Advertising is not dead. But the way brands think about advertising needs to change. Thanks to ratings, reviews, blogs, videos, social posts and billions of other pieces of content delivered instantly to the supercomputers that sit in our pockets, brands have become completely transparent. Their image is no longer controlled through targeted, clever ads, but by behavior.
In my new book, Exponential, I look at how brands can grow dramatically by redefining the role of advertising. I explain how some of the world’s most iconic brands have built armies of evangelists by using data, creativity and technology to deliver empowerment rather than superficial, interruptive messaging. Here are some of the book’s best parts:
Great brands now focus on empowerment over interruptions. I’m amazed at how many people in my industry act as if folks are still sitting patiently through TV commercials, admiring the flashy banner ads on their laptops, or watching closely as a YouTube pre-roll delays the video they really want to see. This kind of institutional insanity in corporate America is based on faith in a reach-and-frequency model, which the advertising industry has spent decades perfecting. It’s a numbers game where the score is kept by how many people you can reach and how frequently you can interrupt them with a brand message.
But the most successful brands these days understand that for advertising to be useful, it must create a value exchange: Brands give customers meaningful content and experiences, and customers respond by giving their time, data, attention, and recommendations. Educational content is a way to do this–to empower potential consumers instead of interrupting them. Orvis, for example, empowers its audience with education by creating content that teaches people how to fly fish. Fender does it with a platform that teaches people how to play guitar. Cabot does it by sharing recipes and nutritional advice.
When brands create content that makes people’s lives better, they can stop worrying about how many people are watching their 30-second ads. With educational immersive content, brands can get fans to invest 30 minutes–or even 30 hours.
Historically, great brands could be built with one big, clever ad campaign. That no longer works. Today, customers spend an average 13 hours researching a car purchase. An aggressive advertising campaign by an auto manufacturer will only result in around 12 exposures, equal to about 6 minutes of engagement. That leaves another 12 hours and 54 minutes that the customer is doing their own research.
Rather than spending heavily on traditional advertising to drive awareness at the beginning of the journey and promotions towards the end, brands should use digital tools like sequential messaging, custom audiences, and content retargeting to personalize ads.
One of the most important things we can do is empower people to effectively invest their hard-earned dollars and time in the exact products that meet their needs. While it might not earn any creative awards, functional content that clearly communicates a product’s features and functionality removes purchase barriers and drives momentum through the purchase journey. That’s one of the reasons that Warby Parker has become a billion-dollar brand. Over and over again, they leverage empowerment by investing in content and technology to make shopping easier across their website, apps, and in-store.
Today, more than 500,000 brands are fighting across the globe for consumers‘ time, attention, and dollars. With a few clicks, a kid with a bright idea can find a manufacturing plant in Vietnam, a programmer in Israel, or a logo designer in Brazil. Almost instantly, a new brand is born. Because of this proliferation of new businesses, brands have virtually no white space to forge a unique identity. The concept of differentiation is being replaced by authenticity and execution.
Successful brands don’t offer fundamentally different products; they create value with authenticity. Patagonia has peers in the marketplace with similar offerings. But when it invests heavily in clothing recycling and immersive content about sustainable practices, it is not simply putting on the appearance of a green company–it’s educating people and giving them tools to make a difference.
Brands can’t simply say they’re great anymore; they must be great, and show how they are in detail.
Brands that empower their customers create fans who actively evangelize for them with word-of-mouth marketing. This leads to exponential growth as happy customers share positive feedback about a brand with multiple other people–and we believe our friends more than banner ads and repetitive commercials. The only way to create these evangelists is to re-think the role of advertising. It’s time for brands to break their addiction to interruptions and create empowering content for the entire consumer journey.