The Golden Era of Engagement Marketing

For the vast majority of companies, the days of marketing brands via mega-budget interrupt-driven advertising and promotion is over. For most companies, the old school of marketing via the 4 P’s (product, place, price, promotion) is dead. The good news—no, make that the great news—is the new world of marketing is all about customer engagement driven by 5 E’s: empathy, experience, everyplace, exchange, and evangelism. 

Marketing is now more important than ever. Customers no longer separate marketing from the product—it is the product. Customers don’t separate marketing from their on-site or online experience—it is the experience. In the engagement era of the hyper-social and connected customer, marketing is the company. Trust, transparency, authenticity, sustainability and social purpose have become the collective yardstick by which today’s brands will be increasingly judged. And now ask yourself this very important question: does your marketing honestly meet this new and high standard?

Engagement marketing starts with genuine empathy for your customer. As Brian Solis says, “Empathy is the connection between you and your customers. Empathy is the bridge between your customers and their peers. I’m not just listening to you, I hear you. I see and feel what you’re saying.” Great marketing starts by being a great listener and keen observer. Steven Covey’s sage advice of “seek first to understand, then to be understood” is a required habit to become a highly effective marketer.

We can no longer think merely about ‘product’; instead we need to discover, understand and map the end-to-end customer experience. In many instances, it is the end-to-end experience that provides you with the vitally important meaningful product differentiation. Marketing strategy and resulting creative must be inspired and informed by the experience; without it, marketing will under-perform or fail.

Place used to a retail store. Of course, physical stores still matter. But for today’s consumers, place is really ‘everyplace’ and is more likely to be their laptop, smart phone, tablet or a group of friends and colleagues than a traditional store. The key is to make contact with consumers when they are most receptive and willing to engage with you. That could be online, at an event, in store, just about anywhere at any time. Never has it been so important to be inviting and ready when consumers come calling at your ‘digital door.’

Price used to be so blessedly simple; set a price and either the customer buys or doesn’t. Now, it’s a dance, one that is increasingly digital or social. You need to know what it takes for a consumer to give you precious things like their attention, engagement and permission. What do you offer consumers in exchange? And in today’s 24/7 electronic bazaar, when might it make sense to add value or offer an online discount as part of exchange?

Old style promotion, with its single-minded product benefit focus, creatively, heavily and persistently promoted, may still work for a few big budget consumer goods (e.g., light beer). But most successful brands now know they must create a brand experience so inspiring to consumers they engage – and share their enthusiasm with others. The new evangelism evangelism formula: Word of mouth + web + social networking = brand advocacy via your brand tribe. 

The Cascadia Brand Compass: The Key to Finding Your Organization's True North

Great brand stories start with great research. At Cascadia Marketing, we begin the process with a thorough examination of your brand’s DNA, the building block that determines how your customers perceive you and how well your brand meshes with their needs.

Our proprietary Brand Compass process ‘maps’ your brand by as many as a dozen unique and critically important compass ‘points’. It begins with storytelling-based research that yields a treasure trove of insights, emotions and feelings about your brand. We then identify and articulate the first point of the compass: the ‘core themes’. These are the broad ideas, characteristics, or messages that serve to define the timeless and universal essence and truth of a company’s brand; the themes are often deeply emotional, mythic and archetypal in nature.

With most clients we identify between 3-6 core themes; the richer and more emotionally engaging the brand, the more themes that we are able to identify.  Each core theme is supported by actual quotes and stories that we gather during the research process. The core themes which our process revealed for a recent client included the following themes: "Transformation"; "Breaking Down Barriers"; "Timeless Truths" and "Membership".

We then express the ‘meta-theme’ of your brand:  a one-line summation (or ‘umbrella’) of what the core themes are all about; your brand is really a story of ______. The meta-theme provides a collective perspective and ideally offers a ‘timeless truth’ about your brand. In the case of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, the meta-theme we identified as "I belong here...and I'm better for it", which then led to creation of new tagline: "Stay True to You".

By articulating each point on the brand compass, a company effectively finds its unique true north. Before every key business decision is made, the organization can then ask itself, “is what we’re about to do in alignment with our brand story?"

Why You Must Have a Compelling Brand Story - Part Two

So how do you break through and stand out from the crowd? At the risk of stating the obvious, you must have a compelling brand story. And why is that? Here’s what my colleague and partner Edward Wachtman, co-founder of Storytellings says:

“To be human is to have a story and when you stop and think about it, we think of our lives as a story. Story is the structure that gives meaning and order to our lives. Instead of trying to make sense of the literally millions of independent events that comprise our lives, we intuitively organize them into an orderly sequence of events. We have a past, a sense of where we came from; a middle, who we are now; and a future, what we aspire to become. This is essentially the same structure - beginning, middle, end - that makes up a story.

But simply standing out from the crowd is not enough. You—and by you, I mean your brand—must establish an emotional connection with your customers and you have to be meaningfully differentiated. And you do that with a compelling brand story.

 A quick Internet search of companies reveals that many organizations view their Brand Story as a version of their company histories. Interesting as these histories may be—and often they are very compelling—they fail in their primary purpose, which is to emotionally connect people to the brand.

We’re talking about a story that emotionally connects you with each customer, deeply and personally. At its very best and most powerful, your story transcends time, culture, and location because it speaks to those ageless and unchanging truths about the human experience—birth, mating and marriage, family, growing up, growing old, kinship, struggling against all odds, etc. That’s the story that needs to be told through everything you do.

You use your Brand Story to communicate what you stand for, what you promise, and what your customer’s will experience.

The extraordinary appeal of the world’s most successful brands is based on their mythic qualities – qualities that have moved people to action since the beginning of time, such as self-reliance, freedom, empowerment, belonging, self-discovery.  Brands such as Apple, Nike, Harley Davidson, Tiffany, and Starbucks have become storytellers of these myths through relevant modern narratives which resonate with consumers at a deep emotional level.

But think for a moment…even though there are so many companies now employing some form of storytelling, there just aren’t that many truly memorable brand stories…how many can you come up with that have truly inspired you, and moved you to act? So despite all the marketplace clutter and noise, there is space for your brand story to be heard, read and embraced.

So how and where do you get started? At Cascadia Marketing, we begin the process with a thorough examination of your brand’s DNA, the building block that determines how your customers perceive you and how well your brand meshes with their needs. The result – a brand compass document that helps guide and direct all subsequent branding, marketing and communications efforts.  For more insight on how this process works, please read my post “A Brand Compass—the Key to Finding Your True North.”

Why You Must Have a Compelling Brand Story - Part One

Think back when we were children. What were the four of the most memorable, powerful and magical words we used to hear usually every day and sometimes many times each day from mom, dad and our teachers? For many of us, it was—or still is if you have children—‘Once upon a time.’ Four words that move you, that transport you to a different time, to a different place.

What do stories do? They persuade. Teach. Amuse. Divert. Inspire. Bring us together. Help us to remember. Allow us imagine and dream. Stories are how we make sense of the world. And they just might inspire you to think differently and/or to take action.

Storytelling is not something we just happen to do. It is something we virtually have to do if we want to remember anything…the stories we create are the memories we have.  From author and blogger Paddy Harrington: “Stories become the source code for who we are and who we want to be.” Bottom line…it’s in our DNA to think and tell stories.

Stories are a priceless culture-shaping tool. They help us to understand how we "fit in" to the larger social order. They are the principal means for transmitting what’s really important to the tribe, the clan, and the community.  From stories we learn the relative notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

Flash forward to today and we are being inundated with marketing, media and messages. The truth is, your primary competition is not from other people or companies and who make, sell or do something similar to you. No, your real competition is the extreme clutter and nonstop 24/7 noise of the global digital marketplace.

And not just the noise from traditional outbound ‘interrupt-driven’ mass market advertising; more than ever it’s the user generated content via social media that competes for our limited attention span. The number of marketing messages the average person is exposed to every day is now reported to be 3,000 or more, double the number from 45 years ago.

At the same time, according to Marty Neumeier, author of Zag and the Brand Gap, our ability to pay attention to marketing messages has not grown at all. Despite a 75% increase in advertising, “evidence shows we’re paying less attention to any given product, message or medium.”

Neumeier says, and I agree with him, that for the first time in history, the most powerful barriers to competition are not controlled by companies but by customers who erect mental walls and noise filters to keep out the clutter. Not to mention how today’s consumers are armed to the teeth with DVR’s, tablets, and smart phones.

Command and control is dead. The new rules: you don’t market to customers, you market with them. You invent, they participate. They invent; you consider, improve, produce and distribute. They validate. They adopt. They spread the word. It’s all about cooperation and co-creativity. The former 4 P’s of marketing—product, place, price and promotion and been replaced by the 5 E’s—empathy, experience, everyplace, exchange and evangelism. Marketing matters...more than ever.

In other words, customers co-own the brand with you. And if you don’t embrace this emerging paradigm, much of your marketing is almost certain to be dead on arrival.

The Power (and Pitfalls) of Being an 'Inside Out' Brand

Having worked for many years in upscale travel & hospitality as an employee or consultant for some of the world's  finest companies (Mountain Travel Sobek, Virtuoso, TCS Expeditions, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Wildland Adventures), I  confess to having a love/hate relationship with 'inside out' brands. Nearly every adventure travel operator and boutique hospitality company are inside out brands, built from scratch driven by the spirit and personality of a founder (or founders) and a unique internal culture that evolved over the years. Contrast this with brands that are built mostly—or sometimes exclusively—on marketing. The dot-com's in the heyday of Silicon Valley being perhaps the most extreme example.

The inside out brands I've been associated with all have wonderfully unique brand stories, defined by vision, passion and purpose. Some inside out brands literally created new categories or product lines; a great example dates back to 1969 when Leo LeBon, Allen Steck and Barry Bishop founded Mountain Travel and introduced trekking in the Himalayas to North Americans. As a marketer and brander, that's the part I love. You've got so much work with. And as your company grows and you meet and exceed the expectations of your customers, you begin building a true brand tribe…people who are passionate about you and love to talk, blog and Twitter about you.

But the reality is many inside out brands don't really understand their brand story and thus cannot define or describe it, let alone communicate it in a way to be meaningfully different and truly stand out in an increasingly crowded and digitally noisy marketplace. The fundamental essence of a brand—essentially a brand's DNA—is where the real buried treasure lies, waiting to be uncovered. Until you discover it, your branding and marketing efforts might still be good, possibly great. But you will miss the big opportunity to truly set yourself apart and build an iconic brand. It's like looking at a beautiful iceberg and thinking you're seeing it all when in reality the majority of it is hidden from view.

If you're an owner, founder, CEO or senior marketing person with a company that has an inside out brand, I urge you set aside some time and reflect on your brand story. Do you honestly know it, understand it…and live it? Equally if not more importantly, do your customers get your brand story? Too many companies have shallow or unfocused brand stories, or they continue to operate with a brand story that needs to be refreshed or they think is being sufficiently communicated when in reality it's not. Chances are, your true brand story is deeper and more vibrant than you realize and it is waiting to be unearthed.

Investing the time, resources and money to do this type of brand research 'archeology' can pay huge rewards. If done right, every aspect of your business—operations, traditional marketing, social media, sales, PR, training, partnerships & alliances, etc., will be enhanced significantly. You might update (or re-do) your web site, change your tag line, revise your product offering, re-think how you train your office staff, field staff, etc. By translating your brand DNA into creative and strategic marketing, you will be different, you will stand out and stand a much better chance of building enduring emotional bonds with customers.

I started by saying I have a love/hate relationship with inside out brands. Truth is, there's a whole lot more to love then hate. But I'd hate for anyone running a travel or hospitality company that has an inside out brand to not fully leverage the incredible power comes from really knowing who you are, where you're going, why you are meaningfully different and then communicating it to the right people.