Move Over, Q Scores

What Matters Today Is Whether Yours Is a Most-Linked Brand

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Wayne Arnold
Wayne Arnold

As Simon Clift of Unilever made clear at the Ad Age Digital Conference recently, brands no longer have total control of the communications surrounding their products or even the positioning of them. That power is now in the hands of the digital consumer. Ford agrees. It's just asked 100 bloggers to launch the Fiesta in the U.S.

Every week I read about a campaign headed in that direction. Skittles and Land Rover had their respective Twitter experiments, and while we are yet to find out if candy flew off the shelves and more 4x4s hit the road, I applaud their willingness and bravery in stress testing what I, too, think are the new rules.

And yet I regularly talk to marketers and agency folks who still think they can rely on the brute force of traditional mass media, humorous creative or cute animals to promote awareness and favorability and consider their job done. Yes, awareness still offers recall, recognition and familiarity. But now more than ever, it does not automatically mean increased brand value, purchase intent or loyalty.

I'm a believer that broad-scale awareness and favorability in the old sense -- represented in marketing short-hand by Q Scores -- really don't matter anymore. An evolution in thinking is required. What is important now is the concept of being the most-linked brand -- building brands through multiple, relevant, consumer engagements -- often on a smaller scale. The brands that make themselves the most connected today will build more solid foundations and stand taller tomorrow.

Q Scores (the Q stands for quotient) were developed in the early 1960s to calculate awareness of and favorability toward TV anchors such as Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson. Don Draper and his "Mad Men" colleagues would have bought TV spots against the highest-rated shows. Over time, the panel survey was extended to include sports personalities, products and brands. Many similar measures were devised, and for a long time that's largely how big ad campaigns have been measured for "success."

But when thousands of daily media messages have a 99.9% attrition rate, and "we the media" means Twitter revolts lead to immediate changes in marketing strategies, brands must embrace the new realities and truer indicators of consumer engagement. As Ford recognizes, the power has shifted to thousands of small conversations that can to grow to influence millions. Buying the biggest megaphone and shouting in the hope your messages will ring in consumers' ears is nowhere near as effective as it used to be. Shouting rarely creates conversations.

What can create them is a greater focus on brilliant brand storytelling and content that gives rise to as many relevant and deep conversations as possible, both on and offline -- although these happen increasingly in digital media. This mind-set has planning at its core. (Doesn't everything, you ask? Well, in the digital space, at least, I'm afraid to say unfortunately, it does not.) It involves interrogating product truths and brand values (thankfully, some old concepts don't change) and data mining and buzz aggregation across the realm of social media to unearth the consumer insights and cultural connections that will inform your strategies.

Wayne Arnold is co-founder and U.S. CEO of Profero, an independent global digital marketing agency and pioneer in the digital space. He has supervised local and global campaigns for clients including Apple, AstraZeneca, CNN, Johnson & Johnson, Puma and Western Union. He also served as chair of the UK's Institute of Practitioners in Advertising's Digital Media Group.

It's about listening more than talking; embracing a community rather than treating it as an audience; thinking about engagements and conversations instead of messages. By doing so, brands create ultimately larger, more connected and equitable footprints through word-of-mouth, two-way storytelling, participation, content sharing and more. It sounds quite simple, but only the most innovative brands and media individuals are making themselves the most linked.

If you're a runner like me, your interactions with Nike today are more likely to be the Nike Plus website or one of its Running Clubs than a network TV ad. These are brilliant examples of deep consumer engagements, on and offline. Being a runner unfortunately means I don't get to eat too many burgers, but Burger King's wildly successful Xbox games, and Whopper Sacrifice Facebook app are evidence of its understanding of the concept. (And by the way, I'm willing to bet that the marketers at Nike and Burger King are no longer too concerned with pushing their brand-awareness measures that little bit closer to 100%.) of the Black-Eyed Peas realized that his value as an artist lay not simply in chart-topping record sales but in distributing a huge amount of free digital content and engaging with his fans in new ways. These are some of the reasons PepsiCo and CNN approached him to be one of their musical and youth brand ambassadors, but I doubt he's at the top of the Q Score charts.

To achieve this marketers should be allocating more budget to planning and funding the best ideas -- irrespective of where they come from or where they have traditionally channeled their spend. The best ideas are those that involve consumers, create relationships and empower people to get involved and create and share content. The idea of a campaign having a start and end point is now redundant. It's a continuous, evolving conversation, so budgets need to be distributed on an annual, rather than campaign, basis. Digital media, content creators, PR and anyone who is a brilliant storyteller will benefit at the expense of mass-media broadcast, print and other forms of traditional advertising.

The old rules don't apply any more.

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