Changing faster might be specialty brands’ biggest advantage

Apparently when you’re a frog in boiling water you don’t know you’re about to die until you’re dead. I posit that even though we’re surrounded by traditional advertising and marketing everywhere we look, it’s going to be dead someday. How soon I’m not sure, but it’s changing faster all the time. And even though it’s impossible to know what will take its place, I believe social media (as we know it now) will some day be dead, too.

Social Site ChartI assembled this chart of the number of new social networking sites launched each year since 1995. (It includes only sites for which Wikipedia indicates the start date.) Does anyone else see the classic bell curve?

The acceleration of change has always fascinated me. Our brains have a hard time grasping what will happen in the future when it only takes half as long as it previously did for large-scale changes to occur.

When it comes to massive, extremely complex topics, it’s hard to boil them down to three points that are meaningful and actionable. Take global warming, for example: a recent NPR story pointed out that scientists are just not very good communicators and therefore are not very good about simplifying global warming into something we can all understand. So it was rather remarkable when the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told delegates at the UN Climate Summit that a new report – compiled by hundreds of scientists – had three key findings:

  1. Human influence on the climate is clear and growing.
  2. Quick and decisive action is needed to avoid destructive outcomes.
  3. There are means to limit climate change.

That language is pretty simple and clear. Maybe we marketers, who are supposed to be good at communication, should take a lesson from the scientists this time. So, despite the fact that marketing is clearly not as important as climate change to the continuation of the species, it certainly does have huge global impact on people and economies. So, allow me to be audacious as I parrot the scientists’ approach.

Here are my three key findings after assimilating a small mountain of industry information over the past couple years:

  1. Earned media trumps paid media.
  2. Marketers who act “mobile first” will win.
  3. Get ready for what’s next, because 1 and 2 are temporary.

Those three priorities should be at the forefront of your marketing activities, especially if you are a specialty brand that needs to outsmart rather then outspend your competition.

Frankly I’m tempted to stop there. I think those three points are self-evident. So if you want to stop reading and check in on your marketing program to make sure your priorities are in the right place, I’ll understand you if you leave now. For those who want more detail, read on.

Earned media trumps paid media

More often than not, people don’t like (or trust) advertising, and they block it out. People trust recommendations from other people, and they can smell inauthenticity a mile away. You know you’re in a new era of consumer communication when a large traditional advertiser like Kraft Foods has more success with social media than traditional media. From the September 18 edition of Ad Age:

When Kraft Foods Group pitches bacon, it no longer always finds its target consumer by making a big TV buy on a certain network or other. Instead, the company often produces content about bacon that it distributes to a targeted audience in a variety of ways. For one campaign, that meant digital video, social media and a microsite.

And this is what Deanie Elsner, exec VP-CMO at Kraft Foods had to say about the results:

Deanie Elsner“Oscar Mayer…has gone from a broad-based broadcast media kind of communication to going much more direct with consumers through content…My bacon team has actually moved away from broadcast media. They are now exclusively activating on content…and you will continue to see us pushing content out that way, because when it’s share worthy, it gets so much more exposure. Now that activation drove top-line for us, it drove bottom-line for us, it grew share for us, and two-thirds of all of our media impressions were earned media. And so what’s not to love about that?”

Specialty brands in particular have a unique opportunity to provide relevant content to passionate audiences who are ready, willing and able to share with their friends and acquaintances. Unless you make it easy for fans of your brand to become advocates, you are missing a huge opportunity to leverage the most important marketing influence of any era, past or future: word of mouth. Are you giving your audience the content they are hungry for? It works for more than bacon.

Marketers who act “mobile first” will win User Chart

We are, right now, at the moment when global Internet access via mobile devices is surpassing access via desktop PCs (the “Mobile Moment,” as digital product strategy and design guru Luke Wroblewski puts it, is when that happens to your website.) But I think that understates the importance of thinking mobile first. Take a look at the chart here for a glimpse into how mobile devices are eclipsing non-mobile PCs.

Given the obvious realities represented by how people are connecting with your brand via their mobile devices (not just tablets and smartphones, but now wearables like the new Apple watch), marketers must take note. Yet I am continually flabbergasted by the number of major consumer brands I come across that don’t even have mobile-optimized websites. (A recent IAM UK audit found that 46% of CPG brands have no mobile presence!) These people are asleep at the wheel — that’s just the cost of entry. Those with more vision are busy optimizing the entire digital customer experience, which more and more means the mobile customer experience. Quick, get out your smartphone and look at your website. If it looks like one of these, stop reading and go fix it.


Get ready for what’s next because 1 and 2 are temporary

Callahan’s director of social and emerging media, Ben Smith, recently spent a few days at the corporate headquarters of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TechShop getting the inside track on the latest goings on. Upon his return, he said they are working on a lot of exciting new things about which he was sworn to secrecy, so of course we can’t write about them. But one big takeaway about Silicon Valley in general is they are working on newer and better — and sometimes groundbreaking — technologies at breakneck speed. Ben’s immediate impulse is we all need to embrace a faster pace of change.

We in the advertising and marketing industry like to think of ourselves as progressive, but we’re actually pretty conservative and slow to change. Just take a look at this graph showing how ad spending clings to older paradigms as people are shifting their eyes and ears to newer media channels.

Time on Social Media Chart 

If we’re not uncomfortable with how fast we are changing, we’re not changing fast enough.  If brands are not taking risks and experimenting with totally new approaches, they will be sorry when they see competitors passing them by. Specialty brands are often in a better position to be leaders, experimenters and innovators. Nimble specialty brands should have an advantage over big-brand competitors. What experiments are you running right now?

Referring back to the climate scientists, the second of their three points seems like a good summary for all of us in the marketing world as well: “Quick and decisive action is needed to avoid destructive outcomes.” Indeed.

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