How brands can build and sustain engagement during an empty 2017

In a year with no events, brands should be concentrating on engaging with consumers in an authentic and meaningful way through content and partnerships, says Zenith's head of display trading.

Much has been made of 2016 being a quadrennial year, with UEFA Championship, the Olympics, and the US Presidential Election.

However, it is rare these days for a brand to hang its hat on these individual events. Yes, they drive an increase in advertiser spend and can certainly help drive short term sales for grocers and high-street brands but, outside the few brands that have genuine partnerships with these events, they don’t build brands in the long term.

What will be top of clients' minds in 2017 is a rather bigger ongoing event, how Brexit will affect each individual brand and how marketing can help to mitigate/take advantage of the fall out.

There is no doubt 2017 will be a challenging year, with Enders estimating the real growth post Brexit will, at best, show a small increase, with all media outside of TV and digital getting squeezed.

Engagement can be built by helping consumers through the year ahead. This means engaging them in content that really matters to them, but activated in an authentic way that delivers a value exchange to the consumer.

If anything, when budgets get tighter, this is when it forces brands to find another way; to make the budgets work harder. Media owners have never been more willing to collaborate together to get to the right solution. Longer term partnerships will deliver better value to brands, but it is also about creating the right content in the areas where brands have permission to play.

Each brand will have its own challenges, however brands that can open dialogue with consumers in a meaningful, authentic and helpful way will drive engagement with them. A good example of this at Zenith is Aviva. They have repositioned themselves with higher order objectives that also drive sales. One example of this is their "Making the roads safer" campaign.

While the whole campaign was ultimately linked to product, at the heart of the campaign, was a digital owned asset, the Aviva Drive App that helped people pit themselves against each other to see who the safest driver was.

Car insurance is boring, but driving piques people’s interest, and drives banter and debate. Aviva used this in social and with content partners to drive more of a two-way communication, increasing time spent with the brand – which had a positive knock-on effect for brand health and ultimately sales.

The key point of difference for Aviva, was in identifying the needs or interests of the consumer, and building a campaign and engagement approach around what a consumer wanted to hear about (driving) – and not what Aviva wanted to talk about (car insurance).

In summary, events only really help to build engagement for the few. In a year with no events, brands should be concentrating on engaging with consumers in an authentic and meaningful way through content and partnerships.

Sharing business objectives with media owners, rather than just media objectives, would be a good place to start. Above all remember brands that invest in times of uncertainty, come out the other side stronger.

David Mulrenan is head of display trading at Zenith.

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