The “other” – and really important – part of your ads

Advertising creative has a lot of moving parts.  There’s the brand’s voice and its implicit promise.  There’s the creative idea that’s holding the ad together.  There are the visuals.  The copy.  In many cases, the VO and the supers and the animation and the call to action.  And the magic pixie dust that we’re all after to sprinkle it with some kind of lasting power and persuasiveness.

But there’s this “other” part that no one really talks about.  The critical part (or parts) that the consumer BRINGS to every ad.  I realized recently that not many of us are including this in our craft.  And it’s time to change that.

Even though advertising seems like a one-way conversation (the brand just shouting out “look at me!” or “sale ends tomorrow!” or in some cases whispering “get over here, sexy,”) it’s not.  The consumer brings a lot of stuff into the mix, and in that magic moment when she reviews your work, it’s deeply influencing how she perceives the brand you’re working for.  I see advertising much more as a careful dance between brand and consumer, and there are a lot of attitudes, feelings and suspicions providing the background music.

There are probably a million little attitudinal elements that consumers bring to ads, but I’ve narrowed it down to what I think are the six most important:

DESIRE.
We all know the pure fact that none of us would have a job if consumers didn’t have wants and needs that they’re trying to fulfill every day.  And in the modern American experience, brands are fulfilling all kinds of desires for consumers every day.  It’s important to distinguish needs and wants here…It may be very true that consumer X needs motorized transportation to take him to and from work.  But he WANTS a BMW, based on the experiences he’s had, and likely, the advertising he’s seen.

You can do a whole semester just on consumer desire, but understand this:  we’re all clawing and scratching for the same things deep down.  We want people to like and affirm us.  And (some might see it as sadly,) we strive for that by what we do, what we wear, where we eat and the labels on everything we consume.
The consumer brings desire to every ad.  Fulfill it.

KNOWLEDGE:
Consumers are smart, and getting smarter about the things they want and the products they buy.  But they’re also smart about advertising.  They know (mostly) that they’re being retargeted in digital.  They know why they’re receiving certain offers in their inbox.  And they know that slick copywriters are weilding language in a way that shrouds the selling messages.  So they’re looking through that.  And by the way, they’ll know when you’re wrong.  Here’s an example:

citi_lo

Cute ad, right?  Makes the point about the convenience of the Citi Mobile App, and ties it right into the language of the subway commuter.  (As you can see, this ad appeared on a subway station in Manhattan.)

One small problem:  THE B TRAIN DOES NOT STOP AT 14th STREET.  And since the target consumer also brings knowledge of the NYC Subway System to the reading of this ad, the wheels kind of fall off abruptly.  The consumer starts reading and says, “wait…the B doesn’t stop at 14th street…it goes express to West 4th.”  The imaginary part of the conversation might then continue, “well, if Citi doesn’t even know the basics of the subway system like I do, how can I trust them to know more than me about mobile banking?”  See?  It’s some dangerous shit.
The consumer brings knowledge to every ad.  So get your facts straight.

PROBLEMS.
One of the cornerstones of marketing [and why advertising exists] is the premise that consumers are trying to solve problems in their daily lives.  They ask internal (and sometimes out loud, if you ride the subway long enough,) questions like “how can I lower my blood pressure?” or “how do I get my ass to look good in these jeans?” and “what steps should I take to prepare for retirement?”  And similar to the desire stuff we discussed above, in many cases, they look to brands to help them solve those problems.  Not every ad can do that.  But in the ones that are explanatory, and for products that might aid consumers, give ’em a little help, eh?
The consumer brings problems to every ad.  Help him solve at least one of them.

CURIOSITY.
Consumers are inherently curious.  Heck, you might say we’ve trained them to be.  Every day, new products come out, new services, new concepts to help them solve problems.  And they don’t just want to know what you’ve got, they want to know what’s behind the curtain, too.  You don’t have to give away the farm, but you can certainly meet this need with a few well-placed words, images and ideas.
The consumer brings curiosity to every ad.  So satisfy it.

BIAS.
As nice as consumers are, they can be pretty picky, too.  Or grumpy.  Let’s face it, they’ve seen like 5,000 ads already today, so the last thing they’re interested in is your opinionated, slanted, over-promising, under-delivering puffery.  No, you have to understand that the person you’re talking to is smart, experienced and has opinions of her own.  So tread carefully, make your case convincingly and you just might change a mind or two along the way.

exxon_lo

Here’s another ad I saw while riding the subway this morning.  Attention-getting?  You betcha.  But when you think of the bias the consumer brings to the reading of this ad, it’s either an immediate “yes” or a decisive “no.”  I don’t love those odds, and would rather have a “definite maybe” from every eyeball.
The consumer brings bias to every ad.  So overcome it.

If you’re involved in either the strategy or the craft of advertising, make this the last item on your review of the work:  what’s the consumer bringing to the reading of this ad, and are we addressing that intelligently and in alignment with the brand who has entrusted us?  It’s quite a dance when you get a hang of the steps.

The “C” Word of Marketing

conversation_blog

No, no. Not that “C” word.

In the old days, (you know, as far back as the 1990’s,) marketing was largely a one-sided enterprise. Brands created campaigns that were directed outward to the consumers (large blocks of them) and then waited for the cash registers to ring. When that didn’t work, they just re-tooled the campaign, and tried it again. There was never any inclination to change the model.  Just a tweak in the creative, or a new account manager, or a line extension, and let’s tee it up again. Those days are over, for many reasons – but mostly because the “campaign-as-the-thing” approach stopped working.

The new word of the day in marketing has to be CONVERSATIONS. Because, more than ever, brands need to listen and respond in near-real-time in order to stay relevant. Consumers are in control of the messages they receive, when they receive them, and (Jeez, Louise!) on what devices they will be receiving them!

Is it the Internet’s fault? Yeah, probably. But the Internet just streamlined a distribution system for brands that brands always desperately wanted. Note to industry: be careful what you wish for. The system begets bugs. The system creates a new set and style of preferences.

And let’s be mindful that this is not a tipping of the scales – it’s actually a market correction. It’s only natural for the consumer to be in control when the basic DNA of marketing is choice. Because there’s competition – multiple entities vying for attention and striving to achieve the perception of superiority – the consumer is naturally in the driver’s seat…weighing benefits and making choices based on any number of criteria. (Whether they’re sound or not, mind you. With choice comes caprice.)

So, if you’re a brand, how do you have conversations?

Listen.
As with any conversation, listening is the best way to engage. You’ll learn, you’ll understand, and you’ll be able to exchange ideas with context. For brands, this new paradigm is an information gold mine. No more expensive focus groups, no more really expensive segmentations, no more super expensive risks. Today, you can publish content, and consumers will tell you in about 4 and a half minutes whether or not it’s crap. The brands that listen – and pay attention – seem to be the brands that excel.  Listening is why we have conversations – you already know what you are and what you know.  The goal, of course, is to hear other perspectives.

Inspire your audience to try something new/other.
Even if your audience is already buying your stuff on a regular basis, it’s worth deepening the relationship.  Ask them to try something new. Drive a new route. Try a new approach. Write an essay. Post a photo. Ask them to do ANYTHING but “buy our shit.” When you do that, you cheapen the opportunity to continue the conversation, and you make just about everything that follows suspect.

I’m not suggesting that marketers use diversionary tactics to engage audiences. I’m rather insisting that you find something ELSE to talk about than yourself.

Seed new conversations.
One of the “things” marketers can do is to seed new conversations. Sure, they can be contextual. They can even be categorically obvious. But let them be true, two-sided exchanges between parties where both parties participate, both parties are heard, and both parties have the opportunity to come out having learned something. (Here’s the dirty little secret: brands can do this over and over with zillions of people, and really really learn some things.)

Want to know what your next flavor should be? Want to know where to build your next location? Want to know what kind of features you should put into your next expensive piece of technology? Want to know whether you should wear those dopey throwback uniforms? Start a conversation, and listen. You’ll be amazed at what you find, especially if you’re in a position to act on that information.