Time to Retool the Message Factory
It's amazing to think that the Google search engine is only fifteen years old, closer to ten if you think in terms of its actual commercialization. Over this period, it has been a tumultuous time for marketing, where the advent of pull marketing (one billion Google searches a day and counting!) has eclipsed the traditional model of crafting and pushing messages. Consumers have never had so many reasons—and so many tools—to ignore a brand's messages. John Marshall, Lippincott's director of brand strategy, explains how marketers must evolve to build brands today.
Q.What do you think has changed the most in marketing over the last fifteen years?
A.First, if customers need something, they're not looking for marketers to interrupt their daily lives with brand messages. They can find what they need on their own. So not surprisingly, the model of cranking out messages is less effective today. In nearly every channel Lippincott measures, we see annual declines in effectiveness or response rate. This issue is more acute for those under 35, the generation who will comprise over 50% of total consumer spending in the next five years. Fewer than 30% of them consider television a necessity, and they would more likely believe a consumer review posted by a stranger than a company's advertising. There is a demographic wave that has only begun to upend the "message factory" model of building brands. And this change in media is amplified by the new reality that consumers can find the truth with lightning speed.
Q. What do you mean by "retooling the message factory"?
A. Here's an interesting statistic. Fewer than four of ten consumers agree on a top two box scale with the statement: "I believe this brand's advertising." If you are spending 300 million dollars on media, that can be a bit of a problem! Marketers have created an elaborate system to pump out messages, through a dizzying array of channels and media, but people either don't believe or aren't paying attention to these messages. We need to fix the factory by focusing on what is true and valued, and drives the brand story: the brand experience itself.
Q. So what is a marketer to do?
A. First of all, stop focusing so much on the traditional "purchase funnel" metrics: e.g. awareness, consideration and purchase intent. Yes, they are important, but they mask the real issue. One can spend a great deal of money on messaging to get into the consideration set, only to have the weight of negative consumer ratings on Amazon make it a wasted effort. Marketers need to stop focusing on measuring a brand's messages so much, and refocus on measuring—and managing—the brand's experience. Here's an interesting fact: "Experience Power", a metric Lippincott tracks to assesses a brand's connection to, and advocacy from, its direct customers, has double the impact on growth than "Story Power", which measures the brand's overall awareness and favorability in the general market. Perhaps that may seem obvious to some, but the reality is that most marketers today still spend tremendous effort trying to optimize the message factory. If you want your media to be effective, step one is to create a brand experience that's worth listening to…and talking about.
Q. Beyond a deeper understanding of the metrics that matter, what should marketers do differently?
A. In the short term, the answer is that traditional messaging needs more scrutiny and a higher bar. Marketers need to look hard to find the uniqueness, authenticity and higher purpose in their business that will resonate with consumers and rise above the message noise. They need to tell stories that people will believe, starting by looking at what is true and loved about their experience, then work to amplify and reinforce it.
But the long-term answer is that the marketing function really needs to shift its focus and shift its role. Today's most successful marketers are following a new set of rules, building brands in entirely new ways. One of the most important of these rules is "The experience is the message." For example, In-N-Out Burger has a truly unique customer experience in the fast food sector. The environments are unusual, one can actually see the fries being cooked, the food is fresh and the employees are energized. The result: the company actually generates twelve times the amount of conversation per dollar of sales than a typical QSR. The lightning-fast cycle of great experience to accelerating buzz takes care of the messaging challenge. And, most importantly, three out of four In-N-Out Burger customers say they would strongly believe in its advertising (if the company felt it necessary to spend here!) This is about twice the category average. Or look at Starbucks; it spends a fraction of the competition on media, as a portion of sales, but has about seven times the mentions in social media than a typical restaurant. Winners today focus on creating the story, not just telling it. The experience is the message.