Right now, everyone in the marketing world seems to be talking about leading and shaping cultural conversation. But where do brands fit into the discussion?
Before brands can lead any type of meaningful discussion with their audiences, they first need to understand the conversation taking place. No one likes that guy at the dinner party who interrupts a conversation but doesn’t have anything meaningful to say.
Starbucks recently used the subject of race to provoke a conversation. But who cares what a coffee company has to say on the subject? It stepped outside its area of expertise to jump on a trend, lacking credibility and prompting backlash.
But brands who know who they are have a better understanding of the kinds of conversations they should be having with their consumers. Illy, for example, started a conversation about inequality in the coffee-growing industry and created a documentary around the subject to promote change.
Both Starbucks and Illy used social issues to spark a conversation, but only one of them had the knowledge and experience to support its point of view.
To stay at the forefront of the cultural conversation, brands need to create ownable stories, ideas and properties that entertain their audience and can’t be found anywhere else. This becomes even more important in the competitive space of original content. Innovative companies like Red Bull and Go Pro are ahead of the game, creating their own events and media networks to become destinations for fans. By building unique experiences for athletes and their audiences, these brands are shaping the culture of action sports and own the conversations around them.
Every brand has a story, but too often brands undermine their integrity in order to gain attention or notoriety. The same applies when working with artist or brand representatives. Brands partner with the latest and greatest acts in the hopes that they will gain some kind of "cool" by association. This only works when the brand and the artists have shared values or interests.
Brands that constantly shift their personalities year in and year out should beware; in this new world, consumers like to know what the brands they advocate stand for before they join in conversation with them.
Say something interesting
Conversations, by definition, are two-way exchanges. Advertisers need to understand the amount of work this requires and shift resources accordingly. To be effective, brands need to craft a consistent point of view for their communication channels — an authentic voice that plays off their product or service in a creative way. Whether it’s Oreo using fan tweets as inspiration for its latest Snack Hacks web series or Taco Bell’s hilarious, fan-fueled Twitter feed that unapologetically celebrates consumers' late-night encounters with fast food, these brands understand the part they play in culture — and embrace it.
There is no short cut when it comes to leading an authentic conversation with your consumers. It requires a consistent voice across every department, from advertising to manufacturing. The one-and-done approach to marketing has had its day. Audiences are searching to make long-term connections with brands that share and support their lifestyles — not just borrow from them. Because all of us respect those that lead rather than those who follow, those who create and don’t just copy.
So next time you’re at a dinner party, don’t be that guy that always talks about himself. Try a story that everyone can relate to and engage with. You’re more likely to get invited back.
Nick Davidge is executive creative director and co-founder of Greenlight Media and Marketing.