'Always-on' marketing: What is it and how do we do it?

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First 10 Digital
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In this series of Smart Insights Best Practice Advice, Danyl Bosomworth of SmartInsights.com shares tips on best practice to get better results from digital marketing. This month Danyl examines whether 'always-on marketing' is the framework for the future of marketing.

The sentiment in the headline is something that we keep seeing – that marketing is rapidly evolving – look at how much people talk about content marketing now compared to only a year ago. It’s worth learning from what Paul Adams is advising on this topic;  it’s from a different perspective, but with a degree of bias I might add. I’m a very big fan of his recent book, Grouped, a must-read for anyone who takes the future of web-based marketing seriously, hopefully that’s you!

Paul was until recently, the global head of brand design at Facebook. So hugely credible if not likely a little biased. I first read an article by him in Wired magazine and have enjoyed his articles ever since.

This post by Paul on his blog is about the Future of advertising explains how he sees marketing evolving, and in this post, I’ve summarised my take on it here, I believe what he discusses needs to be at the forefront of thinking on marketing planning.

I blogged a few weeks ago on a very similar theme, then from We Are Social’s team equally talking about ‘the future of social media’ . I believe that the sentiment behind all this needs to infiltrate every single part of your organisation, or you’re going to see the effectiveness of your marketing dwindle, more than it already is. That matters to MDs and Sales Directors as much as it does to marketing people.

‘Big, disruptive creative advertising’ is fundamentally dead

That’s advertising focussed on your brand and product, I for one don’t believe ‘all’ advertising is dead, it has and will retain a place in the channel mix. Paul’s thinking here isn’t critically new, I’ve blogged many times on this theme especially with insight from people like Seth Godin in regard to the Human Factor and the demise of “traditional marketing” thinking, the nostalgic era of Mad Men advertising was just a temporary blip in a post-industrial era. An era never to be repeated, Seth suggests, only created by a population at a moment in time having lots of time to watch maybe 2 TV channels, some money to buy stuff in a post-war boom, an industrial explosion, where only a handful of brands able to afford to advertise anyway. As a wealthy brand owner in the 1960s, how hard was that to mess up? It does seem that every time a new communication technology is invented (like Facebook), marketers and brand owners try to apply those Ad Men methods of “traditional” media to the new medium. The thing is, it was only traditional for a time, and it’s not the 1960s any longer.

All change

I know, I know. The “marketing is changing” stuff is pretty typical rhetoric now across pretty every marketing title that you read. Yet, hand on heart, you probably feel you’re not changing enough, that there’s a lot to consider, and where do you really start with it? We can accept, I think, that technology is what’s driving some dramatic shifts that are changing the face of business, and in turn the fundamentals of marketing and advertising. Paul Adam’s simple one line explanation is that technology is behind the rise of accessible information for the consumer (your consumer), that this is the key insight that’s changed the rules. Mobile is of course a huge component in that eco-system and it’s just a part of the story. If you can imagine your now informed, mobile consumer – you can design ways to better meet their information needs, to find and motivate them, you can in turn generate sales.

It’s startling too, only a few decades ago, our access to knowledge and information was limited. Informed by the books that people owned, local libraries and relatively limited TV shows we had access to. Think to know, it couldn’t be further from that situation. Whatever you want to know is at the other end of your almost always connected smartphone. Your ability, your consumers ability, to gather information on their terms is unparalleled, and that’s what changes everything.

“Dramatically more information, and limited processing capacity, means that anyone in the game of grabbing attention, and disruption is in a race to the bottom”. Paul Adams

All content is not equal

What hasn’t changed to much, is how people rely on other people to inform and make decisions that matter to them. Empowered by the web, consumers who are connected to each other and to information render big problems for advertisers and to some extent publishers. Adam’s suggests that in a world of too much information, the only way to be successful will be to fit in seamlessly and naturally into people’s lives. We readily accept that content is the key to being findable, shareable and a part of the social conversation, it needs to be relevant and also natural in how I find it or it will be ignored, or worse infuriate me, your busy consumer. Being of both Google and Facebook fame, Adam’s suggests that the best way to do this will be through people’s friends, or at least they’re most trusted sources of information, because in a world of overwhelming information and choice, people will turn to their networks to aid decision-making.

“No brand, and no advertising campaign, is more important and interesting to people than their friends”. Paul Adams

I’d argue that once trust is built with a consumer it’s not so linear as to always be through friends, that direct communications can be opened effectively and respectfully maintained. Used well, email continues to be one of the most potent of marketing tools available to us. Abuse it and you infuriate – you only need to see the PPI SMS messages to see that now.

Creating lightweight consumer interactions around your brand

So how exactly do you generate interest through friend’s networks in social channels? Adams suggests that being successful on the web requires us to build content based on many, lightweight interactions over time, over heavy outbound campaigns. His belief is that humans have learned a natural pattern of relationship building over the past tens of thousands of years. It is how we are wired. Because marketing and branding is very new relative to the history of our species, he says 150 years old but some will argue it’s much older, it makes sense that we would build relationships with brands the same way.

“We like to think that people talk about our brands in-depth, mentioning specific attributes we have seeded, but that is not how people talk about brands. People talk about brands in passing“. Paul Adams

My experience of the real world marries this, what about you? Think about it. Our conversations happen everyday, we build relationships and earn trust very slowly. From a brand perspective the same applies, brands are mentioned fleetingly, as a part of a wider, meaningful conversation. Two people sat next to each other chatting in the office do not deliberate about Red Bull’s latest campaign (or in the case of Stratos they probably do!) or the details of their new cranberry flavoured product. They may mention a piece of Red Bull content or event, product mentions are natural though – “I saw there’s Cranberry Red Bull this morning – I can’t imagine that being nice”. Those brand stories and our understanding of them is built through many, lightweight mentions over time and brands can get involved. Advertising done well amplifies this affect, it cannot replace it.

Yet as marketers and brand owners we focus investment on first designing heavy campaigns, assuming people (a) notice, and (b) care. Heavily branded campaigns and content – product shots, branded apps, tag-lines, icons, logos… Everything is about you, the brand owner. We talk a lot today about consumer engagement, building widgets and apps to ‘engage’ through immersive user experiences. It all assumes that people will take time to notice and care. It’s not how people engage and interact with brands in the real world, in their conversations.

‘Always-on’ is the framework for the future of marketing

What actions can we take based on this thinking? The solution, is that we need to map to real life. It’s said by expert after expert. Here’s around what we can consider doing using Paul Adam’s advice, and a little common sense:

  1. Real world relevance of messages. Brands need to re-think marketing by thinking about real the real world and specifically how their consumers live in it. To design always-on strategies using lightweight interactions over time, making use of the plethora of tools and channels that we have available to us to create more, relevant touch-points with the consumer:
  2. Obsess, genuinely about consumer interests. What will genuinely make consumers rally around your brand, what are their passions, what excites and motivates them? What would REALLY make them want to bring their friends to you through conversation. What will add value to them in order to make them feel they have to? Create that at the strategic level first, ideas that inspire over sell.
  3. Continuous process over campaigns. Think of campaigns only as pillars at key times of the year. You need a day-to-day, week-to-week marketing process that runs non-stop. That’s a totally different way of thinking about marketing and more akin to the reactive/pro-active mix seen within public relations teams. Social media and online PR (isn’t most PR online now?) requires a 24/7, always-on approach. Do social by being social because, not because it’s in vogue, but because you know you have to in order to connect.
  4. Lightweight, consumable and sustainable content fuels conversation. And of course it needs to be omnipresent across multiple channels, platforms and across multiple devices, as relevant to your consumer. Take a look at our content marketing matrix for initial ideas and the scope of opportunity. That content may all hinge on a common big idea or theme, it be more snack-able. Either way, design it to work around the consumer’s time – her commute maybe, lunch-break, sofa iPad moment or early morning news review
  5. Short-term campaigns that focus on launching new products and new product variants must still exist, but will need be well planned to fit on top of a the solid always-on foundation, and directed to those who love your brand already, that’s the minority. The always-on foundation will be far more important than short- term campaigns because that is how people act in real life and where the volume is. The question is, how do you get excited brand army of yours aligned and excited to talk about you, what will you give them in order to make that happen?
  6. Facilitate connections for the consumer, create community around your product by first focussing on people, not the channels, platforms and devices. You focus on consumer passions, there’s your connection, just how humans interact when the first meet, they use social objects [link] to relate to each other. Where is that consumer on-line when they talk about these passions, is it valid to create your own niche community or platform to better serve those passions or are there out-posts that you can post to and be a part of?
  7. Advertising still has a role, I believe, but it needs to be used to amplify content and ideas that are already of inherent value to the customer, not what you want to sell today. Amplify things that excite. Whether that’s things that entertain, educate or problem solve, make it of value to the consumer. Earn the right to sell later.
  8. Change your resourcing - this is a whole new dimension to most marketing teams, new processes, software, skills and people. It’s not so much difficult, it is daunting of course. There’s also the challenge of getting senior management buy in. Pilot initiatives as you would any other new process, if you cannot measure it, don’t do it. This needs to be presented as marketing to fuel the sales funnel, I’d suggest. It’s eminently more measurable than “traditional” media, and significantly cheaper to test.
  9. Leave if you’re not up for it! I’m going to be brutal here, you are too important and this is your career, if you work for an organisation that you find you cannot help to positively change and evolve, it’s time to move on. Look at the brands that once adorned our High Street’s to see that failure to evolve is brutal, and you’re just too good for that. There’s also just way to much opportunity out there for people like you.

A final word from Paul Adams on the advertising (and marketing) strategy of the future:

“The majority of effort and spend will be supporting an always-on strategy based on many, lightweight interactions over time to build deep relationships and loyalty. A minority of effort and spend will be supporting a small number of heavyweight interactions with true fans to achieve specific goals (mostly around driving awareness of new things)”.

Danyl Bosomworth is co-founder of Smart Insights and a digital marketing contractor. His experience spans brand development, direct marketing and digital marketing, with roles both agency and client side over the last 12 years.

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