Social Goes Visual
Sight gags, eye candy, and baby pics have transformed the use and design of all our screen spaces. Do new formats change the rules for brands?
Even newspapers look like websites now. It’s a sea change—as social platforms mature and a second wave of platforms reaches maturity, even printed materials have evolved from text hooks to visual hooks. Pictures and videos are the new baseline, and often the main feature. Not to mention that beautiful point of synthesis so beloved by so many: the animated GIF.
Facebook’s image-centric timeline and Twitter’s increasingly seamless integration of photo and video, as well as Twitter’s Card format to attach media experiences to tweets, means that the cool kids—and the cool brands—exist as media grids. And then of course there’s Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr, all three of which have earned their place in more and more brand marketing toolkits—and all three of which are about beautiful pictures.
The changes won’t stop here, as Twitter is still planning on doing more with “Twitter Cards” that display more information within a specific Tweet.
Community manager 1.0 was a lone writer fresh out of college announcing sale events in 140 characters or less. If that was done, social media was ‘done’. The visual era warrants dollars, predictable budgets, and resources to create not only quips and quotes, but inspiration boards, scrollable galleries. It’s media muralism. Brand associations are inked with music, video, and photography. We are no longer simply two-sentence writers and complaint-handlers. We are museums, galleries, and curators. Are you with us?January 7, 2014
For brands to gain ground in the multi-channel age, we have seen success with clients that start with the mindset. A way of looking at the world. It’s already expanding beyond the retail environs where it came into being—it will flow to (through) your brand in a way that’s organic and unforced. Be ready for it, that’s all.
A recent Ad Age article that appeared to be about social marketing featured this very telling quote from Wendy Clark, senior VP-integrated marketing communications and capabilities at Coca-Cola: “No single medium is as strong as the combination of media.”
Like a welded seam is stronger than the middle of a sheet of metal, Clark says that no strategic plan should be social or television or mobile or experimental: “It’s the combination of owned, earned, shared, and paid media connections… that creates marketplace impact, consumer engagement, brand love, and brand value.”
There you have it. The heart of it all, the place to begin. Welcome to the age of omni-channel.December 20, 2013
Say Yes to Insight
Most digitally active brands still struggle with mastering metrics, insights, and optimization (except retailers). Once you unify the internal machine, unify and standardize a learning from the experiences created by that machine.
For well over a decade, retailers have carefully watched cart abandonment patterns, conversion rates, and average days to repurchase. They make scores, spot patterns, and tweak to optimize. They’ve extended this zeal to the omni-channel world, and it’s a case-in-point for all other industries. To present a seamless omni-channel, follow their lead.
Create a machine—people, tools, processes—that tracks interactions across the full network. Measure to identify the effect of behavior, tactics, life stages and seasons, channels, pricing, participation, and positioning. Experiment and watch response rates change. Integrate that insight for the future. Ask Amazon—they’ll tell you. Optimizing works.
A brand strategy designed for digital has to be both strong enough to sustain a high degree of access and contact, and flexible enough to open up the airwaves for experimental play (that’s casual-speak for tweaking and learning). Your brand’s universe should appear to customers as so universal that your company has one ‘department’. Theirs. Your brand is just always high-personality, ease, and delivery. Backstage, the underpinnings of every metric, budget, and line of seniority should be devotedly omni-channel. The latter creates the former.
Doing this takes streamlined processes and data analysis, but before that, it begins with the answer to a simple but vital question: how does the unique purpose and value of my brand intersect with my audience? We call this connection point the shared ideal. Know it and know your own brand’s pulse (and the pulse of the people who appreciate it most). It could be assumed that Patagonia’s audience, on-paper, may share a kindred appreciation for rock climbing and back-country skiing. But what’s underneath that? What else does Patagonia tap into as a brand? Adventure. Environmental activism. Endurance.
Your understanding of your customers’ ideals—and your projection of your brand’s ideals—is just as optimizable as any other element of your omni-channel approach. The more you pay attention and integrate that attention, the more you’ll know.November 21, 2013
Shopping Across Channels
For CMOs, it’s been a cardinal rule for years, touted by usability gurus like Jakob Nielsen—and it’s as true for customer experience as it is for website and ecommerce design. Whatever you do, don’t project an island-like reflection of your org chart.
Customers don’t shop in silos. But too often, brands appear to the world from the inside-out, reflecting their own organizational legacy more than how customers naturally do things. Different departments fund, build, own, and manage different silos, with success measured within and not across.
“Requirements of shoppers across channels and the customer shopping process should be guiding principles, rather than the ROI of multichannel initiatives.” —Mim Burt, research director at Gartner
Brands get what you’d expect of this disconnect—disparate, disconnected islands of interaction less than the sum of the parts. And as brands race to keep up with changing customer behavior by adding new channels and touchpoints to the mix, many of them are actually doing more harm than good, throwing away chances to engage, connect and convert. By letting an internal mishmash turn into an external one, it’s an uphill climb for brands to be memorable or meaningful in a way that translates to profit and retention.
“Inconsistent experiences across disconnected islands of interaction not only confuse consumers, but will dilute and ultimately undermine a brand.” —John Ounpuu, VP, Strategy, Blast Radius
Brands across the board have sometimes applied old methods to the new age. But there’s a lot of positive on-the-fly hacking that’s gone on as well—brands who have observed, integrated, and turned what could have been a misstep into opportunity. All from paying close attention to the experience they deliver by every-which-way.
Can customers see the seams of your interactions? Do they bump up against the edges of your silos? If any of the following is true for your brand, the answer to these questions is probably yes.
- Different teams run your website, campaigns, social channels, and mobile apps
- Those teams chug along with a coordination between efforts that’s inconsistent
- The systems, tools, technologies, and processes of each silo are disparate, disconnected, or both
- Customer-facing teams are often in competition for budgets, resources, or performance metrics
- Teams are held accountable to different metrics separately
- The customer experience is organized along lines that match your reporting structure
When reporting structures, incentives, and systems are unified among whomever touches the customer experience, the result is a lightness not replicable by old-age approaches. With this lightness, the welcome of a brand’s voice—what people encounter as they search and buy—has an ease and consistency about it that customers like to see. The sum of which is good show.October 9, 2013
Marketing in Real-Time
On hijacking, piggybacking, and borrowing relevance for brand relevance
Timeliness is godliness. To keep connected to the cultural zeitgeist in a way that generates social media brand momentum, you’ve got to be on time. But let’s say that’s a given. What else does it take to not only show up, but to be on-point?
Mature social is all about the staking of identity—real-time content feeds brand storytelling and vice-versa. That’s why it’s so important to do it well. As Sean Weller, Strategy Director at Blast Radius, says, every tweet, image share, or piece of commentary should aim for more than just short-term attention based on what’s happening in the news: “It’s about breaking your brand story down into hundreds of little pieces and making each of them relevant, timely, and worth sharing.”
When you do, the overall effect is a dimensionalization of your brand. A fuller breadth of identity, voice. As though we were all sitting next to Oreo at that game, chuckling at a sidelong bit of wit. Well-done, well-timed real-time marketing (RTM) transforms corporate entities into unique personalities, engaging stories, and points of view.
“We are trying to be a cellphone company with soul, a company that stands for something bigger and changes the relationship you have with the phone company.” —Ron Faris, head of brand marketing at Virgin Mobile USA, on RTM
The first step of on the path to striking the right RTM note is a clear content strategy rooted in your brand story. But remember—talking about yourself is nothing more than monologue. Don’t tell. Show. Demonstrate your brand story in a way that takes on life for your audience.
First, though, you’ve got to know: how do the unique values of your brand intersect with those of your audience? This connection point is the foundation. Here’s why:
- It directly drives topics, tone and voice.
- It ensures audience relevance (without which it won’t even make anyone’s newsfeed).
- It ensures focus on brand over too much product and promotion.
- It provides an anchor that ensures that despite the growing volume of content you’re publishing, it all comes from the same core.
For an example of this idea in action, look to the Nike Super Bowl ad. In his moment of victory, Joe Flacco wears a uniform made by Nike, but the brand logo isn’t visible. Why? Because it’s not selling product. It’s selling the beauty of human potential when unlocked by athletic devotion.
The timing of the post attaches the contemplation to a larger conversation, but the content doesn’t depend on this timeliness. It would have worked just as well as a print ad published two weeks later. That’s the point: the best RTM content is backed by the same amount of brand thinking and strategic rigor that goes into a 30-second TV spot.
That’s all well and good for Nike, you say. But we are not Nike.
Truth: you need to tell great stories. Every successful brand had to, in its infancy, connect with an audience in order to cumulatively build that success. Regardless of category, a smart brand forges relationships based on a common point-of-view and shared values, beliefs, and interests.September 5, 2013