Revolutionary Measures

Taking a stand – and the risks to brand reputation

Brands today face significant challenges when it comes to marketing themselves. Competition is growing, particularly from smaller, nimbler and often cooler players. We also live in an increasingly polarised world, where consumers demand that the brands they engage with stand for something. That’s relatively easy for quirky startups – the trouble for established multinationals is that ‘something’ varies radically between different groups and cuts across their existing customer demographics.

The current debate over Nike’s latest marketing campaign demonstrates this perfectly. It has recruited American footballer Colin Kaepernick to narrate its new ad, which features athletes from a range of backgrounds who have overcome adversity to achieve success. The slogan, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”, sums up Kaepernick’s role as leader of the movement to kneel during the US national anthem to protest against police violence.

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Photo by Rafael on Pexels.com

Burning rubber
Predictably, the campaign has drawn ire from both sides. Photos and videos of people burning their Nike shoes and clothes went viral on social media, and the Nike stock price initially dropped. Donald Trump complained on Twitter. The body responsible for buying uniforms for the Mississippi police force announced that it would now longer purchase Nike products. At the same time, commentators have complained that Nike is simply hijacking a key issue to essentially sell more trainers. And given their previous poor record on issues such as ethical sourcing, child labour and more recently complaints of a culture of sexual harassment, people may well have a point.

Nevertheless, Nike clearly feels that its core buyers are going to respond positively to its position. In a similar vein, the CEO of Levi’s announced a partnership with gun violence prevention groups, causing the National Rifle Association to complain about “corporate virtue-signalling.” On this side of the Atlantic, Lush had to drop a campaign focused on undercover police who infiltrated activist groups to spy on their members.

So how can brands make sure that taking a stand doesn’t alienate the people they want to appeal to? Essentially it comes down to answering four key questions:

1.Does it fit with your brand values?
One of the reasons Lush received so many complaints was that its campaign didn’t fit with its brand values. Yes, it was seen as alternative and studenty, but being seen to attack the police was a step too far. Companies need to live their brand values – but not over-extend them in pursuit of cheap headlines, as it will damage their reputation.

2. Does it fit with your target audience?
For Nike, its core audience is overwhelming young, urban and involved. Therefore, while it might lose some sales (will Donald Trump switch to Yeezys?), they are clearly confident that the positive impact outweighs the negative. In the same way, UK stationery chain Paperchase pulled promotions from the Daily Mail after its customers complained about the difference between the paper’s editorial stance and their own views. So start with demographics and listening to your customers – after all, there’s a world of social media to help you hear their voice.

3. Are you seen as genuine?
For me, this is where Nike falls down, though it isn’t as bad as Pepsi’s infamous Kendall Jenner advert. I simply can’t see them as genuinely believing in the issues raised – and their own record on worker’s rights undermines their case for promoting fairness. Obviously this is an issue for any major corporation as most have skeletons in their closet of some sort. However, in contrast, Levi’s campaign on gun control looks much more genuine as their CEO is an ex-US army captain who has spoken out on the issue before.

4. Is it cohesive?
If you take a stand, it has to run across your business. You can’t complain about police brutality and then treat your own employees poorly, for example. That’s one of the reasons that tech giants such as Facebook and Amazon are currently in trouble. They talk about an innovative future based on technology and openness, and then create labyrinthine corporate structures to minimise the tax they pay and (in the case of Amazon) face accusations of sweatshop conditions for their warehouse staff. In today’s world failing to live your brand will be quickly discovered and publicised.

We’re in a position where more and more brands are being forced to make a choice – Trump or Democrat, Leave or Remain

? To do this successfully is a balancing act – but starting from genuine brand values built on trust with your audience is a key starting point.

 

September 19, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why you need to add emotion to your marketing

As research by the likes of Daniel Kahneman shows, humans are generally not rational. That means they’ll respond and engage more strongly on an emotional level than to plain facts.

Consequently, when it comes to marketing, emotional campaigns have greater resonance and are more profitable. Of course, that’s when they work properly – the fiasco around Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad shows what happens when consumers feel you are hijacking their emotions.

So how can you ensure your campaigns are emotional, but not alienating? At this week’s Cambridge Marketing Meetup Sarah Reakes and Dr Matt Higgs from Kiss Communications gave some useful hints.

Maslow

A good start is to map emotions onto Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and use this to understand which emotions work best for your brand or market. Perhaps unsurprisingly research by Kiss found that the ads that have won awards at the Cannes Lions festival since the financial crisis began were predominantly rooted in emotions such as safety and sense of belonging. In times of uncertainty safety and social needs are clearly at the forefront of everyone’s emotional requirements.

As Kiss’ presentation showed, ensuring you channel emotion successfully in your campaigns is about following a process, and I’d argue general good marketing practice. Look at your product or service through a benefit ladder with four rungs. From the bottom these are:

  • Product features
  • Product benefits
  • Emotional benefits
  • Purpose

Marketers know that simply talking about features is not going to appeal to most buyers and that you need to go up the ladder. But what is key is to add those emotional benefits – how does using your product make people feel, what deeper needs does it fulfil? This applies to both B2B and B2C marketing. For example, does your software free up people’s time so they can go home at 6pm and spend more time with their family, rather than have to stay late to wait for the computer to finish processing transactions? If it does, get that across in your marketing campaigns.

The key is to then tap into the emotional purpose of your product or company the Why? you do what you do. You can get this by talking to customers or analysing their data for trends to move yourself up the benefits ladder. In more and more competitive markets, simply competing on features leaves you open to quickly being undercut – to differentiate you need to embrace emotion across your marketing.

July 26, 2018 Posted by | Cambridge, Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The end of the Mad Men?

Advertising agencies have always exuded glamour and excitement. From Don Draper in Mad Men to more modern agencies they’ve combined mystery and the power to change how people think, act and buy. Take Ridley Scott’s 1984-themed Apple Mac launch ad, Saatchi’s 1979 “Labour isn’t working” campaign, widely seen as helping the Conservative party to win the election, or going further back, the WW1 “Your Country Needs You” recruitment poster.

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All of these iconic campaigns demonstrate what advertising can do, particularly when it is turbocharged by the reach of linear television. This has led to ad agencies rising in importance to essentially command the biggest budgets and greatest influence on how brands market themselves.

However, things are changing – fast. Three interconnected factors are upsetting the status quo and causing industry titans such as WPP to issue profit warnings in the face of slowing revenues.

1          We live in a digital world
We used to spend the majority of our leisure time watching a limited number of terrestrial TV channels and reading newspapers and magazines. All of that has changed with the rise of the internet, which now takes a much higher share of our time, and has introduced new gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook into the mix. The adverts that people run online are different – they can’t be as disruptive as during a scheduled TV ad break, or as big budget. While major ad campaigns still run, they are more seasonal, such as around Christmas – and are seen as marketing events, rather than run of the mill campaigns.

2          Consumers want a personalised approach
The internet has also encouraged and enabled us to demand a more personalised experience. We don’t want to be subjected to irrelevant adverts for things we aren’t interested in – and analysing our browsing habits and demographics should give advertisers the ability to segment their audiences and target them in a more individual way. The cost to our privacy is an ongoing debate – as is how capable platforms are of really delivering a personalised approach. All of these adverts tend to be smaller, more focused and therefore lower budget – in some cases even using AI to analyse response rates and automatically tweak copy so that it best reaches target audiences. So less Mad Men, more Metal Mickey.

3          Content is king
Consumers are more suspicious of advertising, and want greater transparency from the brands that they deal with. This is driving a much greater reliance on content across the buying cycle, helping build relationships, and overcome objections on the way. This requires a different set of skills to big budget TV advertising – in fact it is more akin to the copywriting side of public relations, with more information and less overt selling.

All of these factors are shaking up the marketing hierarchy and putting the role of the traditional ad agency under threat. At the top end, consultants such as Accenture are entering the sector, buying up agencies and focusing on providing strategic business advice as well as execution. Digital-first agencies are jockeying for position, and a greater share of budget, backed up by their ability to offer transparency, value and accountability. Brands are even taking key activities in-house, with many companies now employing digital marketing specialists, or even, as in the case of Pepsi, in-house advertising studios.

So does this mean the end of the ad agency, and in particular large international networks? Not necessarily – in a fragmented world clients value talking to one trusted advisor, rather than having to juggle a series of relationships with overlapping agencies. However, to prevent that trusted advisor being a strategy consultancy or digital upstart, agencies need to reinvent themselves quickly, learn new skills and become more of a high-level partner. One way is to move up the value chain. Back in the advertising heyday of the 1980s, Saatchi and Saatchi bought analyst house Gartner. The plan backfired, with the company sold less than two years later at a loss. But the idea clearly had strategic promise. Perhaps now is the time for ad agencies to think big again if they want to retain their power for the long term?

April 11, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Psychology, marketing and Twitter

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Everyone is bombarded with marketing messages – from the moment you switch on the TV or radio in the morning to emails with the latest offers, posters by the side of the road and adverts on the internet.

The trouble is, as every marketer knows, even the most targeted consumer campaign has a lot of waste. Only 3% of unsolicited postal marketing leads to a sale and online conversion rates hover well under fractions of per cent. Not only is this expensive from a company point of view, but it also risks alienating consumers who object to being spammed with things that simply don’t interest them at that point in time.

And all of this is despite the fact that companies now hold massive amounts of data on our buying habits and can easily access our demographic profiles that we’ve provided to loyalty schemes or just posted up on the likes of Facebook.

According to researchers from IBM, the problem is that studying demographics and buying habits is a deeply flawed method. Just because you live in the same area as another 40-something bloke and earn around the same doesn’t mean you have the same interests. What is needed, according to the IBM team at the Almaden Research Centre, is to discover the deep psychological profiles of customers, including their personalities, values and needs.

There are five dimensions of personality recognised by modern psychology:

  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Neuroticism
  • Openness to experience

Research has already shown that these traits link to buying behaviour. Agreeable people prefer Pepsi to Coke and if you link your product messages to excitement and adventure, it will appeal to the extroverts.

All well and good, but how can brands find out the psychological profiles of their potential customers? After all, no-one is going to go through a long personality test to give marketers the information they need to harass them.

The answer is via social media, specifically Twitter. IBM’s research has used software to analyse three months data from 90m Twitter users, matching the words people use against their values and needs. It took just 50 tweets to get a reasonable match for their personality and a very good fit from 200.

The moral of this story? As I’ve said many times, you are what you tweet. And as Sally Bercow’s court case has shown, it isn’t just words, but how they are interpreted, that define you. So be careful what you say, and if you want to put advertisers off the scent throw in a few random comments to confuse the targeting software…………..

 

June 5, 2013 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment