How Brands Will Change Fast, or Fail Hard
(Continued from Thoughts from SearchLove Boston, Part 1)
The first takeaway of SearchLove was how to get better at “the work” in marketing - the unsexy, behind-the-scenes daily grind that is a precursor to success. The next piece was all about gaining a better understanding of the user, and telling a more compelling brand story.
Change the Message
The content landscape has changed in that we are now simply at a point of overload. There are 4.6 billion pieces of content produced everyday. Mack Fogelson put forth the idea that the way to win in this crowded environment is to be authentic and purpose-driven. Grassroots non-profit or multinational corporation, Mack argued that a purpose exists for every brand. The hard part is extracting that and telling it to the world.
Her formula for extracting that purpose was to find the overlap between a “Cultural Tension” and the brand’s “Best Self”. In the middle sits the “Big Ideal”, which then doubles as the brand purpose and becomes the guiding force for all content. The example she provided was Dove’s famous campaigns for women’s beauty:
The Cultural Tension: Beauty anxiety in an age of Photoshop
The Brand's Best Self: Gentle alternative to soap that delivers real care
The Big Ideal and Brand Purpose: The world would be a better place if women were allowed to feel good about their bodies.
In addition to failing to find their purpose, brands can also fall short by not telling their full story. Storytelling consultant Kindra Hall offered a solution. Her basic structure for a brand story is:
- Normal (what was)
- Explosion (what happened)
- New Normal (the results)
She argued that too many brands start their stories, particularly their case studies, at the “explosion” stage. By leaving out the “normal” stage, the audience has no idea how bad things were before the action, and therefore can’t experience the change that the brand incited in any meaningful or relatable way.
Change Our Understanding
Stressed throughout the conference was the need to understand the individual “person”, “user”, or “human”. I had the chance to ask Noah Lemas, VP of Distilled New York, what he thought a common thread of the conference speakers was, and that was his response: better understand the human.
I’d like to take it a step further. Marketers need to better understand the person, but it’s technology that will get them there. Everything I heard suggested that in some form. Trusting the technology at our disposal is our best chance of gaining that deeper understanding. A few times this point was driven home were:
- A case for A/B testing to improve conversion rate by Chris Dayley. Continuous experimentation & learning with content gives us a clearer idea of what target users prefer. Once we know that, all there’s left to do is give them what they want.
- Larry Kim’s unicorn vs. donkey exercise in Click-thru Rate. Radically changing the pages of a website that fall in the bottom 10% of click-thru rate could yield incredible improvements. The risk is also low because those pages are poor performing, anyway.
- Simo Ahava on getting the most out of Google Analytics and Tag Manager, even when GA’s basic category structure does not suffice. Five content groupings is way too little for a $500 billion company, he argued, and so marketers should also utilize the Custom Dimensions, of which there are twenty.*
- Paul Shapiro’s argument for keyword research automation - we have the tools to let the program do most of the work, so we can gain back hours every week to focus on larger strategy.**
Change Our Idea of Search
It’s not just that a single search engine like Google will get more intelligent in the years to come, it’s that the whole concept will be turned on its head. This was the basis of the talk given by Will Critchlow, Founder & CEO of Distilled.
He admitted that his was not a very actionable talk, and that that was the point. He implored the crowd to simply be aware of how drastically search could be changing. One example he gave was that Google continues to improve its understanding of context, and might soon be able to accurately predict what users will search for before they ever type letters into a box. Imagine being armed with that knowledge as a marketer?
It’s closer than we think. It’s already happening, to some degree, with Google Now. Right on cue, I got home from the conference and these were the cards on my phone’s Google App, completely unprompted, as I was to travel to the Bynder Amsterdam office in a matter of days.
In five years’ time, it’s safe to assume that a lot in digital will have changed. What I heard again and again at SearchLove is that marketers would be wise to be a part of those shifts, lest they get left behind in the wake. In order to know how to survive those changes, we must first experiment little by little, starting right now.