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What DTCs Are Missing As They Open Physical Stores

Benjamin Y. Seldin,  Strategy Director In the years leading up to the current pandemic, Casper, the bedding brand, was in the midst of opening 200 stores across North America. It was among a number of direct-to-consumer companies (“DTCs”) opening physical stores at a rapid pace. While these brands are likely now reconsidering expansion plans, this trend will not disappear. DTCs experience awareness and a surge in online sales in markets where they open a physical location. From the design of their stores to the purposes they serve, I’ve noticed commonalities in how DTCs treat brick and mortar. And I’ve wondered: does their digital origin produce a particular approach toward physical stores? So, right before the pandemic, I journeyed through a bunch of them, most of which are recent additions to Boston, to investigate.  I found most share an emphasis on product demonstration and prime location – as well as a shortage of personality. It’s like they applied their focus on user experience in the digital space to the physical one. But that strategy is fading in digital, and it is in real life too. So in the following, I’ll identify how DTCs are missing personality as they enter brick and mortar and offer suggestions for improvement and greater opportunity.   Let’s look at some examples We’ll begin outside the DTC world with Filson, the heritage clothing brand that started in 1897. In speaking with a sales rep there, I learned that before the company opened a store in Boston’s gleaming new Seaport District, Alex Carleton, its Chief Creative Officer, took time scouring New England for unique antiques to fit Filson’s rugged, hip American aesthetic. The result is a quirky space with a larger-than-life wooden bear at the entrance that both greets and frightens customers, and dressing rooms that could be guest rooms at the Ace Hotel.  When compared to Away, the DTC retailer that later opened next door, Filson’s store contrasts greatly. Away is sparse, efficient, and transactional. It mainly encourages customers to test its flagship product, a well-designed suitcase. Similarly, the shoe brand Allbirds, famous for using wool, features wool swaths to touch and detailed explanations of the material’s benefits. Indochino, a menswear company, displays a wall of fabric swaths to exhibit color and variety. For these DTCs, product demonstration is paramount.   Location, location, location Like the real estate adage says, location is also a big factor. Many of the DTCs I visited are in Boston’s Seaport District. Maggie Smith, head of marketing at the neighborhood’s developer explained, “co-tenancy continues to be a main part of the conversation…there’s a transition going on, from brands wanting to know traditional real estate metrics to those that are more consumer-driven; [before moving in] they want to know the social clout of the place itself.” In normal times, the Seaport District bolsters its social clout with pop-up villages including rows of local retailers. The pop-ups benefit from the legitimacy of the larger players, and the larger stores enjoy the freshness of the pop-ups.    Single products DTC stores are often built around single products. This approach can feel contemporary in the online world but incomplete in the physical one, where even brands using the showroom model (with just a few sizes for each item) still offer a full line. Casper understands the value of a full line and expanded a while back from a single mattress to a spread of sleep-related products that fill its brick-and-mortars. It went even further as it recently prepared for IPO, attempting to become “the Nike of sleep.” It assembled a “sleep advisory board” and instituted internal policies to rally around quality sleep. While it faced an uphill battle in a competitive environment, this was the right play, albeit a bit late in the game.   Advice and opportunities for DTC brands If you’re a DTC using this period to plan brick and mortar expansion, here are some ideas. Pick your moment. If you don’t yet have a full product line, consider a pop-up store in a choice location first. Let personality lead design. Dig into what makes your brand’s personality unique and reflect it in design. If your brand doesn’t have much personality, start by developing one. Connect product to personality. Even functional elements should convey personality. Consider how Apple’s genius bar took what historically was a routine service and made it a branded centerpiece that embodies the brand’s charisma. Think big and small. What makes Filson’s Seaport store impressive isn’t just the things you first see like the big bear. It’s the details like dressing room fixtures and antiques that unveil themselves the more time you spend in the store. If product-first DTC’s aspire to last over a century like Filson has, they should use brick and mortar to help us get to know them and not just their products. Personality signals a company’s identity and purpose. It also helps foster customer relationships, which will be key in weathering this storm and others ahead. To learn more about how personality grows brands, click here.

Google Search Trends Insights June 2020

In our continuing series of examining Google Search Trends to gain insights into the top keywords queried in the USA, we present our findings for June 2020. Every day, we capture the top three keyword phrases in terms of search volume as reported by Google Trends (US Only). Each term has an estimated query volume attached to it, which we also record. The number scale tops out at 10,000,000+ with a lower limit of 200,000+. After the conclusion of the month, we look at the phrases we collected along with their volumes to get an understanding of what drove queries for the month. June 2020 Overview June 2020 was another month where keywords related to a current event news story. Of the 90 phrases we captured over the month, a third of them were news-related. Before the pandemic, the most popular keyword category was “sports”. In June, there were a few sports-related terms that we will examine later on in the article. Beyond news keywords, we saw a few holidays drive users to search as well as a few gaming-related phrases specifically related to PlayStation 5 or PS5. Here are our takes on the keywords driving the most queries in June 2020. Google Doodle The keyword that drove the most queries last month was connected to a Google Doodle. Marsha P. Johnson - 6/29/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries Quoting from the Doodle Page, the illustration featured “LGBTQ+ rights activist, performer, and self-identified drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, who is widely credited as one of the pioneers of the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States.” The timing of the Doodle was to commemorate the one year anniversary of Marsha being posthumously honored as a grand marshal of the New York City Pride March.  Google publishing this Doodle during Pride Month inspired us to view the 5-year trend for this phrase. Based on this graph, the search interest is continuing to grow for Pride Month, although the biggest jump occurred between 2018 and 2019. We believe that marketers should be aware of the increasing interest and align campaigns accordingly and authentically. June Holidays  Last month had a few holidays that drove users to Google to search for more information. There were three on our list that we wanted to analyze further to understand the year-over-year trends: National Best Friends Day - 6/8/2020 - 500,000+ queries Juneteenth - 6/18/2020 - 5,000,000+ queries Happy Father's Day - 6/21/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries The first holiday that cracked the top 3 most queried terms of the day was National Best Friends Day that brands like Starbucks and ProFlowers have used in ad campaigns. This year, the search interest for this lighthearted, social-media-friendly holiday hit a new peak. The volume isn’t large for this holiday as compared to other, more established holidays but it has been trending up over the past three years. It could be considered for content calendar planning for 2021. With the protests for racial equality and justice being in the forefront of peoples’ minds over the past six weeks, it makes sense there would be a very large increase in search volume around the holiday of Juneteenth: Looking at Google search trends data from 2004 to present, you can see that this year may have been a watershed moment for this holiday – and we may see more governments recognize it as an official holiday.   Lastly, Father’s Day had its top query day on the 21st. Father’s Day-related keywords also made the top 3 for the days of June 19 (Happy Father's Day - 1,000,000+ queries) and June 20 (Father’s Day message - 500,000+ queries). This year appeared to be a down year for queries related to this holiday as the peak occurred in 2017. Just remember, if there is any debate about which parent is more popular, check the data before you take a position. A Few Keywords Related To Sports In pre-pandemic days, most of the searches we collected were sports related but now they are a minor category of keywords. Here are the most queried phrases related to sports in June 2020: Drew Brees - 6/3/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Bubba Wallace - 6/21/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Cam Newton - 6/28/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Searchers were interested in what Drew Brees had to say in terms of other players kneeling during the National Anthem before games.  Bubba Wallace, who is a NASCAR driver, may have been the victim of a hate crime. Lastly, Cam Newton became a top searched sports-related query when he signed with the New England Patriots. It’s telling that without live games, sports queries have decreased over the past three months. With the major professional leagues set to resume play in July and August, it will be interesting to see if sports-related terms drive users to search like they did earlier in the year. Marketers should keep a close eye on sports keyword volume if live games resume. PlayStation 5 Is a Big Deal Sony revealed many details about their new gaming console and many people choose to learn more about it. PS5 - 6/10/2020 - 5,000,000+ queries PS5 Price - 6/11/2020 -2,000,000+ queries We have seen gaming become more popular as a keyword category over the months we have collected data. It seems the pandemic has driven more interest in gaming topics.  Marketers should be aware of this growing trend and see if it continues to grow at the same rate in 2021. Thanks for reading. Until next month.  

Google Search Trends Insights May 2020

In our continuing series of examining Google Search Trends to gain insights into the top keywords queried in the USA, we present our findings for May 2020. Every day, we capture the top three keyword phrases in terms of search volume as reported by Google Trends (US Only). Each term has an estimated query volume attached to it, which we also record. The number scale tops out at 10,000,000+ with a lower limit of 200,000+. After the conclusion of the month, we look at the phrases we collected along with their volumes to get an understanding of what drove queries for the month. Before We Begin This month’s article is difficult to write. When we started this project, we were trying to mine the top searched terms for marketing insights to share on our blog. April 2020 had some light moments, and the holidays that occurred in May 2020 did drive many search terms that we will outline below. But before we discuss Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day, we’d like to acknowledge that this month is different. Important topics related to racial injustice and inequality predominantly drove queries in May. So along with those keywords, we’re going to share a resource that Google put together to continue to provide users with information on these topics.  May Holiday Trends The first keyword phrase on our list that fell in the Holiday category is “Teacher Appreciation Week.” Teacher Appreciation Week - 5/3/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries Looking at the 5 year trend for this phrase, you can see that search interest surged in 2020. We think this year’s spike was powered by two main factors:  1) Google changed their logo to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week on May 3rd as a part of their Google Doodle program. 2) The pandemic has taught us all how important our teachers are, especially the parents who have been helping their kids learn from home.  While we may not see as much of a jump next year, marketers can add the week of May 3 - 7, 2021 to their calendars as a prime gift-giving time period.  The second holiday phrase from our list is “Cinco de Mayo.” Cinco de Mayo - May 4th - 2,000,000+ queries Looking at the chart, the query volume is up from last year, but lower than a peak in 2017. The holiday has been criticized in recent years, as the promotion of the date started as an earnest show of patriotism but has transitioned to be a chiefly corporate celebration. Even without a pandemic, we wonder if the popularity of this holiday will continue to dwindle as the public’s attitude on the true nature of the celebration changes. The next holiday on our list is “Mother’s Day”, which appeared many times on our list. Mother's Day 2020 - 5/2/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries  Happy Mother's Day - 5/8/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries Happy Mother's Day - 5/9/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Happy Mother's Day Images - 5/9/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Mother's Day - 5/10/2020 - 500,000+ queries This year, Mother’s Day was a multiple-day event with many queries occurring on the days that led up to the holiday. We do appreciate that there was a spike in queries the week before the holiday. We’re pretty sure people were checking to make sure they didn’t miss celebrating with the moms in their lives. Beyond that, the “images” query on the 9th is intriguing, as it appears that people were looking for visuals to wish someone a Happy Mother’s Day in lieu of a traditional printed card.  We thought that this query was driven by our new behavior due to the pandemic. When you may not want to go to a traditional store to browse cards, the solution could be to make your own at home. From the chart above, this phrase has had enough volume to be measured from May 2012 now. With its highest volume this year, this trend could be an indication that pandemic-driven behavior shifts may affect sales in the printed card industry for future holidays. Lastly, “Memorial Day” was a popular holiday phrase on our list. Memorial Day - 5/24/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries 2020 saw the biggest query volume for this holiday not only over the past 5 years, but also... ...the last 16 years. This slight boost over last year and 2016 could be driven by COVID-19, as people were searching for information related to the holiday. Marketers should note that this holiday has been gaining query volume since 2004 and should be a factor they consider in their plans for the year. Protests for Racial Equality and Justice‬‬ In May 2020, there were many queries that were related to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, as well as the protests that followed.   Ahmaud Arbery - 5/5/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Ahmaud Arbery - 5/6/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Ahmaud Arbery - 5/7/2020 - 200,000+ queries George Floyd - 5/26/2020 - 5,000,000+ queries Minneapolis - 5/27/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Minneapolis news - 5/27/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries Minneapolis riots - 5/27/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries Tim Walz - 5/28/2020 - 500,000+ queries Derek Chauvin - 5/29/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Protests - 5/30/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries From a purely analytical standpoint, the query volumes of these searches indicate that the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, as well as the world’s reactions to them, held great importance among the general public in May 2020. In the past, that’s the only takeaway we would share, as our primary goal of this blog was to merely report phrases, dates and query volumes as a record of how searches progressed over time.  But the queries on this list cannot – and should not – be viewed or discussed solely through an analytic lens. Because not only do these queries represent the murders of two men, but the systemic racism, oppression and racial violence against Black people that remains prevalent in our country today.  We at AMP Agency have been deeply affected by these events and stand in full support of the Black Lives Matter movement. As we continue to listen, to examine ourselves and our actions, and to do the work we need to do, we want to make it clear that any tool that helps us learn more about how we can end racial inequality is one we wholeheartedly support.  That being said, Google itself has understood the importance of this subject and has provided this helpful resource to bring greater focus to the queries related to these society-changing topics. Along with compiling keyword queries related to protests for racial equity and justice‬‬, this resource includes many different insightful visualizations and data segments that provide information as users search for answers on Google.  Thanks for reading. Until next month.

COVID-Driven Habit Shifts Provide Marketing Opportunities

The entire US market is going through a routine-shifting life event due to COVID-19, creating space for smart marketers to meet new consumer needs in unexpected industries. Research has long told us that old habits die hard. This is an evolutionary benefit - when we internalize actions into habit we go on auto-pilot, saving valuable brain space for greater cognitive tasks. Doing the same daily routines, buying the same brands over and over frees us from constant analysis paralysis. It’s also a huge challenge for marketers trying to nudge people towards new behaviors like, say, buying their product.  But there are some circumstances in a person’s life when a confluence of events rock old routines so radically that, for a short window, they’re susceptible to change. These moments are rare, and require major shifts in circumstances or environment usually driven by the upheaval of a major life event. Think: Moving. Marriage. Having a baby. A pandemic with widespread national quarantine.  Over the last 70+ days, Americans have been plunged into this kind of major life event all at once. The majority of us have had to drastically shift our routines as we’ve sheltered in place, no longer commuting, doing school pick-up, going to social gatherings. As the country begins to loosen restrictions, some will revert back into old comfortable routines. But after over 66 days in quarantine - the average time it takes to form a new habit - some of these new routines will have stuck.  This mass habit shift has huge cultural implications as many of our societal norms are morphing at warp speed. And while the economy has been hit hard, it also opens up a unique window for some brands and businesses to thrive. We’ve already seen this with streaming services, online gaming, grocery delivery, telehealth, and personal protective equipment - industries that have seen growth and will be poised for more post-pandemic. But there are some less obvious behavior shifts taking place that brands can act on now.   MORNING ROUTINES The habit: At-Home Coffee and Breakfast Before the pandemic, 41% of consumers bought coffee at least once a week at a coffee shop, with 15% going daily, according to Statista. On-the-go breakfast options reigned supreme as people rushed out of the house in the morning - according to the NPD Group, Consumer spending on QSR breakfast items in 2019 was up 31% from five years previously, driven largely by convenience, with a third of consumers ages 18-34 eating weekday breakfasts en route to another location. But with stay-at-home orders in place across the country, these habits are being completely re-written. Just one look at Instagram or TikTok will show how many are experimenting with new at-home coffee routines - posts featuring #QuarantineCoffee and #CoffeeAtHome have gained traction, along with users trying new recipes and formats (Raise your hand if you tried #WhippedCoffee, the trend driving over 1.9B - yes, billion - views on TikTok.) While elaborate recipes like Dalgona may not become everyone’s long-term routine, as more people settle in to working remotely the daily coffee shop run may be a habit of the past.Brands that can meet the need:  Coffee and breakfast CPG brands that reach consumers now can become part of long term morning routines. QSR brands that lean into at-home product innovation and promotion now will be ahead of the game post-pandemic.    WORK ROUTINES The Habit: Working from a home office According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, before the pandemic about 7% of people worked from home some or all of the time. Now, everyone who can work remotely is - an estimated 56% of the population according to Global Workplace Analytics. Of course, “working from home” is not just one habit - routines ranging from your morning commute, wake-up time, and what you’re eating for lunch are all dictated by where you work. Work location in general is a major routine driver, but let’s think about it through the lens of the small physical place you inhabit while working. At first consumers were experimenting with working from different places around the house, but as time goes on workers are finding their go-to spot and looking to optimize their space - a place they spend 8+ hours sitting while trying to concentrate and collaborate each day. Businesses that can meet the need: Brands that can help people support new work habits and create productive, comfortable work spaces will win. Yes, Staples should be excited right now. But brands with products like noise-cancelling headsets, home office furniture, video conferencing hardware, or even architects and contracting services can find opportunity in this new consumer behavior. By leaning into advertising and targeting those with remote-friendly jobs, these brands can build momentum as people settle into their new home offices.    EXERCISING +  SOCIAL ROUTINES The Habit: Daily Outdoor Recreation  In the market for a bicycle this summer? Good luck! If you thought the toilet paper shortage was bad, just try to buy a bike. In March, nationwide sales of bicycles, equipment and repair services nearly doubled compared with the same period last year, according to the NPD Group, with big spikes in leisure, fitness, and children’s bikes. But this isn’t just about biking -  cities across the country have seen a surge in the number of people out walking and running, too. With gyms closed, some people have turned to online workouts - a new habit shift in itself. But many have rediscovered outdoor activities as both a fitness and social ritual. Each evening at 5:30pm in my own town, the once deserted streets are now packed with families on their nightly loop around the block.  Businesses that can meet the need: The outdoor industry, which was already seeing growth heading into the pandemic, has a huge opportunity to encourage and shape these new outdoor habits. Bike brands have already seen boosts, but smart outdoor travel operators and outdoor gear and apparel brands across the board can reap the benefits too. Positioning products as ideal for social distancing activities and leveraging tactics like influencers can help put products to the test, generate creative without studio shoots, and gain traction during the pandemic and beyond.  Check out the article on Little Black Book Online here: https://www.lbbonline.com/news/the-habit-opportunity-how-brands-can-adapt-to-consumers-shifting-routines

Hack Your Creativity: How Marketers Can Get Creative In Uninspiring Times

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.

Creation in the Time of Quarantine

Making adjustments during a shoot is nothing new. Weather occasionally doesn’t permit. Scripts require rewrites. Talent informs you that being in front of a camera makes them uncomfortable and visibly sweaty. One time, years ago, we couldn’t find a sound guy because he had wandered off into the woods collecting bird calls. Creative teams pride themselves on rolling with such punches, parrying potential knock out blows in order to capture what’s been painstakingly storyboarded. More than a few months ago, AMP was awarded the opportunity to create videos explaining what goes into a popular brand of protein bars and butters. Each video would answer questions about ingredients through colorful set pieces designed to inform while entertaining. Everything was going according to schedule. Scripts were approved. Voice talent was cast. Food stylists  saved dates on their calendars. Then COVID-19 changed everything. As dates were pushed back, we set up home offices. As the realities of social distancing became apparent, we fine-tuned storyboards. And as we were beginning to think this wouldn’t happen, we figured out ways that it just might. Instead of unforeseen issues arriving during a shoot, we faced our biggest challenge beforehand. We decided to break it down, to focus on one thing at a time. First, we outlined if and how we could have a shoot while keeping everyone safe. Taking a cue from the protein bars we decided to start with basic ingredients. This meant limiting attendees to essential personnel. The shoot was capped at ten, including a medic whose sole responsibility was to make sure everyone was cleaning their hands, masking their mouths and maintaining their distance. Liz Grant and Anika Dhar represented AMP Agency. In addition to their roles of creative and project manager, both were required to wear several hats and in some instances even act as on-screen talent. After safety was addressed we focused on making sure we were able to capture everything both the creative team and client wanted. This was accomplished by using a live streaming tool, that linked the camera capturing all the video with all parties through several channels. The feed itself had roughly a 30-second delay. Comments would then filter in through AMP Agency members on set to the production team and then be seen on screen moments later. As a creative director being able to watch a feed from my home and have my opinions effect the shoot was nothing short of magical. While this of course makes it all seem like a well-oiled machine, the entire process was a learning one. There were still the usual challenges and hiccups but it was thanks to trying circumstances that we were able to try new things. No solution seemed implausible. The additional time due to the delay allowed us to have many options for every shot, so if something didn’t work we could move on to the next set up. And from a team perspective, the live stream allowed more people to tune and weigh in than we’ve ever been able to do during a standard shoot. This experience will change the way we look at shoots and content creation in the future. Because of live streaming approvals can be given remotely, meaning only those really eager to participate need to be on set. This will limit the number of people fielding emails and increase the number of people who craft what’s in the shot. As odd as it sounds, it seems that being kept apart has helped us find a better way to bring things together in the future.

Hey Listen - We Made a Voice App

After months of staying home and not seeing another human being for days on end, it got kind of lonely for me. So with the help of a conversational experience software partner, I built something to keep me sane under the guise of my agency’s first foray into the world of voice activated technology. Well, that’s not exactly what happened. The real story begins when Doug Grumet and Michael Mish asked me to lead a task force to structure our voice marketing offering. I had to think about it for a bit. Sure, my team was well-versed in optimizing web pages for voiced search results from Google Assistant, but there was another side to voice marketing that we had the opportunity to dive deeper into. Our dev team in Boston had experience building voice applications for clients. You might know them better by their brand names like Alexa Skill or Google Action. These apps are capable of doing a lot of things beyond answering queries and should be thought of as web entities that you can have a conversation with. Based on the work that team was doing, it made sense to have Jon Bishop, Director of Creative Technology, join the team. He is passionate about technology of all kinds and has a strong sense of how these apps can connect to a client’s existing consumer platforms. He even wrote a blog post about Intelligent Personal Assistants way back in late 2016. Once he and I kicked things off, we started investigating different solutions available to the marketplace. One of the vendors we found had an office right down the street from us – Voicify. They have a platform that allows brands to rapidly deploy voice experiences across any voice assistant device and easily maintain the content. So, we set up a meeting and got a few demos going. We learned pretty quickly that their platform was going to allow us to create voice apps quickly for our clients with the benefit of being able to publish an app to multiple platforms from one interface. The Voicify Conversation Content Management System™ is an out-of the-box solution that allows brands to create Q&A content and deploy it onto voice-enabled devices with a few clicks. They have done a lot of the development already so that all you need to do is focus on the best content for your voice app. In order to really get to know the capabilities of the platform, we decided to create a voice app for our own agency. To make sure it wasn’t just the brainchild of two dudes, we enlisted the talents of a few other AMP experts:  Sean Adams - who is an SEO Supervisor on my team and helped build out our Q&A structure Rachel MacMunn - who is a copywriter on our Creative team who made sure our content was aligned with AMP’s brand voice Nick Russo - who is on our AMP Marketing team who ensured our agency knowledge was correct With the team assembled, we went to work on what kind of information we would want on the app and how the responses to users' questions should be structured. Once we had the content set, we were able to bulk upload the inputs and responses into the Voicify platform. After a few rounds of beta testing (within Voicify and on Google), we were ready for deployment. AMP Agency’s voice application is our proof of concept of developing a presence for our brand on the emerging platforms for conversational experiences. We’re excited to continue to add to our app over time and play around with a machine learning interface. The Voicify platform has more features that we have the ability to add to our app, such as: Text display, images, and video files for screen devices Sonic branding (playing a brand’s jingle as a part of a welcome message) Audio files, which includes changing the voice of our app to one of our employees like Rachel’s Connections to your ecommerce backend for voice initiated sales These capabilities are all at our disposal and can be used for any brand that wants to partner with AMP to create their own voice app. With our experience, we can shorten the timeline from kickoff to launch. So have a chat with us! If you have an Alexa speaker, try saying “Alexa, launch AMP Agency.” With Google Assistant, say “Hey Google, let me talk to AMP Agency.” Then, go ahead and ask us any questions you may have about AMP.

What You Need to Know About Marketing to Generation Z

There's a new wave of influential consumers on the horizon, and now is the time to pay attention. This past month, our media team attended the Her Campus GenZology Summit where we learned how marketers can connect with Generation Z, an emerging demographic of rapidly evolving consumers. Whether your brand is primarily targeting Gen Z or trying to gain a foothold among younger consumers, these takeaways can help kickstart your Gen Z marketing strategy.  Who is Gen Z? Born in 1998 or later Digital natives and early adopters of technology Socially conscious and culturally diverse Establishing their independence: 80% of Gen Z makes their own purchasing decisions GEN Z’S CONSUMER BEHAVIOR Brand Discovery and Consideration Starts Close to Home New to adulthood and financial decision-making, members of Gen Z are thoughtfully developing their brand preferences. When considering whether to buy a new product or service, Gen Z is eager to learn about the brand and will consistently seek information throughout their consumer journey. Not all information sources are equally impactful, though – Gen Z primarily looks to their social circle to guide purchase decisions.  Drive Conversions with Community Gen Z strongly values social relationships, so it’s no surprise that these connections are also key purchase drivers. Gen Zers are most likely to be won over by recommendations from friends and family, as well as positive real-life experiences with brands. For marketers, a Gen Z-targeted media strategy should prioritize channels that have a trusted presence within their market.  What are some effective tactics? Social: Paid & organic social posts Content promotion: Sponsored content on sites with a large Gen Z readership High-impact creative: Eye-catching visuals that make your brand the topic of conversation is the cherry on top for earning Gen Z loyalty Freeform’s 6-week OOH campaign made a lasting impact by inspiring a wave of organic social engagement. Let’s Get Virtual: Consumer Trends in the Age of COVID-19 COVID-19 has affected every aspect of our lives, and social distancing poses a challenge to both community-seeking Gen Zers and the brands trying to reach them. However, digital platforms present innovative opportunities for Gen Z to stay connected during these difficult times. eCommerce and virtual experiences have also allowed consumer activity to stay strong.  Here are ways that brands can grow relationships with an engaged Gen Z audience:  Give Back: Be a force of good by contributing to the community and communicating with empathy and reassurance. Virtual Experiences: Host interactive virtual events that bring consumers together. Promote Self-Care: Food, clothing, and skincare products are popular purchases that help Gen Z feel uplifted while staying home. Steals and Deals: Encourage future IRL purchases with incentives like samples, coupons and loyalty programs – Gen Z is looking forward to shopping in person again!  SOCIALLY DRIVEN Utilizing Social in a Socially Distant Environment  While the future may remain uncertain, social media platforms have remained a constant in helping Gen Z feel connected. Pre-COVID-19, Her Campus reported that 51% of Gen Z college students spent 2 hours a day on social media, and 28% spent upwards of 3-4 hours a day.  Since then, there has been a surge in social media usage among Gen Z, as today’s state of social distancing has made maintaining relationships more important than ever. With this in mind, brands should leverage their social platforms to connect with the Gen Z audience in a meaningful and impactful way.  Specific Social Habits When it comes to social, Gen Zers have very specific habits unique to each platform, and brands should adjust their social media strategy accordingly. Instagram – Preferred Source for Brand Interaction Instagram allows for a wide variety of content to be produced and consumed, making it Gen Z’s preferred choice when it comes to brand interaction. Additionally, likes are no longer the main KPI on Instagram. Number of shares are equally as important and can lead to increased followers, helping to boost your brand’s overall success.  How can your brand increase its following? Post High Quality Content: Brands should post relatable, relevant and authentic content to drive increased engagement among the Gen Z audience. Interact With Your Audience: Replying to your audience when they comment or mention your brand goes a long way in making the Gen Z audience feel seen. Learn Their Language: Gen Z has their own way of communicating, so it is important to keep up with the new slang to better relate to this audience. Twitter – Personalize Your Brand Once fading in its appeal due to the rise of Facebook and Instagram, Twitter has once again become a highly relevant source of content for the Gen Z audience. From meme culture to article promotion and interactive polls, Gen Z is eager to consume relatable content on Twitter and feel as though your brand cares. How should your brand adapt its Twitter platform to draw Gen Z in? Understand You Are More Than A Company: Company accounts that take on a more personal approach resonate much more with the Gen Z audience. Gen Z wants to feel as though your Twitter handle is managed by an individual and not a buttoned-up corporation.  Reply and Retweet: Like Instagram, taking the time to respond to user mentions and replies can help your brand connect with its audience and grow its following. Facebook – Groups, Events, and Content, OH MY!  Facebook is still considered an important social platform for Gen Z, and is primarily used for three key purposes: How can your brand cater its marketing strategy based on each of these three purposes? Groups: Ensure your brand is consistently posting relevant updates and articles specific to your brand’s group pages to keep Gen Z engaged.  Events: Utilize Facebook to raise awareness around key brand events for greater interest and attendance. General Content: 76% of Gen Z utilizes facebook solely to consume content, so it is important to make sure your brand consistently posts high quality content such as videos and branded articles for increased awareness.  SnapChat – Mainly for Peer Interaction SnapChat is a hot spot for Gen Z. However,  they use the app mainly for peer-to-peer interaction and are less likely to engage with brands. Brands should focus their marketing strategy on social platforms that show stronger engagement among Gen Z, such as Twitter and Instagram.  TikTok – A New Opportunity for Consumer Interaction  TikTok is the latest craze among the Gen Z audience, used solely to consume and create video-specific content.  With roughly 1.5 billion downloads (more than Instagram and Facebook), TikTok is a key source in reaching the Gen Z audience. The 60 second video limit forces TikTok content creators to be innovative and impactful in a short period of time. Brands must follow suit by promoting short, yet impactful creative to stand out in such a fast-paced environment. TikTok offers a wide variety of advertising opportunities, allowing brands to pick and choose the most effective tactics for their specific marketing strategies. While like SnapChat, Gen Z is slightly less likely to engage with brands while scrolling through TikTik, your brand can still make an impression on this unique audience.  Influencer Partnerships: Brands should tap into influencer partnerships as they provide a less invasive and more organic way of putting your brand in front of Gen Z.  AUTHENTICITY MATTERS Authenticity: The Key to Gen Z’s Heart (and Wallet)  Gone are the days of the “perfect” brand. When it comes to Gen Z, they are much more interested in a brand that is “real” than a brand that portrays a “perfect” persona. They relate more to ads from micro-influencers than celebrities, and strive to find brands that have a sense of community. An easy way to begin creating this community is to invest time into strong community management. When Gen Z interacts with a brand on social media, they expect a response. Whether it’s commenting back or replying to/reposting an Instagram story, Gen Z wants to feel like they are a part of the brand’s community through social interactions, so community management is crucial. Influencers: The Trusted Voice Every day, a celebrity posts a #sponsored #ad for a product that influences people to scramble to find their wallets so that they can use the same product as their favorite celebrity. What’s more, the past few years have given birth to non-celebrities becoming influencers, and Gen Z is very receptive to these influencers. Some fast facts about Gen Z’s purchasing behavior based on a panel of Gen Z consumers: If your brand wants to reach Gen Z, utilizing Influencer Marketing is a good place to start. A few tips on how to develop an influencer strategy: Step 1: Instill A Sense Of Community Work with influencers who are open to attend local meet-ups or networking opportunities that are hosted by your brand, and that make the Gen Z consumer feel appreciated. They don’t want to feel like it is a simple transaction for your brand through the influencer. Step 2: Form Strategic Partnerships With Your Influencers Strive towards long-term partnerships. This not only establishes authenticity with the Gen Zers by letting them know that the influencer uses the product/service long-term, but also allows you to retarget top audience segments. You should also look to take a deep dive into the influencer’s audience when planning your campaign – just using their baseline stats only allows you to scratch the surface. Step 3: Create Premium Experiences with Influencers When possible, aim to continue the conversation with Gen Z and brand influencers through meaningful activations in relevant moments and environments that matter to Gen Z. Here, you should be adaptable; experiences don’t just have to be face-to-face. They can make just as much of an impact when they happen virtually, too. To successfully market your brand to Gen Z consumers, it’s clear that genuine connections matter above all else. With a mix of authentic messaging, strategic media planning, and an understanding of the Gen Z community’s values, brands can win their loyalty (and dollars) when it matters most.   

How to Evaluate if Influencer Marketing is Right for Your Brand Right Now

Anna Tremblay, Senior Manager PR & Influencer Relations Jennifer Carroll, Director PR & Media Relations May 27, 2o2o As our world continues to face lots of change, each level of the marketing funnel is changing and influencer marketing is no different. It is paramount that brands evaluate their influencer marketing efforts to ensure that it is an effective and efficient spend as budgets continue to shrink. Over the course of the last few months, we’ve been able to aggregate learnings from well-executed (and not-so-well executed) influencer programs from brands across many consumer categories. Prior to launching any influencer campaign, we believe that the performance of a four-step audit can help determine if influencer marketing is the correct approach for your brand at this time. By auditing the brand/segment, storytelling opportunities, potential partners and go-to-market messaging, we are able to build end-to-end recommendations that ladder up to overarching brand goals and KPIs while remaining sensitive to the current climate. Step 1: Brand & Segment Audit Does your brand/segment have something meaningful to contribute? The first step in our audit process is to identify the key brand product or service offering and the segment category it falls into based on consumer perception. Some questions that are helpful in identifying these offerings and segment categories are as follows: Is the segment category providing a service that is applicable to the current climate? - Example: Stay at home/lounge clothes everyone needs vs. High-end fashion. What value does this product bring to consumers? What sets your brand apart from other players in the space? - Here, you can leverage customer incentives and brand differentiators to help drive consumer consideration. Once you’ve established that the segment category is applicable and the product offering brings value to consumers in the COVID-19 era, you can move on to establish the potential storytelling opportunities for each key product offering. Step 2: Storytelling Opportunities What are the storytelling opportunities for this product or service? “Buy this product” messaging no longer works with consumers – particularly during a global pandemic. So, we have to get creative. During this stage of our audit, it’s important to identify all of the potential storytelling angles for your brand or product. Here’s what we recommend doing in order to achieve this: Establish a editorial calendar of tentpole moments. - These moments could include promotions, holidays, cultural moments, etc. Prioritize up-to-date editorial themes. - What are consumers going to relate to most right now? Determining the answer to this question will help your brand pinpoint winning messaging placements and strategies. Ensure storytelling angles are positive and uplifting. - Consumers get enough doom and gloom on the news today. Now is an opportunity for your brand to spin up some positivity in its messaging. Step 3: Potential Partner Identification Who are the partners that can relay this message with relatable authenticity? One of the most important (and fun) steps to planning an influencer program is sourcing partners to help tell your story. First and foremost, key customer demographics must be identified in order to create sourcing criteria. Influencer needs must also be determined during this step. Does your campaign require a tiered approach? Just one macro influencer? A network of micro-influencers? Answering questions like these will help in selecting the best possible partners for your brand. Leveraging an influencer sourcing tool to confirm key influencer audience metrics is paramount to connecting with the correct consumers and providing program ROI. Last but not least, brands must do their due diligence to ensure that selected influencer partners not only align with brand values, but that their online presence reflects these values. Step 4: Messaging Assessment Does our message need to be altered or tailored to the current climate? Now more than ever, it is incredibly important that both your brand and your influencer(s) do not come off as tone-deaf. We recommend taking the following steps prior to pushing content live in order to ensure that the content will be well received: Acknowledge the current climate without centering campaign messaging around it. - “Since we’re spending so much time at home...” or “These days, I love trying out new recipes…” are two solid examples of lead-ins influencers could use when discussing your brand or product. Be nimble and pivot as necessary. - Things change rapidly. In the time between content creation and posting, circumstances can change. This means it’s imperative for your brand to ensure that content stays relevant and gets messaged appropriately. Coordinate with influencers to determine tailored messages based on their knowledge of their content performance and audience. - Influencers know their audience better than anyone and know what will resonate with them – so why not ask them to help your brand? By auditing your process through the steps outlined above, any influencer campaign you work on can successfully meet consumers where they are with relatable stories and a product or brand that they can get behind. Check out the piece on Little Black Book Online: https://www.lbbonline.com/news/how-to-evaluate-if-influencer-marketing-is-right-for-your-brand-right-now

The Absence Of Sports Effects On Advertising

Guy Rancourt, VP of Media May 14, 2020 I miss sports – both personally and professionally – and I know I’m not alone. Those sentiments are echoed in conversations almost as frequently as you hear people say they miss seeing friends or just going out to eat. An unintentional consequence of COVID-19 is the realization of how much sports powers the advertising world. The absence of sports has thrown our marketing ecosystem into flux, and the ripple effect of canceling major sporting events is being felt across all mediums and all categories. In the short term, the loss of linear GRP’s, digital impressions and multi-platform marketing opportunities, not to mention the amount of unspent dollars freed up with these cancellations, is staggering. Countless marketers rely on the scale and platforms that events like the NCAA Tournament, professional sports seasons and the Olympics provide in order to showcase, launch and sustain their businesses. Removing these from the marketing equation is proving to be troublesome for many brands and agencies. Countless conversations, spreadsheets, flowcharts, meetings and revisions – all culminating in media plans of which sports play a major role. Poof! Gone. All for naught. But when they eventually come back this fall, what does that mean for the marketplace? It should be good news for brands and agencies. Many events have already been stricken from the 2020 calendar: the NCAA Tournament, Wimbledon, Tokyo Summer Olympics and The British Open, to name a few. While others have been postponed until later this summer and fall – NBA Basketball, NHL Hockey, Major League Baseball, The Masters, French Open, Kentucky Derby – many more still wait for their fates to be determined.  As the leagues and television partners continue their weekly dialogues around how and when they can resume play, there are countless rumors swirling about how each of them will land the plane:   Playing the NBA season at Disney World   Pushing the college football season to the spring of 2021   Sequester all MLB teams and staffs in Arizona and Florida   Eliminate NFL bye weeks to squeeze in games in the event of a delay While all of these options are up for consideration, they’re merely speculative solves until the country gets a handle on the Coronavirus. But the point here is that they are all working on solutions to resume play. Each already has mapped out countless scenarios and contingency plans to employ, once they are given the all-clear, in an effort to save their seasons. And they may all come back around the same time later this summer and into the fall. Clearly, there are more grave and consequential things going on in the world, so I do not highlight the lack of sports as the most pressing of challenges facing us. But make no mistake – the removal of sports has turned the marketing world on its head. According to Bloomberg, more than $2.5 billion dollars have been removed from the market this year already.  That’s billion, with a B.  We’re undoubtedly headed for a recession as businesses try to recover later this year and into next. We also know that production schedules for scripted entertainment will be impacted, causing delays in original programming. This will mostly affect prime time as their pilot season has been impacted the most – and who wants to invest heavily in what could be a light schedule of first-run scripted content this fall? As such, many are speculating that the sports marketplace will be flush with cash as the logical landing spot for all of those budgets. Another sellers’ market? Consider this: the back half sports schedule will be very condensed when all of these sports return. Imagine this very real scenario on November 15th: Sunday final of The Masters, followed by a National NFL window that then leads right into a World Series Game and Sunday Night Football. Talk about feast or famine. The point I’m making is that there should be a concentration of premium sports impressions in a tight window. Will there really be enough demand for this glut of sports GRP’s? Our industry is quick to say that sports – and football in particular – are mostly immune to market fluctuations. But can Madison Avenue afford to fund all of these hungry mouths this fall?  I say no, and I think brands and agencies are in store for one of the softest sports marketplaces in a long time. Even the mighty NFL shield could see dents in the armor for the first time in a long time.

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