brand strategy


By Nataly Kelly

Was Apple right to apologize for its ‘Crush’ ad? Zappi’s Nataly Kelly thinks so, but she thinks the ad would never have survived testing.

Even Apple’s geniuses can fumble the ball. Last week, the brand apologized for its ‘Crush’ ad after seeing the market’s response. Responses were dramatic to the work which showed a number of creative tools being crushed into the thinnest-ever iPad.

But the real question lingers: why didn’t Apple test the ad beforehand? And I say that with confidence, knowing that any consumer insights professional worth their salt would have advised against its launch – unless, and bear with me here, Apple deliberately sought controversy.

Here’s what the brand said via AdAge. “Creativity is in our DNA at Apple, and it’s incredibly important to us to design products that empower creatives worldwide. Our goal is to always celebrate the myriad of ways users express themselves and bring their ideas to life through iPad. We missed the mark with this video, and we’re sorry.”

Tried and tested

Consumer reactions were unequivocal when we subjected the ‘Crush’ ad to rigorous testing on the Zappi platform. Testing with nationally representative panels in the US and UK, we compared their emotions and reactions with averages compiled from testing over 7,000 ads worldwide. The shock value far exceeded expectations–four times more shocking than the average ad (9.3% compared with 2.57%).

Additionally, it rated exceptionally high on surprise (16% v 10.1% average) and confusion (12% v 4.1% average). When confusion surpasses the norm threefold, it’s clear something is awry. These should have been glaring red flags for Apple had they tested the ad beforehand.

It begs the question: did the brand intentionally cause shock and confusion (believing any publicity is good publicity)? Or had it naively hitched its wagon to AI without foresight? Or had the marketers forgotten the basics of success: listening to the consumer?

Building brand equity is no small feat. It demands years, sometimes decades, of painstaking brand cultivation to achieve the iron-clad reputation Apple enjoys. So, why risk it all with a single misjudged ad?

True success in advertising entails building upon attributes consumers already adore about your brand, not bewildering them with entirely new ones that contradict your brand’s essence. The ad was shocking precisely because it starkly contrasted with the delightful and engaging ads Apple fans have come to expect over the years.

Issuing an apology was a start, but it’s merely a band-aid over a self-inflicted brand wound. If Apple genuinely seeks to rebound from ‘Crush,’ it must honestly introspect how it reached this point.

Here’s the unvarnished truth: within those corporate walls, consumer insights teams serve as the direct conduit to the customer’s vital signs. They immerse themselves in data signals to comprehend how consumers think, feel, and react. They act as proxies for consumers, guiding creative teams toward work that drives significant business impact. Ignore them, and you risk severing ties with the very audience you aim to engage.

Yet, most creatives balk at basing decisions on what they perceive as dull test results and dry metrics. They thrive on pushing boundaries and delivering fresh, provocative, and innovative work. Thus, even when data clearly predicts consumer reactions, creative teams often disregard or sidestep insights and partner findings due to an inherent cultural clash.

I empathize. I hail from a family of artists and musicians.

After pouring my heart and soul into a song, the last thing I’d want is to be told some arbitrary test predicts its failure. Similarly, I can imagine my brother’s reaction if I interrupted him mid-painting with data suggesting his art wouldn’t resonate–he’d dismiss me outright. True artistic endeavours embody a creative vision that isn’t easily swayed mid-course.

There’s also a logistical hurdle. Creatives can’t be told at the eleventh hour to pivot entirely. When deadlines loom, it’s logistically infeasible to backtrack. Yet, in business, ignoring consumer data in the creative process poses substantial risks.

So, how do we avoid the Crush?

It’s time to dismantle the antiquated divide between creatives and data analysts. Integrate consumer insights teams into the creative process early and consistently. View consumer data and insights as creative tools that, when infused into ad development, can yield remarkable outcomes.

Many of the world’s best creative minds need space and time to produce outstanding work. Integrating data into their process may sometimes feel stifling, but discomfort doesn’t negate its necessity. To craft exceptional advertising and products, brands must continually listen to and learn from consumers. Leveraging data and insights embeds the consumer directly into the creative process, making them co-creators.

Instead of shying away from creativity for fear of backlash, harness the power of data and insights to unlock new levels of creativity. When consumer feedback guides us, we forge deeper connections that transcend transactions, fostering enduring brand loyalty and advocacy in today’s fiercely competitive landscape.

Brands ignoring consumer data do so at their peril, while those embracing it will dominate the competition for years to come. If Apple’s not careful, it too could face the crush.

By Nataly Kelly

Sourced from the The Drum

By Ward de Kruiff.

Digital disruption reshapes commerce across platforms, says Ward de Kruiff of EPAM Continuum. As new technologies create a pivot-point, success lies in cohesive omnichannel experiences.

A new paradigm is emerging in the sphere of commerce. The unification of disparate strands – spanning from e-commerce to the nascent realms of gaming and spatial commerce – particularly with the advent of platforms like Apple’s Vision Pro holds great potential for brands. Nowhere is this shift felt more than in the realm of luxury and fashion.

The key to success is crafting experiences that transcend physical and digital boundaries. Omnichannel excellence is no longer a buzzword but a baseline expectation. Consumers seek seamless experiences, whether scrolling through mobile apps, browsing in a physical store, or engaging with a brand in an immersive game environment.

E-commerce, m-commerce, and Gen-Z

The journey began with e-commerce, a digital revolution that turned the entire internet into a potential storefront. But e-commerce is not just about online transactions; it’s about an ecosystem that supports customer journeys with rich content, virtual try-ons, and personalized services. It’s a space where luxury fashion isn’t just displayed but can be experienced.

The proliferation of smartphones has given birth to mobile commerce (m-commerce) and social commerce, transforming smartphones into shopping assistants. In social and m-commerce, the luxury experience is literally in the palm of a customer’s hand. It’s instant, it’s personal, and it’s where digital-savvy customers are. The buzz yesterday was about building community with Gen-Z, hence brands entering the world of gaming commerce, a place where fashion often meets virtual reality.

Here, luxury brands are not just selling products but crafting experiences and stories. In-game fashion shows, virtual outfits for avatars, and interactive brand storytelling are the tip of the iceberg. Gaming commerce is about being present in a new market and also engaging with a new generation of consumers. With the introduction of platforms like Apple’s Vision Pro, spatial commerce will redefine how we perceive brand engagement.

The new frontier in commerce is spatial

Spatial commerce is about leveraging augmented reality, live-streaming, and socia-media platforms to create immersive shopping experiences. This combination can bring a level of interactivity and community engagement that traditional platforms might struggle to match.

The launch of Apple’s Vision Pro marks the cusp of a substantial transformation across many industries with the onset of Web4. Perhaps most excitingly, the new technology heralds novel methods for transactions and content creation, ultimately leading the way for enhanced use cases of spatial and social commerce.

Akin to the evolution of the App Store since its inception with the inaugural iPhone in 2007, the spatial computing digital economy of visionOS will take several years to fully develop. This time around, however, it’s different. The device disruption of wearables will be broad given the range of the new technology. And there will be lots of experimentation in translating the retail experience into spatial computing.

Marketers can be architects in this digital renaissance

We stand at a pivotal moment. The future for retail and consumer-packaged goods (CPG) brands isn’t just about choosing between e-commerce, m-commerce, gaming, or social commerce – it’s about unifying these channels into a cohesive, omnichannel strategy. This strategy should be built on personalization, immersive experiences, and a seamless customer journey. It shouldn’t just be about selling products, it should be about curating experiences and emotions as well.

The call to action is clear: embrace the completeness of digital commerce. Retailers and brands must understand that their customers do not differentiate between a physical store, a mobile app, a social-media platform, or a virtual world. They seek excellence, consistency, and engagement across all platforms.

As we forge ahead, let us be the architects of a new digital renaissance, where luxury meets technology, tradition meets innovation, and commerce becomes an endless realm of possibility. Let’s lead with creativity, courage, and commitment to customers, crafting a future that’s not only profitable but also profoundly inspiring.

By Ward de Kruiff

Sourced from The Drum

By Mike Wickham

As the sands shift around digital marketing, says Mike Wickham of Impression, it might be time to reconsider how we target customers online.

Good marketing should always be a win-win. The consumer should win because they’re being provided with a relevant option for whatever it is they’re in the market for. The brand should win by meeting that need and by providing its product or service to the right audience, hopefully, at the right cost.

As someone who navigates both the world of marketing and consumerism, I’m noticing a worrying trend towards fewer, less relevant options presented across paid media platforms.

The algorithm isn’t always our friend

Let me give you an example. I was recently on a quest to find the perfect pair of shoes. Versatile enough for all seasons, suitable for both smart and casual attire, and durable for years to come. Alas, I’m still searching, and not just because I’m incredibly fussy.

My customer journey began the same as most, with a broad search on Google, and I was served a range of options from boots to sandals. Not quite right, but after navigating to the shopping tab, I found a few items closer to what I was picturing in my head.

After clicking on a few options from different brands and browsing their catalogues I still hadn’t found the dream pair, but I had at least narrowed down the style I was looking for. So I returned to Google and provided a bit more detail for my next search (long-tail searches do still exist), only to receive virtually the same list of items in the carousel as before.

The results were pretty much exclusively from the three brands that I just visited. For the following days and weeks, browsing across the web provided me with limited new suggestions. I was re-served the same items time and time again. A poor use of frequency capping is partly at fault here, but the crux of it is, my behaviour gave signals that I was interested in these items, and so the algorithms pushed hell for leather to get me to convert.

I sympathize with these brands, and advertisers in general, who face similar challenges. With a shift towards larger audience definitions and a heavier reliance on machine automation, they’re a little at the mercy of the algorithms to distinguish who is the right customer.

How to identify the most likely customers

So what can we do to help differentiate between a person who clicks a visual ad of a product, engages with the website and decides the product isn’t quite right for them, versus a person who clicks a visual ad of the product, engages with the website and then decides that while they most likely will buy, they first want to compare prices elsewhere and wait for payday?

It ultimately comes down to developing a better understanding of the behaviour and psychology of your consumers. There are often more reasons not to buy something than there are to buy it, so we must begin to dig much deeper.

It starts with research. Understanding consumer behaviour to uncover the ’why’ behind the engagement – as well as the ’why not’. Is it to do with affordability, a lack of urgency, or too much choice? Or is it down to concerns over compromise, distraction, likeability, trust, principles, ethics… and so much more? The list of conscious and subconscious reasons for not proceeding can be many and varied.

Behavioural insight often starts with old-fashioned methods, like actually talking to people. Focus groups, surveys and questionnaires are often seen as archaic to digital-first businesses, but they will provide the insights that will help you identify where to begin looking within the data.

Don’t chase every would-be buyer

We have to measure in different ways than before. Parsing small but significant signals of consumer intent, such as attention mapping, engagement depth, dwell time, and frequency of interaction, will help to build a clearer picture between a genuinely interested buyer and a passer-by.

By identifying and excluding those who have shown signals of dis-intent, we’re able to better place our energy into more qualified customers, while the same data informs how we adapt our customer journeys to capitalize on the ‘likely buyers’.

We ultimately need to be better at understanding our customers’ wants and needs. And a key part of this is knowing when to pursue them, and when to let them go. Algorithms have made it harder to do the latter, as they miss the context and the cognitive reasoning in the mind of the decision-maker.

Those are the gaps we need to fill, and it’s the combination of blending behavioural insights with your machine learning tools that will not only help the marketer become more effective with their advertising spend, but also help bring back the relevancy to the consumer.

Like I said – win, win.

Feature Image Credit: Remy Gieling via Unsplash

By Mike Wickham

Sourced from The Drum

By Rob Davinson 

In 2024, affiliate marketing will see brand-creator alliances rise, TikTok vs. Amazon competition, programmatic opportunities, and more, says Awin’s global head of content, Rob Davinson.

Affiliate marketing mirrors the broader digital landscape, with trends at the macro level resonating in our microcosm. In 2024, we’ll see emergent trends (artificial intelligence (AI), social commerce and retail media to name just a few) that will impact affiliate marketers.

Here we breakdown the key changes (and challenges) that affiliate marketing is likely to encounter this year, and what they mean for the industry.

1. Brand-creator affiliation will rise amidst social media slowdown

With global digital ad spend growth slowing (Dentsu predicts only 6.5% growth in 2024, after a historically low-growth year in 2023), and social media facing a similar slowdown as new user growth plateaus, brands can combat this by directly partnering with creators, as influencer marketing proves more resilient than paid social.

Major brands like The Body Shop and Walmart are two examples that launched large-scale creator affiliate programs in the last year, tying social awareness to controlled marketing outcomes. We see this trend further developing in 2024, as it not only counters platform-dependent risks, but benefits influencers seeking stable incomes,

Awin’s platform witnessed a surge of registering influencers in 2023 (over 10,000), foreshadowing continued growth in 2024.

2. TikTok vs. Amazon: Affiliate model’s value amid new competition

As major tech giants mature, Amazon transitions from a shopping marketplace to an ad space, while TikTok evolves from entertainment to a product purchasing platform. This encroachment on each other’s territory is likely to intensify competition, with TikTok employing an affiliate-type model, mirroring Amazon’s commerce flywheel.

Both platforms embracing affiliate strategies validates its efficacy. Brands may channel more ad budgets into these tech giants, necessitating a choice between entering new marketplaces or driving traffic to their e-commerce sites.

Opting for the latter requires enhancing the shopper experience, supported by affiliate tech partners, as exemplified by Nike’s livestream shopping collaboration with Contester, enhancing the Cyber period with engaging content on their site.

3. Programmatic challenges will propel affiliate ad spend growth

In 2023, the programmatic ad industry faced serious challenges, as reported in the ANA’s Programmatic Media Supply Chain Transparency Study. Among its findings was the fact that there is $22bn of wastage from the $88bn programmatic supply chain.

Advertisers often grapple with misaligned incentives, prioritizing cost over value, resulting in diminished ad quality. In contrast, affiliate marketing’s performance model, linking ad spend to tangible outcomes like sales, proves more valuable.

It says a lot that global spend in affiliate marketing last year is estimated to be around $14bn, a third less than was wasted in programmatic. As senior marketers consider their budgets this year, the data suggests affiliate marketing should garner greater consideration for its effectiveness.

4. News and media publishers will leverage affiliate commerce content

In 2024, with a record number of global elections, including the US presidential election and 40 national elections, political interest will drive traffic to news media sites.

Despite heightened ad spend forecasts, news publishers may not see increased income due to past challenges with programmatic display ads. Affiliate channels offer a solution for publishers facing declining ad monetization and brand block listing.

Additionally, major sporting events like the European Football Championships and the Olympic Games in Paris promise increased traffic, creating opportunities for affiliate efforts to offset ad revenue challenges and enhance the value of journalism amid growing demand.

5. AI revolution in search will pose a threat to affiliate longtail

When it comes to online, the significance of high Google search rankings has been paramount. As the old adage (meme caption) goes: “The best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google’s search results.”

Google’s search console, shaping our online information-seeking behaviour for two decades, faces challenges from Google’s monetization motives and emerging AI-powered search consoles, like ChatGPT. These AI consoles provide instant answers, diminishing the reliance on external links and altering the traditional internet ecosystem.

Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) introduces AI-generated responses, potentially reducing organic traffic to publisher websites. Publishers face limited options – allow crawling for SGE or risk exclusion from Google search. SEO adherence to E-E-A-T values becomes crucial for publishers navigating this transformative shift, emphasizing the affiliate industry’s need to adapt and maintain audience-centric effectiveness.

6. Travel resurgence will inspire pop culture-inspired trips and affiliate growth

While some predicted its near-extinction after the 2019 lockdown, the travel industry is booming as we begin 2024.

IATA predicts that this year will exceed 2019’s travel record, with 4.7 billion people expected to board airlines in 2024. Awin observes a surge in affiliate-driven travel bookings, a trend set to continue as consumer confidence rises, airline capacity grows, and major events drive demand.

Expedia and Amadeus foresee a significant year for experience-based tourism (think set-jetting and music festivals). Affiliates play a crucial role in the complex shopper journey, offering inspiration, comparisons, and personalized options.

Brand partnerships, where one advertiser promotes another complementary one as part of the customer’ booking experience, thrived in 2023. Travel brands are well set to capitalise on this growth with lots of potential match-ups from other brands keen to tap into consumers’ resurgent appetite for travel.

7. As cheap fashion challenges sustainability efforts, green affiliates will emerge

Despite Cop28’s pivotal agreement to shift from fossil fuels, inertia persists around climate change. In 2024, the rise of ultra-fast fashion platforms like Shein and Temu, fuelled by the TikTok trend of buying cheap dupes, contributes to growing landfill fashion.

Even impacting Amazon, Teemu users spend nearly double the time compared to Amazon, prompting the e-commerce giant to lower fees for clothes under $20. However, some affiliates continue to promote mindful consumer choices innovatively. Examples include Refoorest, planting trees for site visits, and Axon Mobile incentivizing eco-friendly commuting. And another new promising solution for 2024 is spearheaded by Birl, who are introducing the circular economy to e-commerce through their smart resale system.

By Rob Davinson 

Sourced from The Drum

By Claire Nance

As a comms leader at Activision Blizzard, Claire Nance tracks all the trends obsessing marketers. She explains why the next big thing isn’t always the best.

Our industry loves a good story. And so it should. Marketers are, after all, storytellers themselves.

But look at the industry’s big stories or trends from the last few years, and you quickly see a pattern emerge, one that places greater emphasis on latching on to ‘the next big thing’ without a longer-term view to real-world implementation or impact.

In 2022, it was the metaverse. Barely did an earnings call or marketing strategy presentation went by without the ‘m’ word being hastily inserted. There was (and still remains) pervasive confusion around what actually constitutes the metaverse, but that didn’t stop the rush to proclaim the launch of marketing campaigns in the ‘metaverse’ and the flood of metaverse-related categories at industry events and award programs.

In many cases, these activations were within virtual gaming and social platforms, legitimate growing areas of opportunity and interest for marketers that became wrapped up by the desire to be part of the buzz and hype around the industry’s trend of the moment.

The result was that the industry conversation skipped a few steps in understanding audience behavior in virtual spaces to unlock the real impact these experiences can have both now and in the future. The story was instead focused on the latest brand to activate in ‘the metaverse’ without contextualizing it within the current technological landscape and paying little attention to results, impact or objectives.

In 2023, it happened again. And yes, I’m talking about AI. Witnessing the abrupt shift from metaverse to AI across industry headlines, events and areas of expertise this year has been simultaneously amusing and dispiriting. Once again, the priority has been to jump on to the big story of the year and ride the buzz while overshadowing the real potential AI technology offers. Such was the attention given to AI this year that the term became a proxy for technology that involved even basic levels of automation or machine learning (both of which existed before the 2023 AI hype bubble), missing the opportunity for education around what it actually is and thus how marketers should be thinking about it into the future.

It’s easy to identify the similarities between the metaverse and AI and, thus, why they became the prime marketing story in their respective years. They’re both new forms of technology that are conceptually easy to understand yet inherently complex.

They present a level of accessibility and familiarity that makes it easy for them to be inserted into existing industry conversations while also occupying a high degree of technological sophistication that makes them feel exciting and advanced. The other important component of the narrative arc was that both the metaverse and AI gained prominence after major tech industry announcements – Facebook’s name change to Meta in the case of the metaverse and the launch of ChatGPT in the case of AI.

The speed and ferocity at which both the metaverse and AI became the dominant stories for marketing and advertising exposes our industry’s penchant for chasing the next big thing. There is an at-times outsized focus on ‘newness’ and being first regarding how we think about innovation in marketing, which can lead to the scenarios above, where one idea or technology dominates the year until the next ‘next big thing’ comes along. The result of this is not only that focus remains firmly in one direction, leading to an abundance of retrofitting ideas and technology to align with the newest obsession, but also that other forms of innovation that do not fit quite so neatly into the popular industry discourse can be overlooked.

As we sit at the cusp of 2024, how quickly will we see AI discarded for the next technological advancement, as we saw with the metaverse at the start of 2023? Or is there instead an opportunity to rethink how we think about innovation within marketing and the stories we tell ourselves?

As an industry, we consistently speak to the importance of identifying objectives and goals upfront, yet that may be forgotten when it comes to new technologies and ideas. Innovation, for innovation’s sake, serves little purpose, and the same can be said for innovation driven primarily by industry hype. The focus should be on outcomes, impact and exploration, rather than a need to follow the noise. After all, innovation aims to find a better way of doing things to achieve the desired results, irrespective of whether it can be attached to the current industry buzzword.

Future technologies are exciting, but without fully understanding them, it’s easy to miss areas of real potential. The appeal of the metaverse and AI was that they were easy concepts to grasp but spoke to a technologically advanced future, creating the potential to ‘skip ahead’ in the conversation around them. Understanding these technologies better as they exist today allows for more advanced innovation and execution tomorrow. But this can be easy to overlook when the intent is speed over evaluation.

None of this is to discount the potential impact of future technologies on our industry, nor the need for us to be talking about them. But there is an opportunity for the discourse around them to be smarter. As we look ahead to next year’s industry predictions, mine might somewhat optimistically be that how we talk and think about innovation evolves and that we don’t need another ‘next big thing’ to shape how we think about the future.

By Claire Nance

Sourced from The Drum

By Kate Eggleshaw 

We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, but often our primary drivers turn out to be emotional. Here, Definition’s Kate Eggleshaw argues that smart brand strategy is emotive brand strategy.

Emotionally engaged customers are twice as valuable as those who are simply highly satisfied, and up to 95% of purchase decisions are emotionally driven.

It’s no surprise, then, that we’ve seen the fight to win customers’ hearts (and not just their minds) ramping up. From Nike to Coca-Cola, and Apple to Patagonia, you don’t have to look far to find big brands that thrive on emotional connection.

Despite its clear commercial benefits, attempting emotional connection is a strategy that should be approached with caution. Done well, it can be a powerful tool for strengthening customer relationships and engaging your teams, driving towards a ‘why’ that’s so much bigger than profit. Attempt it without credibility, though, and your efforts will fall flat.

A tale of two brands

Take Cadbury and Pepsi: two brands whose communications have attempted to drive emotional engagement with customers, with famously mixed results.

Cadbury’s drumming gorilla campaign was a masterclass in reigniting emotional connection. Following a salmonella scare, this campaign reminded customers of the sense of ‘joy’ and ‘nostalgia’ that had long been associated with the Cadbury brand, driving a 10% increase in sales despite the absence of product in the campaign. By skilfully, and subconsciously, redirecting customers to their previous positive associations, Cadbury was able to grow consumer confidence with credibility.

Contrast this with Pepsi’s infamous ‘Live for Now’ campaign. The brand attempted to carve out purpose and emotional connection by “projecting a global message of unity, peace and understanding” in a space where they had little understanding, no track record, and no credibility. It backfired in a dramatic way.

So, how do emotive brands drive commercial success as Cadbury did, and avoid that Pepsi mistake?

1. Start with the customer

As people who work with brands day after day, we can easily forget that the customers we’re targeting don’t care (or even think) about the brands we work with in the same way that we do. They care about themselves, their loved ones, and the goals that they want to reach. To really connect with them, you’ll need to gather insights that help you understand the emotions driving their decisions, and then appeal to these consistently.

Experts have identified ten high-impact emotional motivators that significantly affect customer behavior across all categories. They range from the way that people wish to be seen (“I want to stand out from the crowd”) to the way that they want to feel (“I want to feel a sense of thrill”).

Emotive brands build connection by putting the customer first. They identify the motivators that matter to their customers where their brand can play a credible role and then make sure that they help customers feel that way in, or about, themselves – time after time.

2. Have purpose, but make it relevant

Brand purpose is often seen as a tool for driving emotional connection with customers, and many brands now understand the importance of standing for something meaningful.

However, when brands mistake purpose for being about noble cause, rather than the ‘why’ at the heart of your organization, it can lead to action that lands as inauthentic, irrelevant, and arrogant (see Pepsi, or the more recent backlash against NatWest/Coutts and allegations of ‘corporate moralism’…).

Strong brand purpose is a direct and relevant extension of your products and services, and weaves consistently through your operations, as well as the customer and colleague experience you deliver. It also puts your customer first. Remember, it’s all about their emotional motivators, and how your product or service can meet them.

Nike’s brand purpose is a brilliant illustration. “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete” is credible, relating directly to the brand’s products. It powerfully speaks to its audience’s emotional motivators and identity, and sets a clear direction for the customer and colleague experience that it delivers.

3. Keep your promises

Simple as it may sound, the key to delivering an emotionally connective brand is to do what you say you do. It might feel obvious, but when brands fail to deliver on the promises made in their communications, customers become disconnected and trust – that valuable foundation of deeper relationships – evaporates.

Your communications are just part of the mix. Whether it’s the decisions you make, the way you operate, the experience you deliver to customers and colleagues, or your products, absolutely everything that your organization says and does, internally and externally, must be aligned to your brand.

Emotional connection with customers can be a dauting, high-risk strategy, but it’s proven to deliver high rewards. Consistently deliver on a credible promise that speaks to the real emotional motivators of your audience and you’ll establish strong, long-lasting customer relationships that your competitors will struggle to break.

Feature Image Credit: Tengyart via Unsplash

By Kate Eggleshaw 

Sourced from The Drum

By Liz Hess 

Known’s Liz Hess describes a world where linear customer journeys have given way to a complex matrix of platforms and routes. Worse, attempts to map them too often fall short with internal misalignment.

In today’s fiercely competitive and optimization-obsessed market, understanding and enhancing the customer journey has emerged as a crucial aspect of success. Customers have come to expect personalized, proactive, and anticipatory experiences. Delivering exceptional customer experiences throughout the entire journey is the key to building strong relationships, fostering loyalty, and driving sustainable growth.

The customer journey has become a pivotal concept that empowers organizations. With marketers embracing the idea that excellent customer experiences can be the best advertisement for a brand, customer journey mapping has become an obligatory aspect of go-to-market planning.

To create the seamless experiences that customers have come to expect, marketers dissect customer needs and aggregate an amalgamation of data: marketing metrics to define the details of how customers have been acquired, user research for a step-by-step analysis of the shopper journey, market research gleaned by interviews with customers and survey data, and details on how a buyer persona uses a product. There’s also a treasure trove that can be gleaned from customer touchpoints including email interactions, social media engagement, abandonment of part-filled shopping carts, returns to the site after abandonment, or chats with sales or support representatives.

Welcome to the matrix

The customer journey, once linear, has been replaced by a complex matrix of touchpoints with the customer at the centre. Somewhere along the way, customer journeys have gotten so fluid that we’ve forgotten who and what we’re serving. Marketers need to strive for a dynamic, collaborative, and socialized customer journey that works harder and smarter.

As brand marketers, we often witness clients invest significant time and resources into (and apply painstaking detail to) defining a brand strategy, only to hit a crossroads when socializing the direction among other departments. They fall in love with a vision but struggle to evangelize colleagues with the same energy, vigour, and inspiration.

For companies to live up to their brand promise and keep up with ever-evolving consumer demands, they need to be aligned and involve each division and department. While completely breaking down silos isn’t realistic, a collective journey map can be an effective bridge to connect teams and disciplines. Still, there are a few principles to position the customer journey as a tool for internal alignment.

1. Make it universal

The customer journey shouldn’t live within one department. A customer journey is best used as a tool for building consensus, and a contract between each discipline as to what they’re ultimately working towards.

The map should provide the business with a common language and understanding of how all efforts intersect. All initiatives should stem from the journey by translating customer needs into business rationale.

2. Make it personal

A customer journey map should outline not only how disciplines intersect but also how specific individuals in the company support customers’ needs. This is particularly impactful in healthcare marketing, where it’s been shown that when employees understand how they impact patients’ lives directly, it leads to higher job satisfaction, employee retention, and overall marketing and sales effectiveness. Naming clear roles and responsibilities, escalation protocol, and internal systems creates a sense of collective ownership.

3. Make it actionable

Brand strategies can often fail in implementation. Your brand is everything that you do, so it’s crucial to thread foundational brand elements into the journey. Beyond characterizing your customer, you can also use a journey map to humanize the brand. For instance, we can imagine and define how a brand archetype would behave at critical moments that matter, based on its values and focuses.

4. Make it holistic

Remove the purchase funnel and think about what a customer is really doing before they’re engaging with or thinking about the category. Customers enter and re-enter the funnel at various points, and with different states of mind and needs. Designing these pre-entry points helps us to imagine what motivates a customer, and when.

At times, imagining a category-agnostic customer journey can help widen the aperture to identify moments and touchpoints that can bring a customer into the journey at various stages.

While there are many schools of thought, training courses, and step-by-step guides to creating customer journeys, marketers and brands looking to create a competitive advantage and win need to break convention in favour of utility. Want to create customer journey maps that are enlightening, inspiring, and effective? Flexibility is the key to success.

Feature Image Credit: Amirali Mirhashemian via Unsplash

By Liz Hess 

Sourced from The Drum

By Kendra Barnett

We catch up with the rental app’s marketing boss, Hiroki Asai, to hear why he shifted its strategy so dramatically and how he’s confident it has now found a winning long-term formula.

An Airbnb ad launched today spotlights the perks of staying in one of its rentals rather than traditional hotels. In one of three playful, animated short films, a group of friends is ready for a relaxing, kiddo-free vacation – only to find the hotel pool teeming with screaming children. Luckily, the travellers find solace in a picture-perfect thatched-roof Airbnb with a peaceful, private pool. “Get an Airbnb and get a place to yourself,” a voiceover chimes.

The spot is part of a new brand campaign that will roll out across the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and a handful of other markets across the globe throughout the coming weeks.

It comes on the heels of the brand’s multichannel spring campaign, which spotlighted Rooms – Airbnb’s newly-rebranded offering of private rooms within shared homes – by telling the story of individual hosts from across the globe and the unique experiences that can come with a Rooms stay.

These and other Airbnb marketing efforts of the last few years evidence a broader paradigm shift in the way the brand aims to connect with and engage audiences everywhere. It’s a shift that began with the Covid-19 pandemic.

A strategic shift

When the pandemic upended the travel and tourism industry in 2020, Airbnb lost about 80% of its business overnight. As Brian Chesky, the company’s chief executive, told entrepreneur and ‘This Week in Startups’ podcast host Jason Calacanis: “We were staring into the abyss.”

Although the existential disruption may have easily sunk the business, Chesky and his team were determined to tackle the crisis opportunistically.

The challenge wasn’t in the remit of product, operations or finance alone. Marketing, too, would play a critical role. “It basically turned the company upside down – but it was also an opportunity to reimagine Airbnb a little bit and take a look at what the next iteration of Airbnb would be,” chief marketing officer Hiroki Asai tells The Drum.

The company’s founders, including Chesky, chief strategy officer Nathan Blecharczyk and chairman Joe Gebbia, sought to make Airbnb “a much simpler company” says Asai – one that was “creatively driven,” with brand and design at the heart of the corporate story.

For Asai, who has been at Airbnb for about three and a half years, the approach felt natural. The executive began his career as a graphic designer before spending 18 years on the marketing team at Apple. A core focus on design and brand-level storytelling is in his DNA.

Pre-pandemic, Airbnb’s marketing strategy was primarily performance-driven, with much of the brand’s marketing budget dedicated to digital advertising. But when the pandemic flipped the business on its head, performance marketing wasn’t delivering what the brand needed. Asai tells The Drum: “The problem was that Airbnb wasn’t able to put its own message out into people’s minds and out into the market, so the messages were being driven by reactive PR and comms and basically what the world and what social media was talking about. Airbnb kind of lost control of the brand a little bit – and of the message and the narrative.” To regain control of the narrative, Airbnb decided to dial back its investment in performance marketing significantly.

Instead, Asai says, the plan was to “go back to the core of what Airbnb was about – which is about core hosts, primary homes and guests.” The brand poured marketing dollars into communicating this message with big, bold brand campaigns instead of performance-driven buys.

It was a much-needed strategic adjustment, in Asai’s view. “As Airbnb was growing, pre-pandemic, it was losing its differentiation. There were a lot of competing options for travellers out there and Airbnb … was losing its uniqueness. It was losing its sense of brand and who it was. So, coming out of the pandemic, the decision was to really focus on the core business and to focus on creating experiences, creating features and creating a product … to differentiate ourselves – and then to use brand to actually communicate and teach people what those differences are.”

Keeping product and brand in dialogue at all times

The brand began to invest deeply in developing and highlighting specific features and tools that set its product and experience apart. For example, a key focus of the last few years has been building out Airbnb Categories – classifications of home types, styles and locations that help users find inspiration, discover unique stays and narrow down their search. Last year, Airbnb launched a campaign showcasing its range of over 60 Categories to explore on the platform – from treehouses and off-the-grid cabins to private islands and luxe mansions. It told the stories of travellers staying in some of the platform’s most unexpected and exciting homes, like a giant potato in Idaho and a cave home in Utah.

As Asai explains: “At the core of what we need to do is to create a product and experience that’s different than any other service. And to do that, we need to innovate on the software, on the technology. And we want to use brand not just to advertise our values and what we’re about – we also want to use brand to help explain what these features are and how they make for a different experience.”

And the shift change has largely paid off. Following the decision to reduce performance marketing spend, Airbnb’s traffic levels reached 95% of what they had been in 2019 before the pandemic. Chesky said in 2021 that the brand would never again rely so heavily on performance marketing. And two years after the decision to reallocate marketing spend, the company reported its most profitable fourth quarter on record in February 2023. Revenue jumped 24% year-over-year, helping Airbnb reach an Ebitda of $506m for the quarter.

Since the strategy is proving effective, Asai and his team are only digging deeper into ways to communicate product differentiators through a brand-first approach. Airbnb’s Rooms campaign earlier this year, he says, has been a successful example. “Our approach is that product development and marketing should go hand-in-hand. We’ll work off of one central customer insight that then feeds what we do on the product – and that same insight also feeds how we market it and how we talk about it in paid media and in PR.”

With Rooms, the central insight was that many Airbnb users were interested in more cost-effective stays but were sceptical of staying in a shared home where they knew very little about the host. “The barrier that’s keeping [users] from booking Rooms is that they really don’t know who that host is and need some insight. That led to this idea of a Host Passport and adding more than just kind of dry facts [and instead adding] more insights into the space, who the host is, the hosting journey, why they’ve decided to rent the room, the story of their home. Then that same insight fed the advertising in a way that put the experience [front and center].”

The in-housing philosophy

Airbnb is able to keep product and marketing so tightly interwoven in large part due to the brand’s in-housing model, according to Asai. Not only is all product development and technology design done in-house, but so too is the company’s marketing and advertising. As the executive puts it: “What that allows us to do is to have a very, very tight system for all customer-facing things, from marketing down to product – and to work off of one insight in an extremely integrated and consistent way.”

Operationally, too, Asai says, in-housing makes sense for Airbnb as it helps the company run a tighter ship. “It’s so much easier to not deal with multiple agencies and to not deal with what the agency wants to do versus what you want to do – plus timelines, cost, just the layers of management you have to have to keep those relationships going. More importantly, I think you get a much better creative product when you have the people that create the advertising sitting literally right next to the people that make the product.”

It’s an approach Asai believes in wholeheartedly. “I’m really bullish on in-housing creative because I’ve worked on both sides of the fence – I’ve worked on the agency side, on the design firm side, then as an in-house creative and then ultimately on the marketing side. I’ve seen all ends of it and I really think people with a creative background get short changed working on the service side – I think amazing work happens out of agencies, but I think for creative to grow, they really need to be exposed to everything that happens upstream … and everything that happens downstream. Being in-house really gives you that visibility in that breath. Ultimately, it makes you a better designer, makes you a better art director, makes you a better writer.”

Nonetheless, he acknowledges that in-housing may not be the appropriate model for every brand. He admits it can be “a very difficult thing to manage.” Airbnb, in his opinion, is uniquely poised to benefit from the model because of its roots in commercial creativity. “The reason it works for Airbnb is because we have creative founders and creative leaders. Our CEO was trained as a designer, so he has a unique understanding of the creative process and can champion it and make it work and he is really involved in the work.” But in-housing, Asai says, “is really not for everyone.”

Mapping out new frontiers

When it comes to the brand’s future, Asai is confident that the continued integration of product and marketing will be a boon to the brand’s success.

As it looks to the future, a major focus for the brand in the near- to medium-term is expansion into new markets. It’s a goal Chesky spoke about openly on the company’s latest earnings call earlier this month: “The next big focus for Airbnb is reliability. If we can make Airbnb even nearly as reliable in many markets as hotels, I think you’re going to open up a whole new generation of travelers to Airbnb.” In particular, the company is eyeing Asia Pacific, which Chesky says represents “a huge opportunity for growth.”

It’s a plan that Asai is eager to take part in, adding: “It’s also super exciting to be able to introduce Airbnb to whole new audiences and cultures.”

As the company aims to expand, a focus on brand-centric marketing will remain a key part of the growth strategy, with Chesky saying during that Q2 earnings call: “When you invest in a brand, when your brand’s a noun and a verb, and you have something unique, you get a lot of … benefits. And I think it’s going to be consistent and we’ll have pretty consistent marketing spend as a percent of revenue over time because of the strength of the brand.”

Feature Image Credit: Adobe Stock

By Kendra Barnett

Sourced from The Drum

By Scott Everett

The 30- or 60-second TV spot – the ‘hero ad’ – has long been the prestige centre of ad campaigns. Is it time for that approach to die? PMG’s Scott Everett thinks so.

This might be controversial on the tailwinds of celebrating Cannes Lions, but it’s time to stop making hero ads the hero of every brand story.

The almighty 60- and 30-second spots that we have long revered as the centrepiece of every brand campaign are no longer the most important components of the marketing mix. That’s not to say that TV advertising and brand-building storytelling are not important, but it is time to acknowledge that advertising has fundamentally evolved. Today’s brands need a more nimble and data-driven creative model that recognizes live TV audiences are shrinking, streaming and social viewership are on the rise, and our creative canvas is exploding with opportunities to make advertising work harder and perform better.

Creatives have long put their faith into hero ads for building brands, but right now, we have an opportunity to embrace the power of integrated creative in telling stories and driving business impact. With audiences and engagement more fragmented than ever, customer journeys aren’t linear, and our creative strategies can’t be either. That means creative must be more unique, more complete, more agile, and in more places than ever before.

In media agencies, creative teams are benefiting from the innovation and inspiration that come from creative, strategy, and media working together. We are serving an increasingly complex and competitive marketing landscape, informed by new behaviours, artificial intelligence, and breaking through in new mediums ranging from Netflix to TikTok and Reddit.

Never before have we had more audience signals or indicators of intent helping us move people along the journey from awareness to purchase. Equally, never before has the journey been less of a straight path than it is today.

Mastering this creative flywheel is the hardest and most important job ahead of brands and creatives working together to build high-performing marketing strategies. Here’s how we can better align for the full-funnel future.

1. Build a flexible and robust story platform that fuels a high-performing media plan

Brand versus performance. Data versus instinct. Creative versus creators. Super Bowl spots versus Performance Max ads. It’s not either/or, and we all must embrace the healthy tension of building a plan together.

A flexible creative storytelling platform is a comprehensive, consistent library of stories that fuels a smart media plan, facilitating real-time iteration, optimization, and learning. When everyone is operating from the same blueprint and playbook, creatives can flex into any opportunity, planned or unplanned, and advertising works harder to deliver more for the brand.

2. Plan for speed and agility

While our creative palette for building cultural relevance has expanded, speed to market is critical. Everyone must work together across strategy, insights, creative, and media to adapt to where consumers are and what they expect from advertisers. Once everyone is aligned on the brand’s objectives, teams can be empowered to deliver impact in real time. This can be anything from partnering to accelerate the media and creative working hardest to leaning into emerging opportunities like AI, the metaverse, first-mover advantages with creators and platform partners, and any number of new ways of bringing creative ideas to market.

3. Embrace the white space between brand and performance

While TV ads are great for building broad awareness, product ads can be untapped opportunities for creatively engaging with a brand’s audience. Too many advertisers continue to bridge brand-to-conversion with discount messaging rather than creating a cohesive storytelling strategy around building brand and product love. The middle funnel is the creative frontier that makes all marketing work harder, and it’s beckoning us to think beyond the creative approaches of the past.

Technology advancements in this area are particularly exciting. For example, at PMG, we’re using AI to determine real-time creative insights that tell us what creative is performing best in any given moment, based on creative elements ranging from colour to product types to backgrounds or the use of models.

Once we let go of making hero ads the hero, creative can work harder across the full customer journey. Integrated creative can then truly become the hero of helping businesses meet their goals and accelerate into the future.

Feature Image Credit: Ali Kokab via Unsplash

By Scott Everett

Sourced from The Drum

Cross-media measurement continued to dominate industry chatter in Cannes – but are we one step closer to solving the measurement puzzle? Nielsen’s Deirdre Thomas gives us the lowdown.

The advertising industry has been gunning for better attribution and cross-media measurement solutions. With consumers now moving fluidly across devices, platforms and media, it’s been a long time coming for measurement to catch up – but that change is hard.

“It’s not just the measurement and the metrics that have to change – it’s everything from the way companies are organized to the way tools are built, processes are run, and cultures,” says Deirdre Thomas, chief product officer at Nielsen.

The way that the ecosystem has developed historically has created silos where digital may be in one place, television in another, and social in another place. But if marketers want to enable cross platform measurement, all those things must come together.

“That’s really what marketers want – to reach their audience fluidly across all the places they consume media, and the dollars have to flow that way,” says Thomas. “So really, to bring the measurement that way, all the other pieces have to change as well, and it’s a really hard journey.”

To help marketers piece measurement together, Thomas offers two pieces of advice: “Build for what you want to get and organize for what you want to achieve. Organizing teams, processes and buys in a way that actually reflects cross-platform is really going to help push us there.”

The next is a bit more tactical: enable the identification of the digital and linear pieces of a campaign. “That notion does not necessarily exist and it’s certainly not scaled or identical across the ecosystem,” explains Thomas. “As an industry, we need to lean in and make it possible to understand the campaign in a cross-media way so that we’re not trying to piece things together. We need to have an identifier of some form to enable that scale.”

So where does measurement go next? Nielsen announced a tie up with EDO in Cannes to integrate its Nielsen One audience measurement data with EDO’s outcomes measurement, which will enable mutual clients, starting with Disney, Warner Bros Discovery and Mediahub, to better plan and measure the impact of campaigns.

“It’s really the next chapter for Nielsen where we want our measurement to flow out into the ecosystem to underpin all kinds of innovation and measurement, and really create interoperability for the ecosystem,” explains Thomas.

By Jenni Baker

Sourced from The Drum