Let’s get weird

We’ve talked plenty about the potential power humor can have on marketing – as well as its potential pitfalls. If you’ve noticed, however, that some marketing these days is blurring the line between humor and absurdity, you’re not alone.

Indeed, over the past several years, brands like KFC, Old Spice, Emerald Nuts, Axe Body Spray and Sprite have embraced and advanced the marketing trend of “oddvertising.” Although the name renders it fairly self-explanatory, oddvertising is humor-based marketing with a decidedly absurdist angle to it – focused less on selling product or making consumers laugh, and more on getting their attention and making them say, “WTF?”

The goal with oddvertising, as you might imagine, is to drive and generate buzz for a brand among audiences who may be more reflexively skeptical to what some would consider “traditional” marketing efforts. That fever-dream of a 30-second spot will serve its purpose in getting people’s attention in the moment, to be sure, but its real value comes in the brand engagement it can drive online after the fact – shares, retweets, likes, comments, “WTF?s,” etc. That’s where oddvertising can cut through the clutter and connect with consumers who may not be easy to connect with.

Of course, the potential risks we discussed with the use of humor are exponentially greater with this type of approach. For example: The common thread among the oddvertising brands listed above? Their audience – millenials and younger. That’s an audience much more predisposed to this type of approach compared with others. And that’s why – as we’ve said more than once – crystal-clear understanding of your audience is crucial at all times.

This isn’t to say this type of approach can’t work with other audiences, of course; it’s only to say that it’s important to know how your audience thinks and consider the degree of absurdity you’re conveying – and the manner and platform in which you deploy it. You wouldn’t want people thinking you’re weird, after all.

On the Go

So! Pokemon Go. If you’re not one of this runaway hit game’s increasing number of players, you’ve more than likely seen others playing it out in the wild. The augmented reality (AR) game has literally taken the world over since its release just a few weeks ago. While it may be just the next in a long and constantly evolving line of “hot” apps that take the world by storm, there are some unique characteristics of Pokemon Go that can offer some important lessons.

What helps make Pokemon Go so popular? And are they things companies can take advantage of?

  1. Simplification. The best games, the old saying goes, should be simple to learn, but difficult to master. The concept of Go is pretty simple – “Gotta catch ‘em all!” – but actually catching them all is very rare. This keeps players engaged in the game more frequently and at greater length.
  2. Gamification. Using AR technology, Go uses your phone to turn the real world into a video game, making the experience immersive – and competitive. By putting players in direct competition with those around them and in their community, it also drives stronger ongoing engagement.
  3. Physical integration. This isn’t an app or game you play sitting at your computer, or in your living room, or in the car. It forces you out into the real world, exploring – and interacting with – various locations throughout your community. And this is where the real opportunity is for retailers in particular: what can you do to draw Go users to your locations? What incentives can you provide?
  4. Social integration. This refers to your actual social network, for once. It’s not uncommon to see groups of friends, co-workers and even families out exploring and playing Go together. This makes the game much more of a shared experience than your traditional app or video game – and it creates a unique opportunity for certain companies/retailers. Again, how can you capture groups of people and lure them to your retail locations?

Pokemon Go is that rare mobile phenomenon that actually makes people more, you know, mobile. It’s also not your traditional app or social network, meaning it can be easy for companies to overlook. It’s important to remember, however, that opportunities to engage with customers and community are everywhere – gotta catch ‘em all!

Social Anxiety

Company CEOs are responsible for a lot. From setting the long-term strategic future of their companies to driving their short-term health and success, CEOs play several important roles. There seems to be one role, however, too many are avoiding.

A recent study from CEO.com shows that more than 60 percent of large-company heads have no social media presence at all – not all that surprising, actually, when you read further and find how many view an active social presence as more negative than positive, especially when it comes to their brands.

Those leaders opting to stay on the social media sideline are missing out on big – and unique – opportunities, unfortunately. While still in the minority, the list of CEOs becoming active on social continues to grow – and continues to demonstrate daily why it’s a smart marketing move for CEOs and their companies:

  • It sends a message about their brand. Perception is reality, we’re reminded all too often, and usually because of negative circumstances. On the flip side, however, savvy consumers perceive CEOs who maintain an active presence on social media very positively. And that perception often extends across the entire brand.
  • It’s where your customers are. As companies grow, so do the layers of insulation around CEOs. Sometimes, this insulation gets to the point that it’s hard for a company’s leader to truly know what’s taking place on the front lines, especially when it comes to customers and their experiences. In addition, social provides a window into what customers really think about their services, their products, and their people.
  • It helps build trust, inside and out. CEOs must consistently fight against the perception – there’s that word again – that they’re removed, insulated and out of touch. An active presence on social media can help leaders change those perceptions – and build a stronger level of trust with both employees and customers in the process.

If you’re a CEO fearful of becoming active on social media, fear not! Instead, embrace it. Employ it. Enjoy it. You, as well as your customers and employees, will be glad you did.

 

Smooth Sailing

Smoker_Fishing_BRWhile summer boat season may seem like a distant dream (or cruel trick) right now, it’s right around the corner for our friends at the Smoker Craft family of boat brands. Indeed, ‘tis the season for those thinking about purchasing a new boat – be it fishing, pontoon, water sports. ‘Tis the season, then, for us to help Smoker Craft make the decision easy.

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We’ve been working hard the past several months to produce high-quality, beautiful brochures for each brand within the Smoker Craft family of boat brands. With each one, we faced a similar challenge – balancing the uniqueness of each brand while carrying through the overall value that comes with being a part of the Smoker Craft family of brands.

The books are now done – and are already getting potential buyers pumped about boating season and warmer months. After all, when you have the right co-captain on your marketing journey, it’s sure to be smooth sailing.

 

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Escape from Marketing Island

As marketers, it can be easy to feel like we exist on an island. To bury ourselves in our work and maintain an exclusive, almost laser-like focus on…well…our marketing. Because that’s what we do. The same can be said of salespeople – existing on their own island, maintaining their laser-like focus on…well…their sales. Because that’s what they do. But what if working together – building a bridge between those two islands – made both sides better?

Sales and marketing are often lumped together in terms of how a business operates, which makes the seas that can rise up between these two islands all the more surprising – and disappointing. Marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, after all, and neither does sales.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. Indeed, as this recent article helpfully reminds us, “by collaborating with sales reps during the content development process, marketers can create content resources that will better meet the needs of salespeople.” And, in turn, such collaboration means salespeople can help marketers more effectively create such content.

How? Well, as the same article explains, there tend to be six levels or degrees of personalization when it comes to content marketing. These cover the full spectrum, from generic (no personalization) content to lead-specific (highly personalized, one-on-one) content. Marketers can often see the most productive use of their time spent at the more generic end of the spectrum – delivering the most content to the most people – while salespeople often want to spend the majority of their time at the more personalized end of the spectrum – building and maintaining individual relationships with customers and prospects. How, then, can we bridge this divide?

For marketers, the key is to move further down the personalization spectrum. While true one-to-one content marketing isn’t always feasible or practical, making content more segment- and audience-specific can empower sales people by providing them with a marketing asset that’s more personalized and targeted.

Equally important is the ability of marketers to train, equip and support salespeople to either personalize existing content, or create individualized content for their end of the spectrum. “The conventional wisdom,” the article continues, “has been that salespeople should not be spending their time developing content.” There are certain types of content, however, that are best left for a member of the sales team to develop.

Salespeople can help marketers become more effective in developing more personalized and targeted content. And marketers can help sales people become more effective in developing content of their own in the right situations. This is where collaboration between sales and marketing – bridging those two islands – can be so valuable and profound.

Chief Executive Cheerleader

Much is discussed about the importance of brands identifying and engaging with key influencers – the prominent customers and other leaders that stand tall in their respective industries – and turning them into social advocates on behalf of its products and services. And for good reason – their support lends an authenticity to your marketing that is hard to produce otherwise. We so often cast our gaze outward when identifying these influencers, however, that we sometimes forget the most powerful ones may be right in front of us.

Creating brand ambassadors and advocates out of our own employees offers significant upside for brands. After all, as this column recently reminded us, employees are a company’s most valuable and important asset. Beyond that, however, they are often regarded as its most trusted influencers.

At the same time, enabling employees to become brand advocates is not without its risks and potential pitfalls. To ensure employees are not just enabled but empowered to act as social advocates, marketers need to make sure employee advocates:

  • Know the rules. Establish an official social media policy for anyone and everyone who may represent the brand in any capacity via social media, and make sure everyone clearly understands it.
  • Know the story. It stands to reason that employee advocates should clearly know your brand’s voice and personality to ensure consistency of voice across all communications and touchpoints.
  • Know the game plan. Educate employee advocates on your marketing strategy – especially the role social plays in it – so they have objectives and goals in mind when developing content and engaging with audiences.
  • Are supported. Creating and/or curating high-quality content that reflects positively on your brand ensures employees are armed with the resources necessary to be consistent, compelling and sustainable in their activity.

The thought of ceding control to employee advocates can understandably make some marketers nervous. Done carefully and with proper planning and preparation, however, turning employees into social story-tellers can be a powerful, long-term marketing tool.

Can we be friends?

For companies of all sizes, a successful social media presence is predicated on understanding your audience. It’s not enough to understand your audience, however. You also have to grow it.

First, an IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE: Growing the number of likes or followers should not be a strategic objective in and of itself, of course. And when it comes to audience, quality is just as important as quantity.

That being said, you should should always think about growing your social audience on a consistent basis. The more people you engage with overall, it stands to reason, the more successful you’ll be at meeting your strategic objectives and growing the bottom line.

How, then, do you grow your audience? How can you effectively increase your likes, followers, reach and, most importantly, engagement? As this recent study shows, there are myriad ways for companies to increase audience. Below, we highlight some of the most effective ways, listed in order from easiest to, well, less easy.

  • Ask. Making sure your audience is aware of your social presence and then asking them to join you there can be surprisingly simple and effective! The real work is in identifying all the external touchpoints you have with customers – email signatures, product packaging, website, etc. – and then ensuring it’s easy to find and connect with you socially.
  • Entice. Running periodic product giveaways and prize promotions can also be an effective way to drive up the size of your audience in short order. It’s keeping them there after the promotion is over that becomes more difficult, yet so important.
  • Entertain. We’ve talked before about the value of humor in your social presence. Whether it’s sharing/repurposing widely popular themes or finding your own funny bone, humor is often the quickest way to an audience’s heart. This works for inspirational content as well.
  • Educate. Content is king for a reason – it may not be easy working your way up to the throne, but it sure is worth it. As the study mentioned above shows, nearly 80 percent of brands say producing useful content is the most effective way for them to attract customers to their social media presence.

The best approach to growing your audience, of course, is a healthy balance of all of the above, underscoring the importance of a living, breathing content strategy. Growing your audience is not the goal itself, but the process can certainly make you more effective in achieving your overall marketing goals.

 

All apologies

Company apologies are never easy. From mea culpas to individual, disgruntled customers to worldwide “whoopsies!” for major blunders or scandals (hello, VW and BP!), the company apology is a treacherous road for brands to navigate. Done poorly, they can cause companies to come off as callous and indifferent – or, even worse, open them up to excessive liability and legal action. Done right, however, they can also be an opportunity.

We’ve been thinking about this more and more as the VW scandal in particular continues to expand. While that one is quickly reaching the level where no amount of apologizing will atone for the damage done, it’s the exception to the rule. For the vast majority of company miscues calling for an apology, an effective utilization of “our bad” can turn be a unique chance to humanize your brand – and, as a result, strengthen the connection your customers have with it.

So what makes for the right kind of “we were wrong?” Generality speaking, a successful apology will be based on these tenets:

  • Be honest. This should seem obvious, no? And yet, many are the examples where a crisis can’t be contained because the company wasn’t fully and completely forthright in its scope from the outset. (VW is a glaring example of this unfolding in real-time.) Damage can be contained more effectively if information doesn’t continue to drip out slowly at irregular intervals.
  • Be genuine. An apology should have just the right amount of emotional quality to it. It should be heartfelt and feel authentic.
  • Be brief. Internally, make sure you know everything about the issue at hand. Externally, be direct and to the point. You can be honest and transparent while only sharing the most relevant details of an issue.
  • Be positive. The best kind of apology puts the transgression in perspective while pivoting toward the positive features and benefits of a particular product or service.

The path to a proper company apology is full of potential potholes, to be sure. Handled thoughtfully and thoroughly, however, a company can make sure it’s not sorry it said sorry.

 

Prize fighters

Kroger Billboard

Once again this year, the community-minded folks at Kroger devote the month of October to raising money to help the fight against cancer. And once again this year, they turned to us to help them take the fight public – and raise as much money as possible.

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Through its annual Fight Cancer Day promotion, Kroger stores in the Fort Wayne area donate a percentage of their sales from an entire day in October to three organizations leading the fight against cancer – the American Cancer Society, Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana and Francine’s Friends. In addition, shoppers can make donations at check-out through the entire month of October. The more shoppers who know about these opportunities to help in the fight, the more money raised, of course. Which is where we come in.

Working with the team at Kroger, we identified three store employees from the region who’ve fought cancer and won, connecting them with one of the supporting charities and then showcasing them in a high-profile, cross-platform campaign, including outdoor, print and in-store materials.

Kroger Display

While we don’t know the total amount raise for this year’s efforts, we’re confident our sharing of the inspiring stories of perseverance and bravery shown by these employees will make this year’s total one of the best ever. And, in the process, make the fight against cancer stronger than ever.

Don’t hate me, bro!

You may have heard the news this week that Facebook is getting ready to unveil a “dislike” button. While the majority of users gave the news a big thumbs up – people have been clamoring for a dislike button on Facebook for almost as long as Facebook has been around – brands were less enthused. Now they have to worry about a deluge of dislikes? Should they dislike the dislike button?

First and foremost: The dislike button isn’t really a dislike button. As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in announcing the feature, it’s more of an empathy/sympathy button. There are experiences/news/events people share on FB – the death of a loved one, loss of a job, injured child, etc. – where users want to commiserate, but the like button doesn’t seem appropriate. Now, users can share a frowny-face emoji or click a thumbs-down button, for example, for a “sad” post.

The ultimate goal, from Facebook’s perspective, is to give users more opportunities to interact with each other in more ways. Its goal is not to make it easier for users to trash or disparage brands – it’s those brands advertising on the site, after all, that keep FB in business. Does this mean brands shouldn’t be prepared for the button – should it come to full fruition – to be used in ways other than FB intends? Of course not. Conversely, does it mean brand pages will be overrun with dislikes on each post? Most likely not.

Remember: If someone wants to voice their displeasure with your brand, it’s already very easy for them to do so. They can leave a negative comment on any post. They can create a negative post on your page. They can publish a negative post on their own profile. They can like someone else’s negative comment or post. They’ve always had the means; this new feature – if it comes to be – would be just another way for them to voice criticism or complaint.

On the other hand, it can also be a way for brands to be more empathic, more personable, more human. It makes it easier to interact with their audience on a personal level, in turn strengthening their connection on an emotional level.

So is the dislike button adversarial Armageddon for brands? Almost certainly not. Is it something brands should be aware of and prepare for? It wouldn’t hurt. Can it be another opportunity to connect with your core audience in a meaningful way? Absolutely. And that, ultimately, deserves a big thumbs-up.

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