A standup comedian and a travel website can’t be the best teachers of marketing practice in today’s day and age, specially since the standup comedian is not a movie personality and the website is not a heritage marketing company. Yet the two may hold lessons to how the marketing and communication will need to evolve in coming days.
Conventionally marketing is about controlling the stimulus. Brands spend enormous amount of time, resources and effort to own one specific benefit in the minds of consumers. This benefit once identified is reinvented over and over again so that competing brands cannot encroach upon their territory. The entire messaging strategy is crafted to ensure that one benefit that the brand owns is singularly communicated across all mediums. The conventional messaging strategy has always been a monologue. The entire media is planned to be intrusive. The brand says what it wants to say all the time and rarely is affected by what the consumers say or feel. The benefit of this model is complete control on messaging that the brand has on what it says, to whom it says and when it says. This control over message has been the cornerstone of marketing ever since it was invented.
This has started to change with the advent of social media. What was called word of mouth then became word of mouse today. Brands woke up to the power of mouse and started to use social media actively, but the desire to control the message has not been relinquished. Despite the need for real time conversation with fans and followers the brands have remained shackled, very few have truly broken the mold to have honest open free flowing conversation with its fans.
This is where the standup comic and the travel portal have shown the way. This is what happened: one intemperate foul-mouthed politician in his campaign rally spoke about wanting to deport all the non-supporters to one of our not so friendly neighbour. As it happens, such campaign speeches lead to a series of conversation on social media. In one such tweet that the comic (@gkhamba) sent to travel site asked “are you offering in infidel packages… group enquiry, please revert”. The responding tweet that was sent out by the travel site was absolutely brilliant, because normally the brand in the control conversation mode will never respond like this, “Already overbooked, business has been good today. Though we may start some charters given the sudden rise in demand”. Not surprisingly the social media lapped up this conversation. The site acknowledged that the tweet exchange “was definitely not staged”. Now this happened in real time, was not couched in corporate speak and did the brand a world of good.
This is very similar to the American Airline and the search of a co-passenger that went viral. On a flight from Calgary to Dallas, one lady met the man of her dreams on the flight but forgot to get his last name. She reached out to American Airline twitter feed, “Dear @AmericanAir just got off my flight with my future husband, but didn’t catch his full name”. The airline hesitant at first gave in to her persistence and asked the co-passengers to help out. Last heard she was united with her man of dreams and American Airlines wished them to live happily ever after. Here the brand recognised the opportunity for a wider connect and played along, building it as a fair, responsive brand.
This is in sharp contrast to branded disasters that have happened across the globe; most noticeable was of US Airways who tweeted a rude reply and an explicit graphic image as a response to complaints of delay and poor service. No wonder the tweet went viral and got its share of sneer and brickbats. Though the brand apologised, the damage was done.
From infidel flights to modern love story to abusing a consumer for complaining, the landscape of marketing is changing. No longer can the brand’s voice be shackled and confined to a narrow aperture. The brand has to be responsive, clever, witty, humorous, tactful, diplomatic, celebratory, compassionate, motivating and much more all the time. To do those brands need to unshackle their voice and indulge in conversations that are real and not staged.
To have real conversation with consumers the brands need to fundamentally alter thinking in one key aspect. Not every fan or follower who interacts with the brand may be interested in buying the brand immediately, some may, some may in future but a bulk of them may never be their consumers.
To do that brands have to become great storytellers. Stories have been going around for centuries, stories become almost immortal, people are hungry for stories and stories are not commercial in nature. Stories connect people with people, make them feel good about themselves and elevate the storyteller to a higher pedestal. As I said earlier existing messaging is intrusive, irritating and many times unwanted. Engaging stories create a new connect, people seek the action and drama and willingly become a part of the plot. For any brand there cannot be better news than this.
To be a storyteller the brands need to be alive to what is happening in the society around them, be socially aware and responsive, foster a feeling of community and inspire action. Consumers seek out brands that are responsive: responsive to them, responsive to community. We know audience perception is key to success of brands and there is no better way than telling a compelling story to impact that perception.
To be successful in these changing times, messaging strategy needs to be unshackled. If the brand is truly social, it will have far many more things to say than just the narrowly defined operating space where the brands confine themselves. The standup comedian and the travel website do have laid out an interesting lesson for us to learn