5 top tips for the future

CONSIDER THESE FACTS: 100 million songs now get downloaded from iTunes every month. Less than four years after its launch, Skype is responsible for more than seven percent of the world’s long distance minutes. With a blog now created every half second, millions of blogs will have been added to the blogosphere by the time this article gets published. Social network sites MySpace, Piczo and Bebo now welcome more than four million members every month in the U.K. – a 400 percent increase in only one year. Five thousand Europeans join business community LinkedIn every day. Half of American teens have created content for the Net, from text to pictures, music and clips. Even before the recent launch of Hulu.com, giving free ad supported access to 250 TV series and 100 full-feature movies, ten billion videos were downloaded from the internet in the U.S. every month, with new web and IPTV solutions created by broadcasters, content producers and even amateurs mushrooming. As a result, more consumers will soon discover that their video, audio and written content options are increasing rapidly, with the internet providing an ever-greater variety of leisure and social activities at their fingertips.

It is this media explosion, and the tremendous audience fragmentation it is causing, that makes the traditional advertising model – largely built on the currencies of reach and frequency – completely outdated

what's ahead

While 10 years ago the BBC was still broadcasting over 200 programs to more than 15 million viewers, today only a handful of those shows are left. Most programs reach an audience of only a million or so, just as new media do. Gaming, the blogosphere, mobile, instant messenger, search portals and video sites – these have quickly become the new mainstream media, offering us a whole new range of advertising formats we need to learn about. Or even invent.

So, above the line? Below the line? Today there is no line. Digital affects all of us. It has caused a true paradigm shift, turning consumers into the engaged citizens of a new digital democracy. In 2006, Time magazine hailed “you” as the person of the year, celebrating the “Web 2.0” phenomenon that has consumers creating, connecting and collaborating as never before, turning the World Wide Web into an increasingly intelligent global library of knowledge, accessible to everyone.

Public opinion – as many articles testify – is that these latest trends represent a huge threat to advertisers and agencies. I agree. In addition to media fragmentation and digital technology making it more difficult for us to find and reach our target audiences, I am convinced that the “Web 2.0” phenomenon has changed the face of marketing forever. To influence the engaged consumers of the digital democracy, push marketing needs to be replaced by engagement marketing. It’s harder work, but certainly not unachievable – or less fun. And the World Wide Web is full of insights on how to do it successfully, so here are the first five clues for successful 21st-century consumer engagement.

brands as courtiers, court jesters, or courtesans

This theory was proposed by Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy Group U.K. He believes that brands will resonate with consumers if they fulfill one of three old world roles, either that of courtier (trusted advisor), court jester (entertainer) or courtesan (pleaser). The developed world has been living through decades of hyper consumption, making time our only real scarcity. The information and entertainment we are interested in is now, thanks to digital, increasingly available at our fingertips, and experienced consumers lust after it. Moreover, one of the great benefits of the web is that it helps us to find the relevant, quality information that fits our personal needs much more quickly; hence the popularity of search. More than two-thirds of the millions of Europeans online use search daily, and consider it to be their most important information source when thinking of a product or service. And consumers are interested in utilities beyond search help. An Ogilvy Vergecast widget educates marketers with one or two digital trend insights a day; an American Express Amsterdam podcast tells travelers what to visit and where to shop (and includes special offers when you pay with your American Express card); and a web TV channel dedicates programming for and about small business owners, hosted by authority brands such as IBM, BT and DHL – brands can get consumers’ attention by putting their marketing dollars not into media, but into providing consumers with useful content or great entertainment.

Branded entertainment has become an increasingly popular medium for advertisers wanting to move their TV budgets away from the commercial break. It exists in various formats such as brands becoming part of a TV show’s or movie’s story line, quality short web movies like the famous BMW Films, or even TV programs exclusively produced for a brand, such as the Belgian reality show “Under High Tension” for electricity provider Electrabel in which every week a family is challenged to minimize its energy consumption. Nike launched its first cinema movie, “Nothing But the Truth,” which follows the adventures of a skateboard team. And quite a few of the car brands are now experimenting with dedicated mobile or web TV channels, hosting both self-produced and popular content.

And while opportunities for brands to act as courtesans are harder to find, there are successful examples, like Advertising Age’s Digital Campaign of the Year “shaveeverywhere.com” for Philips’s Bodygroom. This risqué viral video and website campaign, which utilized fruit and vegetables as stand-ins for certain body parts, tripled sales expectations. Brands as courtiers, court jesters or courtesans – the greater the value they provide, the better they work.

digital marketing

brands as connectors

In this increasingly individualistic and virtual age, being part of communities has never been more important. Just look at the success of social networks like MySpace in the U.K., Hyves in the Netherlands, Skyblog in France or Lunarstorm in Sweden.

Just as people form different circles in real life, digital enables people to connect with multiple communities through social networks, and also through special interest sites such as Motortopia.com. Better known as “the parking lot of MySpace,” here you can hook up with fellow vehicle enthusiasts through the creation of a garage. Wouldn’t it have been great if a site like this had been launched by a fuel company, or even a car brand, as an expression of that same passion, rather than by a bunch of car-crazy entrepreneurs?

At musicrecommenders.com, Nokia facilitated a network of hip, independent record stores and their enthusiastic staffs, brought together to provide music tips to quality music seekers. KLM launched several invitation-only virtual clubs – Club China, Club Africa, Club Russia – to assist in the networking of expatriates and regular business travelers. And the success of BarbieGirls.com, a virtual universe launched to promote Mattel’s new MP3 player, “Barbie Girl,” which was joined by 10 million girls in a year, shows that sometimes a brand can get away with launching its own social network.

brands as co-ops

With billions of comments posted online, it’s clear that the web has provided consumers with the desired megaphone for their many opinions. Consumers are now expecting to be heard, forcing brands both to listen and to respond.

Take the Starwood Lurker. His real name is William Sanders and his full-time job is to patrol travel blogs and forums and assist Starwood Preferred Guest members. Here is what the blogosphere says about him: “So many large corporations dance around questions you ask. William does due diligence and finds the correct answer. He is one of two reasons I’ve switched 100 percent of my business to Starwood.” Listening (a seemingly insurmountable challenge for most advertisers) can be as simple as hiring a few bloggers. Here’s another pragmatic solution: in 2003, Heinz invited its U.K. consumers to vote on whether to keep or discard its “Beans Means Heinz” slogan through an SMS and TV campaign. The media buzzed, nostalgia won, and the line was kept.

“Brands as co-ops” can be about more than just welcoming consumers’ opinions. It’s also about bringing together the many contributions and making them matter – like Wikipedia does. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty,” which invites consumers to voice their opinions in a truly global debate via a website and SMS voting, is a true attempt to change the frightening reality that only two percent of women today think that they are beautiful.

brands as curators

With more campaigns inviting consumers to create ads, brands as curators of creativity is undoubtedly the most hyped trend, and rightfully so. The Flickrs, the YouTubes and many user design sites such as nakedandangry.com, which launched the first user designed wallpaper, prove that talent is no longer just Hollywood’s or the agency’s prerogative.

Despite its higher price, and in a very competitive industry, Jones Soda has managed to report 30 percent growth by allowing customers to share in a small part of the product creation process: send a picture to the Jones Soda website and it might end up as a bottle label. The online gallery now contains over 800,000 images.

To make Barbie loved again by young girls more interested in fashion than dolls, Ogilvy invited girls to create the perfect Barbie outfit in an online design competition judged by Denmark’s most reputable fashion designers. The site also urged girls to become fashion trendspotters. Over three million euros of unpaid media exposure was just one of the results.

brands as conduits

The last clue is the one most pursued. There is one mass medium left – consumers. Ensuring that consumers are not just forwarders of another funny viral video, but rather true advocates of your brand, isn’t an easy task. It happens when you provide them with great communication experiences, which is exactly what the first four clues were all about.

To conclude, we need to move from throwing snowball campaigns to producing an avalanche of connected consumer engagements that are consistent expressions of a brand platform or Big Ideal. And let’s take the Web 2.0 giants’ cues by putting data at the heart of this ideal, because don’t the Amazons and Googles of this world demonstrate that a more personal and relevant consumer experience is always a better one?

Digital is not the end goal. Engagement is. I love this quote from Caroline Slootweg, Director, Digital Marketing and New Media at Unilever: “Digital has reminded us that we can, and should, play a bigger role in consumers’ lives.”

Author: Patou Nuytemans
Date: April 29, 2009