Every once and a while I will engage in a conversation with someone -- whether in the office, on the road, at Cannes, at the local eatery, you name it -- and they will say something that inspires a barrage of new thoughts. In each instance the statement's effect on me frequently goes unnoticed by the giver, while in my mind it sparks a very intense and enduring stream of thoughts which for weeks change the way I approach life or in this case marketing.
This is one of those instances, and I can't believe I was not able to verbalize this before.
For most of modern marketing, we have operated on a constantly revolving cycle of campaigns, the goal of which has been to pique interest and in doing so drive sales, ensure retention, or create awareness. In most instances these campaign run and spark a quick burst of conversation or buzz, which then diminishes over length of the campaign. In the end what are you left with? One word: Silence!
Although we've lived in a marketing world dictated by campaigns that launch with a bang and then fade away like the credits of a film, the script is changing. As you have read countless times before, social media is playing an ever increasing role in media and brand strategies. In this world consumers demonstrate loyalty and brand evangelism through a variety of social media behaviors (i.e., becoming a fan on Facebook, following the brand on Twitter) but most of all through, you guessed it, conversation. Truly great campaigns -- those that will stand out in a digital-savvy world -- are the ones that incorporate countless iterations, and in doing so keep their brand in the limelight. These campaigns all have one thing in common: They enable long-term, sustainable conversations.
The key to creating long term sustainable conversations is picking a campaign position or theme that encourages multiple points of view that are equally viable. Just think about it. If no one can ever be "right," the conversation cannot end and in turn will evolve into an endless debate with the brand positioned directly in the middle.
Great campaigns that embody this ongoing discussion include Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty." This campaign is centered on widening the definition and discussion of beauty. It's a topic that literally has no definitive answer as it represents many things to many people. Subsequently the conversations around this topic are endless, as is its connection to the brand.
MasterCard has also established a brilliant long-term positioning in its "Priceless" campaign. You have seen the commercials about the memories of taking your child to their first ballgame or watching their first dance recital. Priceless moments are different to each of us, and they are intuitively experiences that people enjoy sharing and comparing with each other. Also, just like the Dove campaign, the conversation around "Priceless" moments is everlasting.
The next example comes from Nike and its positioning around various sports and the best way to achieve "athletic nirvana." Again, this is an endless debate that sports enthusiasts will engage in with tremendous passion. Best of all, at least for Nike, is that there is no right answer, so the discussion, or argument, will most certainly go into extra innings.
Each iteration of these campaigns doesn't create buzz; it reshapes the campaign, inspires further debate, and fuels a conversation that would exist with or without the brand.
Some brands, products and services are strong enough that consumers will argue their virtues regardless of their campaign. However, for the rest of us that are in the business of helping sell financial services or soap, it's important that we find some meaningful human truth in the things we market. In doing so we allow people on both sides of the fence to create a dialogue, not just between brands and consumers but ultimately between consumers and other consumers, which, if you ask me, is the true definition of beauty.
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Freddie Laker is the director of digital strategy at Sapient. He has also founded the Society of Digital Agencies, a collective of notable digital agencies focused on thought leadership and positive industry change, and blogs at takemetoyourleader.com.