Insights from the cutting edge of marketing innovation
“We forget that we are amateurs…that’s right, amateurs - which means lovers. So, if you came all the way here, it’s because you’re an amateur.” Thus spoke the highly professional comic actor Jeffrey Tambour (Arrested Development, The Hangover) who hosted his second annual acting workshop not in LA but in Austin - the great alma mater of Indie music and film and, in the last several years, of all things digital, social and tech.
Most of the people I know in marketing have a love-hate relationship with what they do and the interesting question is: so what do you in fact love about it?
If your answer includes that you love learning about people and the amazing things they do with their lives, then read on. Because I’m like you. I have worked for decades as a Brand Anthropologist for some of the most interesting brands in the world and I am not much closer to definitively understanding the way that human beings bond with brands than I was at the beginning of my career. Thank God. The marketing world is changing so fast, undergoing the profoundest of transformations that, by definition, if I had a definitive understanding of anything, I’d be stiff with intellectual rigor mortis. So, yeah, I’m an amateur.
And here are six amateur insights I gathered in the vortex of 30,000 people by listening to the start-ups and the “happy few” big brand marketers who are succeeding at staying culturally relevant - while enjoying the healthy metrics that come with that. Brands like Kraft, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Mars, Unilever and P&G:
1) You and me, we are all anthropologists now.
2) When it comes to “targeting,” culture and behavior now trump conventional demographics.
3) We have to completely re-think what we imagine we know about “influencers.”
4) Digital media and exponential technological evolution are driving our cultural imagination in ways we don’t yet fully realize.
5) The lag time between change and corporate adaptation is where you can find your competitive advantage.
6) If you have the courage and savvy to skillfully let your own employees - and fans - take control over your content, you’ll master the new possibilities of engagement.
1. You and me, we are all anthropologists now.
To thrive in a rapidly changing media environment you have to have deep human insights or you’ll never grasp what the possibilities for engagement are with brand new platforms.
For example, why did Instagram take off and why did it begin replacing Facebook with Millennials? For the same reason that only 50% of them own automobiles, says the brilliant Debra Kaye, CEO of Lucule Consulting, advisor to an impressive roster of brands including Colgate, McDonald’s, American Express, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, and Groupe Danone. Her point: automobiles, once the key to a life of freedom and discovery have been replaced for so many Millennials by smart phones which handily deliver on those primordial needs. And, once Facebook starts to become a permanent record and your Mom is on it, you have to start curating what you put there. Along comes Instagram and suddenly the spontaneity, the freedom is back!
Another example. Every marketer wants their content to go viral and their agencies point out the power of humor. What makes so much content go viral? Humor, of course - something that eludes the grasp of most corporate cultures - certainly not on their list of top priorities. But think about it. If you really want to understand a culture, sub-culture or micro-culture, you have to understand what they find funny don’t you?
As journalist Joel Warner and psychology professor Peter McGraw taught us, all humor, like tickling, involves a benign violation. If it’s only benign: it’s not really funny. Only violation: offensive. Benign violation: the sweet spot. Brilliant. Just the title of their upcoming book, The Humor Code, says it all. Grasp what makes a joke funny and you have already penetrated a large amount of the cultural code.
Heather Knight’s Marilyn Monrobot, the joke telling computer, joined them on stage and demonstrated how her programming gives her the ability to gauge which jokes by reading live audience response and making new selections that get progressively funnier. Now, if we could just teach our board of directors to do that. (A little benign violation there. Hello? Hello?)
Crowdsourcing product innovations also requires all involved to be amateur anthropologists. As Shiv Singh, head of digital at Pepsi, observes, crowdsourcing has helped his company get far more texture in its insights into the intersection of brand and culture than most of the conventional research they do. He teamed up with Jen Saenz, Senior Director of Brand Marketing at Frito-Lay to share their experiences and perspective. Before Time magazine’s Person of the Year was “You” – a corporate powerhouse was already putting “You” in control. Since 2006, PepsiCo has been at the forefront of crowdsourcing – letting fans produce the Doritos brand’s Super Bowl ads and create the next flavor of Mountain Dew or, more recently, empowering consumers to help the Pepsi brand introduce the Super Bowl Halftime Show and inspiring fans to create the next Lay’s potato chips flavors. PepsiCo has proved that this DIY approach resonates with fans – and no one defines your brands like your fans. We live now in FameUs culture – we’re all celebrities and crowdsourcing your innovations, making your fans part of the process and giving them recognition for their contributions is a democratization of the celebrity endorsement model.
Why else? You create a personal relationship with your fans. You find out what resonates – you pick up a fine texture of insights that conventional research is hard-pressed to deliver. You increase sales as Lays experienced with each of its crowd-sourced flavor experiments: big sales spikes that translated to conversion not just novelty-based trial.
Downsides? The crazies show up and you will get all sorts of offensive entries and even possibly bad PR. So what do you have to do? Have a well-defined crowd you want to source from. Have a well-briefed and well-trained top management team so they don’t panic at the first little hitch. Think through your long game. Where do you want this to go? What are you prepared to do? What are you not prepared to do? How will you handle the crazies, who’s in charge of that and how have you empowered them for rapid response?
Socially savvy agencies and brands are anthropologists in their own rights. The new kind of creative agency will think of the brand as a vehicle for cultural participation and will help engineer experiences that do that – to the benefit of the brand.
2. When it comes to “targeting,” culture and behavior trump conventional demographics.
Every time we buy a brand that stands for something, we appropriate its identity into our own personal social currency and it’s always such a disappointment when a brand betrays the bond we build with it by acting tone deaf to the culture from which it springs. But big brands can easily miss all of this because they continue to see the world as comprised of demographic clusters. But what would you rather do this weekend? Something demographic? Or something cultural?
As Bonin Bough, who runs global media & consumer engagement for Kraft Foods put it:
“George W. Bush and Steven Tyler. What do they have in common? Absolutely nothing. But for some reason, we marketers continue to aim cookie-cutter marketing at them based on the outdated concept that people who share similar demographic traits must want the same products and services.”
We’re all learning how to apply Big Data to uncover growth opportunities but Kraft isn’t forgetting how to use retail data to tailor its promotions and messages to cultivate behavioral-based, low-hanging apples: “If you know that ‘Martha-Mom-of-3’ just bought 5 lbs of Hazelnut coffee, that’s when it makes sense to target her with an ad for creamer, filters…and maybe a muscle relaxer.”
3. We have to completely re-think what we imagine we know about “influencers.”
Ekaterina Walter, who’s in charge of influence marketing at Intel and branding guru Debra Kaye teamed up to demolish Klout and Kred as reliable indicators that you are gaining influence online. (Klout and Kred are services that measure your online “influence” and give you a score.) Debra’s firm, Lucule, published its new study it performed for a “virgin” consumer product and the degree to which people with low or high Klout scores could move purchase intent by their messaging on behalf of the new product. Guess what? People with medium Klout scores, not high Klout scores, moved the needles more effectively. Why? Because Klout scores just measure your popularity and don’t even take into account your impact through blogging, just the more superficial social media.
As Debra put it, “What happens if a popular guys tweets, ‘I like Coke.’ Not much. But what happens if he drinks so much of it, he has a lot of empty bottles and then decides to build a chair out of them and then is so happy with what he made, he poses for his portrait sitting in it, then posts that online? What happens then? A lot. Because it’s passionate, full of emotion.” And that is the key to why people with medium Klout scores actually had more influence: they typically put more effort into their endorsements.
Ekaterina is a huge believer in chasing the emotion and the passion where it already exists, with the fans who take the time and trouble to write about you online without any other incentive than expressing themselves. So many brands can’t be bothered to do the work of finding them even though services like Branderati now offer a suite of services to let you do precisely that.
Another fascinating fact from Ekaterina’s work: her studies show that the critical mass a brand needs to reach before it becomes the mass gold standard is 1 in 10. Get 1 in 10 people to passionately believe in your brand and you have a social momentum that will overturn the habits of the other 9. But that’s not just usage for those 1 in 10, that’s real conviction.
4.Digital media and exponential technological evolution are driving our cultural imagination in ways we don’t yet fully realize.
There were so many cool celebrities and visionaries just walking around, presenting and performing, after a day or two, you just stopped keeping track of them all and it seemed like everyone important had materialized at SXSW. And the breaking news was equally overwhelming. You could see demos of Google glasses apps, Hologram POS standees who talk to you, a new $2,000 3D scanner printer, the Oculus Rift 3D gaming platform, reusable rocket prototypes and a myriad of other dazzling breakthroughs stretching off into the distance, just impossible to take it all in.
Techno-philosopher Jason Silva reminded us that “hedonic adaptation” makes us take the miracles of modern life for granted. Our linear and local consciousness, so useful to early humans, now prevents us from seeing that we live in a time of global and exponential consciousness. There’s a huge gap between what we sense and what’s really going on when it comes to human consciousness, Silva argues and his brilliant brief videos give us shots of epiphanic espresso. MakerBot entrepreneur Bre Pettis asked us to reflect on what life would be like for children growing up with 3D printers where once they had Legos. SpaceX founder Elon Musk quite soberly said he wished to die on Mars, “just not on impact.” By God, if we didn’t all believe he’s going to pull it off, given his track record for success and his unshakeable conviction that if we stop trying to land on Mars, something essential in our civilization will be lost.
5. The lag time between change and corporate adaptation is where you can find your competitive advantage.
As the President of Mars Chocolate, Debra Sandler put it, “We’ve had some spectacular successes in digital engagement (her Miss Brown M&M got 4 million views on YouTube, for example), but I’ve still got to sell to my board and for many of them, well, it’s been a while since they’ve turned on their computers.”
Afraid, controlling, perfectionist, reactionary - most corporate cultures are slow and fat-fingered when it comes to all things social and digital. So get in there, hold your ground, run lots of experiments and chances are you will transform your own outlook and the culture of your company. Make it a point to seek out socially savvy people and provide them with a career path. Fact is there’s precious little social media training being given in B-Schools today and many of the more creative minds are steering clear of big brands and their corporations which simply don’t know how to welcome them. Maybe your competitor is richer than you. But if you’re learning the medium faster than they are, then you hold the reins of the category.
6. If you have the courage and savvy to skillfully let your own employees - and fans - take control over your content, you’ll master the new possibilities of engagement.
The pyramid is upside down now points out Havas CEO David Jones. It’s the junior people in your company who have the power to keep your brand relevant - because they are the ones who speak social fluently and live digital. And almost every company in the world is still missing out on the tremendous opportunities they have to empower them to speak on behalf of the company and its brands. Same with fans and creative consumers. What holds brands and companies back? Fear. And lack of clear purpose. Despite all the buzz about purposeful brands, very few brands have clear and humanly simple purposes. Purpose, openness and savvy use of social media seem to go hand-in-hand and, these days, the edge lies more and more in what would have seem preposterously negative just ten years ago. Look at Domino’s Pizza resurrection (stock is up 220%) since their “we admit we suck and here’s how we’re changing” campaign. Consider applying Patagonia’s standards to your own CSR: where Patagonia tells you what’s bad about the parka they’re selling you (along with what’s good about it and what their perspective is).
Tina Roth Eisenberg, aka swissmiss, is a hero to the design community. Shy and introverted, she has stayed away from public speaking and this year broke out of her own mold with a rousing keynote. Our parting inspiration will be her eleven rules to live by:
Invest in what you love
Don’t complain; make things better
Trust and empower
A labor of love always pays off
Surround yourself with likeminded people
Step away from ego and collaborate whenever you can
Make time to think and breathe
If an opportunity scares you, take it
Whatever you are, be a good one