In the last few years, PR people have rightly stopped talking about stories and started talking about conversations. The idea being that brands can start or join conversations that their customers are interested in, or are already having. They can do this by contributing news, perspective, insight and raw content. This shift is both important to the way PR is carried out and to the role it plays in the marketing process. It opens new doors and new budgets for an industry that has long believed it deserves a bigger slice of the marketing pie. But I’d like to remind PR people about something advertisers have known for a long time. Getting our attention doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in a conversation with us. My daughter’s laptop can often get her attention without any information being exchanged. She simply enjoys watching entertaining content, or playing some mindless game. She is no different from any of us in this respect. We all have parts to our day when we simply want someone to take over our brains and let us escape. Advertisers have figured this out to the extent that during some computer games, such as a car racing game, you will see billboards advertising products. They recognize that the brands that ‘sponsor’ escapism are as important as the brands that sponsor educating us about the important issues of the day or the decisions we have to make.
Now the idea of creating content that helps people escape isn’t something you hear a lot in PR meetings. PR meetings tend to be all about getting the message across in an increasingly noisy market. But what if you created content such as a game or a video that was just so darned entertaining that people WANTED to watch it AND they knew your brand had sponsored this little mental vacation? Wouldn’t that be just as powerful as that major news item you were hoping to get someone to blog about? I’m not for a minute suggesting that we all ditch conversation management and move to entertainment. I’m simply suggesting that digital channels open the doors for PR to much more than just conversations. Try this on for size in your next PR brainstorm. Oh and happy 2011.
It’s every marketing chief’s goal: brand loyalty. Achieve this and you have a revenue stream for life, even if your next product isn’t quite as good as your last. Some brands achieve this status for periods of time but few can sustain it over more than a few years. Apple has it right now, Ford used to to have it, Coke has had it for decades. It’s arguable that Coke has been able to maintain such loyalty because it hasn’t really had to change its core product. They tried to and it almost cost them that loyalty. Instead, they’ve tinkered with the packaging and played around with the distribution. Outside the food and drink category, it’s hard to find products that have endured and brands that maintain loyalty. This is because innovation constantly threatens brand loyalty. But does it?
While watching the world cup, you couldn’t help but notice the immense pride people have in their nations. The painted faces and died hair, the regrettable tattoos and the silly costumes all demonstrate a level of national loyalty most brands can only dream of. Indeed, I can’t think of a brand that has ever manged to get thousands of people to dress up, paint their face etc without being paid to do it. In short, we show unwavering support for our nations and are prepared to even die for them (well some are) even though they have given us little more than a birth certificate, passport and a tax bill. Indeed it would seem that national loyalty is real loyalty. It isn’t paid for by the nation, it is simply given by its citizens. If this is real loyalty, then what is brand loyalty? Brand loyalty it would seem is just a current infatuation. It is a kind of love affair that in most cases ends with all the inevitability of a high school romance. Looked at it in this way, brand loyalty becomes a very different challenge. To keep a love affair going is very different to simply maintaining a relationship. Love affairs are all about passion and romance. They require you to constantly think of the other person, to be creative and spontaneous. So next time you are in a meeting and the conversation turns to brand loyalty, be sure to show your passionate side. It may well spark a really good conversation.
I just read a short book that interviewed advertising guru Charles Saatchi, of Saatchi & Saatchi fame. In it he refers to a period in advertising when people actually looked forward to commercial breaks because the advertising was that entertaining. People it seems looked forward to the latest ad from brands in the way they now get excited about the next movie staring their favorite celebrity. I remember that era and he’s right. I recall wanting to see the latest Levi ad before the start of a movie. The closest we get to this now is a Budweiser ad during the Superbowl. That’s sad. Very sad.
My point here is that marketing should entertain as well as inform. It should get us on the edge of our seats waiting to be sold to. In a way Apple has adopted this approach by on the one hand helping fuel rumors about its latest products (see all the rumors around the tablet for example) and on the other making sure it says nothing publicly. In short we are all dying to find out what Apple will do next. This is a launch though, so building hype is to be expected. But what can brands do to build expectation into their marketing AFTER a product is launched? I’d argue that marketing has lost the art of entertaining and is too wrapped up in having a dialog that is focused on the ‘key points.’ Talking about the key points after the news is out gets, well, boring. Also, as a consumer I don’t want to spend all my time in a serious conversation with a brand. I want that brand to entertain me, surprise and even shock me. Not in the Tiger Woods way perhaps but you get my drift.
2009 was a year when everyone feared for their jobs and people ran a mile from risk. In the race to avoid risk, they also avoided anything that was just plain fun. Please let’s not repeat that in 2010. Let’s create marketing programs that have a serious conversation but which also engage with customers in other, less serious ways. Ways that may be harder to rationalize but which we all know just plain work. Let’s have a Happy New Year.
I’m not a huge fan of the Interbrand global study as its methodology means many large private companies get left out but it is nevertheless useful. This year’s study shows that Tech brands continue to play an increasingly important role, while not surprisingly financial services brands are struggling. Indeed a quarter of the world’s top 100 brands are now tech brands, while only 13 are financial services. While the vast majority of tech brands maintained or improved their ranking, all but two of the financial services brands saw their rankings fall. I’d love to see how much each of the brands in this ranking spent on PR and advertising!
A lot has been written about the incredible rate of development of the Chinese and Indian economies. Less has put down on paper concerning Brazil and Russia. In large part this seems sensible as the fundamentals of these two economies are less impressive…at least at this stage. What is clear is that these four countries, which account for over 40% of the world’s population, are the economies to watch. What is less clear is what that means for world brands.
Every year Business Week in conjunction with Interbrand produces a list of the top 100 brands in the world by value. Every year, for what seems an age, this list has been topped by Coca Cola, Microsoft, IBM and GE. Indeed the top ten has hardly changed in recent years. Aside from the leaders I already mentioned the likes of Intel, Disney and McDonalds are also permanent fixtures it seems. What some analysis of the top 10 and even the top 100 shows is that America dominates. In the top 10, for example, eight are American. In the top 100 around 60 are from the US of A. These statistics seem pretty constant from the data Interbrand shares. This raises an interesting question: “Is China the next super power or simply the place where Coca Cola et al will employ the most people?”
That’s a tough question to answer in part because as the world’s top brands expand, they inevitably have to look at ways to reduce cost and complexity AND at how to tap new markets. This naturally draws them to places like China and India where educated work forces at relatively low cost are abundant and where potential new customers exist… by the million. So I guess in short the answer is: forget the “or,” how about “yes and “yes.”
What is very clear is that as the BRIC markets open up and as their educated work forces become middle class these countries will have huge economic power. Does that mean we will see a sudden shift, with a raft of new Chinese, Brazilian, Indian and Russian brands taking the world by storm? I very much doubt it. Toyota and Nokia are the only non-American firms to gain a regular place in the top ten in the last decade and this didn’t happen overnight. Instead it seems more likely that Coca Cola, IBM and GE will remain among the world’s top brands.
That may seem a little dull but I believe it will be important legacy for the US. America has become used to being the world economic and military super power. All the statistics say that position is set to change in the next thirty years with China and India overtaking the US thanks in part to the sheer size of their populations. But when the super power torch is handed to one of these countries as it inevitably will be, it will likely be done so with American brands still dominating the world economy. That’s a conundrum the new super powers will have fun figuring out.