Marketers Need to Let Go and Let Consumers In

“Will they care and will they share?”

I could have walked out of The Altman Building in New York shortly after those words were uttered around 9:40 a.m. during the Modern Marketing Summit 2016 and gone home with one of the biggest takeaways of my marketing career.

Naturally, I stayed (in case my bosses are reading this). And, as it turns out, those words from Lou Paskalis, Senior Vice President at Bank of America, perfectly framed the theme for the entire event – brands creating marketing experiences that consumers care enough about not only to engage with but to share with their own followers …and so on and so on. It’s about marketing rather than advertising, storytelling instead of pitching, brands stepping aside in favor of consumers – concepts some marketers find hard to swallow, even though many would argue they’re nothing new.

Paskalis’s “care/share” question requires a longer-term view of strategy, compared with the old guard of instant “impression” gratification. “We’ve been imprisoned by reach, frequency and asking ‘did this ad sell something?’ Last-click attribution was the silver bullet,” said Paskalis. “Advertising is a limiting word, about disruption, distraction, about interrupting your favorite show with an irrelevant message.”

He continued, “We have to be marketers, find a way to be relevant in consumers’ daily lives, and then position the brand as the hero of the story, the solution to a need. Modern marketing is about great stories well told.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done. “Spontaneity takes a lot of planning,” said Paskalis. “We must study what our target audiences are interested in today and then build content around those conversations. Once we determine what stories are being told, we have to figure out how to be a part of them.”

“We must come off as a brand that shares people’s values,” he continued. “Typically, you want to do business with people who respect you and respect your beliefs, who aspire to make the world better.”

Kerry Morris, Senior Vice President, Portfolio Leader, at Epsilon, picked up on the personalization theme, reminding the audience, “You are talking with real people, trying to engage with them one on one, which sets the bar higher.”

With so much being made of the data now available to slice and dice any campaign, Morris noted, “There are not a lot of people out there who are capable of marrying good storytelling with the ability to measure and analyze it.”

Shenan Reed, President, Digital, North America, for MEC, had another way of describing the obsession with data: “We serve an impression, but do we actually make an impression? If the consumer doesn’t absorb it, then we haven’t done our jobs.”

While storytelling dominated most panel discussions, the idea of making consumers the storytellers provided an interesting twist. “You need to change storytelling into story-making via the consumers,” said Marcy Quinn Samet, Global Chief Marketing Officer, MRM/McCann. “That’s the way to evolve to the next level of consumer engagement.”

It’s a daring course to take – to a degree, it means giving control of your brand over to your audience.

One glorious example was the “Straight Outta Somewhere” campaign in 2015 to promote the movie, “Straight Outta Compton.” A meme generator was created allowing anyone to input their own cities to show pride in where they are from. While the campaign attracted many celebrities, the website had nearly 7 million visitors. The campaign simultaneously trended at number one for two days in a row across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and, during that time, there were an average of 15,000 #straightoutta tweets and retweets per minute.

Another notable campaign was Volkswagen’s “Unleash Your Rrr” for the Golf R, which invited users to imitate the sound of a car roaring and then, using artificial intelligence technology, placed them in a video that matched an appropriate car model to their sound.

It’s about “creating experiences for consumers that are impossible to ignore,” said Chris Brown, President and CEO of DDB Worldwide. Brown cited the example of the Sidney (Australia) Opera House, which once again engaged consumers in an entertaining way and then used them to help market the facility. The idea was to encourage people to experience more of what the Opera House had to offer. A social media team identified recently posted Opera House photos on Instagram and invited those people for a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour, which the consumers again shared with their followers.

“We’re living in an anticipatory economy,” said Kristen Colonna, Chief Strategy Officer at OMD. “Brands must anticipate consumers’ needs and interests almost before the consumers realize them. We must understand the customer journey. It is no longer a funnel, or a linear path to purchase.”

Said Taras Wayner, Executive Creative Director of R/GA, “You can screw up a story if you are telling it in the wrong way in certain environments. The story has to be crafted for the consumer to understand it. We’re in a time where marketing can be more personal than ever before.”

“There’s a better way than fighting the traditional promotional battle,” said Rich Lennox, Chief Marketing Officer of Toys“R”Us. “You need to understand why consumers do what they’re doing, and then own the emotional high ground.”


Jim Alkon
Marketing Director