Back to the future.

back to the future

Are marketing communications becoming more primitive as the digital landscape becomes more sophisticated?

That’s the premise of a recent article by marketing blogger, Kirsty Sharman. According to Ms. Sharman, the social web mimics pre-industrial times, when personal relationships and word-of-mouth were the primary ways to get information.

With the rise of mass media, brands moved toward sharing their stories through one-way communications via TV or radio commercials, for example, or print ads. But now, the Internet has people gravitating towards small communities again, just like in the old days. Social networks, blogs, Google search and IM platforms have brought our marketing strategies full circle, as well— back to a place where peer-to-peer communication is what we crave, and brand stories that relate to our personal niche are the ones we’re choosing to consume.

The takeaway for brand firms like us — and our clients? Stay personal, approachable, and relatable. For tech marketers, it’s essential to translate speeds and feeds into compelling human benefits.

The good old days are back and the future, according to Ms. Sharman, looks more personal.

Photo:  Dave Gilbert (Creative Commons)

Micro-targeting is here to stay.

micro-targeting marketing

IBM is now in the micro-targeting business.

A year ago, it acquired Silverpop, an Atlanta-based company that automates digital marketing and uses customer profiles to define audiences on social, Web, email and mobile platforms.

And just recently Big Blue negotiated a deal with Facebook and The Weather Channel that will enable IBM clients to find look-alike audiences for their customer segments on Facebook for the sake of targeting prospective buyers — and zeroing in on consumers with the propensity to purchase specific items.

With the customer data IBM is acquiring on its cloud, marketers will know everything from customers’ previous purchasing histories (even which products they left abandoned in Web shopping carts) to the weather forecasts in their specific geographic locations.

We’ll be seeing “micro-targeting” to the nth degree: marketers like Nike and Adidas will be delivering customized shoe ads to customers based on what kinds of athletic footwear they prefer — and what climate they live in (and whether it will rain tomorrow).

According to Deepak Advani, general manager, IBM Commerce, this data will allow “consumer-product companies and retailers to quickly and easily gain deeper insight into what their customers expect and in turn provide them with compelling experiences that bridge the physical and virtual divide.”

Facebook will soon be joining IBM’s new Commerce THINK Lab initiative, billed as “a research and collaboration environment in which the companies will work directly with brands to accelerate development of new technologies designed to personalize customer experience. IBM researchers, Facebook experts, domain experts, designers and other partners will be available to work side-by-side with clients to identify specific areas of need and generate new solutions.”

Who knows where all this will lead — and just how “personalized” and micro targeted marketing will become?

Big data is having a big impact on our business. And we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Photo: Scooter Simpson (Creative Commons)

Starbucks under fire.

March 19, 2015 / Branding, PR/Social Media
Starbucks and social media

In previous blogs, we’ve applauded Starbucks for its brand activism — for putting social and political issues front and center in its brand communications.

Now the coffee giant has done it again, with an invitation to engage in a dialogue about race relations within its stores. The campaign “Race Together” has created an uproar in social media channels, and the company is getting a lot of pushback.

Still the company is forging ahead, to its credit.

While race relations is certainly a controversial topic, especially given recent developments in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere, apparently some of the controversy surrounding the campaign comes down to lack of clarity. Customers don’t seem to be clear about what the campaign and tagline are all about. At a Starbucks in Lower Manhattan, many customers had Race Together stickers on their cups, but only a few who were interviewed seemed to understand their meaning. “They just put it there and don’t explain what it is,” said Igor Santos, 44. “I thought it was just advertising.”

Others think the focus on the race topic is more about promoting the brand than being social responsible. Jeetendr Sehdev, a professor at USC, believes it’s not about starting a conversation. “This is about coffee wars,” he said. “The sole objective here is to try to increase the brand’s cultural relevance.”

The takeaway from all this: Starbucks, usually a savvy marketer, came up short this time. As a brand, if you’re going to do something controversial, be clear about your intentions — and don’t use an ambiguous line like “Race Together” as a campaign theme, especially if you’re going to put in on packaging.

Brand clarity is always the criterion by which every brand communication should be judged.

Photo:  MightyKenny (Creative Commons)

2015. The year of brand positivity?

branding millenials

Positivity seems to be everywhere in marketing these days. The Super Bowl commercials were awash with “feel good“ messages, designed to make people feel better about themselves — and the world around them.

According to a recent study by ZenithOptimedia, brands that can help millennials achieve happiness stand the best chance of winning over this consumer group. “By understanding how millennials find fulfillment in their lives, brands can play a meaningful role to support and enhance their pursuit of happiness,” says Linda Tan, strategic insights for ZenithOptimedia.

McDonald’s used the Super Bowl to kick off a new in-store campaign, Pay With Lovin’. Part of the brand’s new push to emphasize the lovin’ in its brand slogan, the campaign lasted only two weeks. But it served over a million people — and boosted the brand’s perception online from roughly 30 percent positive or neutral brand perception in 2014 to 85 percent positive or neutral.

Throughout 2015, Dove will continue to foster positive self-esteem for women and girls with #SpeakBeautiful. Via Twitter, the company will send one-on-one responses to inspire individuals to change the way beauty is talked about on social media.

While this “happiness” trend is certainly interesting and welcome (who doesn’t like a little positivity over the air waves to counteract all the bad news), we agree wholeheartedly with Stuart Sproule, president of Landor North America. He’s concerned that some brands will try to leverage happiness in a hollow way. “With millennials there can quickly be a degree of cynicism that will see right through a transparent attempt to suggest that using a brand or experiencing a brand will lead to happiness because it probably doesn’t.”

In short, when positivity fits the brand experience, as in the case of Dove and McDonald’s, it seems authentic. When it’s not true to the attributes of the brand — and the experience it delivers to the customer — it’s manipulative.

Put another way: Make the positive energy about your brand and what it can deliver. Don’t just use it to make people feel good about your advertising and marketing.

Photo:  Moyan Brenn (Creative Commons)