Brand-Building Role Reversal: Advertisers Must Listen First, Then Tell


JR Little, Carat's Head of Innovation talks to Forbes about how company's should build their brands today.

Branding Data Social Media

This article first appeared on on February 23rd 2016.

I was there; I witnessed the flip firsthand in 2010. That was the year the BP Deep Horizon oil spill exposed a perfectly scripted brand from being anything but “beyond petroleum.” Soon after, an American retail darling attempted to rebrand via social media – the Gap logo rollout was a catastrophe and the company quickly backtracked within the course of a week. That’s the window of time when the voice of the people became more important than the voice of brands. Looking back, it’s clear how the rise in social media changed the entire way brands interact with, and learn from, consumers. Social media has flipped the role of advertising.

Between 2008 to 2010, these events, as well as the U.S. banking crisis, rising rates of diabetes and obesity, and political scandals, caused Americans to seriously question the voice of brands and politicians alike. Social media was upending advertising, but, though few could see it, those same platforms were developing tools to rebuild the ad industry.

Today, to build a consumer brand, advertisers must focus more on listening to empirical behavioral, social and sentiment data than scripting a perfect one-way message from intuition.

Most intelligent, digital-and-social agencies have the ability to deeply understand peoples’ behaviors, interests and feelings. They can observe consumers you think you want and consumers who already want you. If you can imagine it, you can see it in the data generated by the big social platforms such as Facebook, Google, WeChat, and others that are willing to share what they know—if your brand uses their advertising products in return, of course.

These players, especially Facebook, have a remarkable window into the lives of consumers. Today, 1.59 billion people use Facebook. In the U.S., one in four mobile minutes are spent within Facebook’s environment. And every moment of interaction on, and sometimes off, the platform creates data.

Even Sir Martin Sorrell, a hero in our industry, has been alluding to the advertising role reversal. Around the time of the great recession and rise of social, he started stating that the industry was shifting from one made up of “Mad Men” to “Math Men.” Why? Because the science and the associated rigor made possible by data is now more important, more robust and more advanced than the artistic, creative side of the agency equation. And if you look at WPP’s annual report, you can see that those agencies with digital and data proficiency are making up a huge portion of the holding group’s revenue—whereas the agencies based on intuition mostly are eating into overall profits.

How should a company build a brand today? Reverse the process. Instead of using qualitative research and intuition to form a supposed perfectly scripted message pushed across traditional channels, get to know the consumers more deeply, digitally. You may find that your intuition couldn’t possibly guess at what data uncovers–like that your audience definition is wrong, they don’t care about your product benefit or they aren’t even using the media channels you designed for in the first place.

To break it down into simple steps:

1. Use The Data You Already Have. Every digital interaction, including social commentary, tells you more about your audience. From clicks to shares to words to locations, these consumer actions can be uncovered quickly and spun into audience findings. The good news is that many brands already have this data and the tools needed to generate it—they just need to activate on it.

2. Find The Brand/Culture Nexus. Listen and look for ways to connect your brand to their culture in a meaningful way. Sometimes, this might mean providing a new utility. Identify unmet needs that solve a real-world problem for your audience. A listening and helping approach can apply to any category, including automotive. If you find that the people talking about your cars are also looking for details on how to insert a child car seat, you may want to consider making new tutorials videos to meet this need or shift your segmentation altogether.

3. Stage An intervention: Find your moment to jump into the consumer journey, armed with the right story for that particular consumer. You will likely need different stories for different audiences. This is where data informs segmentation and value propositions.

The more marketers listen, the more likely they are to say things others want to listen to in turn. Never forget: Marketers are people too–born with two ears and one mouth.

Branding Data Social Media
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