Signs of intelligent life

Artificial intelligence is a major disruptive force across a number of industries right now, and marketing is no different. A recent Salesforce study, for example, took the pulse of marketing leaders worldwide to see if – and, just as importantly, how – they see AI impacting their work over the next few years. And while some insights from the survey seem pretty straightforward, a few thoughts about how AI may impact marketing were a bit more surprising.

First, the straightforward parts – as you’d expect, the areas where AI is seen as having the biggest impact center on “big data,” campaign analytics and operational efficiency. Upwards of 60 percent of respondents envision leveraging AI to enhance predictive customer journeys, programmatic ad buying, lead scoring and digital asset management. Nothing too surprising there, as AI’s ability to crunch massive amounts of data and “learn” from it over time and through repetition.

Now, on to the more surprising parts: Marketers also see AI helping them make the customer experience more personal and more personalized. This speaks to one of the most interesting and lesser known aspects of AI. Sure, its impact can be huge across huge audiences, but its impact can be just as huge in enabling marketers to enhance their one-on-one engagement with customers – providing more personalized content as part of a more tailored experience and at ever-growing economies of scale. There’s power in personalization, and making it easier for marketers to personalize their customer experience may turn out being one of AI’s most profound impacts in our industry.

Simply put, AI will certainly help marketers think big – and think small.

Are you experienced?

It’s easy to think of a marketing budget as a pie, with each piece representing a particular platform or tactic. As customers and media change and evolve, some pieces get smaller, while others get bigger. Digital and mobile, in particular, are pieces that have gotten bigger over the past couple of years. A recent survey of marketing chiefs, however, reminded us that there’s another, slightly more analog piece that is also expected to grow in the coming years.

A recent survey showed that more than half of brand marketers from across the U.S., Europe and Asia expect to spend at least 20 percent of their budget on experiential marketing over the next three to five years – up from barely 30 percent of marketers who do so currently.

First off: What is experiential marketing? Also known as engagement marketing or event marketing, experiential is a marketing strategy that aims to directly engage consumers through primarily in-person experiences and, as a result, transition them from passive observers to active influencers on behalf of a brand.

Secondly: Why is it growing? Well, as our world grows more digital and mobile – and as our media consumption becomes more fractured and customized – it can become increasingly difficult for traditional marketing to reach and engage with large numbers of consumers. In addition, experiential provides a high-contact, three-dimensional, immersive brand experience that other platforms often cannot. (Like dropping bags of chips from a helicopter, for example.)

While popular for B2C, of course, experiential offers plenty of possibilities for B2B as well. Trade shows and other industry events are perfect examples of times where B2B brands have a captive audience and a branded space; why just hand out brochures and free branded pens? How can you make your booth experience at the next big trade show more experiential?

From a VR headset providing an immersive experience of your product or service to an augmented reality display bridging the digital and physical worlds – and through many other experiences in between – B2B brands can use experiential to as great an effect as B2C brands. (Even if you can’t drop your products from a helicopter.)

Build your tribe

“Marketers aren’t the owners of their brands. They’re merely the stewards of it.” It’s a saying fairly well known in the marketing world, but one that can still be fairly hard to come to terms with for some companies. Of course we own our brand. If not us, then who?

Well, here’s who.

Broadly speaking, a company’s brand belongs to an imprecise and constantly evolving cross-section of its customers, prospects, employees, suppliers, influencers, partners, etc. They “own” the brand because they are the ones who, by and large, determine its success and/or failure. The more connected they feel to a brand, the more likely they are to support it. The broader and deeper the support a brand has, the stronger its sense of ownership feels. In this approach, as a recent article helpfully explains, the brand’s heavy lifting is done by its community.

As the article also suggests, perhaps the easiest and most effective ways to create a clearer and better defined sense of a brand is to think of it less as a community and more as a tribe. The examples of brand tribes within the B2C world are virtually innumerable, of course – sports teams, food brands, music acts, clothing labels, etc. Generally speaking, we’re more predisposed to join a tribe that impacts or connects to our personal lives.

This doesn’t mean, however, that B2B companies can’t – and don’t – successfully build and grow their own tribes. After all, whether it’s B2C or B2B, it’s really about B2H – business to human. Companies need to build and grow an emotional, personal connection with consumers, no matter what they’re selling. Because at the end of the day, a purchase decision is still an emotional one, no matter what they’re buying. It’s also important to remember that the purchase is just the beginning of that relationship, not the end; companies that commit to providing a positive, engaging customer experience throughout the product life cycle are the ones that most often build tribes of loyal, emotionally connected customers.

All this being said, it can still be hard for companies to see themselves not as the owners of their brands but as their stewards. The sooner they do, however, the sooner they begin understanding who the owners truly are – and how to build a growing tribe full of them.

Who’s the boss?

Call to action. Perhaps the three most important words in marketing – important because they should clearly define why it is we’re doing what we’re doing – be it an ad, brochure, circular, email, etc. What do we want people to do when they see/hear/read this? What’s our call to action? And while prevailing industry wisdom is to keep calls to action simple, straightforward and to the point, a new academic paper shows that something else marketers take for granted may actually backfire on them – especially with their most important customers.

For brands, the tendency to be direct (and even assertive) in their calls to action is obvious, especially in our increasingly fractured media landscape. Nuance is no good when you only have a few seconds – if that – of a consumers’ (relatively) undivided attention. Instead of nuance, brands often emphasize “now” – Buy now! Call now! Order now! Visit now!

And that’s where they can run into trouble, as the paper, publishing soon in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, argues. Simply put, consumers don’t like being told what to do – or even the feeling that they’re being told what to do. Instead, they have an instinctual need to feel like they are making their own choices. The challenge for marketers, then, is to make that choice easy for consumers – but in a way that makes them feel as if they’re making the decision themselves.

Of course, this is a very fine line; one that can be constantly shifting and must be constantly minded. The best results, the paper shows, come from ads that are “informative and hint at action” for the consumer. Informative is easy, sure, but “hint?” How do marketers determine between a hint and a harangue? As we say often, this is where understanding your audience and your customers to an extreme degree is so important. The better you know them, the better you know just how far to push that hint without becoming overly assertive and off-putting.

As if marketers didn’t have enough to fret about, this is something new and not insignificant. The good news, however, is that it’s also a reminder that brands who work consistently to create an ongoing dialogue with their customers are much better positioned to avoid being too assertive – and instead hit home runs with their hints of action.

All the way live

You see a lot of pontificating about new year’s resolutions this time of year. (Including some really good pontificating!) You’ll also see a lot of predicting this time of year – and marketing is not spared from the prediction game. Indeed, you’d be hard pressed to find an article discussing marketing predictions for 2017 that doesn’t have live video at or near the top. The big question for marketers, of course: Can live video work for my brand? And, if so, how?

Okay, so that was technically two big questions, but you get the picture. First, a quick primer: live video is just as it sounds – using a social or digital platform of some kind (Facebook being the most popular choice at the moment) to broadcast live video to your brand page using a smartphone or tablet.

Many marketers and brands – especially those in the B2B space – may look at live video and assume it’s a strictly consumer-focused endeavor. And yet! Live video presents numerous opportunities for unique and valuable audience engagement for brands of all shapes and sizes – and across all industries. A few examples of putting live video to work as a part of your marketing toolbox:

  • Trade shows / events. Trade shows and other industry events are a big deal for brands every year – why not bring the experience to those who can’t be there in person? Live video is a great way to share product announcements/unveilings, booth tours, floor tours, etc. And it’s a great way to engage with your audience each day of an event – if not more frequently.
  • Q+As / interviews. Sitting down with an organizational leader/ambassador for short, real-time Q+A sessions can be a powerful platform to address and discuss issues promptly and transparently.
  • Facility tours. Organizations can show off their headquarters, manufacturing facilities, logistics warehouses, customer service centers – you get the picture. Live-video tours can demonstrate an organization’s technological/physical sophistication and scale in an accessible, engaging way.

These are just a few examples of how, even for B2B brands, live video offers a wealth of possibility and potential for 2017 and beyond. Don’t forget that most platforms record and preserve live video, meaning it can be uploaded to YouTube or other social accounts after the fact to positively impact SEO and online visibility.

So if you thought live video was the shiny new object only consumer-facing brands get to play with, think again. And it’s more than just a shiny new object, too; it’s a promising new tool for organizations of all shapes and sizes to feel alive.

New Year’s Evolutions

Jokes about failing to stick to our New Year’s resolutions are as cliched as jokes about New Year’s resolutions themselves. We fail at sticking to our resolutions because they’re so often rooted in radical change – departures from our regular routines so severe that they prove nearly impossible to fully adopt and implement. Which got us to thinking: Instead of wholesale resolutions for the new year, how about incremental evolutions?

For marketers, the start of the new year is as good a time as any to look at the trends shaping our work and how they may impact our strategies and tactics for the year ahead and beyond. Inspired by the litany of 2017 articles discussing marketing trends for the coming year – including this one – we offer up a few evolutions for the new year:

  • Broaden your horizons. The new year is an ideal time for marketers to step back, examine goals and objectives for the coming year – and determine if there are new platforms, outlets, deliverables, tactics, etc., you haven’t used before but may be of more strategic value now. Are there other touchpoints and tactics we should think about using for 2017?
  • Maintain your focus. At the same time, it can be easy for marketers and brands to get distracted by new and shiny, spreading themselves too thin as a result. Having a comprehensive understanding of, and focus on, objectives and goals helps you keep your eyes on the prize, and reminds you that more isn’t always better.
  • Have fun! After all, that’s why we do this, right? Marketers who infuse the brands they’re responsible for with energy, personality and character – who make their brands seem like they’re having fun – connect with audiences on an emotional level. And that’s where long-term, mutually beneficial customer/brand relationships take root and grow.

So instead of whole resolutions, let’s all resolve to evolve our marketing efforts in the new year – identify those opportunities for incremental improvement and change that can make big differences in the year ahead. Sure beats trying to find an open treadmill at the gym.

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!

Algo-geddon, part 25

You may have missed that Facebook announced YET ANOTHER change to the algorithm it employs to power users’ news feeds. While Facebook algorithm changes can seem so frequent and subtle they’re hardly noticeable anymore, this most recent one is causing a great deal of consternation for brands and news outlets in particular.

Here’s how the algorithm is changing, in an nutshell: Moving forward, it will prioritize personal content from users’ friends and family at the expense of professional content from publishers and brands.

Facebook has good reasons for the change – it will continue to…inspire, shall we say…brands and publishers to supplement their organic content with paid prioritization of their content, along with ads and other paid solutions.

This has marketers predictably panicked, concerned that their organic content will be buried beneath a barrage of baby photos, birthday party recaps and other banal banter.

Savvy and forward-thinking marketers, on the other had, will hopefully see the change for what it can be: a good opportunity.

Effective social marketing, after all, should be a two-way conversation, not a one-way communication. And effective social marketing means many of those conversations should be with the people that matter in your particular industry – thought leaders, influencers, stakeholders, innovators. Productive conversations and smart content can turn those people into advocates and ambassadors on platforms like Facebook. Those advocates amplify your content and message to their networks – the kind of content this new algorithm will place increased value in.

This also serves as a reminder of two important things: 1) Strategic plans must be adaptable to external factors at any and all times; and 2) Marketers should never be over-reliant on any particular platform or outlet, especially one owned by other companies with objectives other than their own. An effective social media strategy is content strategy at heart – as focused on the message itself as it is the delivery platform.

 

Where are you, social CEOs?

The notion of a company not being officially active on social media is as antiquated today as a company not having an official website 15 years ago. It is simply a given that brands – virtually regardless of industry, product or service at this point – must have some kind of active presence on social media. Why, then, do we not extend the same expectations to those companies’ most visible representatives?

In 2015, one study showed more than 60 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs had no – as in nada, zilch, nothing – social media presence. And this is at Fortune 500 companies – imagine what the percentage of leaders not active on social is at your average small or medium-sized business

This fact, unfortunately, runs directly counter to customer expectations: 64 percent of American consumers think CEOs should be active on social media, and more than 50 percent say leaders who are transparent on social media are also more trustworthy.

There are some high-profile leaders who are quite active on social, to be sure, but they remain the rather rare exception to the rule. Which is a shame and a missed opportunity for most companies; an active and open leadership presence offers several benefits:

  • It can educate. People – prospects, customers, vendors, media, etc. – want to know more about your company and its products/services. That’s what your website is for, of course, but many people now view social as another primary source of company info, especially when coming from someone in a position of leadership.
  • It can entertain. A company’s official social presence is crucial to amplifying the brand voice and identity, but putting an actual name and face to the brand in the form of leadership can be doubly effective. Indeed, an audience can more easily understand and absorb a brand’s voice when it’s delivered through the voice of an actual person.
  • It can move the bottom line. Consumers who feel a personal connection to a brand – something social media is uniquely effective at helping to create – spend more on average. There are few more easily effective ways to develop that connection than through providing a personal face and identity unique to your brand.

Most often, leaders think being active on social means going way out of their comfort zones and jumping on Twitter or Instagram. Quite often, and especially for B2B brands, a leader active on LinkedIn is just as effective, if not more so. As we always say, know your audience and where they are.

Just as importantly, CEOs and other key leaders don’t need to manage their presence entirely themselves – far from it, in fact. Marketing departments and/or agencies should be involved to ensure the CEO’s approach aligns closely with the brand’s content voice and overall social strategy.

The bad news: far too many companies have failed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by having an active CEO and/or other leaders on social media. The good news: those opportunities are amplified for those who do.

 

 

Should we still love the like?

When it comes to measuring social marketing, each platform provides some fairly basic and straightforward ways to define and determine success – Facebook likes, for example. Some rather significant changes among many of the most prominent platforms, however, has many marketers facing a important question: What’s a “like” really worth anymore?

It started with Facebook’s overhaul of its audience-feedback system, which expanded the options from the traditional like to five different reactions. (We discussed the implications – and possibilities – of that update a while back.)

Beyond that, however, other factors have come into play that are causing marketers to question whether the almighty like is still all it’s cracked up to be:

  • Audiences are getting younger. And younger social media users view liking something differently than older ones. Whereas older users put consideration into liking something (because they, you know, actually like it), younger social media users often see liking as simply acknowledging its existence. Watch a teen navigate his or her Instagram feed and you’ll see what we mean – they’ll often like everything in the feed without stopping to considering its quality or likability. (Hence our discussion of Instagram’s branding shift in last week’s note.)
  • Platforms are changing. More specifically, they’re changing how users digest content. Both Facebook and LinkedIn, as we all know, are constantly tinkering with algorithms and, as a result, having a serious impact on what users see which content. Just as importantly, both Instagram and Twitter have announced their own intention to move from a reverse-chronological feed to an algorithmically driven one, which may carry significant impacts for marketers in how much of their content will reach their usual audience.

These changes and shifts have marketers understandably nervous when it comes to measuring engagement and what value the like and its ilk still carry. The bottom line: Marketers should always be striving for a harmonious balance between quality and quantity. You can have the biggest audience imaginable – but a large audience that is unengaged is of little value. The same goes for a smaller but engaged audience. Sure, passion is important, but so is size and scale.

And, equally important, is remembering that social media keeps you on your toes with its constant tinkering and platform changes – marketers must be equally flexible and adept at making sure strategy and tactics are in service to changing goals and objectives. There’s a lot to like about that approach.

CONTACT

GET IN TOUCH WITH US!

Simple Share Buttons