An in-depth understanding of consumers sits at the heart of what we all need to do, but we know it’s not always easy to uncover insights that will unlock a true innovation opportunity.
Consumers are not just the curators and critics of a brand’s content, they must also be part of the creative process, AOL’s digital prophet, David Shing (also known as ‘Shingy’) claims.
Shingy caught up with CMO at this week’s CeBIT in Sydney to discuss why marketers need more innovative and creative ways to engage with customers in a content-heavy digital landscape.
“Creativity is massively important,” he said. “It is no longer about consumers consuming content, I think that’s completely naff. Consumers are now the creator, the critic and the curator of content. Creativity is at the heart of it, it is the seed that is missing.”
For Shingy, today’s marketing leader needs to determine where to place their brand message, especially given the unpredictability of what could take off and become contagious in a socially dominated digital environment.
“We grew up in a world of awareness-based advertising,” he said. “Back in the day, if you were a brand strategist, there might be five places where you could place your brand. Now there could be 50 places – and counting.”
The consumer is the creative
According to Shingy, what consumers want more than anything else is to be part of the creative process. Brands should be recognising this and incorporating it into their overall engagement strategy, he said.
“Consumers are making a whole movement out of your brand, and they believe they have more tools, more expertise and more creativity than you anyway,” he said.
Thanks to digital connectivity and data, brands have the ability to connect with the right person at the right place and at the right time. But using technology to enhance creativity is just scratching the surface of where creative customer engagement can go, Shingy said.
“I think creativity will be the frontier of change, especially in a world where we move to machines - although I don’t believe machines are taking over the world, from a programmatic perspective,” he said.
One of the things that intrigued the digital prophet was brands giving up ridged branding parameters in order to allow their customers to create.
“Coke is the number one brand in the world, and you can do a Coke can today that is personalised,” he said. “I published an image recently of a Shingy Coke can. Now would I go and buy ten of those? Probably, as opposed to buying one of them. So if I can go and personalise a bunch of content for myself, that’s pretty cool.”
Shingy also commended soft drink rival, Pepsi, which has engaged in the creative hyper-personalisation trend by running a design competition where consumers can design an image around a can.
“Not only is this about personalisation, it is about selecting an artist that has actually created and designed a can already,” he added.
Beyond Coke and Pepsi, another brand leading the way in co-creation is Unilever.
“The company has a lot of different brands as part of its portfolio, with radically different audiences, which requires building radically different experiences,” Shingy said. “Whether it is Dove and the real beauty campaign that makes everybody want to burst into tears, or the other extreme, which is mens’ deodorants, Unilever is giving permission to each brand to be radically different.”
Shingy also applauded American biscuit giant, Oreo, for using 3D printing technology to enhance creative consumer engagement. The company’s trends machine was used to print social commentary, distilling this down to a graphic design which people could then print.
“People could customise their own Oreo message, which I thought was pretty remarkable,” he said. “What the company is trying to do is move people enough to go into a store and buy more packets of Oreos. And if you’ve been into a store recently, merchandising when it comes to biscuits is still pretty bloody radical.”
In a similar vein, McDonald’s last year offered a personalised Maccas as part of its Australia Day campaign.
“Think about McDonald’s: It is one of the biggest known brands on the planet, but is willing to allow the brand to be hyper-personalised,” Shingy said. “That’s about folding into the culture of engagement, and I found that pretty amazing.”
In Canada, McDonald’s also ran an ‘any questions’ program, which superseded traditional press models of limiting pre-meditated answers by opening up the company to answering any customer question about its products and services.
“Normally if brands do this, they might have five or six bog-standard responses,” Shingy said. “McDonald’s had something like 240 answers. It answered every question and was honest. But that doesn’t always work and sometimes it blows up.”
Shingy explained a brand that used creativity successfully to turn negative brand sentiment into a positive was Honeymaid, which ran an advertising campaign that portrayed a gay couple and an inter-racial couple in a standard 30-second TV spot.
“However, on social media, people said whatever you do, your product stinks,” Shingy said. “Because it didn’t work, Honeymaid thought: What do we do with all this negative sentiment around the ad? How can we turn it into something that is positive?”
To combat the negativity, Honeymaid took a calculated punt and decided to print off all these sentiments, then commissioned artists to create a script from them that said ‘love’.
“As a result, it drove brand sentiment up 10 times and through the roof, which was completely unexpected,” Shingy said.
Utility, attention, innovation and authenticity
Looking to the future, what excites Shingy the most is brands thinking differently about awareness-based advertising and embracing advocacy and utility.
“One thing that is clear is we’re moving away from awareness to utility – and utility’s usefulness, “ he said. “What are you doing that is useful to somebody, whether it is a mobile screen or a wearable device? If you are a useful brand to me, I’m probably going to brag to my friends. That is the ultimate goal in marketing – to have someone brag about your brand.”
Shingy said it was also exciting when brands not only thought differently about their budget, and how to do things that are ROI-driven, but also focused on the KPI of “attention”.
“It doesn’t matter what comes at you, 24 hours in a day is the only time you have, so how you apply your attention is up to you,” he said. “Again, I think Coke is doing this really well. The company tends to have this re-framing engine, so that’s very important.”
Moving away from innovation to invention is another trend Shingy predicted will help brands engage customers not only in a digital environment, but also a physical space.
“You could invent something as a brand that is digital and that is so contagious it blows up, and becomes more important than the physical brand – now that could be cool,” he said. “Look at the Japanese brand Muji, which sell physical products but does these incredible digital things people care about: The digital experience is now an extension of the brand.”
The last thing Shingy stressed was the idea of “falling forward”, or doing something that is truly authentic.
“That means you’re going to be treating your brand more like a portfolio, which means you don’t know what’s going to work,” he said. “Consumers are crazy, but allowing them to engage with something that is really amazing, that could amplify - now that I find to be really interesting.”
Video paving the way to the future
In his speech at CeBIT in Sydney, Shingy highlighted the power of video to creatively engage with consumers. He pointed out 90 per cent of customers now engage with video content on their devices in long or short form.
“It’s all about video and how it can all move people emotionally,” he said. “We find that at AOL. We do all these amazing video experiences but we don’t know whether the show should be two minutes or five minutes. So we tend to vary the shows based on what we think people are engaging.
“The great thing is you’re no longer locked into 30- or 60-second blocks of TV advertising - it’s all about attention. It is about what you can do to engage with people; that is emotional-based marketing. And that’s where I think thing become really interesting.”
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