Like it or not, we are always on. Always plugged in. Always in touch.
What does that mean for marketers? What does it mean to have the power of reinvention turned on at all times?
Advertisers no longer control brands. Consumers are taking control. Consumers can take a brand's message and turn it into something far from the experience the advertiser intended. Nintendo launched the Wii Fit as a "fitness breakthrough." Consumers called them out on it, using social media channels as their forum, including a YouTube video that has been viewed over 7 million times. Some worry that advertisers have lost control of messaging altogether. They certainly are no longer its sole authors. Unlike the one-way messages of old, redaction is not an option. Brands today are always on.
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So, how does a brand survive and, ideally, thrive in today's world? How do marketers work in conjunction with consumers?
How to survive "always on" marketing:
Be where your customers are
Make sure your brand can be found. The alternative is that consumers will find your competition instead. For instance, right now, 96 percent of the U.S. population has a mobile device. Smartphones are set to outpace standard devices this year. But only 23 percent of companies have a mobile optimized site. That discrepancy counts for something: a recent study showed that 52 percent of mobile web users are unlikely to return to a website that they have trouble using. And 40 percent said that they would likely visit a competitor's website instead. Brands need to reach their consumers wherever they are -- or their competitors will first.
Offer brand utility
What are your customers doing when they might be thinking about your product or service? Do they start by making a list? Are they at the doctor's office? Fixing a flat tire? Once you know where they are, and what they're doing, offer to help accomplish those brand specific tasks (e.g., a grocery list app, an appointment reminder service, roadside assistance, etc.). Minneapolis-based Caribou Coffee recently helped customers beat the cold by turning bus stops into working ovens, highlighting their hot breakfast offerings. They gave their consumers something incredibly useful to them, free of charge: heat. And in doing so, they got them thinking about the brand.
Let your users interact with your brand whenever and wherever they want
Presence in the channels people use every day (e.g., mobile, social, etc.) is critical in an always on world. For instance, JetBlue offers customers reward points for checking in at an airport via Facebook Places. The program is a win-win for all: Consumers earn points for free through a platform that many were already using, and the brand gains mass amounts of exposure by weaving itself into a channel that consumers use daily.
Inspire your consumers and fans to action
Attach your brand to a cause that means something to your consumers. Lead by example and then invite them to join in and help. Tide's Loads of Hope program successfully marries its brand promise to philanthropy, helping those in need get one of life's basic essentials: clean clothes. The program has given consumers the chance to be part of something greater than themselves -- and it is something that they are reminded of every time they open up a bottle of Tide.
Reveal the history or mythology of your brand
Give consumers a peek under the hood and get personal. Starbucks opened dialogue with their consumers about changes to its logo and as a result, helped to preserve a "neighborhood coffee shop" feel despite being a huge global corporation. By sharing their own history with their consumers, they were able to relate to them on a personal level.
Let consumers shape your product
Release a special edition. Let them design their own custom product. Enable them to share their "work." Design for Venus invited consumers nationwide to design Venus Williams' tennis outfit for the U.S. Open. It was a design competition turned community: The entries were posted in a gallery on the site, where users voted for their favorites. Venus got in on the action as well, picking her favorite outfit of the week and offering advice and tips on her personal style, on and off the court. The consumers loved it -- and the site saw more than 30,000 entries over the course of 10 weeks.
Beat critics to the punch
A good sailor can tell when a small wind is about to turn into a raging storm. A good brand steward should be ready when negative comments are about to trigger a social media nightmare. Smart brands get ahead of the storm and defuse the situation by admitting culpability, outlining a solution or revealing facts. When buzz started about a lawsuit alleging Taco Bell's beef was anything but, they didn't wait and allow it to become the next internet meme -- they hit it head-on and invited consumers in to see their complete recipe and judge for themselves.
Cameron Bruns is VP and director of marketing for Digitas.
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