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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.

 

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.

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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

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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.

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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.