We are currently in the midst of a unique moment in our history and, consequently, in our marketing practices. Never before have marketers had such a wide array of options for launching campaigns and expanding their businesses. There is an abundance of channels and formats to choose from when it comes to communicating the brand, along with a wealth of data waiting to be analyzed and understood. It sounds like a dream come true, but the reality is, this era of abundance also presents its fair share of challenges.
With so many options at hand, brands are spending significant time, money and effort on creating content that sometimes fails to resonate with their target audience and build relevance in the long run. Crafting and sustaining iconic and culturally significant brands has never been a simple undertaking, but the rise of AI and the proliferation of content have further compounded this challenge—especially in a post-pandemic world where consumer attention is increasingly saturated and apathetic towards brand messaging.
If this sounds all too familiar, rest assured that you are not alone. As someone who has experienced these challenges firsthand, I understand the frustration. However, the key lies in recognizing your unique value and identifying the specific opportunities and tools to capitalize on.
The challenge: navigating a million touchpoints.
In the current landscape, brands encounter two primary challenges when it comes to their marketing efforts. The first one stems from the fact that consumers now place a growing emphasis on authenticity and genuine connections. As a result, their scrutiny of brand content and positioning has escalated. The second challenge has to do with their structure. More often than not, brands’ marketing teams have become more divided and hyper-focused, often operating in isolation with their metrics and objectives, neglecting the broader organizational and long-term strategies.
These teams often operate with a narrow perspective of their responsibilities. Brand teams focus on placing advertisements during prime-time TV slots, while performance teams prioritize generating ROI and revenue. Unfortunately, they often lack awareness of how the other team’s efforts impact their own. On top of that, there are thousands of touchpoints between the TV commercial and the static conversion piece—and it’s very dangerous to ignore them.
Google calls these thousands of mini-steps the messy middle, that place where people are constantly exploring and evaluating different brands and communications, feeding their decision-making biases and buying behavior. According to the 2020 report, the messy middle is a space of abundant information and unlimited choice, where consumers have learned to use cognitive shortcuts to navigate. In the traditional conversion funnel, we usually call this stage consideration, but a lot of potential is lost in considering it a single phase, without the nuances of people’s real consideration behavior.
Within the messy middle, there is an additional layer to consider when devising a marketing strategy. The consumption of content and media, in general, has changed a lot in the last two decades. What was once a futuristic notion, omnichannel has now become a tangible reality. Consumers now anticipate greater coherence and consistency between their digital and offline experiences. The democratization of content creation, largely propelled by platforms like TikTok, has resulted in audiences transitioning from mere consumers to content producers themselves (today, 41% of Gen Z identify as content creators). Lastly, the range of possibilities for content consumption has expanded exponentially, encompassing various screen sizes and often simultaneous use of multiple screens.
The solution: creativity and personalization take center stage.
Despite the challenges, brands and marketing professionals now have an abundance of resources at their disposal to navigate them and establish a strong strategic position. In a world gradually influenced by artificial intelligence and highly personalized media solutions such as Performance Max, creativity and diversity have become the main characters in a compelling brand narrative.
Embracing fresh perspectives and harnessing them to fuel creative innovation can transform your brand into a powerhouse. Brands and professionals who skillfully tap into this potential will gain a competitive edge in the years to come. How? To begin with, they must develop a comprehensive content production strategy that aligns with the brand’s mission and values while resonating with the fundamental emotions of the target audience.
It may seem necessary for a brand to be present in every conversation at all times. However, this approach is not only untrue, but can also harm consistency and relationships with loyal consumers. The role of a seasoned and strategic marketing professional is to thoroughly comprehend the core pillars that distinguish the brand and determine where and how its voice will be effectively heard by consumers.
To be relevant today is not about being on every channel, using every format and taking a stance on every issue, but rather about being meaningful wherever you are. With viewers becoming more discerning, capable of deciding within milliseconds whether to engage with content or not, mere presence is insufficient. Brands must strive to be an integral part of the culture, and engage with matters that align with their purpose and target audience.
Cultural listening, a relatively new concept, involves the skill of extracting and reinterpreting behaviors observed in a variety of media, such as TikToks, tweets, Instagram posts, songs, series, and other online or offline content, from a specific community. The objective is to navigate and thrive within a dynamic and ever-changing culture influenced by diverse factors—just look at how quickly TikTok’s viral trends come and go—without losing the brand essence.
In digital, social networks and content creators serve as powerful tools. They not only allow brands to gauge the cultural zeitgeist but also enable active collaboration with creators to evoke emotional connections and diverse perspectives, thus nurturing creativity. Offline, it is equally crucial to align with culturally relevant events like concerts and gatherings, since this sphere presents additional opportunities for brands to engage with the audience in a sensory and memorable way, fostering deeper communication and connection.
Every channel and touchpoint presents an opportunity to build a brand. At the end of the day, users don’t know the difference between brand and performance, they just know it’s brand communication and will judge it as such. The recipe for success lies in brand and performance teams working more and more closely together, exploring and learning together what the “messy middle” of the business is and how to guide consumers in their decision-making process.
In the face of apathy, it is culture that brings the solutions that marketing teams seek, while creativity has the power to transform channels and formats into communication powerhouses. It is our responsibility to cultivate sensitivity and incorporate both culture and creativity into our short-, medium-, and long-term marketing planning.
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