies to still get their faces out there. Doing things like sponsoring competitions, particularly at the secondary and tertiary education level, will generate important name recognition in the years to come. Creating high quality content which explains the innovation and relevance of what you do, and delves into the various applications it has, will generate powerful engagement if done correctly. Just look at a company like Apple go into exhaustive detail about its anodisation process. Most people have a reason for why they do what they do, chances are good that you fell in love with the field at some point. There is always a story to tell, you just need to find the right way to tell it.
Build yourself a black box
If you’ve ever been on a commercial aircraft, maybe even the previously mentioned Boeing Dreamliner, you’ll know that your tray table must be stowed and your seat upright for takeoff and landing. You have to watch the same safety video every time and, if you’re a frequent flier, you probably could operate one of those weird yellow oxygen masks in the dark. That said, each and every one of those routine operations has been borne out of an ingrained sense of learning in the aviation industry. Every safety procedure is there because of a previous failure or accident. This is because everything is recorded and measured, in the form of a piece of crash-proof hardware called the ‘black box’.
In his book ‘Black Box Thinking’, the author Matthew Syed goes into deep detail about how the practices of the aviation industry are relevant to almost every field. He argues that to think in ‘black box’ terms is to meticulously record and learn, to set up ‘feedback loops’ where the impact of each decision can be measured and future actions can be modified by the resultant learning. In marketing, this means heavily utilising analytics to ensure your goals are reached, but also by refining creative processes. This might seem implicitly contradictory to my previous statements about the need for creativity and breaking free from the constraints imposed on authentic messaging by business metrics, but here this is not the case. What I am arguing is that the goals of the messaging must be different from purely business metrics and not that all metrics are worthless. We are able to appreciate how good the likes of Denny’s and Boeing’s efforts are in part because we are able to measure their success. We are just using more than straightforward KPIs as a metric.
In practice, this strategy is about allowing for explosive outbursts of creativity in your marketing and messaging. After this, you gradually sharpen and refine them into a honed representation of your brand or product. It’s about establishing a solid feedback mechanism so you aren’t just wandering in the dark with your ideas, but using a variety of performance metrics to measure their impact. Crucially, this cannot happen at the cost of the ‘human touch’ that makes something relatable or engaging.
Instituting a culture of creativity
Creativity, or more specifically originality, is a difficult thing. It is a function of many things; the right environment, challenging work, an emphasis on approaching problems differently, and everybody needing slightly different stimuli in order to achieve their best output. The key to generating compelling, authentic content is to build a culture and ethos that actively values original thinking. What gets people excited to go to work in the morning is not the prospect of their pay cheque, but an overarching goal. Whether it be Steve Jobs proclaiming he wants to ‘put a ding in the universe’, or Skype ‘disrupting through innovation’. This just isn’t about creating a meaningful product of service, instead it is part of the direction for the company as a whole, including marketing and advertising. Ensuring you don’t define this purpose from the top down is also the key to some of the biggest success stories of the 21st century. By allowing this purpose to be shared and contributed to by everyone is vital to establishing a cohesive culture.
There are concrete, solid changes you can make to encourage this type of thinking. One company, Atlassian, gives their employees one day at the end of each month to work on anything they wanted to, with anyone they wanted and anywhere they wanted, with the only rule being that they show the company what they did at the end of the day in a party-like atmosphere. What they discovered is that more software bugs were fixed in that one day than in an entire month. This is not something to be reserved for creatives either, everyone has probably had an idea about how they might improve their work or some other aspect of the company, but has not had the opportunity to try. Even if they don’t succeed, they tried and learned something, which is valuable experience. There are countless more examples of this type of practice bringing in great results.
Another important aspect of creativity is conflict. Creativity flourishes when it is given parameters to work with and around. For example, research shows that mind-mapping is a wholly inadequate way of finding solutions to problems as a group because of the social biases in the workplace tend to compel people to agree with one another and not challenge assumptions. Instead, one of the most effective methods is to allow people to bring their solutions to the table, instruct the group to explicitly find problems with the solution, and then work together to fix them.
Doing this right takes a lot of institutional learning and experience, and will not necessarily yield results right away; building a culture takes time. But done correctly, your content marketing will be authentic enough to be appreciated as intrinsically valuable. This translates into a positive public narrative about your company, which will ensure that your customers, whether they be consumers or other businesses, will want to buy your products or work with you.
Thanks for reading. What are your thoughts? Let me know at @Notchcom
Snapchat, black boxes, struggling artists and a Nobel Prize in Economics – On the future of modern advertising (1/2)Read More
Recently YouTube, one of the world’s largest ad distributors, announced that it was cutting unskippable 30 second ads from its offering to businesses, citing a reduced inventory and high user turnover as one of the key problems with the format.
The landscape that marketers and advertisers alike will find themselves in, in the very short future, is changing rapidly. The rise of ad-blockers, the rapidly deteriorating state of monetisation via advertisement, and the popularity of subscription services and on-demand media, make opportunities for attracting customers significantly more scarce. But this is actually a huge opportunity for savvy operators to differentiate themselves in such a way as to not only survive this brave new world, but to thrive in it. So what lessons are there to learn and how can they be applied to your business, no matter what field you are in?
It’s a ‘Snap’ world now
In 2013, a bizarre application made its name (and billions of dollars in valuation) known across the world. Snapchat, the ephemeral messaging app, essentially removed functionality found in other communication applications, and became a huge sensation. This is a key clue to what the future holds, as it represents the next big leap in what has been a decade long paradigm shift from old media to new.
It might be tempting to look at the likes of Snapchat and Twitter and grumble about declining attention spans that can’t pay attention to anything longer than 140 characters or a few seconds of time, but there is more refined analysis to be had here. The fact is, we have an awful lot competing for our attention in the modern world, more than any other time in human history. In order to get anything done, we have to dedicate focus to it, and that represents a larger opportunity cost than it ever has done before. Advertisements are unpopular, particularly ones that hold you as a captive audience like YouTube’s unskippable 30 second ads, because they are just noise that keeps us from what we are actually interested in, and this cumulatively costs a lot of time.
Snapchat is popular because it condenses entire stories into bite-sized chunks. It is unobtrusive in its delivery, and because nothing holds any permanence, it means you are focused entirely on the here and now. Everything is always relevant and current, and the format is personal and intimate. This is in stark contrast to old media, where content is served essentially to a captive audience. Even the most ardent advocate of this type of marketing has been sat, gripped to their seat watching a favourite TV series or film, only for a climactic moment to be interrupted by an overly bright ad with hokey dialogue and recycled clichés.
Marketing in its original form was typically rooted around finding consumers who have a need, and informing them about how their product fulfils that need. This strategy typically only works if people and businesses always know what their needs are, and it creates a hard ‘ceiling’ of potential customers, but the biggest success stories often come from creating a product people don’t know they need until they actually use it. This involves telling a story that people can buy into, an idea, something that can entice them into buying into the company and the product. The problem is that the stories have become long and bloated, they sometimes try so hard to hide their commercial nature that it becomes painfully obvious, and they often just aren’t actually any good in the first place. How is this model meant to survive in the era of Snapchat? Where there is a huge opportunity cost for simply reading a handful of paragraphs, that time that could be better spent watching funny videos on YouTube or the latest drama on Netflix. On this very blog post, no matter what you consider its quality to be, it’s unlikely that more than 50% of people have read this far (a thank you to those who are still with me!).
The rise of content marketing
Daniel Kahneman, author of ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ and the winner of a Nobel Prize for his acclaimed work into the study of human bias, details research in his book on how humans weigh up information to make decisions. One useful takeaway from his research is that humans are pretty poor at visualising abstract information. We can understand it on a logical level, but it is hard to create emotional buy-in without something more tangible to back it up. This makes intuitive sense. A chart with a list of percentages is less useful than a helpful visualisation, such as a graph or infographic. Perhaps most importantly though, he concludes that handling such abstraction is significantly more taxing of our finite mental resources. Modern advertising has to give people a very good reason to buy in, before it makes its case.
The industry’s response has been the focus on content orientated marketing or ‘content marketing’. This approach recognises that simply pushing products to sell resonates only with an exceptionally small number of a potential customer base. Content is presented as an experience, and can be found in almost any form. The majority of the time it is presented in extensive social media engagement, videos, articles, et cetera. They will typically contain a somewhat clever metaphor or idea, the bad ones will be based on a terrible pun.
Creating this much volume and trying to maintain quality is expensive and time consuming, and though a select few achieve huge success, there are plenty of companies of all sizes who have seen little return. So why are people more disaffected than ever before? Why are they not spending their valuable attention on all of this stuff? Well because, despite the change in approach, the way the stories are delivered still sucks.
Authenticity, not content, is king
Most marketing departments do not set out with the goal of creating bad campaigns. They do it almost entirely by accident, with the help of a couple of shibboleths that have gone unchallenged in the industry for years. There is a shortage of the kind of blue sky thinking required to really engage people, and cut through the aforementioned noise. Make no mistake, the competition between adverts is cutthroat, you’ve got to be bold to stand out. Because there is so much volume, people have developed a built-in instinct for what an ad looks like and sounds like, and once that association has been made, all that work towards a content-orientated strategy will likely fall flat on its face. This is because it lacks authenticity, it tries to hide its KPI-driven ulterior motives beneath a veneer that barely conceals it. The creative direction is often cliché-driven and overly padded. Social media strategy is a good example of companies recognising the need to engage on these relatively new platforms, but being stuck in an old mindset that has not adapted with the technology. Tweets and posts are meticulously planned out and rather than resembling the distinctly ‘social’ nature of that platform, each one instead feels like a mini press-release. A web-advertising campaign across multiple socials, YouTube, Google et al, will cost a significant amount for a comparatively paltry amount of engagement. If you look at genuine content creators, people who make a living from these platforms, they are often able to generate tens to multiple thousands of times the interest with no spend whatsoever. It’s not even that their content isn’t commercial in nature, many of them create content explicitly related to products and brands. Something crucial is happening with respect to the interaction between the audience and the content.
This applies just as much to B2B as it does to B2C. B2B marketing has come a long way since ads were just a product with a list of bullet-points on a neutral colour, but it still has a reputation for being tediously dull in many sectors, particularly mature ones. The scarcity of attention applies just as much to business people as it does to consumers, and if anything, authenticity is of greater consequence when companies are being asked to stake a significant investment in you and your product. The only significant difference between the two is the needs you are fulfilling and the corresponding messages you want to send.
So what can a company, irrespective of its size, do to adapt and succeed in this environment? Watch this space for part 2!
The Great British Bake Off; a honey pot of marketing opportunitiesRead More
The Great British Bake Off, the hit “quintessentially BBC Programme” will now be broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4 after negotiations between BBC One and Love Productions went sour on Monday the 12th of September. With the 2015 final pulling in an average of 13.4 million viewers throughout the episode, it’s no surprise that GBBO (as it’s commonly known) was 2015’s most watched programme. Losing one of its most successful programmes is clearly a big blow for BBC One…but why is it so successful? Will moving away from the BBC impact on its ever growing popularity? Potentially yes, as the dynamic duo Mel and Sue announce they will stand down as the programme’s hosts.
However, the concept of the programme is undeniably attractive. The show has something for everyone: From yummy cakes and humorous hosts to crying over failed show-stoppers and Paul Hollywood’s brutal, no-nonsense judging. It’s inoffensive, easy viewing that has something for everyone – what’s not to love? The target audience seems to be the entire population. Cooking judge Mary Berry is a familiar face to the older generation, with her cookbooks taking pride of place in many homes since the 1970s, whereas the contestants come from all walks of life – the youngest being only 17 years old. Not only is the content of the programme enticing, but the way in which the programme markets itself and its social media strategy seem to be key in whipping up its viewers into a frenzy.
Twitter and GBBOs youthful tone
The Ying to the programme’s Yang is Twitter. Although the show’s Facebook newsfeed is lively, the @BritishBakeOff Twitter account has a strong 490K following. The feed is updated in real time during the programme encouraging a ‘tweetalong’ with viewers via the hashtag #GBBO, creating a buzz about the show as the drama unfolds. The tone the Twitter and Facebook accounts use to talk about the show appeals to the average viewer in a relatable and engaging way. They make sure to bring attention to the never ending reel of innuendos and the contestants’ baking faux pas. How could we forget Mary Berry’s #SoggyBottom? Or the controversy around Ian’s Baked Alaska? The apparent sabotage of his dessert led to public outcry and the hashtag #bingate trended on Twitter with a whopping 10,700 mentions. By promoting a relaxed and funny conversation online, GBBO entertains its viewers both on and off screen. However, it isn’t without risk; the innuendos that are now infamous from the show have been a cause for concern for some viewers, who believe the show sometimes takes it that step too far towards ‘smutty’ and detracts from the competition. Overall, the GBBO team tap into the way the viewer is thinking and influence the online conversation extremely well.
Harnessing the power of gifs and memes
The social media accounts regularly use clips and quotes from the live show to create content in the form of memes and gifs. This type of content is far more engaging than a normal text post. By being light-hearted, relatable and providing instant laughs; both memes and gifs are very ‘of the moment’ and easy to share on social media. This means that the GBBO content quickly spreads throughout the twitter sphere.
Engaging with viewers
The post-show programme, Extra Slice, later on in the week ensures the GBBO conversation never dies down. Here, viewers are asked to send in photos of their best and worst bakes via the hashtag #ExtraSlice, that are then either praised or mocked on the show and across social media. By sharing their baking experiences and seeing their own content on the show, viewer satisfaction and engagement is at an all time high.
The Great British Bake Off really knows how to engage with its target audience and keep them coming back for more. Its dominance and youthful approach to creating content for Twitter has meant its popularity as a show has increased year on year. To honour the programme’s well deserved Twitter success, GBBO now has its very own GBBO emoji, featuring the bake-off tent which pops up whenever you use the #GBBO hashtag.
The Bake off effect
It’s not just GBBO that reaps the benefits from its top viewer ratings; many businesses have noticed and taken advantage of ‘The Bake-Off Effect’. The marketing potential of the show itself is enormous. Whatever jacket Mary Berry wears seems to sell out by the end of the episode, and now that the show is moving onto Channel 4 we may see more product placement creeping onto our screens. Advertising will undoubtedly be in demand in between the show, but are there easier ways to utilise GBBO for marketing your business?
The number of baking products sold during the 2015 Bake Off season increased by 214 per cent in comparison to the weeks prior to the show. In response, supermarkets such as Morrisons employed ‘Bake-Off officers’ purely to watch the show and, as a result, predict next week’s demand for cookery items and stock appropriately. Waitrose goes as far to say that the 11 weeks that GBBO runs is the third most important event for grocery sales in the calendar behind Easter and Christmas – grocery sales alone increased by up to 392%. Kenwood also has used the bake off-induced cooking craze to its advantage by planning to coincide promotion of its KitchenAid mixers with the beginning of The Bake Off season 2016.
It isn’t just kitchen utensil providers and supermarkets that have got on board with The Bake Off craze. By getting involved with the #GBBO conversation on social media, brands can market themselves to viewers without them even realising. Most often when they’re most relaxed, with a cup of tea in front of the telly. Brands who get involved with the GBBO conversation make themselves look more personable to their current followers, using the opportunity to show off their personality and not just their products or services. It’s also a chance for brands and businesses to be exposed to a new audience they may not usually reach or think to advertise to.
Shortlist Magazine is a good example of an unlikely brand to get involved with this ‘in the moment marketing’. As an upmarket, men’s magazine it kept its GBBO tweets relevant by sharing tech stories about baking and kitchen-wear as well as funny gifs. The London Fire Brigade also got involved with the GBBO conversation to promote a more serious issue. By tweeting its own videos and writing relevant blog content featuring bakers and topics from the show, the Fire Brigade aimed to remind viewers of the importance of kitchen safety and fire hazards.
So, the morale of the story is that even if you don’t tune into the Great British Bake Off, there seems to be no reason why you and your business can’t get involved with all the potential marketing opportunities.
– Tell me what you think on Twitter @EllenAtNotch