Our industry is ever-changing. Get insights and perspective from our experts as we share our knowledge and experience on how to successfully navigate the marketing landscape.
Taking a closer look at marketing’s favorite buzzword “Disruption”. “Zeitgeist”. “Thumb-Stopping”. We all have buzzwords that we wish we could tune out. Mine is “authentic” - a word that I’ve described as the corporate equivalent of “moist”. Yet it’s a difficult one to avoid. It seems that every organization, publication, and thought leader can’t get enough of the adjective. Businesses and brands are regularly tasked with the impossible mission of looking, sounding, or just being authentic. And with the new year comes new projects and briefs to chase this intangible goal. Here’s the problem: brands are corporate entities, not people, and have no business trying to be authentic. In fact, most attempts to crack the elusive code of authenticity and “be relatable” often hurt more than help (see: the endless stream of cringey TikToks from tone-deaf brands). I know what you’re thinking. “But look at the legacy of the Dove Real Beauty campaign! The rise of BeReal! Whatever DuoLingo is doing on TikTok!” There is a method to the madness, but it requires a closer look at larger trends. Chasing an “authentic” human face Ever notice how the term “sellout” doesn’t get thrown around the same way it used to? That’s because the term has shifted from a pejorative to an ideal: 86% of young Americans want to be influencers, a role that comes not only with clout and followers but brand deals and sponsorships. Being chosen as a guest at a corporate event or becoming a brand ambassador has become the ultimate status symbol. Practically, the choice makes sense for both parties. Influencers can monetize their content, while brands gain a human face, an attentive audience, and relatable examples of how their products can be used. Aside from speaking through influencers, many brands now use their community managers and other employees as human faces for consumers to connect to. A scroll through TikTok shows many branded accounts not speaking about their products or participating in trends, but bemoaning restraints from their legal teams or their constant need to post content. Again, these are people who act as stand-ins for a business. But what if businesses were simply transparent about what they were? In an age where every brand is trying to appear authentic by using internet speak and filming their mascots doing dances, the most radical thing might be to honestly share what your brand stands for or is up to on a day-to-day basis. It’s okay to not be authentic If you’re reading this, I assume you’re one of Beyoncé’s 278 million Instagram followers, but just in case I can briefly describe her profile. Her grid is populated with stylized glamor shots, usually featuring only herself in designer outfits on sets, in mansions, and on yachts. Her photos rarely have captions and she follows no one. This behavior is a far cry from the mundane “authentic” mirror selfies and pleasant vacation photos posted by our friends. Yet it makes complete sense because Beyoncé is a multimillionaire and the most awarded singer in Grammy history. Just as Beyoncé’s over-the-top social posts fit with her personal brand and lifestyle, so too can brands craft a presence that tells a story about who they truly are, all while being honest, distinct, and engaging. Instead of “being authentic”, why not try… Being transparent Give people a look behind the curtain about how things work or the decisions your team is making. Better yet, give them a say in the decision-making process. Being helpful Answer questions or clean up confusion around your products, or teach your audience something genuinely useful to their day-to-day lives. Being understanding Understand the tensions in your audience’s lives and how you can solve them. Keep a pulse on what’s relevant and valuable to them.
Marketers have many reasons for getting into advertising. Maybe it’s a fascination with brands or love for creativity. For me, it’s my passion for diving into culture and understanding what motivates people. It doesn’t hurt that my job as a Strategist is incredibly variable and fun. On any given day I could be interviewing men about their relationship with their beards or researching snack food super fans. Even when I worked in the more serious pharmaceutical space, I enjoyed tracking patients' journeys and uncovering their concerns when it came to their health. But in the past few months much of the joy that came with my role had been replaced with worry as my coworkers and I grappled with the heavy impact of a global pandemic and sweeping social justice movements. The COVID outbreak in the US, murder of George Floyd, and call for brands to boycott Facebook advertising in protest of the platform’s unjust practices seemed to come in quick succession. Many brands had been (rightly) spotlighted for being disingenuous or not contributing at all to the dialogue, and we were thrust into the high-wire act of guiding our clients towards the right decision (if there was even a “right” decision to make). “I did not sign up for this” This was one of my first thoughts and the thought of several of my coworkers who until this point in their careers had never grappled with anything more serious than a customer complaint. I recognize that this comes from a place of extreme privilege - not only am I in an industry that to me had felt removed from these topics, but I myself had never chosen to actively investigate them as a marketer. After sorting through the flurry of questions and news headlines and finally face to face with these issues, I realized that the work required for “this” was not a far cry from the careful research and planning we’ve always done for our clients. It’s with this realization that we were able to come together and create a plan. Where do we go from here? Go back to basics Understanding that no two brands are alike, AMP created a framework for approaching crises that could be adapted to each of our clients’ needs and values. After quickly pulling any creative that would contradict the tone of the moment (ex: a social post that encouraged consumers to meet up with friends), we leveraged steps and tools that had served us well in the past when faced with a difficult brand problem. Take a beat With marketing moving as quickly as it does, it’s natural to want to respond as quickly as possible to an event. The problem with this is that you may not have all the proper information to react appropriately, or understand whether or not it’s necessary to react at all. Much like reviewing a client brief to confirm what they’re asking of the team, taking a minute to assess the issue at hand and the impulse to get involved helped us understand the most logical way forward. Know your brand In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, several brands were called out for quickly responding, despite the fact that their company and product had no connection to social justice and never been vocal about these issues in the past. This dissonance made communications feel disingenuous to consumers. While the messages may have been lighter in the past, the goal of feeling genuine in our communication has always been a high priority. When building a strategy for a campaign or analyzing competitors, we start with our own brand to make sense of their values and where they stand in the category. We looked inward at our own brands to review their values and past history. Once we had a firm grasp of our brands’ histories, voices, and perceptions, it became easy to know how they would react in any given situation. Listen to your consumers Henry Ford once (supposedly) said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This quote is often used in marketing contexts to demonstrate how consumers don't always know the proper solutions for their problems. While this line of thinking often works for communications for laundry detergent or snacks, it should be thrown out the window when it comes to high-stakes situations. A deep understanding of consumers’ needs and motivations is key for any product, but addressing those needs directly was essential in this moment. During the early stages of the COVID outbreak, our grocery clients became essential businesses overnight, with consumers urgently needing information about product availability and store hours. We helped our clients pivot their social channels to provide consumers with the exact information they needed in an otherwise confusing time. Observe the cultural climate Once we took a minute to assess the situation, looked inward at our own brands, and outward at our consumers, it was time to take a step back and look at the given category and culture at large to give context to our work. While we didn’t want to copy our competitors, it was important to understand who was contributing to the conversation and how they were sharing. Category and cultural research is a standard part of the job, but instead of gathering creative examples and trending memes, we were gathering public statements and news alerts. These pieces of information were added to personalized live dashboards that clients could monitor. While I most certainly didn’t sign up for the high-stakes events of the past few months (and the inevitable events come November), I take comfort in the familiar and foundational tools I gained in the “before times”, finding ways to adapt and make sense of the (supposed) chaos. This new normal may not be as light, but I’ve been able to find satisfaction in diving into research, solving problems, and finding a way forward.
A marketer’s job is fueled by creativity. Whether you’re an Account Manager finding a unique way to distribute an annual budget, a Strategist hunting for an insight, or a Project Manager designing a plan for an omnichannel campaign, we are constantly leveraging creativity to come up with unique solutions for our clients. But creativity is an elusive beast, and the shift to self isolation and work from home life does not help. If you’ve felt a creative drain lately, you’re not alone: the way we live and work now is actively restricting our creativity by sapping most of our daily inspiration. The good news is that creativity can be hacked. By understanding how creativity works we can reorient and take steps to stoke it. So how does creativity work? Think back to basic chemistry: matter cannot be created or destroyed, but rather converted through different reactions. Ideas work the same way. In his seminal book on creativity, A Technique for Producing Ideas, James Webb Young states that “an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of elements”. In other words: ideas don't appear out of thin air (though they often feel that way). They’re a combination of observations, thoughts, and other ideas. That combining is the creative process. You don't have to be a painter or a poet to be creative, you just have to be able merge different sources of inspiration. What to do when your inspiration well runs dry While COVID has flipped countless parts of daily life on its head, it’s also changed how we get inspired. Our space and interactions are limited, so whereas before we might have noticed a billboard from a new brand on our daily commute or picked up an interesting anecdote from a breakroom conversation, we now have to manufacture ways to take in new information. Here are a few easy ways to get started: Ask your coworkers what they’re up to Regular check-ins with your team are probably a part of your weekly schedule, but it’s key to listen to those outside of your daily accounts. You never know when a tactic or learning from another account can be applied to your own. At AMP, along with regular department meetings, the national Strategy department Slack channel is constantly buzzing with questions, resources, and POVs that can be applied across the agency. Aside from business tactics, it’s also important to ask about your coworkers’ day to day lives. First, because it makes you a thoughtful human being, and second, because it gives you a fresh perspective on the daily lives of consumers that may be different from your own. Recently, a side conversation with a coworker about making TikToks with his family sparked an idea for a cultural briefing deck I had been stuck on. When it comes to inspiration, tangents are just as valuable as shop talk. Change up your routine With so many of us working from home, our daily routines have become even more rote. Following the same pattern every day isn’t just disorienting, it limits your exposure to new information. Shake up your routine by taking a short walk in a new part of your neighborhood, or swapping one of your daily news sources for a newsletter that curates content from across the internet (I’m partial to Open in New Tab, a weekly note from our Associate Creative Director Liz Furze). Something as small as trying a new breakfast food can help you shake up your perspective (I’m looking at you steel cut oats). Take a step back This is a step that often gets left out. Ever wonder why some of your best ideas come to you in the shower? That’s your unconscious mind suddenly spitting out the inputs you gave it earlier. It may seem counterintuitive, but giving your brain space is an essential part of the creative process. As Webb Young writes, after you’ve gathered all the inspiration you can and processed it, “drop the problem completely, and turn to whatever stimulates your imagination and emotions. Listen to music, go to the theatre or movies, read poetry or a detective story. In the first stage you have gathered your food. In the second you have masticated it well. Now the digestive process is on. Let it alone - but stimulate the flow of gastric juices.” (Apologies for the colorful analogy.) It can feel impossible to unplug from work and the 24 hour news cycle. Know that taking a step back is another step in creating ideas. Once you put yourself in a new frame of mind, you open your brain up for thoughts to collide and form fresh, shiny ideas. We hope these tips help you. If you’re still stuck, give us a shout.