Generating Brand Conversations

Once upon a time when advertising was young, and I was just out of school working at the feet of an advertising guru of the day, I would put my music and composition skills to work to make up jingles that we would broadcast to sell brands such as White Wizard that magically turned ‘tennis shoes’ white, or Rebecca Lee Wildflower talc that would keep you dry and fragrant all day long! I remember writing a lengthy defence of a lilting ¾ time piece of music I had created for that brand to convince the client to break the rules and change his mind from the catchy upbeat jingle he was demanding.

That was a few years before TV came to Sri Lanka in 1979. In the early days of TV, with a choice of 2 stations, the 5 member family and the next-door neighbor faithfully gathered every evening to watch the prime time teledrama, and made up the living room audience with their eyes glued to the TV. My former ad agency colleague had now become a hot teledrama star, and commanded a ratings as high as 65 when he acted in the most popular soap of the day.

Those were days when broadcast advertising brought great returns! The world has changed since, and now we have more of everything. More brands, more competitors, more choice, more channels – both radio and TV. Audiences have got fragmented with channel proliferation. Each channel draws a much smaller audience except when we are playing cricket or watching the next superstar. Of course the prime time teledramas are still a sell, but with a third of the previous audience at best.

Sri Lankan marketing managers and agencies still believe in the power and value broadcast advertising and so we continue to make TV commercials and write those jingles and those irritating radio spots that drive you up the wall during drive time. Can your TVC generate a conversation about your brand? If so, you are doing good and engaging your audience.  Is it so cool that a fan snicks it puts it on YouTube and does it then generate many more views than broadcast advertising ever could? Then you have moved from engaging mode to sharing mode. Does it become an ad that people ‘google’ to see? Then you’ve moved to the search mode, when people are stalking you. Ideally, this is where we want to go today.

Why are we slowly getting disenchanted with broadcast advertising? The reasons are many. Audience fragmentation is one. Smaller audiences mean that marketers have to spend more money across multiple channels and programmes to reach their markets.  But if only those audiences would be attentive! Today’s multitasking and remote empowered audiences are simply not! They are now doing their own thing and watching TV when they want to and not necessarily together with their families. They may be downloading the movies they want to watch from the Internet, or watching a movie from a multi-channel cable TV or DTH operator. So what happens to your commercial? How do we move from broadcast commercials to commercials that engage and get talked about and shared and go viral? How do we beat the diminishing returns of broadcast TV?

How can we engage our audiences rather that shout at them and hope we are making headway? How can we create conversations about our brands?

Conversations you say? Now, why are conversations so important? What have conversations got to do with people buying your brand? Quite a lot, when you come to think of it. Think of it, when did you last rush to the store after seeing a commercial to buy something? Think of it, we can no longer bombard people into becoming consumers. Think of it, what did research say was the most powerful form of communication? Advertising? Try again. Yes, WOM it is. Word of Mouth!

We buy stuff when our friends and peers recommend them. We stay away from brands that our friends say didn’t match up to advertising claims. So wither advertising? Advertising can still work for us and it does in many ways. Ads create imagery and perceptions about our brands. Ads that are likeable make us like the brands they advertise. Advertising is still “the most fun you can have with your clothes on”. But today ads have to do more. They have to engage. They have to be interesting enough to generate interesting conversations. It’s only when people are interested and engaged with your brand that they talk about and recommend it to their friends.

So, it’s time to start thinking beyond that 30 second commercial. It’s time to combine the power of TV with the connectivity and engagement power of digital and social media. It’s time to explore new formats. Two-way conversations, rather than one-way broadcasts. It’s time to talk to communities who have common interests. It’s time to relate our brand to those interests. For instance, there’s a whole lot of people out there “going natural” with products that are natural, herbal, good to eat, or good to put on yourself. So if your brand can relate to that community and generate positive conversations among these communities then we are on our way to getting adopted. (Check out the “way of natural living” blog we created for the herbal personal care brand Kumarika and you’ll see how it works.)

To make this happen we need to talk broader than our usual sales talk. Broader than our features and benefits spiel. We need to cater to the broader information and entertainment needs of our audiences and keep them engaged on an on-going basis with our brands. We need to give them a platform or place where they can share their thoughts and experiences with others with similar interests. Repetitive commercials do not do this. Interest-based blogs do.

So, if we can start from scratch and see how we can keep our audiences engaged with our brands and conversing among themselves about our brands, then that’s the way to go. TV is not out, but we need to find new ways to use TV. And radio. And print. To combine them with the vast possibilities that exist in the digital and social media that people are using as channels of conversation today. We need to recognize Facebook as a WOM delivery channel. We need to recognize its power to move people as it did in the Arab Spring or Wall Street protests. We need to ferret out and generate interesting stories about our brands and their fans.

The times they are a changing. And most rapidly. It’s time for our thinking also to change. To see the reality of life today of those who would be our consumers. Those who would be our fans. Our brand ambassadors. Those who would listen to our stories and tell their friends their own stories about their experiences with our brands. Because it’s only when these conversations happen, that our brand stands to become interesting, liked and adopted. And then, even loved and recommended in turn.

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3 Responses to “Generating Brand Conversations”

  1. Ravini Jinadasa Says:

    Totally agree! “Post, Comment, Share, Like, Tag and Search” – oh how our vocabularies have changed recently! We are all part of a social media revolution and it’s simply not possible to have our heads deep in the sand any more.

  2. Paddy Says:

    Brands are not owned anymore by the companies but the consumers. They dictate what a brand is. Gone are the days where the brand team and agencies sat and decided on what the brand is….the so called brand wheel or brand DNA. Now it has come to a point where consumers (online) decide what the brand stands for for that matter even how much it should be priced!!! It will be interesting to see how Tv will adopt a similar trend as we see on digital/web. I guess digital Tv with two way communications might spearhead this phenomena.

  3. Brand Voices vs Brand Conversations | Hoi Polloi Report Says:

    [...] His screed about Brand Conversations, called for an abandonment of ‘sales talk’ and the 30-second-commercial mindset. It seemed akin to 1st century monks arguing against using calligraphy. “It’s time to start thinking beyond that 30 second commercial. It’s time to combine the power of TV with the connectivity and engagement power of digital and social media. It’s time to explore new formats. Two-way conversations, rather than one-way broadcasts. It’s time to talk to communities who have common interests. [...]

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