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Jen Herbert, Senior Strategist at AMP I haven’t been to Disney World since I was eight, but this year I was fortunate enough to go to South by Southwest (SXSW), which I have now dubbed “Disneyland for Adults.” When I wasn’t busy presenting with the rest of the fierce AMP team for our participation in YouTube’s SXSW Creative Agency Challenge, or being distracted by the puppies at the Amazon Prime activation and the endless CBD-related samples at the wellness expo, I promise I was putting on my Brand Strategist hat and attending a wealth of panels and keynotes with my colleague and SXSW partner-in-crime, Andie, AMP’s Director of Business Development. The best part was listening to speakers with such diversity in perspective, and realizing that all of these accomplished individuals offered a unique method for building and strengthening a brand tribe: through social impact, play, internal creativity, and centering the customer experience around a singular emotional benefit. While we’ve been hearing about “brand community” for some time, “brand tribe” is a relatively new term in Marketing, yet it’s important because it denotes a much deeper relationship between brand and customer. While a member of a brand community need only participate on occasion, perhaps via a purchase or a ‘like’ on Instagram, a member of a brand tribe wholly believes in that brand. Connection with that brand becomes an outward expression of one’s identity to the rest of the world. Brand tribe members wear merchandise, create user-generated Social content, join loyalty programs, go on auto-pay plans, and, perhaps most importantly, recruit others to join the tribe too. _________ Building A Brand Tribe Through Social Impact Study after study has proven that in 2019, consumers want to back brands that share their values and create a positive change in the world. That being said, brands can’t talk at customers about the good they’re doing; they need to work with their customers to spread good together. As panelists during How Brands Can Engage the Social Impact Generation outlined, social impact must be participatory. One panelist, Viveka Hulyalkar, Co-Founder and CEO of Beam, has developed a customer engagement platform that partners with a given company, say, a fast-casual salad stand. The salad company decides how much they’re willing to donate per purchase and a cause they would like to support, such as third world female education. Customers can then log into the app to track how each salad purchased gets them closer to buying a textbook for a young girl. Another panelist, Helena Hounsel, Social Media Manager at Brandless, offered an example of how a brand tribe of activists can be built on Social: “Rather than spending International Women’s Day showing how your company volunteered at a women’s nonprofit, why don’t you instead ask your audience which women are inspiring them this holiday?” By rallying around causes that your brand and your customers share a passion for, and then providing a platform for your customers to become ambassadors for the cause, your social impact becomes experiential and your brand tribe becomes united around a higher purpose. _________ Building A Brand Tribe Through Play All work and no play makes a brand’s tribe very dull. IBM’s Dr. John Cohn reminded us of that in his session, Prioritizing Play in an Automated Age, where he outlined how making room to play can smooth the bumps during life’s tough disruptions. During the talk, Dr. Cohn told us about play projects of his, like an 18-foot tall animatronic pumpkin man as well as an art car built for Burning Man. He recounted how droves of people, some of whom then became his fellow creators, were drawn to his projects while they were being built and shown off to the world. In other words, play can help you find your brand tribe, in a very “if you build it, they will come” kind of way. Through your bravery to look silly and/or fail, and your willingness to surrender to wonder for no reason other through indulging curiosity, your brand will show its authenticity and customers who identity a similar raison d’être in themselves will be drawn to you naturally. Sure, you might be saying, A wacky scientist from IBM can have a little fun, but how can brands? Let’s not forget this Southwest flight attendant who transformed the safety demonstration into a burlesque performance, or KFC apologizing for running out of chicken with an on-the-nose newspaper ad featuring its carton respelt as FCK. _________ Building A Brand Tribe Through Internal Creativity It is often hard for brands to prioritize looking inward, to their own company culture and values, when there are always so many externally-focused tasks to complete. The beloved bakery Milk Bar, however, is proof that the spirit of brands that cultivate internal creativity will always shine through and be felt externally by customers. During Innovation in Pursuit of the Unexpected, Christina Tosi, cookie-baker extraordinaire and company founder, along with her agency partner, Michael Greenblatt of REDSCOUT, reflected on how the Milk Bar brand toolkit is a toolkit in the truest sense of the word. Through the codified system of the color palette, off-kilter logo placement, branded pastry box tape, and decorative stamps, Milk Bar employees at locations around the country are encouraged to leverage their creativity to use the tools as they’d wish. For example, the Milk Bar team suggested designing the delivery truck to look like it was covered in the Milk Bar tape; others use the logo and colors to bedazzle denim jackets and beanies that they wear to work. This DIY spirit has created a tribe of Milk Bar devotees. Because employees are welcome to live and breathe the brand uniquely, customers also view the brand as a living and breathing thing to interact with–for example by holding up a cup of “cereal milk” soft serve to a pretty background for the perfect Instagram, or by decorating their laptop in Milk Bar stickers. _________ Building A Brand Tribe Through Creation of “Brand Feeling” Lastly, it’s easy to get bogged down in lifting brand metrics. Yet during Following the Feeling: Creating Brand Value, Columbia University lecturer Kai Wright argues that the most important brand metric is how you make others feel. After all, Wright noted, humans make 95% of our daily decisions on “auto-pilot,” rather than weighing pros and cons in order to choose the best and most rational choice, with emotions influencing nearly 70% of our decision-making. He cited brands who have expertly structured their brand “LAVEC”– lexicon, audio cues, visual stimuli, experience, and culture– around a singular brand feeling. Take Disney, whose feeling of “happiness” is supported by audio cues like fireworks and visual stimuli like wearing the iconic mouse ears, or Gatorade, whose feeling of “endurance” is brought to life through the lexicon of calling its products “fuel.” If a customer can rely on your brand not just for great products or services, but for a guaranteed emotional experience, your brand tribe is then powered by the strength of shared human connection.
Two of the panels I enjoyed the most at SXSWi - The Twenty Something Time Machine and Death by Demographics: Killing off your Ad Budget - shared a similar focus (technology's role in changing the way we define consumer targets). However, the sessions had very different takeaways: We're all the same. We're all different. Full disclosure: those takeaways greatly over-simplify very complex marketplace shifts. But, the takeaways highlight that global access to the web, a sharp increase in ownership/use of connected devices, greater access to robust behavioral data, the rise of sophisticated digital targeting capabilities and the rise of socially-connected, empowered consumers have simultaneously produced the most assimilated generation in history while presenting the opportunity/need for the most individualized advertising targeting ever. We're All The Same. (Well, at least affluent Gen Y'ers.) Speaking about Generation Y (aka Millennials), Jason Dorsey of The Center For Generational Kinetics and Lisa Pearson of Bazaarvoice asserted that technology has created the most globally similar generation of all time. Core to this is the access to shared culture that technology, connectivity and social media have facilitated. While interpretation/application of this shared culture may differ by region (prime example: the politics of the Harlem Shake in Tunisia), generational truths have homogenized across distinct geographies and cultures especially among the affluent. So, what does that mean and why is it important? As brands continue to expand into new markets, this generational blending will allow for the development of truly global campaigns centralized around generational truths. While local preferences will always persist in the media world, digital consumption behaviors will allow brands to drive efficiency by targeting their audience across shared platforms. Facebook is already providing this platform via their Global Brand Pages. Look for other media properties to incorporate localization (translation, commerce, etc.) into their back-end systems to seamlessly support generational campaigns across borders. We're All Different. (Well, at least Suri Cruise and Honey Boo Boo.) While in aggregate Gen Y may be the most similar generation of all time, technology is driving the desire for, and capability to, personalize advertising in ways that were unimaginable ten years ago. Historical media buying was built around the idea that people who fit into the same audience categories ' age, gender, ethnicity ' were most likely to consume the same content and be interested in the same products / messaging. But with the rise of digital and the wealth of information now available to advertisers across devices, we can much more efficiently target campaigns and effectively target individual consumers. A great example of this that we've witnessed first-hand at AMP is the tremendous success in using approaches like look-alike modeling. By building a profile of our target based off of those individuals who complete a desired action (most often purchase), we're able to examine their broader online behaviors - how they surf the web, where they go, what they engage with, when they access - and target others who behave the same. Two individuals who share the same age, gender and ethnicity (Suri and Honey Boo Boo were used as an example in the panel) may share very little else in common. So, rather than buying against the demo, buy against the behavior So, we're the Same? Or, we're Different? I'm Confused. One of the key sound bites from the Death by Demographics panel was "culture over clusters," meaning focus your targeting over shared culture and behaviors as opposed to audience segments. That marries well with the belief that generations are becoming more homogeneous. Brands who have a clear definition of their audience should be able to create centralized creative messages that highlight core brand benefits and reasons to believe that span across traditional demographic labels. Through culture/behavior-first media targeting, those messages can better reach the right potential customers regardless of their audience category. In short, target the culture. And, when creating the message / examining the channels, start by exploring generational truths.
What's the role of intuition in advertising? That was the question that Nate Silver of @fivethirtyeight was asked to address in an engaging Q&A session at SXSWi. While the role of data in predictive modeling for marketing campaigns was only lightly discussed, the conversation shifted toward predicting political, pop culture and sports outcomes - one interesting analogy was provided that offers an unique look at the role of data in the world of advertising: poker. Know When to Hold 'Em, Know When to Fold 'Em Nate, a former professional poker player, stated that poker is a particularly interesting parallel for real-time, informed decision making. When played well, poker relies on a very stable base of data that more often than not sheds light on the probability of a winning hand (i.e., a successful campaign), but often requires less-scientific analysis of the hand at play (i.e. market conditions, potential risk, a general "gut feeling"). Perhaps an obvious statement, but when data is available, use it to inform your decision. But know that at the end of the day, the success/failure of your campaign will likely be affected by unforeseen, or unpredictable, factors. After all, more than anything else, the role of an analyst is not to guarantee success but to help avoid costly mistakes. The Takeaway So, will intuition ever go away? Don't bet on it. While data will continue to play a larger role in reducing risk and informing campaign creation, distribution and optimization, the creative/strategy/account executives will still play a critical role in developing campaigns. This point is most often manifested in the creation of a creative idea or a Planner's strategic translation of a robust data set. All in all, Nate's session proves big thinking requires risk-taking. Data will just help mitigate those risks.
I'll be honest. Any illusions of my first trip to SXSW did not start off with battling through a blizzard and the associated travel delays. But if there was one constant piece of advice / forewarning I did unilaterally receive from colleagues in the industry, it was that my experience at SXSW would absolutely not go as expected. I was told that the unplanned meet-ups, the casual conversations over beers and the 'damn, the session I wanted to go to is full'?¦ I guess I'll go here instead'? moments would prove to be the most valuable. So consider that a caveat as I share a quick overview of what I'm most looking forward to over these next few days. And I'll caveat now that my recap blog posts throughout the course of SXSWi will inevitably cover much different material and venture into much different themes. Social and Mobile ' They're No Longer Buzz Words, They're Business Plans I'll admit it. I've been suffering a little bit of 'hashtag fatigue'? lately (a term coined by AMP's own Colin Booth). While I'm as big of a social media nerd as the next SXSW attendee, I'm ready to get past the idea that social is the 'new, shiny toy'? to add to the marketing mix. Looking over the sessions included in this year's agenda, I am really excited about engaging in conversations about the business impact of social and mobile. Panels like Mobile Saturday: Loyalty in the Pocket and Social Circles vs. Social Media promise to discuss the role of mobile and social behavior across online and offline consumer experiences, and I'm hoping throughout the weekend that those conversations snowball into discussions around the business implications and ROI across these two exploding channels. We all know how important mobile and social are based on the latest stats about time spent and growing penetration. Over these next few days, I'm hoping we can all talk about successful strategies and new ideas to further integrate brands across those channels to connect with consumers in meaningful ways. Data is a Four Letter Word'?¦ the Good Kind I recently attended an event where the CMO of E*Trade, Nick Utton, stated his belief that marketing is now 75% science and 25% art. His point being that access to more data and an increased focus on testing throughout all stages of campaign development have resulted in more efficient and effective marketing. With that theme in mind, one of the sessions I'm most looking forward to is Saturday's 'Is Intuitive Marketing Dead?'? (analyzing data and predictive modeling) with Nate Silver. While there is still a lot we don't know when we put a campaign in market, we certainly know a lot more today than we did 10 years ago about our target audiences' preferences and media behavior. Ever-evolving research techniques (including sophisticated A/B testing matrices) combined with growing databases of historical performance data are resulting in powerful modeling tools that make us much smarter on day one of concepting. I'm excited to hear what Nate predicts for marketing's future and to hear this theme explored across other sessions and sidebar conversations over the course of SXSWi. Fastening My Seatbelt for a 24/7 Marketing Blitz The other thing I'm excited about is the palpable 'Disneyland for Marketers'? buzz. SXSW is where people/brands go to launch new products, share new thinking, play with the latest app/tools/approaches. And it's already begun'?¦ in-air. A few hours into my flight, JetBlue's marketing team held an in-flight promotion asking us over the PA, 'How many people does Austin's airport estimate will pass through Austin on their way to SXSW?'? One-by-one they collected answers from each flyer with the three closest guesses each receiving a pair of ticket vouchers to anywhere JetBlue flies. And while I was sitting there thinking, 'this is a smart promotion to run with a plane full of marketers, but you've got glaring problem ' no WIFI for me to live tweet/blog/post about it,'? they concluded their contest by announcing 'and by next year's SXSW, we'll have the nation's fastest, free wifi'?¦ so we'll play this game over Twitter.'? Be on the lookout for wifi roll-out in June with up to ten planes equipped by the end of the year. Well done JetBlue ' there's your plug. And feel free to play along ' share your best guess in the comments section below and I'll reveal the answer on my flight home'?¦ or maybe just before takeoff.