By Alexander Jutkowitz
Head to your local drug store this time of year and you'll see armies of smiling teddy bears, a vast array of familiar heart-shaped boxes and overpriced and occasionally clever cards for your sweetheart. Love it or hate it, Valentine's Day is as inescapable as the weather, and it's impossible not to reflect on what it means to truly build a lasting relationship.
To reference an old adage, "a happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short." The word conversation is key here. Many of us have experienced a relationship, romantic or otherwise, that felt entirely one-sided, akin to a conversation where the other person endlessly rambles without asking how your day was. Good conversation is never one-sided, and similarly, in the hyper-connected world of today, neither should our marketing efforts.
Advertising began with static images, including fliers, billboards, and newspaper and magazine ads. Today, it's evolved into a beast with many heads. Print and traditional OOH advertising still exist, and they aren't going away anytime soon. But online, new opportunities for dialogue and tailored messaging are exploding every day.
A recent Medium post by Chris Messina, the developer experience lead at Uber, describes this shift in detail. He says that 2016 will be the year of "conversational commerce," with users interacting with brands and services directly using chat, messaging, or natural language applications. In his argument, he cites Business Insider data showing that messaging apps have eclipsed social networks in terms of active monthly users.
Messina envisions a world where audiences interact with brands seamlessly through messaging, whether it's to get information, say, about a flight status, or to order a product. In this way, brand communication will cease to look like an advertisement. It will function instead like customer service, providing true value to users.
Sometimes, the conversation will be fun, like the Maker's Mark fake Kentucky Derby contest on Reddit. Maker's Mark asked Redditors to decide and vote on the names of horses that were entered into a fake, digital derby that was featured as part of an ad-page takeover of the frontpage. The winning names, like Beast of Bourbon or Much Horse Very Fast, were irreverent and nailed the tone of a typical Reddit thread, which is why the campaign worked on a platform that is notorious for being hesitant towards corporate intrusion. Maker's Mark came into the conversation speaking the language of their audience they wanted to reach and Redditors felt like equal players in the conversation.
Another example is Old Spice's GIF-centric promoted post campaign on Imgur, a platform where users submit all kinds of images, including memes and gifs. Sometimes popular users have "GIF-Wars," where users post gifs at one another until someone gives up or the community declares one of them the victor.
Old Spice took note of this trend and made their promoted post a showdown between their spokesmen, Terry Crews and Isaiah Mustafa, each of who represent a different scent. As the two battled each other, call and response style, with wacky gifs in the aesthetic styling of Imgur net-art, users voted on what attracted their attention most and a winner was crowned. And, unsurprisingly, the campaign was well received. Digiday went through the top comment under the post and found gems like, "the beautiful bastards in your marketing department understand me better than any man" or "I never thought I would find myself saying this, but this is the kind of shameless ad posting I can get behind." Brands shine when they bring their audience into the dialogue. Ads no longer feel like ads. They feel like an extension of the user experience on a platform.
Users have told us that they don't want one-sided conversations anymore. There are now close to 200 million users of ad blocking software, according to Business Insider.
As I said earlier, ads won't disappear anytime soon, but there's definitely a greater demand for brands to show us their value, not just tell us about it.
Brands should begin leveraging principles of conversational commerce in their marketing efforts today, whether it's a beauty brand offering advice on how to take care of your skin or a financial institution distilling 401K investing tips. Through this dialogue, audiences will associate a product not just with a flashy image, but with the real-life utility and value these brands bring to their lives. Today, it's critical for brands to think of marketing as a relationship builder, one where value is proven and not merely hinted at.
This time of year, we can't forget the pillars of a good relationship: mutual respect, dialogue, trust and loyalty. As marketers, let's respect our audiences. Instead of demanding their attention, let's engage them in conversation with content that's useful and valuable so we can build trust and earn their loyalty.
About the Author
Alexander Jutkowitz is the CEO of Truffle Pig, Colloquial and Group SJR.