Every day, we hear that we are competing in the age of transparency. Search, social, and mobile technology have shifted power to consumers. Our branding and advertising efforts are not nearly as effective as they once were. But what does it truly mean to compete in the age of transparency? More importantly, what is our new role and how can we win?
As we've gone around the world presenting our documentary on this topic, "The Naked Brand," we've learned that there are actually two key misunderstandings about the transparency movement. Recognizing these misunderstandings will lead to a distinct competitive advantage.
The first issue is that brands are transparent, but they don't need to be so proactively. What this means is, if you create a crappy product or behave unethically, your audience will see right through your marketing and advertising. But what this doesn't mean is that you need to create a proactive platform all about transparency. While that's certainly nice, it's not mandatory.
Patagonia created "The Footprint Chronicles," an in-depth website that lets its shoppers analyze the entire supply chain and understand how the manufacturing process damages the environment. While this is a stunning and effective method, it doesn't mean that your brand needs to go out of its way to expose all of its weaknesses. What it means is that your brand needs to remove all of its weaknesses because they're already going to be exposed through social media, including ratings and reviews.
The action item isn't to use your creative resources to develop a transparent campaign. Rather, the goal is to use that same energy and turn inward to understand what about your behavior needs to change or improve. We need to recognize that the greatest brands in the world right now are improving people's lives. That doesn't mean that we all need to run out and save the manatees, but it means that we need to find an authentic way to do something meaningful. Apple empowers people through creativity. Under Armour empowers people by helping them become better athletes. Emirates Airlines empowers people by giving them a more comfortable flight experience. Tesla empowers people by pushing the bounds of technology.
The second issue is that brands really are not completely transparent. If brands were completely transparent, we'd live in a utopian society with no marketing, no advertising, no packaging, and no branding. What's really happening is that brands are translucent, meaning that consumers can see through most of our marketing and advertising efforts. They can tell almost instantly when we're making exaggerated claims. But there's still a role for marketing. Creativity is still at the core of great brands.
There is still a massive opportunity to influence our audience. That's where things get truly exciting. For the past 70 years, we've had the same set of tools: TV, print, and radio. When the internet came around, we took the same concepts and shifted them over. Print ads became banner ads, junk mail became spam, and TV ads became pre-rolls. But now more than ever, we've got the opportunity to use our creativity in revolutionary ways to provide true value to consumers. This is where digital marketing has its greatest potential. No longer are we confined to the concept of interrupting people with our marketing messages. Using digital, we have the ability to create immersive experiences that people go out of their way to enjoy. The new era of marketing is about creating magnets, not megaphones.
Chipotle, Dove, and Red Bull have proven the ability to fundamentally shift perceptions by creating content that people not only experience, but want to share with their friends. Dove's "Real Beauty Sketches," Chipotle's "Back to the Start," and Red Bulls' effort with Felix Baumgartner drew millions upon millions of viewers who spent multiple minutes immersing themselves in a brand's story. The results speak for themselves. Dove has dramatically increased its sales, Chipotle's stock price soars, and Red Bull continues to dominate its competition.
Not only are these immersive platforms significantly longer than a traditional ad and often don't require paid media, they use different creative tactics. They're slower, more methodical, less frenetic, and less humorous. For years we've been trying to interrupt our target audience, and the most effective way to do that was to capture attention quickly and inspire laughter. While that works sometimes, we can all agree that most of the time it fails. Most ads are either not funny or they fail to connect the humor to the brand.
When we recognize that we are competing in a translucent environment and that consumers are willing to spend extra time with a brand that they love, we no longer need to be frenetic and humorous. When we also remember that great brands improve people's lives, we realize that these immersive platforms should be about education, not entertainment.
These two issues are highly interrelated, but they can't be addressed concurrently. It needs to be consecutive. First, you must take your focus away from outward messaging and turn your creative firepower inward. You need to focus on your own behavior and build a brand that's dedicated to improving lives. Then, and only then, can you take your creative firepower and turn it outward to develop an immersive, engaging experience.
But if you're looking for a simple mantra to share with your team, to help marketing executives understand why they should focus on behavior rather than messaging, it's this: The more evangelists you have, the fewer ads you need to buy.
Brands that embrace the transparency movement build armies of evangelists, which will always be fundamentally more effective than paid, interruptive advertising. It won't be easy. We've had 70 years to perfect our old strategies and tactics. And if we're honest with ourselves, we know that it isn't working. But more importantly, we know that there's an opportunity to gain a true competitive advantage by fully embracing the transparency movement and revolutionizing the way that we build brands.
"Tesla Battery Swapping Plans" image via EV News Report.