FOR ALL THE TALK ABOUT the behavior of consumers, there hasn't been much said about the behavior of marketers. It's time to start the conversation.
All these years we've been pushing information at our customers. Now we must make a radical shift - in both mindset and practice - and begin pulling customers toward us, with experiences that engage rather than repel and that connect them with the brand at their initiative, not ours.
The way to do this is by creating what we call "active brand experiences," using every customer encounter and interaction with your brand as an opportunity to show them - rather than tell them - why your brand is best. When customers experience for themselves why your brand is the preferred choice, a virtuous cycle begins, as the very process of engaging in the experience enhances and reinforces the brand's value. The cumulative effect of such experiences can be powerful and, in our minds, more effective than any other form of marketing today.
There is no formula for creating active brand experiences. There are, however, a few principles to guide you.
Differentiate Your Brand From the Competition Much as you live your brand on a daily basis, it can still be tricky to figure out how your product or service is different from competing offerings. The answer, it turns out, lies within your organization - your entire organization. Many managers fail to realize that every division of the company can have an impact on how the brand is perceived. Expanding the discussion company-wide brings a new perspective - one that lets you begin to see as a company, not just as a marketing department, what truly sets your brand apart. This awareness, in turn, opens up new possibilities for showcasing those differences.
Translate What's Special about the Brand Into Customer Experiences Copywriters can tweak copy to their heart's content, but words and tone will never be enough when consumers have their fingers firmly on the mute button. You must engage them first; earn their attention by making the brand part of what the customer is passionate about and already participates in enthusiastically.
Think how effective this strategy has been for Apple's iPod. Music lovers found it easy to fulfill their passion by downloading songs from the Internet. They were so passionate that they continued the practice even after it became illegal to do so. Apple created a tool that allowed customers to experience their passion in a better, more convenient - not to mention legal - way. By harnessing what customers were already doing, Apple now boasts the lion's share (70% and growing at last reckoning) of the MP3 market.
Activate Those Experiences Across all Points of Customer Contact A third principle of Active Branding is leveraging and reinforcing brand experiences across the organization. Everyone who helped identify how to differentiate the brand should gather together once again to identify ways each department can convey those differences. Sure, there's likely to be changes in copy and imagery, but that only "tells;" it doesn't "show." The hallmarks of your brand should reverberate across all departments of the company - in customer care operations, online, sales, manufacturing - in any and all ways that department can reflect the brand attributes. This is not to say that mass advertising doesn't have its place; it does, but only in support of the brand, not as definers of it. To get the most for your brand dollars these days, give your customers experiences that bring the brand attributes alive. Show them, don't tell them, and you'll be delighted by what they show you in return.
Mark Beeching is the global executive director - creative at Digitas and Jeff Flemings is vice president, director - creative planning at Digitas