And this week’s news is…

Sonic brand triggers and creating psychological investment – plus something surely so staggeringly obvious I’m amazed that more brands aren’t engaging with it…

This week, I have been mostly… Well, you’ve got to start a blog post somewhere, haven’t you? In spite of more paperwork than a body can easily handle, it’s been a week of redefining brand interaction, starting with a sonic brand trigger (SBT).

Why create an SBT? After a year of tying down a visual identity for the workplace and trying to create the conditions for effective internal brand communications, the last part of the brand as-yet-untouched is the radio channel. We know that radio works – checking the metrics after a campaign launches shows a definite uplift in online interaction and subsequent activation. But creating that link back into the overall identity for the radiosphere has been left behind – until now.

After a great meeting with the potential SBT creators (SoundLocker), it took a while for the possibilities to sink in. A definition of the prime messaging is obviously the first step – and that’s the difficult one. Since we have to be able to talk to everybody at once, this limits the range of the SBT. Too modern, and we’ll miss a key target audience. Too classical, and we run the risk of missing one of our biggest risk profiles and priority audiences. Too jingly and we’ll sound like a car dealership. Too severe and we’ll lose another audience segment and degrade the gravity of the messaging.

So the SBT needs to be something very specific, yet general at the same time. Strangely enough, these restrictions are actually freeing up creativity – as is the very strong notion of what I/we don’t want. It will be really interesting to see what comes out in a few weeks time…

What is really fascinating, however, is that the ‘simple’ task of defining the brand’s audio qualities has led to a complete reassessment of our audience reach tactics – a reassessment which is very likely to led to a complete redefinition across at least two of our channels.

Currently, our point of danger (POD) strategy encompasses radio and bus back advertising – with the odd bit of ambient factored in when budgets allow. We need to contact motorists at the point where they are at the most danger – which for most of them is behind the wheel. Both channels are tried and tested, with audience surveying indicating good levels of brand and message recognition. So there’s no need to drastically alter the channels – however the SBT process is leading me to a rethink on the message content.

Historically, we’ve run 10second radio campaigns – and it’s some work to create a script which gets the message across and points to our website for further info. It can be done and we’ve had some really creative solutions to the issue; once again proving that rules can be fun.

But it’s time to move things forward and, perhaps, credit the audience with a little more savvy than has been done to date. The constraints imposed by developing an SBT mean that we have to integrate the SBT into the ad structure in a meaningful and appropriate way, without detracting either from the SBT or the message itself.

So this means simplifying the message yet further. It could be said that we’re moving towards minimalism from economy… The decision has been taken to drop the web address and instead encourage the audience to ‘Search online for…’ – a move which buys between 0.5 and 1 second (depending on the VO). It might not sound a lot, but it saves between 5 and 10% of a campaign’s airtime (financially and in time terms). It also allows the rest of the ad space to breathe, which in turn allows us to pare the content right back.

Current ad content style:
SFX: Car on road
VO: As the nights draw in, it’s more important than ever to be seen.
SFX: screeching tyres plus horn
VO: Every year in Sussex, pedestrians are killed or injured because they can’t be seen at night. Be bright be seen this winter – visit for more info.*

Potential new style (shamelessly stealing someone else’s slogan for illustrative purposes:
VO: Dark Nights: Remember your lights. For more information, search online for Sussex Safer Roads.
SBT runs under the ad, peaking at ‘Sussex Safer Roads’.

*not a real script, just an illustration

The new style achieves a number of things. It’s shorter and the VO can breathe. It’s less doom and gloom, and gives the audience time to process the message (see below on psychological involvement/cognitive engagement). Plus it’s more approachable and applicable for our audience – most of whom probably don’t care that we’re a government body made up on nine partners etc etc. What they want to know about is safer roads in Sussex. And the new style will deliver this, with the added benefit of the SBT tying the audio into the visual (bus back/ambient).

This line of thinking then leads to a reappraisal of the way we use bus/ambient media. Because the new radio messages are likely to be cleaner and simpler, which way does the graphic go in POD work? Into providing more information, or mirroring the audio with less? I know what my answer is – but I want to know what the blogosphere thinks. Comment below and let’s get the debate going.

Naturally, these redefinitions also change the way that we deliver our online presence – evolving the current offering into something deeper, more interactive and more regularly content-cycled.

Who knew that a ‘simple’ SBT would prompt such a radical overhaul of brand communications? However, it all needs to be aired as redefining one part of the brand needs to be carried out as part of the greater brand network, not just in isolation. And although we’ve spent a year refining and repositioning, the brand is a living thing and must be given space to grow…

Psychological investment and cognitive engagement.

In amongst all of this has been the deepening issue of creating psychological investment and involvement not only with our brand, but also with the processes it represents.

As a ‘Communications Manager’ dealing with everything from the paperwork to the creative, the implementation of the brand through to audience segmentation, I’m acutely aware that the consumer needs to have some form of psychological investment with the brand message and activities. Otherwise, we’re just noise.

However, we’re in the odd position of marketing a product/service (depending on what I’m up to at the time) aimed at preventing something which most people regard as an abstract concept: death. Even rational people, people with a good head on their shoulders, will regard the chances of themselves dying in a vehicular incident as pretty small or remote. And even if they are fully aware of the risks, there’s still the mental block of ‘It won’t happen to me’. Therefore the abstraction of the concept means that we need to engage that investment elsewhere – as we did with Embrace Life. In this piece, the psychological investment moves from the self and the act of putting on a seatbelt through to the protection of, and provided by, the family. Therefore the simple act takes on a greater and more tangible significance.

This is quite some shift from current and conventional road safety advertising, and it’s probably safe to say that we’re in the vanguard on this one. The question now is how to build this investment into other areas, and in doing so change behavioural patterns and deepen our brand identity/recognition at the same time.

Part of this will be through applying the principles of cognitive engagement. If we can present a situation and encourage our audience to engage with it in such a way that they argue themselves around to our position, then the message is likely to be retained far longer and more deeply than a straightforward ‘Do this’ or ‘Don’t do this’ message.

This isn’t just suited for our particular application – I believe that it should be at the heart of every brand strategy and implementation. Too many brands talk to the audience as though they are unable to think for themselves and while this might be fine for some people, the rest of us like the allow the little grey cells some play time once in a while.

Watch this space, as they say, to follow the growth of cognitive engagement techniques in our brand activity.

Follower or leader?

So there I am, first lunch break in weeks, galloping through the back catalogue of Marketing Week that’s been waiting for my attention. It’s all good stuff – although it does tend to spark enough ideas to make an elephant want a sit down and thus defeating the purpose of a ‘quiet sandwich and a chill out’. But never mind…

Flicking quickly, I come across a recent piece looking at whether the brand should follow the consumer, or the consumer follow the brand. A subtle difference, perhaps, but an important one.

Comments from Coca Cola were priceless – made me wonder if they actually had any genuine two-way dialogue with their consumers before they realised that the brand’s values didn’t map.

I believe that brands can no longer rely on the consumer following them – even big label desire brands. The economic downturn, changing societal positions and even reactions against the various wars that are being fought at the moment have created fundamental shifts in the consumer psyche. People want to be able to relate to a brand and feel that it’s ‘their’ brand, ‘their’ product and that it corresponds to their beliefs. It’s personalisation on a global scale.

While there are arguments to support the premise of the brand leading the values (Levi’s for example, or the wonderful old world of Marlboro advertising), actually they are reflecting the deeper held (and sometimes entirely subconscious) values of the consumer. The superb creative for Marlboro tapped into the desire for repressed city types to go and rustle some horses before burning beans over the camp fire in the evening – which had nothing to do with cigarettes in and of itself, but in which experience, the wicked weed played a part. It was about self-image and the creation/manipulation of that in the audience.

It’s the conscious acknowledgement and manipulation of this that can lead to some truly great advertising. Only by listening to what the consumer is saying (and often what they’re not) can brands ensure their relevancy in today’s fast-moving, fluid, brand-washed society.


4 thoughts on “And this week’s news is…

  1. Hiya

    The point I was aiming for is that I believe that the brand landscape has changed. Once upon a time, I think it was enough for the brand to say:

    “Look at us, we’re the brand to have” and to create a following based on transference of perceived values (e.g. Levi’s being hard-wearing, the choice of the ‘outlaw’; Marlborough being the rugged man’s cigarette etc). In this model, the consumer ‘borrows’ part of the brand’s positioning and advertised values to enhance their own self-image.
    So by wearing Levi’s and smoking a Marlborough, the message is rugged, ready for action and fashionably dangerous.

    In the new model, the brand is much more closely linked into its consumer and more willing open a two-way conversation to understand the consumer as an individual. And the consumer is much less likely to be told that this is the way to look, the cigarette to smoke etc. I believe that the shifts in consumerism have weakened the homogenised tribalism that we have seen in previous decades.

    This new model therefore takes into account the changes in consumer behaviour. Whereas the old model may have relied on price and position, the new model takes into account environmental concerns, the increasingly individual nature of the consumer etc as well – i.e. a much broader mental purchasing landscape.

    Thus the brand will grow to developed and deliver the services that the consumer needs and actually wants, rather that services/products that the consumer doesn’t even know that they want yet.

    Hope that helps!

  2. Pingback: The use of fear « Interacter's Blog

  3. Pingback: The purpose of advertising « interacter

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