Imaginative Solution Architects

Our roles as marketers have shifted drastically from being consumer-centric to being human-centric. This means that the key driver for any potential relationship with the consumer stems from a relational requirement to connect with the humane and emotional nature of the consumers – which in turn requires us to add value and meaning to their lives.

To add value requires us to dream up solutions that delivers meaning to the lives of consumers. It’s simply not just a message or an idea that will deliver the required value, but creative solutions to the problems consumers face on a day-to-day basis.

Throughout the years creative problem solving has been allocated to those selected few who were deemed to have supernatural creative propensities – the era of the creative. Today creative problem solving is the backbone of every entrepreneur, start-up, business guru and life-student alike.

Lets unpack what it means. A creative process is about imagination. Everybody has an imagination. And in turn everybody has the ability to be creative.

Problem solving is as easy as finding solutions to those everyday problems that occur, be it in business, brand related, a consumer problem or even a personal challenge. Creative problem solving thus means to use our imagination to find solutions. Solutions that will answer the very basic need of any challenge that presents itself.

There are a couple of emerging influences that are shaping the way we approach creative problem solving today. These influences are changing the way we work, learn and live.

  1. The Connected Cultural Creative

There is a major shift in the society and the workforce, as we have known it. The focus is on the cultural creative and the roll of these within our society. The Creative Class as defined by Richard Florida are those that believe that they are more than just the sum of the physical attributes that defines them. “The Creative Class is not a class of workers among many, but a group believed to bring economic growth to countries that can attract its members”. They believe that they can change the society through their influence through creative problem solving.

  1. Immersive Tech

Universal access and the access to information are creating opportunities for immersive experiences. It results in the evolution of consumers and the required platforms they engage with. The role of the device can transform opportunities that drive the mobile ecosystem. Technology becomes the enabler of immersive experiences and access to ideas, thoughts, inspiration and various best practices. We see a strong role the Thingternet (the internet of everything) plays here with interconnected outcomes. This creates hope for our businesses, brands and consumers alike.

  1. Holistic Transformations

The human has various components that form our make-up. Two key elements in working towards holistic transformation is understanding the correlation between the digital content revolution and experiential learning to enhance ourselves. Harnessing these two components with leadership and readiness will result in a holistic transformation of our approach.

Our role as marketers is to manage imagination (the heart of the human mind) by turning challenges (the driver of innovation) into solutions (blue ocean thinking by answering the business problem) by recognising the above-mentioned influences.

As marketers, we need to evolve as Imaginative Solution Architects, generating creative solutions to derive new opportunities from it. The future of our business and fraternity relies on our ability to view marketing as a holistic role to add meaning and value. We have to harness the role of the cultural creative and immerse ourselves in the tech that is creating the future. Lets become Imaginative Solution Architects with great foresight, data intelligence and societal relevance to enable solution-based platforms.DeathtoStock_NotStock

The future of Marketing: a Neo-conversation

The face of marketing has transformed substantially.  It’s no longer a one directional banter or broadcast dais dominated by a production line of messages.  The future of marketing has signalled the end of one-way advertising as we know it.  The zeitgeist of post-advertising reigns.

In the concluding stages of the 1800’s, product marketing was product specific, hence product centric.  With the advent of radio advertising and then TV advertising in the 1900’s, the approach to product marketing revolved around the benefits products had to offer.  Through the next couple of decades communication developed an approach of being brand centric.  Soon new technology and mediums to communicate to consumers appeared, and in 1991 integrated marketing reached academical status.  At the commencement of the year 2000, marketing evolved to consumer centrism, which lead us into a post-adverting age controlled by consumers.

Betrand Russel stated, “Change is one thing. Progress is another”.  In a post-advertising age, change is evident as numerous organisations strive to reinvent themselves as consumer-centric.  But what does it mean to be truly consumer centric?  And how will this add value to a business?

To be consumer centric is to understand the heart and the soul of the consumer. Brands ought to strengthen their connection to the consumer and dissect the product offering within the contextual world of the consumer.  This will enable brands to start a brand conversation with the consumer.

Today’s world is defined by technology and consumer control.  Consumers have a complex relationship with media, where they control the messages and ultimately the brands.  The challenge is how and where brands engage with them.  In the latest research survey released by Forrester (see footnote), it is evident that consumers trust fellow consumers more than they trust brands.

Additional data released through the Forrester survey revealed that consumers hate most advertising, and:

  • Only 5% agree with advertising claims
  • 50% say brands don’t live up to the advertising promises
  • 67% complain there is too much advertising

Consumers control our brands and more specifically, the messages of the brands.  They choose how, where and when brands engage with them.  It is vital to listen to consumers.  According to Google, there are 3,5 million brand conversations taking place every day –and all of them in public.  Brands are forced to master the art of active listening to what consumers require and more importantly to what these consumers say about brands.

Although the marketing landscape has changed (it’s time to accept it), people will remain the same, driven by basic primal needs.  But the ways brands speak to consumers have also changed.  Brands have to engage consumers in a two-way conversation and leverage their insights to create worthy and recognisable brands.

Simon Mainwaring encourages today’s marketers to be “architects of the community” or referees of a shared stewardship of brands.  Shared stewardship in terms of sharing the brands’ marketing responsibility with consumers who influence the conversation.  The job to be done is to understand consumer behaviour and to build communities of interest.

Audience demographics and segmentation is not enough when planning marketing activities.  Therefore it is necessary to think of communities.

Liz Strauss states that a social community is “a group of like-minded individuals connected by interaction”.  These interactions and experiences happen daily between friends, families, colleagues, organisations and brands – both in verbal and non-verbal communication.  It is a group of people with a communal interest or connection.  Our individual reference with these groups is the way we associate or belong.  This is a community.

It is a social structure that shares collective values, aspirations and attitudes.  The binding factor is a community culture which its members identify with. Wherever this community gathers they influence each other – it’s an ongoing conversation that is reciprocally interesting or beneficial.

This means that we need to mobilise our fans and followers (and ultimately their followers) to evangelise our brand stories on our behalf.  The consumer is now a creator,a sharer and a distributor.  We have to inspire these stories, which have become an organic, non-linear brand conversation.  This is called storytelling and occurs through time and space in a social community.

In this post-advertising age of neo-conversation – content, conversation and community has to co-exist.  It is imperative that it is relevant and has to be applied across multi-platforms in tandem to create a storytelling community.   People matter as the community, social objects inspire the conversation, and content applied in trans-media is the tool to make this happen.

These are a few guidelines to understanding this zeitgeist of neo-communication:

  1. Collaboration is key.  It starts internally at every organisation with its employees, staff and management.  It inspires a culture of co-creation and delivers true brand advocates/custodians.
  2. Understand the consumers, the way they converse and the technology that drives them.
  3. Don’t follow what other brands are doing.  Be unique and inspiring.
  4. Listen carefully to your community in order to formulate insights to inspire the brand and communication strategy, and finally the conversation.

This neo-conversation is not about an award-wining 30-second TV spot idea.  It’s not about shifting all your marketing efforts to banner ads.  It’s not about activating a social media profile.  It’s not about building a campaign website for the sake of it.  It’s not about applying a billboard to an email.  It is about a simplistic platform with many big ideas, executed in many different marketing channels (transmedia) working together supported by relevant content for each channel.  Start the conversation now and convert your consumers to disciples of your brand.

Footnote: Forrester Research, Consumer Technographics Benchmark, “Understand the digital consumer.  Make better decisions.”

Time to Loosen Up – Gay Marketing

“Brands have to start loosening up, and start to delight their mature consumers.”

The lesbian and gay audience is an uncharted audience and often not considered as part of campaign targeting.  Many misconceptions still exist resulting in flawed marketing campaigns towards this audience.  The lesbian and gay audience embodies a broad and vigorous variety of preference.  It is time to identify with this market and encapsulate the power they behold to advocate your brand.  Marketers have to loosen up to understand this market, to make cultured decisions about their strategies and deploy inclusive tactics.

Various global surveys have shown that gay men and lesbians own more homes and cars, travel extensively locally and internationally, spend more on luxury items, and have the largest amount of disposable income of any niche market.  Based on global research, the gay and lesbian audience approximately represents 10% of the general population.  In South Africa there are over 4.8 million living in South Africa.  By overlooking this market brands neglect a large segment of influential consumers.

Even though this audience is categorised as one market, there still is differentiating factors.  Just as there is no one South African market we speak to, each niche market in our country constitutes of various demographics and attitudes.  But as with any other marketing strategy one needs to consider demographics, attitudes and behavioural targeting.

According to research conducted by the ABNSA, 45% of gays and lesbians are always irritated by ads in mainstream media depicting gay people as camp or overtly flamboyant stereotypes.  Many brands project these assumed stereotypes in their advertising campaigns, but do not succeed in creating an emotional connection with their gay and lesbian consumers.

There are many types of personalities in this audience with idiosyncratic interests.  Should your brand appeal to them, they will more than likely recommend your brand and become true brand custodians.  Matt Alderton from Logolepsy Custom Content and Communications in the USA has identified three key attitudes why this audience is a brand’s dream customer.  These are affluence, education and loyalty.  In a South African context these three are supported with the following data:

  1. Affluent: The median monthly income for a gay/lesbian household is R30,000.
  2. Educated: Some 34 percent of gays and lesbians have a degree/diploma and 75 percent occupy management level positions.
  3. Loyal: Approximately 63 percent of gays and lesbians consider themselves to be brand loyal.

The gay and lesbian audience has a purchasing behaviour that changes regularly according the specific needs and influences.  But know for sure that if you take notice of them, they will take notice of your brand. The ABNSA Consumer Profile reveals some key demographic insights from the gay and lesbian audiences as proof of the influence this market has:

  • 95%                  Own a car
  • 86%                  Enjoy buying the latest electronic gadgets
  • 85%                  Under 50 years old
  • 77%                  Own residential properties
  • 74%                  Are avid consumers of luxury goods
  • 69%                  Consider themselves image conscious
  • 66%                  Go for regular wellness and beauty therapy treatments

Cases

There are numerous global and local brands that have implemented specific targeted communication messages successfully.  One of these is the Spur Steak Ranches.  They have build on their proposition of being a family restaurant and added a dash of “pink” to have a targeted message to the other “family”.

Macy’s, one of the largest department-store chains in the USA celebrates a message of inclusivity by celebrating pride and promoting their registry to same sex couples.  According to Corliss Fong, Vice President of Diversity Strategies, they don’t look at diversity inclusion as being a political statement.

Barclays Bank in London is another example of doing extensive research about lesbian and gay attitudes toward banking, product awareness and general preferences.  Based on these results, they have developed a successful strategic lesbian and gay marketing approach – with an ongoing focus on staff support and sponsorships.

US ice-cream brand Ben and Jerry’s partnered with same-sex marriage campaigners Freedom to Marry to rename their Chubby Hubby flavour to Hubby Hubby.  This was done in celebration of same-sex marriage legalisation in Vermont.

In a brand’s approach to develop effective marketing tactics, the following should be considered:

Research:  To engage this audience effectively, marketers should leverage the correct touch points.  Where they frequent, the content they follow, the people they connect with and the level of their engagement should be included in the research.  With proper habitual research brands will be able to indentify valuable opportunities.

Social Media:  In recent research by Harris Interactive, 2,412 U.S. adults (aged 18 and over), LGBTI community is more active on social networks than heterosexuals.  Not only are they actively involved on Facebook and Twitter, they also read blogs – and as a result most likely to be receptive to social media marketing.  Cosmedia Consulting has done research, which confirms similar trends in the UK and South Africa.

Subtlety:  Don’t make stereotypical assumptions about the tonality of the communication.  Although this audience is a mature audience open to brands that push the boundaries.  Become a “Brand Butler” by serving this audience by focusing on their daily lives.

Support diversity:  Gays and lesbians are traditionally known for setting trends.  By engaging them marketers gain entrance into the larger and more mainstream markets.

In South Africa, we have seen social progress with brands that are in tune with their consumers.  They understand the value of relationships.  They implement meaningful marketing campaigns by adding value to their consumers.  In turn, our gay and lesbian audience expect brand messages to be forthright, have fervour and sometimes push the boundaries.   Brands that understand this have earned trust over years.  So now it’s time for brands to move with the culture, loosen up a bit, and yes, have some fun in the process.

Experiential Power

I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I experience and I understand – Confucius, 450BC

While some forms of experiential marketing existed since prehistoric times (i.e. word-of-mouth), most marketers today are not aware of the full extent of Experiential Marketing. We know what it is about — the emotional connection, the face-to-face interaction, and the brand relevant experience. We know what it can do for our brands. But do we truly grasp the characteristics and returns of Experiential Marketing? And do we truly implement experiential campaigns?

Experiential marketing has many faces. It utilises many a platform to communicate the specific message to the correct target market. As traditional marketing platforms evolve, so do the needs of the consumer to be satisfied by the branded world. We cannot merely stage a marketing campaign, without a specific and unique experience, in the hopes of catching the eye of the consumer. Traditional marketing has become a secondary gizmo to the experiential world, where the golden experiential thread is the synergy that binds all the relevant marketing platforms together. This red thread will ensure that all the marketing platforms work in tandem with each other and speak to the consumer in order to create an extension to the brand experience.

In order to understand the power of Experiential Marketing, I have to reflect on the characteristics of Great Experience Marketing (a checklist as utilised by Toyota Marketing, USA). Experiential campaigns should have the following characteristics: “Customer-centric, Authentic, Interactive, Immersive, Brand-personifying, Ego-satisfying and Sustainable”. Not all campaigns or experiences can be classified as experiential. Just because there’s an event or an experience, doesn’t make it a populace-friendly foray. Only true communication (experiential marketing) captures the correct audience at the right place at the right time and reflects these characteristics.

As marketers, we get so entrenched in the buzzwords and jargon — that we actually forget what our purpose is. We have the power to manipulate the sine qua non of marketing a company or a brand and its products. And in this epoch, we have to ensure that our campaigns add to the brands’ bottom-line. Through utilising effective experiential marketing as a methodology, we will create consumer trust. Without trust, there is no interest, no trial, no loyalty — therefore no sales.

It is imperative to utilise the power of experiential marketing to embrace your customers in a time where financial restrictions might limit or even jeopardise your campaign. As it is all about the experience, these don’t always have to be million dollar experiences. It is about being innovative and creative to truly create an experience that benefits the customer. A very simple experience may well be like a case study presented by Avon in the US, where hair stylists were recruited to educate the target market about breast cancer awareness, in their daily environment.

The power of experiential marketing understands the customer, the brand, and how to communicate to them effectively. It therefore moves through time and space to connect with the consumer in a fourth dimension. It is in this fourth dimension where the brand objectives, the experiential platform and the consumer reality intersect.

Companies have to reassess the motif behind creating customer- and employee-centric experiences. All of these experiences will be done in vain, if there is no personalised experience with the company, the brand or the product. As much as experiential can build a brand, there is also a danger for faux-experiential to damage the brand. Especially when the wrong message is communicated or even when the incorrect marketing medium is utilised. This then becomes disruptive marketing again, falling back into the path of traditional forceful marketing which does not benefit the customer.

There are two trends that I would like to highlight. These trends are supportive of the experiential ethos and assist with targeted communication to the customer. Firstly, there is a vivid increase in the integration of Digital/New Media into experiential marketing campaigns. This platform becomes an integral form of extension to most campaigns, as long as it is relevant and contributes in the continuation of communication post the customer-centric experience.

Secondly, another growing trend is the multi-agency integration model. This is where traditional agencies collaborate with experiential agencies to truly determine an integrated strategy and contribute to a 360-degree campaign with a strong red thread.

As the demand increases for brands to have a successful relationship with the consumer, there’s an increase in the selection criteria that customers use to identify the brands they support. We need to continually think creatively and exploit inventive approaches to liberate brands in the minds of the consumers. Let’s stay true to our raison d’être, and bring brands to life by introducing truly experiential campaigns. Let’s experience to understand!

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