Why brands should embrace 'slow marketing'

Why brands should embrace 'slow marketing'

The frantic pace of our always-on, digitally driven marketing world makes slowing down a business necessity

When former Red Bull marketing director Huib Van Bockel declared that marketing today is "like Tinder," he encapsulated the ethos of fast marketing in the age of micro-content. Time is Millennial consumers’ most precious commodity, and this focus on the "Tinderization" of marketing shows no sign of abating.

As an industry, are we are at risk of celebrating the fleeting, the new and the ephemeral at the expense of taking the time to invest in long-term and meaningful change?

In Love in the Time of Algorithms, author Dan Slater asks: "What if the prospect of finding an ever-more compatible mate with the click of a mouse means a future of relationship instability, in which we keep chasing the elusive rabbit around the dating track?"

Certainly this same risk could apply to marketers, many of whom chase their consumers across a plethora of platforms, an approach that sometimes supplants long-term engagement. Just like Tinder — an app that takes the risk and, some would argue, humanity, out of relationships — marketers are in danger of draining the customer experience of its most vital element by focusing on the disposable. Marketing may have become more like Tinder, but it is a shift that some believe is diminishing consumers' experience of the here and now.

A culture of creative suffocation

Some brands are, in effect, draining the oxygen from the room through a complete lack of respect for the value of consumers’ time.

"We do things in digital channels that we wouldn’t dream of doing in paid-for media channels," argues Ben Stephens, CEO of agency Stack. Pointing to the rise of the opt-out consumer and the changes in Facebook algorithms that place a higher emphasis on the amount of time consumers spend with content rather than the number of times they engage, Stephens said he believes brands need to shift their emphasis. "We remain enthralled by the new, but we live in an increasingly overloaded world and some marketing is simply not embracing common sense."

However, industry experts contend smart marketers are already tackling this challenge head-on. James Kirkham, co-founder of Holler and global head of social and mobile at Leo Burnett Worldwide, says the shift to slow marketing is about trying to embrace the tortoise-and-hare analogy in an era where marketers have abused the "always-on" opportunity.

"There is an increasingly influential slow marketing movement," Kirkham says. "[It is] the natural response to the ‘fire hydrant’ philosophy of spraying your voice over every channel all the time and leaving people desperate for brand solace and a break from the noise."

The Experience Economy

The notion that consumers need a break from the noise is gaining momentum. In the professional sphere, a growing swathe of marketers is embracing the mindfulness agenda. At the heart of these concerns lies the notion that, as we invest ever more time and attention to digital channels, we are taking something away from our real-world experiences.

Omaid Hiwaizi, president of global marketing at mobile augmented-reality and image-recognition platform Blippar, cites some cultures' belief that taking a person's photograph would steal their soul. However, he counters that the stories, histories and relationships around us have always been part of who we are; digital channels are simply the latest iteration of this tradition. So, rather that detracting from the experience of the present moment, they simply add to happiness.

Therefore, despite the current trend for switching off, Hiwaizi said he believes that "the intensity of the moment is not lost [to social channels]. It is all about the intent of the individual, and it is happening because it is compelling. If people hated it, they wouldn’t be doing it."

In line with this, he believes the shift to slow marketing is more about gravitating toward pull strategies rather than endlessly trying to disrupt the consumer's day by serving up content they don’t need at inconvenient times.

The slow-marketing movement

In the race toward digital transformation, brands risk placing a disproportionate emphasis on instant results. Jo Arden, head of strategy at creative agency 23red, says that while technology, innovation and digital progress mean we can do everything at 100 miles per hour, we shouldn’t be tempted to.

"It’s a reminder that the foundations of marketing are still vital," she says. "Taking time to know the audience, to understand what motivates them or acts as barrier, and knowing our brands inside-out, are essential."

Even when planning a tactical 48-hour Twitter campaign for a time-limited promotion, the other, slower, more deliberate work still needs to be carried out first.

Meaningful change

Of course, marketing alone cannot be blamed for businesses’ continued obsession with short-term gains; the market's ongoing reliance on quarterly reporting is another relevant factor. However, the scope and ambition of Unilever’s Sustainable Living plan underlines the fact that smart businesses are increasingly embracing a purpose beyond profit – and doing so demands long-term commitment.

Jason Hartley, chief strategy officer at brand consultancy The Partners, says embracing slow marketing is about recognising that meaningful change and impact merit a business model and brand idea that will be a constant for the life of a business.

"We live in an increasingly transparent and aware society; this is a good thing," he says. "More than ever, companies are realising that they can’t communicate one way and behave another. A brand is no longer a marketing gimmick; CSR can no longer be a bolt-on appeasement to investors and employees. Brand, business and purpose now have to be one holistic entity. This takes a shift in organisational management and is not easy. It will take time, and slow and steady will win the race."

From mediocre to mindful

Slowing down doesn’t always mean doing less from a consumer perspective. Marketers should not confuse slowing down with ignoring the fundamental shifts in media-consumption habits and behaviours.

Simon Labbett, founder and creative director at ad agency Hometown London, explains: "Multi-tasking is so 2006; we’ve always been good multi-taskers, but technology means the world moves at such a pace [that] what was once seen as multi-tasking is now simply the reality of life."

Indeed, the shift to slow marketing is about accepting this 'new normal' and being realistic about how much (or little) consumers will actually engage with your content. It is a work in progress for the industry, and one underlined by Snapchat’s current ‘3V’ pitch to advertisers (which stands for "vertical, video and views").

In a recent interview with Adweek, Snapchat’s chief executive, Evan Spiegel, explained that brands need to ‘think vertically’. Yes, consumers could rotate their phone so that the video they are viewing fills the screen, but most people don’t bother; they simply don’t invest the time or attention.

By slowing down and adapting to the reality of consumers’ digital-consumption habits, marketers can make the most of these micro-moments. "There is a challenge around what our industry does; both a creative ego challenge and a business challenge," says Blippar’s Hiwaizi.

Achieving success in an environment where consumers simultaneously demand space and immediacy is no mean feat. Slow marketing is not about retreating into old models or simply advocating a digital switch-off, but, instead, respecting the value of consumers’ time. This requires setting aside not just our assumptions, but our egos.

Half of all art – and, by extension, marketing – is knowing when to stop.

This article first appeared on marketingmagazine.co.uk.

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