Digital is changing the marketing landscape—that’s for sure. It is also changing consumer expectations for the type of communications they receive from the brands they love.
As a result, traditional advertising is being challenged like never before, said speakers at the Ad Age Digital conference in New York City Tuesday afternoon. Marketers should be thinking beyond the ad and creating more interactive experiences if they’re going to stand out among all the noise in digital.
“Consumers have all the power and are demanding a lot from brands,” said Jill Cress, EVP, global consumer marketing, at MasterCard. “Consumers are calling the shots, and it is all about maintaining the relevant dialogue through storytelling. What’s great about digital is the ability to test and optimize on the fly.”
For MasterCard, the idea of experiences over ads isn’t a new notion. The company’s “Priceless” campaign, for example, has always been about providing people experiences. The difference between the campaign today and years ago is that it has come to life through digital platforms, Cress explained.
Storytelling is the key to meeting consumer demands in digital, said Jeremy Jones, executive creative director at J. Walter Thompson, Atlanta. He spoke to some work he did with a JWT client, Pennzoil, which focused on moving away from traditional ads to engaging consumers through stories.
According to Jones, Pennzoil was stuck in its traditional ways, but JWT was able to refocus the brand from creating motor-oil commercials, which people didn’t care about, to storytelling.
“They stopped interrupting the content people were interested in and adopted a multichannel storytelling approach,” Jones said. “The content they produced was entertaining; you wouldn’t even think it is a motor-oil commercial. Storytelling wins every time.”
Jones made the important point that companies are no longer just competing with their competitors. “You’re competing with that latest cat video and with pop culture,” he said. “And your content must be on that level to break through. Think about how to tell your story authentically instead of going right to RTB. Be really genuine.”
Hyatt is currently on a transformation journey, according to Sandra Micek, SVP, global brands. It is moving from making promises around the brand to engaging consumers via digital touchpoints and delivering on the brand promise through those engagements.
Like the other speakers on the panel, Micek talked a lot about storytelling. When guests stay at a Hyatt hotel, she said, they tend to create content and stories about their stay through Facebook posts and photos. Hyatt now works with Facebook to make sure these posts and photos, specifically, are surfaced on the Hyatt website, creating a more authentic experience for site visitors.
“[Site visitors] aren’t just looking at staged photoshoots,” she said. “They see the real thing, the real experience with us. We at Hyatt are on a journey to be more brand-led. To become brand-led means putting the customer at the center of every decision–not just every marketing decision, either. It’s all about consumer insights. What is it about consumers that we really want to tap into?”
A good example, according to Micek, is a recent campaign for Hyatt Regency. Social listening told Hyatt that every once in a while, it is good not to be home, even if it is for a business trip. Perhaps you’re going to a conference in a warmer climate, or you’re a new mom who gets to sleep through the night on a business trip and not have to wake up to your baby. To shine light on some of these situations, Hyatt partnered with Comedy Central for a digitally centered campaign that, through a custom content series, brings humor to reasons why people might not want to be home.
Hyatt Regency and Comedy Central tapped comedian Iliza Shlesinger for its custom content series.
According to MasterCard’s Cress, data is driving the transformation within her company and is the biggest opportunity for brands and marketers to connect with consumers.
“We can use data to understand what about travel or music matters most to people,” Cress said. “We are able to see what the trends are and then layer on the learnings from our real-time listening lab for insight into how we can engage with the customer. Data helps us validate what we are doing and see what we should continue to do. It allows us to refocus our strategy, and we humanize the data to tell stories. Of course, using all of the data to make sure we are being contextually relevant is easier said than done.”
AOL CMO Allie Kline talked about the fact that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to providing engaging experiences, especially at a company such as AOL, which has so many different brands, with very different target audiences. But true for all AOL brands across the board, she said, is the focus on shortening the distance between where the consumer is and where the brands are.
“Part of that means working with great partners, but there needs to be a shared value system,” Kline said. “Everything is changing so quickly, so when we are considering a partner we look at things like nimbleness. Is this partner willing and able to move as quickly as we are?”
And, of course, good content all comes down to authenticity, she said. Lexus did an “awesome” program around LeBron James’s last basketball game. “It really pushed the boundaries,” Kline said. Lexus partnered with AOL’s Autoblog to tell a story about LeBron, what he likes/dislikes, and what type of Lexus driver he is.
“It’s hard to know what the dynamics will be with a partner,” Hyatt’s Micek said. “One should not overtake the other. Instead, the two should work together to get the message across.”