SOCIAL MEDIA: A SPRINGBOARD FOR MARKETING INSPIRATION

Social Media can be a springboard for marketing inspiration, but is your brand turning these ideas into marketing gold or gimmick?

It’s no secret that the digital space provides brands with the opportunity to experiment with new concepts and analyze the impact of their marketing message before investing in other marketing and communication channels. In fact, some of the most memorable integrated marketing campaigns of late have started out online before spreading to traditional marketing channels like TV and print. One such example is the “Smell Like A Man, Man” campaign for Old Spice, as revealed by Dan Wieden in an interview with ThinkTV.

However, several brands are moving beyond simply using the digital space as a marketing laboratory, and are now getting marketing inspiration from ideas born online. Last year, the NSPCC (a UK children’s charity) employed the format of the then-popular “Sh*t People Say” parody videos for their child abuse awareness ad, and this year brands from Pepsi Max to Central Auto Team have created TV ads inspired by the Harlem Shake meme.

This trend of drawing marketing inspiration from the digital space persists. In particular, in the last few weeks I’ve come across two out-of-home ads in Boston inspired by ideas popularized within two distinct social media communities; Tumblr and Instagram.

1. Bushmills Irish Whiskey

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This outdoor ad for Bushmills Irish Whiskey – which, until very recently, was posted on the billboard at the intersection of Commonwealth Ave. and Harvard Ave. – looks like it was pulled right from a post on Tumblr. The ad pays homage to the quintessential grid/knolling style featured on countless tumblr blogs today. This particular style has risen to near-iconic status on tumblr as a result of sites like Things Organized Neatly and the ongoing Essentials series by Hypebeast, so, in retrospect, it was only a matter of time before it found its way into mainstream marketing and media.

Although the ad is obviously strongly influenced by the grid style popularized on tumblr, it cleverly incorporates key elements of Bushmills’ brand story: the shamrock is used to represent Bushmills’ Irish roots; the gloves and hammer symbolize the brand’s commitment to being handcrafted the same way for centuries; and the oak casks and metal spigot allude to the whiskey distillation and aging process.

2. Merrell M-Connect

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Merrell is currently using these ads on the MBTA Green Line trains* to promote its M-Connect collection of barefoot running shoes now available at various City Sports stores in the Boston area. Unbeknownst to some MBTA riders, the stereographic projection style used in this series of ads was popularized on instagram through a photo app called Tiny Planet.

As the name of the app suggests, Tiny Planet turns photos into spheres to make them look like small planets. Although the Tiny Planet app has been on the market for at least two years now, it’s still a niche app for photography enthusiasts and is really only popular within the instagram community, so I was quite surprised when I initially saw these Merrell M-Connect ads while waiting for the train at Boylston Station.

Unlike Bushmills, Merrell doesn’t really incorporate its brand essence into this series of ads beyond featuring its logo on each tiny planet. Although perhaps unintentionally, this creates the perception that this series of ads is simply a rip off of tiny planet’s signature stereographic style – as opposed to being inspired by it. And as the age-old saying goes, marketing is all about perception.

Ultimately, while it’s important for a brand’s messaging across each marketing or communication channel to resonate with its customers, it’s also equally important for brands to strike a balance between participating in current cultural conversations and staying true to their brand story. Taking this insight into action can make the difference between marketing gold and gimmick.

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*Out of curiosity, I went back to Boylston Station last week to see if Merrell was actually advertising on all four branches of the Green Line train. Within a 60-minute time frame, only eight of the Green Line trains that stopped at Boylston featured Merrell M-Connect at City Sports ads: four were D line trains; two were C line trains; and one was an E line train.

In an attempt to determine why Merrell advertised more on the D line, I later cross-referenced the addresses of the City Sports stores in Boston with the D line route map. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any correlations there so it still remains unclear why Merrell advertised primarily on the D line trains.

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CREATIVITY IN SOCIAL MEDIA: INSTAGRAM AUCTIONS

Social media as a channel for communication and collaboration is constantly evolving. In particular, savvy digital consumers are always quick to explore new ways to use various social media platforms to meet their individual needs, ultimately creating unique experiences within their online communities. These inventive uses of social media can sometimes inspire ideas for new features and even entirely new platforms.

An example of a creative use of social media I’ve recently come across is by Edmonton-based fine artist Glen Ronald on instagram. In recognition of his relatively strong following on the free photo-sharing program/social network, Ronald has taken advantage of the opportunity to sell his original drawings and paintings to instagram users by intermittently holding auctions right on his profile.

While eBay still exists as the leading online auction website, I would argue that in this particular circumstance instagram provides a much more personal space for Ronald to interact with prospective buyers and fine art enthusiasts alike. In addition, instagram offers an equally (if not more) instant response, since consumer engagement happens in real-time.

Although I doubt that instagram will introduce an auctions feature in the near future, Ronald’s distinctive use of the photo-sharing program certainly raises an important question about the core needs social media users hope to fulfill through their digital experiences. Ultimately, social media platforms (and brands operating in the digital space) that are aware of, and more importantly, remain responsive to these needs will succeed at delivering better digital experiences for consumers.

THE NEXT BIG THING IS ALREADY HERE

The common expression, “Don’t kick a man when he’s down” might resonate strongly in the real word, but it certainly doesn’t hold as much weight in the world of marketing. A prime example can be seen with the ongoing “The Next Big Thing” campaign by 72 and Sunny for Samsung’s Galaxy S III smartphone, which pokes fun at Apple and iPhone users.

Although Apple achieved a record number of sales with the recent release of the iPhone 5, it’s hard to ignore the fact that there isn’t a great deal of difference between the iPhone 5 and it’s predecessor, the iPhone 4s. As a result, Samsung has been quick to capitalize on this setback by taking advantage of the opportunity to promote the Galaxy S III, albeit mocking iPhone users in the process.

One of the most innovative features on the Galaxy S III is S Beam, which allows users to instantly share all kinds of media by simply placing two Galaxy S III smartphones back-to-back. Although Apple certainly boasts higher brand value than Samsung, the ongoing “Next Best Thing” campaign is a brilliant strategy on the part of the Galaxy S III maker to take further bites into Apple’s market share, or at the very least change the current cultural conversation around the smartphone category.

BONUS: While Samsung is poking fun at Apple and iPhone users in North America, the Galaxy S III maker is taking a much more comedic approach in South America with the ongoing “Saved By TV” campaign by Mayo Draftfcb.

IS BRAND LOYALTY DEAD?

Brand loyalty is dead, or at least that’s the conclusion Bobby “Hundreds” Kim, Co-Owner and Creative Director of LA-based streetwear brand The Hundreds, came to in a recent post on instagram. While Bobby Hundreds is a key influencer in the world of street culture and urban fashion, he switched focus to the consumer electronics industry and spoke candidly about his recent experience with one of the world’s most beloved brands, Apple.

In particular, after years of being accustomed to the “sensation of cool design, innovative features, and of course, progressive technology,” his disappointing product experience with both the latest iPad (with retina display) and iPhone 5 resulted in a brand switch to Samsung.

Bobby Hundreds’ experience mirrors that of many customers today (myself included) when brands fail to meet consumer expectations. After 4 years of being a proud BlackBerry brand loyalist, I recently made the switch to Apple due to a repeated decline in product quality standards in Blackberry smartphones.

Up until recently, if anyone told me I would leave BlackBerry for any other brand I would have been hard pressed to believe it, but when even the most beloved brands repeatedly fail to meet consumer expectations they leave us with no choice but to seek out competing brands that at the very least maintain, if not exceed, their promise to customers.

Brand loyalty assumes that people buy from the same company over and over because they believe that company makes superior products (Stuart et al 2006: 142). However, as evidenced by my experience with BlackBerry and that of Bobby Hundreds’ with Apple, once levels of consumer satisfaction fall below acclimated standards, there is very likely to be a change in brand preference.

Brands are facing a new age of fickle consumers who are constantly in search of the next best product or brand experience. As such, the traditional idea of wooing consumers as early as when they’re toddlers, and cementing brand loyalty for a lifetime is hardly an effective or sustainable brand strategy.

Brands owe it to their customers to keep pushing the envelope, always staying a step ahead of expectations, because as a recent Interbrand article on the future of brand building points out, “purchase decisions are becoming more fluid, better informed, and dynamic.” An internal failure to innovate, or simply poor product or brand experience, is a problem that even the best marketing won’t solve.

Brand loyalty isn’t dead, but it’s certainly a concept that needs some rethinking and rekindling. Brands need to give consumers a reason to believe in them; as with any relationship, trust must be earned and maintained. As Seth Godin plainly puts it, what’s needed today is brand humility:

“Brand humility is the only response to a fast-changing and competitive marketplace. The humble brand understands that it needs to re-earn attention, re-earn loyalty and reconnect with its audience as if every day is the first day.”

Despite his earlier remarks, Bobby Hundreds’ comment at the end of his post, particularly about missing his BlackBerry smartphone, actually reveals that brand loyalty can in fact be re-earned, and is quite frankly desired by consumers.

MORE THAN A PAIR OF JEANS…

The ongoing “Go Forth” campaign by Wieden + Kennedy for Levi’s has played an instrumental role in enabling the brand to reclaim its iconic status in the US within the last few years. In particular, the latest spot in the series exemplifies how brands ought to communicate with consumers today.

Rather than attempt to tell its own story, here Levi’s makes a conscious decision to tell the story of its customers. While admittedly a bold move, this strategy strikes up a more personal conversation with Levi’s customers. It resonates, it works, and here’s why.

Consumers today are all too familiar with brands hurling mass marketing messages at them, and quite frankly they are tired of it. They see through it like clear glass. Consumers want to know that brands understand them; their beliefs, desires, fears, and aspirations.

In a recent article marking the launch of the Best Global Brands 2012 Report, Jez Frampton, Global CEO at Interbrand, addressed this shift in consumer attitude and highlighted the new challenge for brands today:

“Today’s customers are skeptical, vocal, savvy – and have everyone competing for their attention… In order to succeed, brand owners must become more sensitive to the needs and desires of informed and discerning customers who demand high degrees of engagement – and consistency.”

With this “Go Forth” spot, Levi’s is boldly accepting the challenge. By cleverly integrating itself into its customers’ story, Levi’s is able to communicate in a way that connects, empowers, and inspires. Ultimately, this enable’s Levi’s to stand for more than just pieces of denim sewn together, but as Jez Frampton says, “a living business asset”, woven into the very fabric of its customers’ lives. Or better yet, as the narrator in the ad proclaims, “It’s the thread in your seams that’s tied to your dreams.”

DEFINING INSIGHT IN ONE WORD

Along with innovation and social engagement, one of the current buzzwords in marketing is “insights”. These powerful pieces of information are the driving force behind the development of integrated marketing communications strategies. As such, entire teams, divisions and agencies have been formed for the sole purpose of uncovering consumer, cultural and market insights.

A recent discussion on the consumer insights interest group on LinkedIn asked members to define insight in one word. While, of course, there’s no right or wrong answer, this discussion certainly made me take some time to reflect carefully on how I would define an insight.

An insight is more than just pure knowledge about consumer behavior or market trends. It represents vital information that can be leveraged to create value for consumers. Consequently, an insight is not valuable in itself. It’s valuable because it can be used to create meaningful opportunities and solve business problems. But how exactly can this be described in one word?

The best word I can use to describe an insight would have to be seed.  A seed is the propagative source of a plant. Simply put, it brings the plant to life. A well nurtured seed will grow and flourish, while a neglected seed will degenerate or essentially becomes functionally useless. Similarly, insights bring marketing and communications strategies to life, but they only become useful when applied strategically and used in meaningful ways.

The recent “Bring Happiness Home” campaign by PepsiCo Greater China Region (GCR) exemplifies the nature and definition of insights I have provided. PepsiCo discovered that a disconcerting trend for youth is that they no longer want to go home to celebrate Chinese New Year. In particular, a survey showed that around 70 percent of Chinese youth expressed hesitation toward going home.

This insight became the inspiration for their “Bring Happiness Home” campaign which combined viral marketing with TV advertising. PepsiCo developed and distributed a microfilm online, which tells the story of an estranged family spread out across the country that ends up reuniting to celebrate Chinese New Year.

The microfilm also cleverly integrates PepsiCo’s leading brands; Pepsi-Cola, Lay’s and Tropicana. Meanwhile, PepsiCo refreshed the role of the traditional 30-second TV commercial to act as a movie teaser, highlighting strong synergies among the three brands and still celebrating individual brand truth.

While a valuable piece of information, the insight about Chinese youth expressing hesitation towards going home for Chinese New Year only truly became useful when it was used to create value for PepsiCo’s consumers in a meaningful way.

STORYTELLING FOR THE DIGITAL AGE

In today’s digital age, storytelling is still a crucial part of successful marketing and advertising. As part of Jordan’s “Rise Above” campaign, this new spot is one of the few ads at the moment that incorporates a relevant and compelling narrative with brand marketing.

Interestingly, Nike also recently used a similar concept of upcoming talent taking the stage with its “My Time Is Now”campaign:

BRIDGING THE GAP: FASHION AND BRANDING

“A woollen mill doesn’t tell you a herringbone cashmere will cost you £70 per metre one month and £25 a few months later. The button-maker doesn’t tell you “buy one hundred of these, and we’ll throw in fifty of those.” What they make is as good today as the day it was made, and will be just as good a year from now. To pile it high and sell it cheap would be to devalue the product; devalue the raw materials, devalue the labour, the months and months of effort and expertise that has gone into making the finished article.”

Paul Vincent, Co-Founder of menswear brand S.E.H. Kelly, speaks candidly about how pricing affects brand value. The connections between fashion and branding aren’t always clear, but Vincent unintentionally helps to bridge the gap in a recent interview with Well Spenta site dedicated to covering honestly crafted products.

Although he speaks primarily from a managerial perspective for a fashion brand, a lot of his comments also relate to brand strategy across a multitude industries. In an attempt to meet short-term marketing and communication objectives, several brands today often ignore Vincent’s point above about using pricing as a tool to further develop and maintain brand value.

Read the rest of the interview here, where Vincent also talks about the power of selective brand collaborations and online consumer engagement.

PREMIUM POSITIONING: NIKE+ FUELBAND


Within the last decade, it has become widely recognized that up to 90 percent of new product and service introductions fail. These product failures can be attributed to a variety of reasons, ranging from a lack of proper target market definition to some products simply being too far ahead of the market.

However, one oft-disregarded cause of failure is that some of these new products tend to be poorly positioned. More often than not, the success (or failure) of a new product can largely be dependent on its positioning, and a perfect example can be seen with the recent launch of the Nike+ FuelBand.

On its own the FuelBand is an innovative product which, in addition to tracking your steps, time and calories on an LED display, essentially makes use of a new unit of measurement – NikeFuel. Input your daily goals and the FuelBand will measure your movement – the closer you get to your goal, the closer to green you get on the LED display. FuelBand is also equipped with USB and allows for wireless syncing with your iPhone (or iPod) for more detailed data, instantly making your information available to share through your social networks.

Nevertheless, Nike (or presumably the planners at its ad agency of record, Wieden+Kennedy) recognized that an innovative product such as the FuelBand needs to be backed by an equally innovative positioning. Hence, the development of the tagline, “Life Is a Sport. Make it count”, which successfully integrates Nike’s ongoing Make It Count campaign. Although the idea of life being a sport is well-known and even sometimes used in colloquial language, it wasn’t until now that the phrase has been successfully commercialized. More importantly, this clever move on the part of Nike also has important implications for the brand.

First, it elevates Nike’s brand value and perception in the minds of consumers. This idea of life as a sport creates a unique brand association because it essentially redefines the meaning of sports, and in turn serves as a key differentiator for the Nike brand.

Second, it establishes a competitive advantage in the minds of customers, particularly because it embodies the timeless value of life which other brands within the sportswear and equipment industry are yet to do.

Third, this positioning widens Nike’s target market – an already broad group to begin with (See: If You Have A Body, You Are An Athlete). In particular, non-traditional athletes (free runners, break dancers, etc) now have a stronger sense of connection to the brand because they can all relate to this universal idea of life.

Ultimately, introducing the FuelBand using this idea of life as a sport helps convey Nike’s unique value proposition and further emphasizes the brand’s superiority within the sportswear and equipment category. Although the FuelBand won’t be available worldwide until May, you can watch the spot below in the meantime to see which activities (including impersonating MC Hammer) count or don’t count towards NikeFuel.