As the 2014 Brand Activation Conference winds down here in Chicago, it’s possible to see how the presentations have revolved around several recurring themes. Each of these has implications that we, as modern marketers, should be paying attention to.
I’ll explore a few of these in greater detail in future posts, but here are a few take-aways that I’ll take home with me:
Content, content everywhere
No surprise here, but a content-driven approach was a major component of many of the successful examples shared. Now, more than ever, our job as marketers is to tell stories—to construct a narrative around people’s lives and to connect with them emotionally. I firmly believe that brands have a role in this narrative, but it’s not to bombard people with self-serving messages—it’s to add tangible value to their lives in some way. Brands from Benjamin Moore to Betty Crocker saw opportunities to activate and engage, not by being the star of the show, but by playing a supporting role or by serving as the catalyst for something much larger (and frankly, more interesting).
Are you still telling one-sided stories that are all about your brand? Or are you seeking opportunities to generate and capture content that people really want to interact with? Embrace the opportunity to act like a publisher and let new forms of content drive the narrative of your brand.
Know what makes you great
Said another way, play to your strengths. Brian Jennings and Keith Wachtel really hit this point well when talking about how they’ve been building and strengthening the NHL brand. They understood early on that the players are their greatest asset, and have created some pretty amazing engagement platforms around them.
As a brand, do you know what makes you better or different from your competitors? If you don’t, find out. Ask consumers. Listen to social dialogue. Activating around your assets is a key way to build consumer engagement and stand out from your competitors in a sustained way.
Know what’s holding you back
Marty St. George from JetBlue brought this to life when talking about his greatest obstacle to building a different kind of airline. In his case, it’s consumer expectations—that as an industry, they’ve promised (through 50 years of advertising) new, shiny planes and attentive flight attendants waiting at your beckon call; but they (again, as an industry) have delivered delays, lost bags, and left people with impression that they’re trying to separate you from your money at every opportunity possible.
What’s your greatest obstacle? Is it something you can control (like price perception or distribution?), or are you at the mercy of the market? Remember that the answer is not what’s holding you back from making money, but what’s holding you back from affecting consumer perception and behavior. You need to understand the things that are standing in the way of winning their hearts and minds.
Know what business you’re really in
JetBlue isn’t in the transportation business, they’re in the customer service business. By recognizing this, it redefined their offering, how they communicate, and how they activate their passengers. This enabled them to act not as a company that provides a commoditized offering (air travel), but one that takes care of people and delivers an experience. It changed the playing field and helped them to behave much differently.
UPS knows they’re in the business of logistics, not shipping. Starbucks isn’t in the coffee business, they’re in the business of connecting people. What business are you really in?
Stand for a higher purpose
Building successful brands is about good fundamentals—positioning, functional and emotional benefits, reasons to believe—but also about knowing where and how you add value to people’s lives. David Melancon’s example of how Benjamin Moore activated consumers to “Paint what matters” wasn’t just successful because it was a great idea—it’s because it was born out of the company’s values and the manifesto that the company uses to define its brand, which itself was built upon sharp insights about what matters to the people they are trying to reach.
J&J has their credo. Google has their mission and 10 things. What does your brand really stand for? Does it have a clear reason for being? What role do consumers want you to play in their lives? The answers to these questions reveal the ways to meaningfully connect with the people you’re trying to reach.
What’s on the inside matters
Peter Drucker once said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and it’s because a strategy is only as good as the people (and the culture) that can execute it. JetBlue can’t be a great customer service company unless they create a company culture that empowers their employees to do the right thing for the customer, anywhere, any time. As Marty St. George said, when your company is about service, then every employee is part of the marketing team. They have a culture built on values that every person is expected to know and believe in.
Does your culture enable the kind of connectivity that you want with consumers? Or does bureaucracy and red tape prevent you from acting on the ideas that you know will build your brand? Activating consumers starts from the inside.