Remarkable as it may seem in our digital age, the creaky old analogue research method of talking to people continues to throw up useful insights – not least about digital.
Last week I had yet another opportunity to show some ‘young adults’ an agency’s idea for a brand’s website that aimed to drive engagement and interaction. As usual, the participants in my group had no interest in it whatsoever.
They adopted the familiar look that says, “Why are you wasting your time asking me these questions when the answers are blindingly obvious to anyone who is… alive?”. Not only were they completely uninterested in this site, they couldn’t think why they would visit any brand’s website.
We all know by now (don’t we?) that for people to interact with a brand in the digital realm there has to be something in it for them, a ‘value exchange’. And, as my group moved on to explore occasions when they had got involved with brands in the digital space, the examples they gave showed how brands can encourage this transaction.
Here are three examples they told me about.
- Starbucks: the barista spelling your name absurdly inaccurately on your take-out cup
- Coke: buying a bottle with your name on it
- Evian: ’babyfying’ your face using Evian’s app
In each case, the user shared the brand on social media, because the brand gave them something worth sharing.
When he spelt her name as ‘Carrylime’, ‘Caroline’ was at first amazed at the Starbuck barista’s incompetence, then amused, and then inclined to share the absurdity with her friends. So, she took a photo of the cup with her smartphone and posted it to Instagram.
When Ethan was in Tesco Metro and saw a bottle of Coke with his name on it, he didn’t just feel chuffed enough to buy it and drink it, he took a photo of himself with the bottle and posted it on Facebook.
And when Anna saw examples where people had used Evian’s app to see how they might have looked as a baby, she wanted to have a go. So she downloaded the app, took a selfie, ‘babyfied’ it, and Tweeted the result.
In every case, not only did people do more with the brand than drink it, they shared what they did. Sharing is a default mode for millions now, and the brand that provides something worth sharing is going to get a massive amount of exposure, with its users effectively doing the marketing for it – for free*.
So, how do we get our brand shared? The examples of Starbucks, Coke and Evian point us to five characteristics our brand activity should possess if we want people to share it:
- Entertain – make the user smile
- Be novel – do something original
- Be unique – create an experience that is only available from our brand
- Personalise – be about the user, not about our brand
- Involve zero effort – do not ask the user to do anything they would not normally do anyway
All are important, and the last feature is key: the interaction must go with the grain of everyday human behaviour, not require the user to go out of their way; the brand must be where its users are, rather than require them to come to the brand. A very high proportion of many brands’ users are on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook anyway, so it takes no effort to share a photo involving your brand than to share a shot of anything else they may find entertaining.
Getting our brand widely shared should mean greater brand salience at the very least – although, of course, this will only occur if the brand is linked to the exposure. So, even though the interaction should be about the user more than the brand, the brand needs to be integral to what is shared. Given that my group was readily able to cite these three cases unprompted, we can be pretty confident about the strength of brand linkage.
Beyond driving salience, however, brand linkage should also help enhance brand perceptions. How do the Starbucks, Coke and Evian interactions perform on this measure?
The Coke and Evian interactions both directly relate to the brand’s positioning. After years (decades?) of meandering around, Coke has finally got its act together (at least strategically) by focusing once again on its core emotional brand proposition: bringing people together. This is what its name packs are all about and the sharing of ‘me and Coke’ selfies works even better when you and your mate find packs with your names on.
Evian’s app too is bang on strategy, with the brand positioning itself around ‘connecting with your inner baby’. Through its app, the brand engagingly brings this proposition to life.
The enhancement of brand perceptions is less obvious in the Starbucks interactions. However, I think you could argue that these inept barista miss-spellings make Starbucks feel a little less regimented and more quirky, a bit more personal and characterful and less corporate, all of which are positives for a brand that is in danger of being regarded as an arrogant American behemoth.
Interestingly, part of the power of the Starbucks interaction is the fact that very few customers have any sense of this being part of a marketing campaign. Each person this happens to thinks it’s an accident. Or, if they think it’s deliberate, they take it to be just the barista being playful. I don’t know whether it is part of a centrally planned campaign, as some have suggested. But, if it is, its objectives are better achieved by keeping this under the radar.
Coke and Evian have spent millions on their ‘Share a Coke’ and ‘Inner Baby’ campaigns, and this has worked well to establish the canvass upon which their users can paint pictures. Quite probably, the campaigns were always intended to have a significant social media component and their success in the social space must have had a considerable multiplier effect.
In contrast, if the Starbucks activity is a planned campaign, I suspect it had an organic origin. Probably, some commendably bright spark, diligently monitoring social media, saw the potential in a one-off example of a customer posting a photo of a genuine miss-spelling.
Perhaps this gives us the killer clue about how to create brand interactions that will be shared on social media: help more people do what some are already doing. If you keep a very close eye on social media ‘chatter’ and think laterally about the things you see people doing with your brand anyway, you might find something that many more would be happy to do with your brand, with only a small and possibly imperceptible nudge.
* Of course, the notion of making sharing a key communications objective is nothing new. When I worked at GGT in the late 80s, one of Dave Trott’s core aspirations was to produce ads that people talked about, ie: shared. In those days, ‘sharing’ meant retelling the ad down the pub, or while making a cup of tea at the office or munching a sandwich on site. But the aim was always to produce work that provoked conversations, or in modern parlance, worked in earned media.