A recent article in The Economist rather snottily dismissed the idea that brands should quit with the pleasantries and drop the buddy-buddy act. ‘The holy grail of advertising,’ it pronounced, ‘is to make friends with the consumer.’ Certainly, it seems to be a trap that many brands have fallen into – the empty platitudes that litter our social media feeds are proof enough of that – but I’d argue that both The Economist and the overly friendly brands are a tad behind the times. If you dig around a little, you’ll find that the brands that celebrate the coming of Friday every week, begging to know ‘whatcha doing this weekend?’, are increasingly in the minority. Most have worked out that a little strategy goes a long way.
The Economist is correct when it talks about a decline in trust (according to our colleagues at Havas Media, a survey of 134,000 people in 23 countries found that 73% of brands could disappear tomorrow without anyone batting an eyelid), and it’s true that the ‘streetwise, sceptical millennials’, having grown up seeing something like 3,000 logos per day, have the finest bullshit detectors yet evolved by man. But evolution is a key word here, and digital content marketing itself is changing faster than most commentators can keep up with. As an industry, it currently feels as though it’s trapped between an infantile obsession with fluffy things (kittens and bunnies abound) and the teen excitement of having just discovered a thesaurus (‘stick the word “native” in front of everything – native content, native campaigning – it’ll be okay’). But it’s clearly maturing, and that has to be a good thing. Those finely attuned bullshit detectors are forcing us marketers to think more carefully about what we’re doing; they’re forcing us to think usefully rather than blandly and noisily.
‘Usefulness’ is my own private buzzword at the moment, and I’m increasingly convinced that it’s the difference between brand-made content that breeds scepticism, and brand-made content that stands out. I’ve discussed the elasticity of this term elsewhere, but, as someone involved in the creation of content, I’m attracted to ideas that add something genuinely helpful to people’s lives. It’s essentially an editorial view – putting the audience and its needs at the front and centre, with the brand acting as facilitator – and it’s a strategy that allows a brand to ‘engage’ with their audience without ever having to work the hard sell, or resort to faux-friendly small talk.
Having a data-driven content strategy is at the modern heart of this approach. Finding out all you can about your audience puts you in a good position to start thinking about its needs, and how your own interests (as a brand) mix with these. Combine that understanding with a well-researched set of TOV documents, and you’re well set up to create something of genuine worth that is in no danger of triggering the bullshit detectors. Take Flora’s Handy website as a great example. You can be sure that the first questions the creative brief threw up were ‘which audience are we creating for?’ and ‘what can we give them that would make their lives easier?’ Equally, it’s unlikely that the first question a Handy user ever asks is, ‘Okay, so what does Flora want with me?’
The idea of bringing an editorial approach (rather than an advertorial approach) to advertising is nothing new, of course, and in many ways this digital evolution is a return to those tried-and-tested good ol’ days, back when the folks at Michelin realised that their car-driving customers needed something to do in their shiny new machines, and so produced a restaurant guide that gave them a reason to hit the road. Shakespeare had the right idea when he had Hamlet spout the immortal, ‘More matter, less art.’ To translate that into language a modern marketeer might understand, ‘More substance, less noise.’ Now there’s a buzz-phrase to get behind.
[button link=”http://www.arena-media.co.uk/blog/2014/02/are-brands-our-friends-not-if-they-know-whats-good-for-them/#sthash.vtAJsqTA.dpuf” newwindow=”yes”] First published on the Arena Media blog, February 2014[/button]