I have always been a little wary of anything that points decisively and conclusively to one answer. Because our role as marketers is to connect with human beings in ways that inspire or educate, it seems wrong that any part of that process resemble shepherding lambs along a singular path into a corral.
We should doubt any single answer, commonly accepted wisdom or the confines of prescribed process.
At first blush, a philosophy based on doubt can raise some eyebrows. It sounds so … well … doubtful. In fact, this approach has proven time and again to be 100 percent right by being 100 percent undefined.
In the ’90s, I first learned the idea of fuzzy logic. Originally coined in the ’60s by computer scientists confronted with the “on-off” limitations of computers, fuzzy logic solves problems more like the way humans do.
More recently, the study of neural networks has found widespread application in the quest to emulate human interaction. Why, for instance, do thousands of people streaming along Fifth Avenue dodge and weave around one another without incident? Neural networks are similarly patterned on human behavior and can learn from mistakes.
The wonderful thing about these developments is the friction and spark created by humanity and technology rubbing up against each other. We have all read and repeated the fact of life that brands today are no longer fully in control of their reputations. The bloggers and tweeters are. Technology is enabling humans to do what they do — be unpredictable.
The measure of our success has never been about being right; it has been about being relevant. Through “doubt” we have been able to ask: is the customer still looking where a six-month-old media plan told us they were looking? Have the social customs around a given subject changed in the last year or in the last week? This kind of thinking drives everything we do as marketers.
In San Francisco, Blue Shield placed statues of naked people in public places where nearby interactive booths explained that they were uncovered — like the 6.7 million Californians without healthcare. The interactive booths encouraged the public to comment in video testimonials that were added to a website that was rich in information on this highly provocative issue.
Though seemingly out of character for a health insurance provider, Blue Shield is an advocate of universal healthcare and with this campaign generated huge public and political awareness. In addition to nearly $2 million in editorial press coverage, the site generated more than 40,000 unique visitors, three percent of whom signed a petition asking state congressional lawmakers to make universal healthcare a priority.
In Montréal, plan B launched a “morning after” contraceptive by allowing women to share their “oops.” They could text messages to fill-in-the-blank on posters in bars, on campuses and on billboards. Their text completed phrases, like the “how did we end up on the redeye to Vegas” pill, and the “not enough condoms for a foursome” pill. Phrases were culled on a website where thousands could vote on the best to be deployed. From there, 28 percent clicked through to the corporate site, and spent up to five minutes learning about emergency contraception. The ultimate result: a 19 percent lift in sales.
In Toronto, Koodo launched a new wireless value brand. Aimed at youth, Koodo brought its quirky brand character to every media platform and branding opportunity, including call center response, packaging, mall kiosks, out-of-home, online, television, mobile games and more. The launch campaign was a parody of the ’80s aerobics craze, featuring fitness enthusiasts decked out in fluorescent colors, urging consumers to “shed that cellular cellulite” with an offer that’s “suitable for cost-reduced diets.” YouTube parodies were posted in no time flat and hundreds applied to be the next “Koodocizer.” Lesson: techie is not always the way to sell technology. In fact, Koodo was the most successful wireless launch in Canada. Ever.
Each of these campaigns used “doubt” to increase relevance to its target. The results are proof of its power. But my argument in favor of “doubt” goes one step further and raises another point: Sometimes we even have to doubt whether different is necessarily better.
Many are eager to say that television is dead, and that digital is our only future. Certainly we love to celebrate three million hits to a website over a three-day period. But how about 100 million viewers in 30 seconds? Sometimes a spot during the Super Bowl is still the right thing to do on its own merit, and to seed an even broader-reaching digital dialogue.
We simply have a bigger buffet of media options. Consumers will pick and choose, and for some it will be all you can eat. Whatever media options we use, they all contribute to the two-way brand dialogue that has trumped the one-way brand monologue of yesteryear. It is our business to speak for brands, and it is consumers’ business to speak for their world. We both know our roles.
The kind of work that our role requires has grown and changed, but the need for skill and talent has not. What separates good from great is consistency. In order for a brand message to be clear and compelling time and time again, we have to know our business and know our craft. Human insight, emotion, storytelling — the stock and trade of our industry — is now coupled with an understanding of consumers’ behavior online to help us navigate the era of social networking. People don’t engage with things they don’t respect, and their authenticity sensors are finely tuned.
Doubt lets us keep brands honest. By asking questions, we reveal the truths that brands share with the people who buy them and the culture in which we all live.
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