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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.


Behind the Shelves

While they provide fresh-picked produce, gourmet cheeses and delicious baked goods, the greatest, most beneficial things Kroger supplies its communities with can’t be put on a shelf or bought in a store.


Each year, we work with Kroger’s Central Division – which covers 136 stores in 5 states – to produce their Community Report, which details all the ways the company works to make a positive impact on the populations and communities it serves.

This year, we focused on the stories – their partnerships, sponsorships and relationships. We used their 2015 Community Report as a symbol of the hard work and dedication each Kroger employee puts forth every day in making their communities stronger and more connected.

As most organizations would love to boast their commitment to their communities, you can’t fight facts – and highlighting the multiple ways Kroger went above and beyond in its previous fiscal year came easy.  In 2015 alone, Kroger Central Division invested $13 million in its local communities through hunger relief, K-12 education and additional initiatives.

Sure, Kroger is your neighborhood grocery store – available for all your kitchen and pantry necessities – but it’s much more. Behind the shelves, Kroger operates and thrives as a vital part of each town and city in which they are located – including our own. Although many of their most honorable efforts go overlooked and unheard, they continuously work, day in and day out, to ensure they have a positive, long-lasting impact in each and every community they serve. kroger_2

Putting the Outback Up Front


Earlier this year, our friends at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo unveiled some awesome additions and updates to its Australian Adventure exhibit. They asked us to help showcase the incredible Australian Adventure to the community – and demonstrate how it brings kids’ dreams to life.

The concept for the 30-second TV spot  we created begins with actual artwork from local children in which we asked them to draw what came to mind for the Australian outback. We then took those masterpieces – and the kids who created them – and used the spot to highlight the Australian Adventure’s many new and updated features, including the Reef, Stingray Bay, River Ride, kangaroo colony and three new aviaries. The spot captures all of the Adventure’s many new aspects while also demonstrating it captures the Australian-themed imagination of kids of all ages.

As the Zoo closes in on the close of another successful season, the Australian Adventure has been a huge hit and popular attraction. We are thrilled with how the spot turned out, and love seeing the new Australian Adventure have an impact on the Zoo as big as the Outback itself.

Shining STAR

Founded in 1943, STAR has grown to become one of Indiana’s largest privately held community banks. Even as they’ve grown and expanded their footprint throughout the state, they’ve stayed true to the mission and values they were founded on – which is increasingly rare and refreshing in a rapidly changing industry.

We are honored to serve STAR as its agency of record and were thrilled to begin developing a comprehensive, multi-channel marketing campaign earlier this year. While telling the unique STAR story and underscoring its local roots and personalized customer experience, the campaign also acknowledges that today’s consumers are changing. So while the campaign has its foundation in traditional avenues like television, and outdoor, it also employs an innovative range of digital touchpoints as well, including via social media and other strategically targeted platforms.

While the touchpoints differ, the message is consistent: Thanks to its history and its values, STAR is uniquely positioned to treat its customers like family. Indeed, the campaign is building brand awareness and showing communities they can “Come home to STAR” and that #STARBankcares – using these slogans and hashtags throughout ads and social media posts and promos.



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.


You may have heard – or noticed – that the beloved and wildly popular photo app Instagram recently unveiled a major overhaul of its brand, including a new logo. You may have also heard that a lot of Instagrammers were not happy with the new look and wanted the old one back RIGHT. THIS. MINUTE. Unfortunately, such anger may be revealing an inconvenient truth about those who are angry – and the fluid nature of social networks.

The truth hurts sometimes, but here it is: If you really don’t like Instagram’s new logo and branding, odds are you are no longer part of its target audience. It’s nothing personal, of course; it’s just a natural reflection of how social networks adapt and shift over time to grow audience and maintain relevancy.

Instagram, as it so happens, is a perfect example of this. When it first started, and throughout its first several years, its original logo – a retro camera image reminiscent of an old Polaroid camera – captured what the site was about to the majority of its users: an app that turned regular iPhone photos into retro-looking, highly stylized images.


Over the past few years, however, Instagram has seen a sustained, significant shift in the audience that constitutes its heaviest and most active users. That audience became much younger and much less interested in retro filters. Instead, they see Instagram as, you know, a social network – a non-Facebook, non-Twitter place where they connect with friends and peers in a format that doesn’t require a bunch of those pesky words.

Instagram realized this shift a while back and saw its old branding as one that doesn’t necessarily speak or appeal to this younger, newer core audience. So it overhauled it to something that better resonates with that group – and left us old-fashioned retro-lovers to stew in our own rage. Until it’s time to share a pic of our next meal, of course.

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