There is a revolution underway in the marketing world.
Not a metaphorical one, said Earl Cox, chief strategy officer of The Martin Agency. A literal one.
"Revolutions are about shifts in power," he said in a speech Thursday. "Political revolutions are about the transfer of power from government to the people. In marketing there's a power shift going on, with power moving from corporations or brands to consumers."
Speaking to the Richmond chapter of the American Marketing Association, Cox said social media, especially Facebook and Twitter is driving the revolution. Facebook, a company that's only seven years old, draws more web traffic each week than Google. In the United Kingdom, more than half of web traffic from mobile devices goes to Facebook, he said.
And that means companies of all sizes, from Wal-Mart to a one-person hole in the wall, need to recognize that branding has changed. These are not fads or short-term trends, Cox said.
Marketing has traditionally followed a set pattern, with companies speaking to passive consumers. All that mattered then was the skill behind your communications. Today, Cox said, marketers need to mix the old communication with content and community.
But to ensure your brand still stands out, those three pieces need to be unified by a "common brand idea," he said. At GEICO, a Martin client that always has several ad storylines going at once, the unifying idea remains the company's slogan, "15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance." Whether the ad has a cave man, gecko or oddball celebrity, the tag line stays the same.
Cox said marketers used to craft a storyline for months, testing, tweaking and re-testing before launch. Now, he said, you have to be faster, telling a story without necessarily knowing where you'll end up. The focus has moved from the destination of your pitch to the journey it goes through, he said.
Community is another tricky issue for companies, and the respect of social media followers has to be earned. Marketers need to know what the audience is really interested in and why they would want to talk about a company or brand.
Building a community means letting customers become co-creators of your brand.
"Co-creation is scary, and it comes with both the good and the bad," Cox said. "But a co-creator is a co-owner, and that creates a champion and advocate for your brand."
The last leg of the stool is content. Cox boiled that idea down to creating "ideas worth sharing." He said companies should put out lots of ideas into the social media landscape and hope one or two will catch fire. It means accepting that not everything will generate a monster following.
The Martin executive said marketers need to follow some core values to survive in the new world of brand building. He said it was important to be inclusive, transparent, nimble, experimental and brave. If you're leaving people out or trying to hide things, customers will find out in the end. Embrace the values up front, he said, and you can win support from customers.
The brand revolution carries opportunities and risks, Cox added, adding that companies must try new things and accept the risk of failure.
"If you're not failing, you aren't trying hard enough."
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