More and more, brands are getting their messaging across through subtler, less-direct means. Over the past few months, REI has replaced its catalogue with an editorially-focused magazine, Wistia has launched its own talk show, and Barbie has created an Airbnb account and rented out her Malibu Dream House.
None of these tactics present the customer with a clear path to purchase. Yes, there are some products highlighted at the end of Uncommon Path and Wistia has a video service where brands can produce similar shows. But if you were the marketer in charge of any of these ideas and your CEO asked you, “Remind me why we are doing this,” you wouldn’t be able to answer, “To drive sales.”
So, what is going on here? Why are brands doing this? We gathered a group of Salties to discuss this shift in brand strategy. Below, we dive into these three examples and discuss how brands are entertaining their audiences rather than selling to them; valuing brand affinity above brand awareness; and whether the quick viral tactic is better than the long-term content strategy.
Brands are increasingly trying to entertain their audiences rather than just convert them. Does this work?
David Roy, Digital Marketing Coordinator: I think brands entertaining their audiences is working in a lot of cases. Today, we see a lot of ads on every platform we take to as users. Feeding our timelines with ads isn’t unique so brands are trying to differentiate.
I want to feel like I can relate to a brand, their mission, and their products before I am likely to buy from them. Creating entertaining content for the brand’s audience allows the audience to relate to the brand. I think this type of approach works especially well with ecommerce brands. The products help to create an entertaining story whereas a service may not be able to create such relatable content.
Mike Bjork, Copywriter & Content Specialist: I think it’s a great shift, because we’re reaching a point now where everybody is doing a little bit of content marketing. It’s no longer a differentiator; it’s expected. So, if you want your brand to stand out in the deluge of content that’s already out there, your content needs to offer more value, which comes in two forms: entertainment and usefulness. If you can create content that’s both, you’ll be sure to stand out, form deeper relationships with your audience, and fuel conversions over the long-term.
This type of strategy, I think, can work for most types of brands, but I’d say it’s a particularly effective tactic for brands that are capable of “owning” a lifestyle or mindset. REI, for example, can create such a variety of entertaining content because it helps build out this responsible, engaged outdoor lifestyle they epitomize. That type of approach would be harder for, say, a B2B organization that sells medical supplies. Content marketing still has a place in those spaces, but “entertainment” may not be as primary of a focus in that case.
Kristin Burke, Designer: I think rather than “entertaining” they are projecting their brand’s lifestyle. Trying to appeal to those who fit in with their overall aesthetic, as opposed to the masses. Jeep does this. When you buy a Jeep, you’re not just buying an SUV, you’re entering a secret club of sorts. Jeep owners wave to each other when driving down the road, highway, or trails. A simple nod to your fellow Jeep-er at the gas pump. You feel a level of honor, respect, and pride when driving one. And I truly believe you’re either a Jeep person, or you’re not. It’s that simple.
Christian Seeber, Director of Digital Experience: I can’t speak to if it’s working or not, but I know for me…if brands I interact with do stuff like this it goes a very long way toward brand loyalty (which I have a lot of once I am loyal to a brand).
Amanda Jonovski, Art Director: While I don’t have the evidence to say it is working, I want to believe it’s working. Building brand affinity causes brands to be more thoughtful and genuine in their messaging, as compared to solely building brand awareness. If brands are rewarded with increased revenue, then it’s a win-win situation. The strategy will work better for those brands that can easily tap into an existing lifestyle, activity, or interest (outdoor adventure, fashion, foodies, hygge, travel, etc.).
Mark Miller, Digital Marketing Specialist: I think it’s working. In my opinion, tactical entertainment leads to a positive association with the brand providing it. A more developed version of this feeling is sometimes called brand affinity, but it all starts with planting the seed. I think there are some brands doing this well – the first example that comes to mind is Red Bull. Their sponsored extreme sport events have built an energetic and fun perception of their brand which keeps them top of mind for me when considering choices for caffeinated beverages.
Brand Affinity is the feeling you get when you identify with a brand based on shared values. Brand Awareness is when a consumer has been introduced to, and recalls, a brand and its value proposition.
Can brands build awareness without developing affinity with their audience?
MB: Yes and no. The moment you become aware of a brand, you develop the smallest affinity for it; you have certain assumptions and ideas about the brand even if they’re vague and largely subconscious. That being said, after that initial introduction, brand awareness campaigns alone aren’t enough to build strong brand affinity, because knowing about a brand isn’t the same as having a deep relationship with a brand. The former is passive, while the latter is active and intimate. So to summarize: brand awareness campaigns do build a small amount of brand affinity, but to build valuable, actionable brand affinity efficiently, you need to do more than just make people aware of you.
KB: Absolutely. Let’s take Apple vs. Android for example. Everyone is aware of their options with both companies when it comes to choosing a cell phone. We see the commercials, the ads, the not-so-subtle marketing within Netflix shows now. We are aware. However, based off your individual lifestyle, you will likely choose one over the other and become a full believer in your chosen brand.
DR: I think brands can build awareness without developing affinity with their audience. However, I do not think this is a successful approach to getting conversions. Posting ads across social platforms, TV, and radio can be effective ways to extend brand awareness, but if the content in these ads isn’t engaging or entertaining it won’t build affinity. Brand awareness is a great first step to getting your brand in front of consumers, but brand affinity is needed to drive home a conversion and create a relationship with the consumer.
MM: Yes – I think it’s possible to build brand awareness without affinity. A good example of this are tobacco companies like Marlboro. I know of them and what they do but it doesn’t make me identify with their values or want to smoke their cigarettes.
AJ: Yes, brands can build awareness without developing affinity. But then the question becomes: how useful is that brand awareness if your audience isn’t making an emotional connection with it? Efforts put towards developing affinity will do nothing but increase, and more clearly define, brand awareness.
What is something that REI, Wistia, or Barbie should make sure they do in order to see success from their respective campaigns?
KB: Create a hashtag, Barbie! No, seriously. I wish Barbie had followed through on their dream house “giveaway” and made a branded video of the guests coming into the house to show their reactions to the house and all the perks. As a former owner of many Barbie’s I wanted some sort of resolution, or end story to this amazing experience. I truly would have loved to live the experience through the “winner’s” eyes. #bummedbybarbie, if you will.
AJ: Draw parallels, visual or messaging, between the content and viral tactics and the more traditional approach.
For brands just starting out with a content-first approach, what should they keep in mind to ensure their content leads to brand affinity?
DR: Brands using a content-first approach should put a focus on creating relatable and unique content. Storytelling allows the consumer to put themselves in the story your brand is telling. Let the consumers feel involved in your content. Let the consumers picture themselves in your brand and using your products. If the consumer can picture themselves in your Instagram post, affinity will start to build. The more relatable content you put out, the more that consumer is seeing themselves as part of your brand.
CS: Position themselves as unique and make themselves impactful (positively) in the world somehow.
MB: They should start with the story of their brand. What does their brand stand for, and what’s the purpose that drives their actions? Their content should then all funnel through purpose and should be written with strong voice and personality.
AJ: Stay consistent. Whether it’s your messaging, visual content, or grass roots approach everything should feel like it belongs. It doesn’t have to match. And really, it shouldn’t, or your audience is going to get bored, fast. But it should all feel like it could reasonably go together. Have some variety but set some boundaries at the beginning and stick to them.
MM: Quality over quantity. A well planned and thought out content strategy will always out perform a more frequent and lower quality content approach. There isn’t always something new and great to share and forcing it can have negative results.