Recently, the Internet was equally delighted and horrified by two very distinct marketing campaigns, one by a prominent technology company Qualcomm and the second by the US Government in response to a petition to create a Death Star. Qualcomm‘s recent performance at CES made me feel like I just watched my Grandmother say “OMG” out loud. Not only did they misunderstand their audience but they also confused the entire tech world so much that the only thing anyone remembers from the keynote is Maroon 5 sounding like Dido, that Big Bird has a creepy stalker, and that BOOM! is suddenly something people say.
That thing being promoted…something about a processor? Yeah, no one remembers that.
Compare that to the U.S government’s brilliant response to a petition to begin construction on a Death Star by 2016. When you think “White House” or “government,” one generally doesn’t think of Internet-savvy, relevant content or innovative brand communications. We think of bureaucracy and people in suits with PCs from the 90s. Paul Shawcross is the Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget and author of the witty response declining the Death Star request.
Among his reasons, Shawcross explains, “Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?” Not only is this an authentic, relevant, and funny brand response to a clearly satirical petition, it is also universally educational, value-adding, and an incredible recognised opportunity. This specific piece of communication makes me and many others want to read news from the U.S. Government and the space program.
What an amazing shift for a brand associated with stodgy, vague, censored communications.
What marketers and Internet professionals can take away from these two examples is that the best idea always wins, not the biggest budget or the most over-the-top content. The “best idea” is the concept that most effectively identifies the best strategic things to communicate to a target audience through the most appropriate, natural channels, and then executing the idea in a meaningful, authentic, and value-adding way. If you do this correctly, a simple 520 word editorial could have more positive impact for your brand than a $500k major conference keynote.
Here are a few more lessons to help you identify the “best idea.”
1. Stereotyping vs. Demographics
Identifying an accurate demographic for your product and planning communications around it is one of the oldest foundations of marketing. Every product, service, and brand needs direction about which audience they should pursue; the audience most likely to purchase their product and become a brand ambassador for them.
There is a huge difference between identifying and speaking to a demographic group and blatant stereotyping. Stereotypes, as a rule, are not very nice and unless very well-parodied, generally make you look like clueless or like a bigot. No one likes to hang out with or support bigots, so don’t be one.
Stereotyping your audience is an incredibly effective way to alienate them. Not only do you alienate the people who you are stereotyping, but you also alienate the people who notice you are stereotyping another group.
Effectively identify the correct demographic for your brand or product by doing market research and then talking to this group in a way that makes sense, but is not playing off stereotypes.
2. Lacking in.. well.. any type of distinguishable central theme
Qualcomm’s purported theme for their keynote was “Generation Mobile” and how the tech world wasn’t yet prepared for them. While this, by itself, may have made for a great keynote, this message was forcibly drowned by a multitude of other aspects and themes:
- An Electric Rolls Royce (remote “Halo” charging technology)
- Big Bird (picture-to-text technology)
- Guillermo del Toro and ridiculous amounts of gore (technology in film-making)
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu (technology in the world health initiative)
- Microsoft (I thought this was QualComm’s keynote?)
- “The internet of everything” (Apparently bigger than “the internet of things,” the commonly accepted terminology for this concept, to come in 2015)
How do any of these themes support the idea that technology is not prepared for a generation of people born alongside mobile technology? That’s right.. they don’t.
Every piece of marketing, whether it is a blog post or a conference keynote, should be focused on your brand’s message and central theme. If you deviate, it dilutes the impact of your efforts and can even completely drown it. Albert Einstein sums it up pretty effectively, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.”
3. Adhering to an “any press is good press” mentality
The old marketing adage of “any press is good press” is no longer valid. Major brand mistakes can cost you thousands of social followers and create a wave of slam pieces in major and alternative media. Sure, people will talk about your brand for free, but they are proactively saying negative things that are amplified across the “internet of everything.” A negative message repeated over and over is not a good thing. It snowballs out of control incredibly quickly.
Qualcomm’s biggest mistake at CES was placing a huge, expensive bet on an assumption: that a tech-savvy and internet-friendly audience would find an entirely over-the-top interpretation of the “internet of everything” entertaining and spread it like wildfire. Qualcomm placed a huge bet on controlling and manipulating something notoriously uncontrollable: the social web and its collective opinions.
Don’t focus on attempting “viral” content. Focus on creating authentic, intelligent, and useful marketing collateral that will resonate with the correct demographic by nature, instead of trying to create something false in hopes of “having it go viral.”
4. recognising opportunity
The White House didn’t have to respond to a petition calling for them to “secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016” differently than any other spoof petition. What makes this response particularly interesting is that Mr. Shawcross recognised the unique opportunity this specific spoof petition presented to educate the 35,000 plus petition signers (and now thousands more on the social web) on the surprisingly large number of current and future space and space-lifestyle programs the US Government is running/organising/creating.
This response was also particularly effective because the communication played along with the original poster and his engaged supporters, augmented it, and provided additional value in a very entertaining way. This kind of brand communication is precisely how to shift your brand perception in a way the social web will appreciate and embrace.
It doesn’t hurt that the author is the Chief of the Science and Space Branch himself. Sometimes a little star power (see what I did there?) in the right channel is incredibly powerful.
5. The value-add
This piece is special is because it isn’t just fluff. A funny response from the White House about Star Wars geekery would have been enough to make the petition signers feel like they were being listened to and appreciated, but Mr. Shawcross took it a step beyond by providing resources and additional information on programs that are relevant to the topics within the petition itself. It lays out very clearly all the awesome things the US Government is doing with the professional- and consumer-space areas (including a probe to explore the exterior layers of the sun and Astronomy Nights on the South Lawn of the White House).
Always, always, always develop content that creates implicit value for the person reading it. By creating value, people will come back to you again and again to learn and edify their own thinking; supported by your brand and your brand content.
6. Authenticity and approachability
People don’t want to talk to a machine. Or, to a marketing agency. Or to anything that uses the “royal we” when answering a customer question. People like talking to people (I know, shocking). Create a brand style that encourages engagement and open conversations with your customers or community. Knowing what your community or customer is thinking is absolutely invaluable to your future marketing efforts, and the only way you’ll find out (at least until we develop mind-reading technology) is if they talk to you.
Mr. Shawcross’ obvious comfort with internet meme and relevant topical geekery is a great way to lower the defenses of the intended audience. How can you feel insecure or sceptical when someone is speaking the same language you are? The tone, subject matter, and word choices within this piece of content all support each other and create a unified front to speak to the intended audience.
Make it a priority to create a brand style guide that defines your brand voice as approachable and human. The spike in engagement and interest you will see is worth it. Understand the idiosyncrasies of the audience to which you’ll be speaking, and leverage this knowledge to create a seamless, natural piece of content that communicates your central theme in an easy, effortless way.
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