While we all know that not all advertising dollars are spent wisely, it’s often hard to determine what’s working and what’s not. Changes in technology, consumers, and brands themselves don’t make this any easier. But if you can address these four changes, your advertising will stand a much better chance of having maximum impact:
1. Increased reliance on conversations with consumers and less on traditional, structured ad formats
Timely and topical is the name of the game – and that takes a nimbleness that many teams just don’t have. This was perhaps best illustrated by the number of advertisers trying to recreate Oreo’s success with spontaneous tweets during the Super Bowl – and failing.
The more you talk in real-time with consumers, particularly when the conversations revolve around current events, the more likely you are to lose focus on what your brand stands for. It feels great while you’re doing it, and you may even get some sales results. But don’t confuse short-term relevance with brand differentiation. Yes, strive to be relevant. Just remember that a strong brand focus, continually and consistently reinforced, is vital to winning over consumers.
2. More focus on ‘total market’ advertising and less on multicultural targeting
It can be tempting to roll all spend into a single bucket, making sure your creative is inclusive of multiple cultural groups. After all, research does show that you’ll still reach and engage consumers across cultural and ethnic groups with general market campaigns.
But research across ethnic groups indicates that without more targeted messages, advertisers are much less likely to build brand affinity – the personal connection and sense that this is a brand for “people like me.” That affinity is especially crucial in courting niches.
In fact, the most valuable strategy is a blended approach: Create a campaign that’s built upon a single, unified brand platform, leveraging a common set of brand cues. Then, craft individual ad executions and media strategies that address the nuanced cultural differences that various constituencies bring to the brand experience. You’ll ensure that as consumers engage with ads across both your general and targeted campaigns – which they nearly always will – they aren’t confused by conflicting messages. You’ll also strengthen their personal connection to the brand.
3. Escalating use of major event commercial buys
As it seems to get progressively harder to break through and have an impact with traditional advertising, more advertisers have been creating big-budget promotional programs and/or buying sponsorship rights to high-profile events. Research confirms that, depending on the nature of the event, these can be a cost-effective means of gaining attention for your brand and sometimes even engaging consumers in ways that sell product.
But there are also a number of potential pitfalls. Most commonly, brands fail to achieve good ROI because the identity of the event overwhelms the identity of the brand. Further, brands can fail to succeed when the event concept is not fully compatible with the brand concept. Much like selecting a celebrity to endorse your brand, it’s imperative to find or create an event or promotion that reinforces, rather than contradicts or confuses, what’s unique and compelling about your brand.
4. Continued financial pressure on U.S. households
While consumers claim to behave rationally, paying more only for products that are superior in performance, research shows that one of the keys to generating sales and loyalty for higher-priced alternatives is to build affinity.
This is usually not a direct message, but a feeling that can be systematically built through all of a brand’s communications. Brands that combine advertising cues (e.g., through commercial casting and lifestyle-based approaches), strategic product placement, and event involvement with a well-planned and focused online communications strategy achieve the greatest returns in building brand affinity, commanding higher prices in even a strained market.
While rapid change presents exciting new opportunities, it can also easily lead advertisers to take their eyes off the prize. The keys to success continue to lie in consistency, clarity, brand identity, and strong links between your brand and your ads. Are those as sexy as the shiny new thing? Maybe not. But they should take you into 2015 in a much better place than your competition.