Navigating Unchartered Waters: Capturing the Moving Target Market in the Digital Era.
The biggest challenge facing marketers today is catching the attention of the new digital generation of consumers. Long gone are the days when marketers could dictate trends and tailor their campaign strategies to tap into the ‘pre-programmed’ masses. The next progression came when the masses started asking inconvenient questions like, “ Is this brand really as good as they say it is?” or, “Am I being conned”? This set the cat among the pigeons, and spawned another whole era where marketing gurus, strategists and research groups were consumed by the mission to establish what made their consumers tick, what was important to them and what emotions drove them.
What followed for several years, was a tsunami of advertising material and campaigns aimed at creating the ‘right set of emotions’ for your brand and its personality, so consumers would ‘identify’ with them on an emotional level – and of course buy them, become loyal to them, and, if you got it right on target – even become word-of-mouth brand ambassadors. All this was a comfortable space for marketers to operate in because they ultimately were in control, or felt they were. They knew who their target market was, where to find them and how to engage with them.
Then suddenly everything changed. The digital era, which most marketers felt might have the potential to become yet another useful tool in their array of advertising arsenal, morphed into their worst nightmare. Social media’s exponential growth was likened to Hydra, the mythical Greek serpent with ever-multiplying heads, growing and spreading relentlessly. Marketers were still scrabbling to get to grips with Face Book, when Twitter, Google+, Flickr, Linked In, Pintrest, Instagram and Periscope joined hundreds of other social media applications spawned by this Internet Hydra. Worse was to follow, the new digital-savvy consumers soon created technology that allowed them to opt out of all marketing messages and advertising. In effect, the masses had cut themselves off from all traditional communication, and marketers were in the dark.
By the time the light came back on, it transpired that the masses, brought together by social media, had disappeared into a new phenomenon: Crowd culture, made up from Subcultures and Art Worlds. Subcultures are created around any topic or interest, from espresso and 3D printing to Victorian novels and bird watching. These groups move seamlessly between the digital world, physical spaces and traditional media, free of physical boundaries, and meet with just a mouse-click – by-passing traditional mass cultural gate-keepers with ease.
The Art World culture brings together massive creative input in musicians, filmmakers, artists, writers and their ilk. They work together in a framework of inspired collaborative competition – for them, innovation is King and they are the champions. No longer can mass culture pilfer their innovations and re-purpose them to suit the masses. This turbo-charged Art World has more participants, faster and better interaction and easier access to funding and distribution. What’s more, the digital age ensures they get instant market feedback on their innovations, and can rapidly adapt them to dovetail with the market’s response.
Just as fantastic a world as this is for Crowd Culture; so is it as horribly confusing for marketers battling to connect and communicate with the masses. The obvious solution for brands seemed infallible: create your own branded content, join the conversation, get consumers to follow you and make more fans. But it wasn’t as simple as that. In the process, companies spent billions on creating content they believed social media would lap up…but they didn’t. Coke was a prime example, setting themselves up for a fall from the word go: they changed their marketing strategy to “Liquid & Linked”, shifting from “creative excellence” (traditional branded content) to “content excellence” (branded content for social media). After 3 years, they still failed to hit the Top 1000 in the USA and Top 20 000 worldwide. They lost a great deal of money, and so did other massive brands like Mac Donald’s, Red Bull and BMW amongst other heavyweights. Their material was seen as ‘brand spam”.
So what was wrong with their thinking? Simple. They failed to look beyond branded content and analyze what conversations were about on social media, which is the arena of entertainers, sports personalities, teams and a vast pop culture. People want to talk about them, their fans create strong communities, and they interact directly with their fans via apps like Twitter. They create the conversations. The next biggest question is: how on earth do you reach these elusive people? The only way is through Culture Branding – the new buzz phrase. Culture Branding is the answer to this perplexing problem, and – best of all, it builds icons – and every brand wants to be iconic. Iconic brands are successful because they are cultural innovators. They utilize culture branding to their advantage to talk to and collaborate with crowd cultures, championing their ideologies and joining in their innovations. Winner.