Category Archives: Marketing

Would you know a successful process if you saw one? Or: A return to hierarchy-of-effects

If you’ve read (or leafed through) Strategizing Communication, you’ll know that we advocate an approach of ‘practising strategizing’ – or planning for process, if you like. Thus, we aim to pragmatically combine the best of several paradigms; strategic communication as deliberately planned transmission and as collaboratively emergent process. One of the reasons we do not want to discard the notion of planning completely, is our belief that it is essential to set goals for one’s communication and to be able to evaluate whether or not these goals are achieved. The goals, for sure, may change as the process unfolds in ways one might not have planned for – or it may turn out that the plan actually led to different results than one had envisioned. However, if there are no pre-set communication objectives, there are no guidelines for planning the process, nor any benchmarks for evaluating how it played out.

Citing Yogi Berra (the baseball player, not the cartoon character), Patti et al. (2015) argue that setting objectives is paramount because:

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We agree. Without objectives, you’ll not only be lost along the way, you won’t know whether or not you ended up in the right place either. Only if we have objectives in mind, will we know whether or not the process – as it actually played out – was successful or not. Having a plan for the process, then, may not always take you where you want to go, but at least it means you’ve got a chance of getting there – and a means of finding out whether where you actually ended up was better or worse than what you intended.

Thus, even if one does not think of communicative effect as a direct transmission of the communicator’s intention to the audience’s head, one must have some means of articulating the underlying intention of the communication and of measuring whether or not the intention was realized. This line of thinking leads us to a return to the otherwise much criticized notion of hierarchy-of-effects. Hierarchy-of-effects models have great difficulty in explaining and predicting how audiences will actually respond to communication, but even so they offer good practical tools for setting communication objectives. This is especially true for models that Dagmar-Defining-Advertising-Goals-for-Measured-Advertising-Results-Dutka-Solomon-9780844234229both forego strict divisions between cognitive, affective and behavioural effects and leave one-directional sequences of e.g. attention, interest, desire and action behind. If the most simplistic idea of a hierarchy is abandoned, we are left with useful tools for articulating communication objectives that are attuned to the specific communicative context.

One particularly useful model is that of Defining Advertising Goals for Measured Advertising Results (DAGMAR), which was originally proposed in the book by the same name in 1961. In their presentation of DAGMAR, De Pelsmacker, Geuens & Van Den Bergh (2013: 156) render the model thus:

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While clearly moulded on a series of steps from initial awareness to final purchase, DAGMAR incorporates a number of more precise elements and allows the communicator to focus his or her efforts at any point(s) rather than necessarily working through the whole sequence. This not only makes it a great planning tool, but also means it can be usefully applied in analysis of audiences’ actual relations with a brand – before and after the communicative engagement. Further, and as the name indicates, DAGMAR has the virtue of being imminently measurable. That is, using this model one can stipulate specific and specifically quantifiable goals for the communication. For instance, if one finds that building brand awareness should be the main aim, one can go on to specify the number of people (or percentage of a target group) that should become aware of the brand as a result of the communication. Similarly, if the ultimate aim is to increase sales, one can specify how large an increase to aim for – and what other aims might have to be fulfilled in order to get there. And so on – in any imaginable combination.

Today, we have more means of measuring the process of communication than ever (as we’ve discussed in the blog posts on Data-mining, Big data, and Netnography), but these are mostly and most directly relevant in terms of evaluating the communicative process as process. As such, they lend themselves most readily to the test of media objectives whereas communication objectives are still left a bit in the dark. Not because communication objectives are impossible to measure, but because many communicators do not pose the objectives as clearly as they could and do not test whether the objectives are reached as rigorously as they should. Using a model such as DAGMAR to plan and assess the communication provides one means of both overcoming the shortfalls of current practices and putting the new tools for monitoring process to even better use.

Just remember: DAGMAR may provide you with the means of finding out where you want to go and assessing where you ended up, but it does not give you any indication of how to actually get there. Thus, the measures of communicative success for today and tomorrow may be the same as yesterday and yesteryear, but the means of communicating successfully are, now, completely different. Hierarchy-of-effects models do not help you actually carry out your process, but they provide an apt framework for the planning of it.

Neuromarketing

‘It s(m)ells like fresh bread’

Recent advances in the field of neuromarketing have raised awareness of the ways in which consumers can be influenced by sensory stimuli that they are not necessarily aware of – or that they react to before making cognitive sense of. Such insights provide empirical backing to the theoretical premise of what has been labelled the ‘affective turn’ within the social sciences and the humanities (see Clough, 2008 for an overview). Namely that, to simplify the point somewhat, ‘the skin is faster than the word’ (Massumi, 1995). We experience affective intensities before we can describe them as emotions – and we react on our affectively triggered instincts before we know, let alone can justify, what we do.

These points are not in themselves novel, but today marketers have more sophisticated means of putting them to use. For instance, a supermarket may dispense the smell of freshly baked homemade bread in its aisles to increase sales of its absolutely odourless, mass-produced toast.  Or, even more cunningly, the supermarket could place its in-store bakery near the entrance so as to whet customers’ appetites, since hungry shoppers are heavy shoppers (Ashford, 2015).

In a broader sense, just as Marcel Proust famously was prompted ‘in search of lost time’ by eating a madeleine cake, the smell of bread may transport consumers to sweet memories of homely comfort. These may also, as we pass the bakery time and again, come to be associated with the store. And once the supermarket has caught the scent of money, why not move on to the other senses?

Neuromarketers have found that taste testing reduces customers’ sense of risk-taking just as touch is often used to validate a product (e.g. add weight to a product to indicate its sturdiness, seriousness, quality), likewise colour-coding (e.g. blue for trust, green for relaxation) and other visual stimuli (pictures of fresh fruit or models making eye-contact) can influence our shopping behaviour and, more generally, sounds (energetic music) can put us in the right mood (Genco, Pohlmann & Steidl, 2013).

Even if customers are not, or only vaguely, aware of all these sensory stimuli, they more likely than not shape each trip to the local supermarket decisively, just as they may be brought to bear, more generally, on our experience with brands (Lindstrom, 2005). Even brands, which do not have the same intuitive link to the senses as supermarkets, can profit greatly by working on and with the senses – just think of the crisp smell of a new pair of sneakers or that strangely satisfying sound of turning on a computer.

Luring as it may be, neuromarketing is not unproblematic. First, there is the ethical issue. Do we really want marketers to be messing around at the liminal zones of our consciousness – and beyond? Second, neuromarketing may seem soundly based in scientific advances, and the combination of marketing tools and brain scans does provide impressive backing for claims to effectivity. However, affect is not the same as effect. Or, in plainer terms, the route from stimulus to response is not as direct as the above account might suggest. While the model of decision-making that we espouse in Strategizing Communication firmly breaks with the idea of rational choice, we are equally uneasy with the ‘emotional determinism’ of neuromarketing. Decisions, we propose, are much more complicated processes in which sensory impulses do play a key part, but in which conscious cognition is also involved. The real potential, then, lies in finding ways of combining the two.

‘The hipster effect’ (or: how to target the untargetable)

They have long beards and/or side-swept bangs, they wear plaid shirts, they ride bespoke longboards, they drink single-estate coffee. They are hipsters. They are anti-conformists, yet easily identifiable. They are anti-consumerists, yet one of the most coveted consumer groups. How does one identify a group of individualists and target a group that does not want to be targeted?

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If we think of hipsters through the lenses of segmentation, it is immediately clear that they can be delineated from other groups based on demographic traits that first and foremost have to do with age and dwelling place: hipsters are young(ish) and they are urban. Looking at the psychographic criteria, hipsters share the important personality trait of wishing to stand out from the crowd, which – somewhat paradoxically – leads them to share a number of lifestyle choices. Jonathan Toubal (2014) has termed this ‘the hipster-effect’: “[the] non-concerted emergent collective phenomenon of looking alike trying to look different.”

The history of the very term ‘hipster’ may illustrate this point. First used in the 1940s and ‘50s to denote a group of youths who searched for alternatives to the conformist and traditionalist lifestyles of their parents, it is now used somewhat pejoratively to point out a certain type of pretentious trendiness. Remember, the true hipster would never use the term about him- or herself – or rather, would only do so in deep irony. What unites hipsters across time, then, is the constant search for positions that are in opposition to the majority. This search makes the group dynamic and malleable, but hipsters (or whatever label might denote trendy anti-conformists at a given time) constantly end up grouping themselves around a limited number of anti-establishment alternatives; e.g. they prefer jazz when the majority listens to hip-hop, they drink beer when everyone else toasts in wine, they let their hair down and their beards grow when the mainstream is smoothed and groomed. And they end up being the perfect targets of certain types of products and certain forms of communication as their anti-conformist, anti-consumerist, and anti-commercial attitudes lead to identifiable consumption patterns and communication preferences.

The hipster, then, likes ideas and products that are definitely and defiantly not mainstream, but this actually leads to more, rather than fewer opportunities for organizations to target their business (be it commercial or otherwise) at hipsters. Hipsters like to stand out in a manner that demands a trained eye. To the outsider, a hipster may be wearing any old shirt, but other hipsters will recognise the unique details, specific cut or other ‘secret signs’ of the hipster uniform. Hipster brands, then, are not loud or glaringly obvious, but hold other and subtler attractions. This means that certain start-ups have great advantages in terms of reaching hipsters and may experience great benefits of this reach – as hipsters are almost by definition first movers. However, established brands may also become attractive to hipsters, especially if the brands are somehow on the wane or have an image that might need dusting-off. If the hipster can be convinced that s/he has (re-)discovered the brand, one has already come a long way towards reinvigoration.

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Hipsters, of course, are immune, if not outright allergic to traditional advertising, but given that they are very active communicators, they can be reached on various (digital/social) media platforms and by means of new and untraditional forms of marketing – not least word-of-mouth. Also, hipsters like quirky, tongue-in-cheek, self-reflexive hints; communication that signals ‘insiderness’ – ‘I know that you know…and we are all playing around with it’. As when the clothing brand Khujo winks at ‘the shopping rebel’ or the microbrewer Brewdog crowdfunds its operations, inviting patrons to become shareholders – and ‘craft beer crusaders’ – through the ‘Equity for Punks’ initiative.

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A final word of warning, though: by the time you read this, the ‘real’ hipster is sure to be moving on to a new look and a different scene. The point, then, is not the content of the specific trend as we may spot it right now, but the constant act of trend spotting. The hipster effect means new targets constantly appear to those who know how to be in the know now…

Content marketing

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” (Content Marketing Institute)

The term content marketing was coined by John Oppedahl in 1996 at the American Society for Newspaper Editors (Doyle, 1996), though it did not get a lot of attention or traction before the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) was founded in 2010 by Joe Pulizzi (see his book Epic Content Marketing). Today, we generally find content marketing happening on blogs and social media, in newsletters and infographics, via podcasts, print magazines and videos, in addition to webinars, eBooks and white papers. In other words, everywhere. Either as paid, owned and earned media.

There is not a lot of academic research on the topic, as it has long been considered old wine in new bottles (Basney, 2014). Meaning, that though the term is popular, and most often described as something new, communicating strategically through the active and deliberate use of content is something organizations have always done. In many ways, content marketing is closely related to immersive communication, as presented in chapter 6, meaning communication that is aimed at attracting viewers/readers/listeners through interesting and attention-grabbing substance, rather than just attractive packaging.

Netnography

By Julie Uldam

Drawing on ethnographic methods such as participant observation, netnography was coined as a methodological term by American professor of marketing Kozinets during his thesis work in the mid 1990s. Netnography has been most prominent in consumer and marketing research, examining consumer preferences as they are expressed in bulletin boards and social media platforms such as Twitter (Arvidsson and Caliandro, 2016; Kozinets, 2002, 2011). However, netnography has also been adopted in other fields such as media studies where Postill and Pink (2012) have developed the approach so as to sensitise it to ‘digital socialities’ and the interplay between the online and offline in activists’ uses of social media platforms.

Netnography is arguably distinct from related digital methods such as digital ethnography and online participant observation in that it provides a particular framework for analysis (Snee et al., 2016, see Hine 2000 for virtual ethnography as an example of another framework with particular procedures and focal points), including ethical reflections on covert and overt research (see Uldam and McCurdy for a discussion of covert and overt participant observation in online and offline contexts). The adaptation and development of netnography demonstrates the usefulness of the (developed) approach for uncovering the dynamics of interactions between different societal actors, facilitating research beyond the confines of media-centric approaches and a focus merely on technological affordances. These potentialities of netnography makes it a useful approach for studying the role of digital media in strategic communication, especially when strategy is seen as an on-going process influenced by multiple actors as in Guldbrandsen and Just’s perspective. However, further development of netnography is necessary in order to sensitise the approach to the analytics of the power relations that underpin the possibilities for different actors to influence communication, online and offline.

Native advertising

Native advertising is camouflaged advertising, meaning it is advertising, or strategic communication, that presents itself as something else. See for instance this infographic on oysters: though it purports to teach you about different oysters, it is (also) an ad for the beer Guinness.

Beyond advertisements-turned-infographics (or vice versa?), you have probably stumbled upon native advertising online, e.g. on news sites where you will find articles that appear to be written by a journalist, but actually were written and paid for by an organization. The point with native advertising is that the advertisement is camouflaged – its form, content and function matches that of the platform it appears on. The word “native” hence refers to the ad’s coherence with the content normally found on the platform on which it is published. Check out Native Advertising Works for more examples.

Native advertisement is not new per se. It shares many similarities to product placement (also called embedded marketing). But unlike product placement, where the goal is to place a product within an already existing content (think Aston Martin, Bollinger and Omega in James Bond movies), with native marketing the goal is to merge the product and content

In an article on Native advertisement, the American law professor Chris Jay Hoofnagle and the civil rights lawyer Eduard Meleshinsky, argue that the concept can be traced back to 1951. In particular, the publisher of Atlantic Monthly, Donald B. Snyder, who then “observed that products had become more complex and that the existing advertising jingles and slogans could not convey the messages that consumers needed to understand in a modern economy” (Hoofnagle and Meleshinsky, 2015). In the article, they quote Snyder for writing:

“To provide the facility for advertising to convey information, the Atlantic has developed a new form for the expression of business ideas. We call them Advertorials. They will be paid advertisements…They will involve the thoughtful participation of the reader; they are intended to give him pause—and in the pause, compelling facts about the way American business works. They are predicated upon the belief that the free competition of ideas has made this country great.” Following this announcement were five pages of advertorials paid for by the American Iron and Steel Institute. Each page was prominently labelled “An Atlantic Public Interest Advertisement.”

But it is not until more recently that this practice has become widespread. Why? Because of two trends: 1) people are less inclined to be persuaded by ads and commercials (many of us directly shun them), and 2) ad-blocking technologies available on our multiple devices have made it more difficult for organizations to reach us. Combined, these trends have forced companies to come up with other ways of grabbing our attention, and one way is to camouflage strategic communication as other types of communication, e.g. news stories and memes.

And it works! Research shows that we, the consumer/citizens, are more engaged with and persuaded by messages delivered as native advertising compared to other forms of advertising/commercials/strategic communication.

Although this is great for organizations, there are a number of ethical and regulatory issues connected to this practice. In particular, how native advertising is designed to disarm the consumer/citizen’s natural defence against advertising by blurring the lines between objective, third party produced content and content produced and paid for by organizations. Why could this be problematic? Because it makes it difficult for the consumer/citizen to identify who the writer, and hence source, of the information is. Making manipulation and propaganda uncontrolled tools for organizations to employ in their strategic communication. For more on this, check out Amar C. Bakshi’s interesting read on the question of ethics and regulation, in Journal of Media Law & Ethics