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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.

Greater things

There’s a lot going on in downtown Fort Wayne these days – so much so, in fact, it can be hard to see all the activity as part of a greater vision. Our friends at Greater Fort Wayne Inc. turned to us to help share that vision – and inspire our city.

Working closely with the outstanding team at GFW Inc., we pulled from all areas of our agency’s expertise to produce “Opportunity on the Edge of Greatness” – a campaign and video that focused on the plan, the purpose and the people of our community. Using drone footage and 3D mapping, we pinpointed exactly where each of the downtown’s five key developments will take shape. These five attractions – the downtown event center, The Landing, Riverfront Promenade, GE Campus and STEAM Park – will turn historic Fort Wayne staples into areas of entertainment and community involvement.

Highlighting the success of recent expansions such as the Tincaps Stadium and the renovation of the Embassy Theatre evidenced the supportive, thriving nature of our downtown – and how much potential it still offers our city’s future. A project for our community is one we’re grateful to put our name on. And although it’s a long-term plan, it’s been a long time coming.

In the fast lane

For the recreational vehicle industry, the National RV Trade Show each year in Louisville is a Really. Big. Deal. And we were excited to once again help our friends at Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. stand out in a Really. Big. Way.

The National RV Trade Show is a prime and important opportunity for FCCC to demonstrate its latest products and promote coaches coming to market in 2017 built on its luxury diesel chassis. For this year in particular, Freightliner had two objectives: 1) showcase their impressive new innovations and technology exclusive to FCCC; and 2) introduce the new messaging they’re gearing towards in 2017: “Backed by Daimler. Grown in Gaffney. Driven by You.” – the three pillar statements encompass the foundation, history and mission of FCCC.

Months of conceptualizing, planning and teasing the launched through trade publications and select events led us to bring this year’s booth to life. This included a 360-degree virtual reality experience that gave viewers a lesson on the detail, comfort and convenience of FCCC, as well as a hands-on interactive display to unveil the new Key FOB capabilities. We also had some thematic fun – some Daimler engineering in the form of a 2016 Mercedes Maybach next to some American muscle in the form of “Problem Child,” a 1970 Plymouth GTX painstakingly restored by an FCCC employee. Both were huge draws to the booth – and the VR and interactive displays kept them there.

In addition to the comprehensive booth presence itself, we generated awareness of and excitement through trade advertising in the show-preview issues of industry publications, as well as dedicated public relations and social media efforts. Overall, the show was another huge success for FCCC, helping ensure it hits 2017 at full speed.

Best Foot Forward

For any organization, a successful annual report does more than tell the financial story of the year – it also tells the stories of those who’ve helped make the past year possible. Once again, we were honored to help our friends at Do it Best Corp. tell the story of their successful year – and of the members they helped grow and succeed.

After helping the co-op celebrate its 70th anniversary in the home improvement industry with a look back in 2015, we wanted the 2016 report to look forward. Framed around the theme of “Dream. Build. Grow,” we shared stories of how Do it Best Corp. – the largest privately held company in the state of Indiana with annual sales of $3 billion – helps its thousands of hardware store, home center and lumberyard member-owners throughout the United States and in 52 other countries grow their businesses and achieve their dreams through a comprehensive menu of programs and services.

We traveled to member locations throughout the country, capturing and sharing their entrepreneurial success stories – and how their partnership with Do it Best Corp. helps make it possible. With the co-op’s trademark hammer on the cover, this year’s annual report drives home the achievements and accomplishments of its members and how their co-op partnership gets stronger year after year.

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.

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.

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.

Work of art

“Part art, part science.”

It’s a common phrase within – and description of – our industry, and one that does a solid and succinct job of detailing both its possibilities and the limitations. The challenge for us and every marketer, of course, is determining how much of each ingredient any particular recipe calls for.

The trend in recent years has been decidedly in the direction of the science portion, especially as digital marketing has grown in stature and the data tools we have access to as marketers have become more sophisticated and detailed. And, after all, marketers have to make a business case – and show a return on investment – for what we do and why we do it. Science (data) helps us do that.

So it can be easy to assume the growth of “science” means a corresponding drop in “art,” right? As we place more value and importance on data, do we place less value on design? That doesn’t have to be – and shouldn’t be – the case, as this recent article happily reminded us. Through all of the disparate examples of major brands uniquely and creatively employing art in recent campaigns a common thread emerges: storytelling still matters.

Indeed, it’s as important as ever, and it reinforces the mutually dependent nature of the relationship these ingredients have. You can’t determine success without an objective way to define it. That’s science. And it’s REALLY hard to find success as a marketer without telling a creative and compelling story. That’s art.

If nothing else, the article serves as a refreshing reminder that art remains a vital ingredient to marketing success. Indeed, in our increasingly and incredibly fractured media landscape, the ability to cut through the clutter by creating some beautiful art may be more important than ever.

 

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