Growth Hacking: 5 tips for marketers… and a little inspiration.

Growth hacking has been hot on the lips of digital marketers for while now; it’s a technique that’s easy to understand but a little harder to practice. When a brand “growth hacks”, it delves deep into the world of its audience, to understand its audiences’ perspectives and create products and services around their needs and desires. Brands start by carefully measuring their audience’s feedback, preferences and behaviors, in order to create, trial and augment products and services to better suit the customer. Growth hackers are customer thrill seekers and problem solvers at heart; searching for the subliminal product / market fit, in order to drive business growth and, in its ultimate application, transform category growth.

Growth hacking means taking an experimental, creative and data-driven approach to the way business is conducted. While the approach is often led by marketing, it’s inherently a cross-functional discipline, drawing together many functions of a business, particularly R&D, Marcomms, Sales, Engineering, Production and Distribution, to gear around the customer. There’s also the “small” matter of C-suite buy in 🙂

To the digital marketing natives among us, growth hacking should be like breathing air, it is both the form and function of how we operate. It’s our job to listen to audiences at both a micro and macro level to surface insights that inspire new ways of conducting business. How many times have you listened to your communities and thought “Why can’t my brand just do what the people want?” To growth hack and transform a business in a way that delights both audiences and shareholders is a marketer’s ultimate dream! The secret to a successful hack is internal buy-in, a degree of organizational agility and perception change – stakeholders need to see that marketing isn’t just a cost centre and can meaningfully inform and shape business growth.

So… you lookin’ for a revolution, punk? Here are 5 tips for developing a growth hacking initiative that will help noise things up:

  1. Start with data-fueled insights, backed up with examples: Growth hacking isn’t an assumption, it’s premised on known information conveyed by customer data. Use the wealth of first, second and third party data that’s open to you. Form use cases and user personas premised on market examples that are representative of your findings
  2. Make decent business cases: Notice the plural here? Don’t just get stuck on one good idea. Get used to (rejection) writing compelling, succinct business cases. Keep it simple, but do your best to include the opportunity, the mutual benefit, the risk, cost, tech, timescale, measurement frameworks, operational and organizational impact and capability. Granted, you may not have full visibility over this, however it can be top line and seek input… which takes us to our next point:
  3. Gather your allies: Start with those who are most likely to understand where you’re coming from, such as your R&D and sales people, for instance and search for allies throughout the organization: a friendly face in distribution could be a killer addition to your renegade growth hacking team.
  4. Allocate a budget for experimentation: September is soon upon us and we’re gearing up for 2019 planning. Now’s the time to allocate a budget for marketing innovation. It doesn’t have to be big… but enough to conduct some monitoring, market testing, customer segmentation, outreach and trial.
  5. Prepare to be challenged: Similar to digital transformation initiatives, of which growth hacking is a natural cousin, expect people to be resistant to change. It’s human nature. Don’t be dismayed, all you need is a small green light to set your idea fly! Remember, all those detractors will become the initiative’s biggest advocate once they small success. Again, it’s human nature.

Need a little inspiration?

Let’s take a look at some of the best examples of growth hacking, to give you a bit of context and hopefully inspire you:

  1. The WIN/WIN.

Dropbox increased their signups by 60% by using growth hacking techniques to grow their customer base and augment their product to better suit their customers needs. In their early start-up years they experimented with many different hacking techniques and were recognized at The Webbys and The Crunchies for their results. One of their most successful initiatives was their “Refer a Friend” through which they were able to exponentially grow their customer base. Existing customers were offered 500mb of extra storage for every friend they managed to recruit via the link, the incentive worked both ways as the new joiners also received the same bonus. By offering the same incentive to the new user, they are encouraged to pass on the message further and so the growth continues. Essentially Dropbox was able to get its existing customers base to take charge of the marketing to potential customers, at very little cost. In addition to this, the referral process has much more credibility than traditional advertising as users were more inclined to trust information that comes from someone they know. 

2. INSPIRED BY HUMAN NATURE.

For our second example we’re going to club Gmail and Hotmail together (so controversial, we know). Both used classic characteristics of human nature, namely curiosity and belonging, to attract their audiences.

Hotmail launched in 1996, with “PS, I love you, get your free email at Hotmail.” This curious tagline, punched on the base of emails, sparked global virality… and the rest is history.

Gmail’s 2004 launch was same same but different; it launched by releasing invites to 1,000 tastemakers and granted them permission to refer friends. A gmail invite became the hottest invite in town – we remember the mad scurry to get said invite, it was a digital social status *thing*!

As you can see, successful growth hacking often comes about from leveraging the nature and behavior of audiences and working with them so that all parties involved benefit. And while everyone’s talking the technique up, wouldn’t you agree that listening to your customers needs and acting on them to drive business growth is simply common sense*? We certainly think so.

Please share with us your thoughts and experiences on growth hacking.

*And yes, we are more than well aware of “that” Henry Ford quote and guess what? He never said it!

Image credit: Bruno Cervera / Unsplash

2018 Media and Marketing Trends across Content, Data and Technology. PART 3: DATA

Data is the flavor of the month

Skidding around the door like a late, naughty school-kid, comes our third post on Data Trends for 2018. Get in here, you scallywag!

Data science and its marketing is a subject that is here to stay, which to us, is refreshing in an industry too often full of whimsy and subjectivity. Over the past few years, however, our industry has developed a twisted relationship with data. At times we’ve seen it as a silver bullet, overplaying our hand, measuring “things” just because they can be measured without objectively interpreting the meaning or impact of what we’re doing; hello, fan count! Then there’s the bright, new shiny stuff in the world of emerging data trends that is cooooool. But first, we need to wind our way through the woods of regulation to get there. So let’s talk first about what’s around the corner and then reward ourselves with the awesome shiny toys of the future.

Measurement in a mire

It’s well known that we have an ongoing issue in terms of measurement; for example, while research says that online video is the present and the future, the major players can’t align on industry-wide benchmarks as they relate to it. Sure, action is being taken – internal councils are being formed, third-party integration solutions and independent industry audits are being conducted… but a lot of it is simply sound and fury, given that the actions aren’t necessarily solving the brand owner’s problem. Industry bodies such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Media Ratings Council (MRC) have been active in trying to progress discussion but you only have to look at their recent Digital Video Impression Measurement Guidelines, released in October 2017 for public discussion, to see that we’re not making progress fast enough. When you don’t have major media players such as Facebook and Omnicom at the table, there’s a telling sign. Also – notice the narrowing of the title? Now, major players, such as Nestle and HP are going out on their own; we predict that others will follow and that solutions will come from the brands and media intelligence firms this time, rather than the platform players, establishing metrics that matter to their business rather than industry-agnostic measures of old.

Walled gardens rise as a butterfly effect takes hold

There’s no way of putting this mildly: the free ride for brands on digital media – particularly as it relates to data acquisition is well and truly over and the stakes are rising for publishers.  The EU’s General Data Protection Law (GDPR) brings consumer protection firmly into the limelight. What’s worrying is how many brands, agencies and developers have their eyes closed to it but to do so is dangerous from a reputation, legal and financial POV. Why? Read our previous post for background, with advice from MENA media legal eagle, Fiona Robertson.

A perhaps unintended consequence of the GDPR laws is the rise of the walled garden, aka closed platforms. Platforms will now have to work harder at providing truly compelling, free services in exchange for audiences to provide them with personal data. No way will they be giving customer data away for free anymore. While GDPR is designed to protect its audience, it means an increase in advertising investment from brands seeking personalized customer interaction and validated audience data from platforms. Expect brands to be a lot more discerning about their media spends, a lot more demanding when it comes to data quality and unfortunately… for the smaller publishers to suffer they don’t get their ducks in a row. Throw in the universal uptake of ad-blockers and the repeal of net neutrality (which we are still in denial about) and you can see just how well-protected these walled gardens will be.

We asked location tech firm, Blis’, Managing Director Puja Pannum to weigh in. “Understanding audiences and where to reach them is a marketer’s number one priority before their first dollar is spent, and with more and richer data, targeting capabilities naturally improve. While it’s an absolute priority to protect consumer data, it is also beneficial [for vendors] to be transparent with brands about ROI and footfall data. But to do that, it needs to go both ways,” said Puja. “Brands need to be as transparent and open about their analytics and data sources, like loyalty card data and Google analytics, as vendors are about ROI. Currently, this is the only missing element in end-to-end transparency, something players on both sides should be striving for. In 2018, promoting the sharing of these kinds of data will help brands and their chosen partners build campaigns on more data sources and benefit from a holistic view of what’s working versus what’s not.”

Human + machine gives birth to Digital Twins

One of the more interesting aspects to come from the fusion of Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning is the Digital Twin. A Digital Twin is a virtual replica of physical assets, processes and systems which uses data to enable understanding, learning, reasoning and prediction. The aviation, aerospace and automotive sectors are the leaders in this field, whereby real-time analytics of critical aspects (such as tyre pressure, temperature, distance and speed) have been used to optimize efficiencies.

Where Digital Twin technology starts to get really interesting is in the area of predictive modeling and future-proofing, where we’ll start to see not just the what but the why, generated by the emergence of the “Digital Thread”. The Digital Thread is the contextualization or connectedness of data, informed by the integration of large and multiple data flows, both real time and historical, leading to actionable information – such as establishment of digital twins being able to accurately predict a range of outcomes at scale.

Gartner predicts that by 2021 around half of large industrialized companies will be using Digital Twins. All this said, Digital Twin technology has been around for decades – were it not for Digital Twins, the Apollo 13 mission may well have been doomed – it was this practice that enabled them to mirror how they could rescue the mission when it ran into trouble. Without Digital Twin technology, there would be no Mars rover Curiosity! Take a look at the video below, to see how curiosity, technology, ingenuity and data join forces to make miracles!

Thanks for reading our 2018 trends across content, technology and data. Please feel to drop us a line and let us know what you’re thinking about in this realm and of course, we welcome your feedback too!

 

2018 Media and Marketing Trends across Content, Technology and Data. PART 2: TECHNOLOGY

Technology Empowers the Maker Generation

In the second of our three part series on 2018 trends, we now turn our gaze to technology. In this piece, we’re going to look at social trends produced by technology, rather than tech trends in and of themselves – there’s already squillions of posts out there on AR before VR, blockchain, mobile first approaches, addressable media, voice and mood recognition, data driven content and video content, just to name a few “trends”. Instead, we’ll be looking at social and cultural nuances directly influenced by technology, specifically as they relate to Generation Z, otherwise known as The Maker Generation.

Generation Z is fascinating and of great importance for a number of reasons. Firstly, in the Middle East Gen Z comprises half of the regional population – double that of the US or UK. Gen Z are our first true digital natives, born to digital-savvy parents – namely GenX –  into a world of advanced technological accessibility on a personal scale, with smartphones and social media for example prevalent in their lives since birth. This is the generation that will deal with “the singularity” and will need to assume the lead in addressing the social, moral, economic, ethical and political questions that the advent of such advances necessarily demand. Then there’s the small issue of looming environmental catastrophe that they must address. The reality and viewpoint of this generation will be so different to any other generation the world has seen – and we are already seeing signs of this emerging.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at where things heading today, in 2018.

On Work.

Today’s young adult is different. Unlike their millennial counterparts, a hallmark of Gen Z is a realistic and practical worldview; young adults of today don’t have experience of a life before economic instability and certainly don’t expect opportunities to be handed to them, rather they know that they have to make their own opportunities and be financially responsible. Industriousness, the ability to multi-task, resourcefulness, collaboration and entrepreneurship are hallmarks of this generation. Accessible, crowdfunded tech and collaborative workspaces are emerging symbols of this new way of working: check out the beautiful work being produced by Pier 9, as one example, where one exhibition required that each piece be made available via Instructables and a Creative Commons license, inviting anyone to collaborate.

While some educators lament that, as a result of technology, the attention span of this generation has dwindled, others recognize that the education system itself must necessarily change to become more collaborative. This is the generation that can code, does schoolwork on the cloud and is highly visual due the digital nature of work and interaction.  “Gen Z have always known how to pinch and swipe. They have grown up with hi-def, surround sound, 3D and now 4D – 360 degree photography and film is their normal. Ultra slow motion and hi-speed video is their standard.” (Sparks & Honey, Pew Research, 2012).

On Play.

Where are our young rebels, our wild-eyed-yet-wet-behind-the-ears individuals demanding a brighter future and showing us the way through music, art and culture? They’re not hanging out, partying or protesting the way generations before have done. But that doesn’t mean for a second that this generation is apathetic, far from it. This generation is different.

According to a recent “Think With Google” study, only 15% of Gen Z prefer to connect in person versus 56% who would rather connect through SMS or messaging apps. According to the same study, nearly 3 in 10 teens say they text with people who they’re physically with at the time.

What does this say?

When you overlay this data with other behavioral and attitudinal data, we start to see a clearer picture; this generation sees themselves as collaborative change-agents, a group that will hack the world for the better. And while potentially more physically reclusive than generations that have come before them, in this region, they still want to stand out and online is where their party’s at. In fact, I would argue that online is where GenZ’s “id” – the part of the personality that demands gratification of needs and pleasures – finds its outlet. Looking at this through the theory of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you can begin to see how technology, particularly social technology is impacting the two top tiers – those being self-fulfillment and psychological needs.

On World View.

As you can see, interesting research is beginning to emerge on this generation. According to a study conducted by the Center of Generational Kinetics, personal safety is high on Gen Z’s agenda. They can articulate the impact that social media has on their sense of self worth. Nearly half (42%) report they’ve been bullied online. Being a generation focused on positive and inclusive social movement Gen Z won’t tolerate these actions and it will be interesting to see how they find ways to solve this issue. Youth research consultancy Sparks & Honey found that Gen Z’s outlook is about togetherness; they’re more mature and have greater humility as realists compared to Millennials. Other research indicates a keen sense of financial responsibility.

A creative, resourceful and hyper-connected generation is emerging; one which is vastly different to millennials. For brands to meaningfully engage with The Maker Generation, they must find ways to nurture and empower their ambitions, to listen, collaborate, engage in real-time and ultimately have the confidence to stand back and watch them fly.

 

 

Digital Transformation. Buyer, Beware!

I’ve been watching the rise of the digital transformation business trend, as it relates to marketing and communications, over the past year or so with an eagle eye and a raised eyebrow. Why? As experts in the field of developing digital and through-the-line marketing communications efforts, I’m skeptical of the way the industry is conducting its practice.

See, this industry is so good at jumping on and running with a buzzword. IoT! Big Idea! Big Data! Everyone’s gone native, pitched this, propped that and worn the T-shirt with pride. But oftentimes that t-shirt is a couple of sizes too big…

In the instance of Digital Transformation, agencies and consultancies are galvanizing and pitching themselves as masters of the trade without necessarily equipped with the tools and know-how but arguably more importantly, without fully appreciating the weighty implications this carries for their clients.

In this day and age, I believe that, sometimes, in order to speed up one must first slow down. In the frantic race to digitize all the things, including my left pinkie, I invite you to take a moment so I can share with you my top-line thoughts and recommendations for organizations being pitched a digital transformation initiative. I’m happy to discuss further and at great length also, feel free to get in touch at hello@bravoromeobyaj.com

  1. Digital Transformation can mean anything. When you’re being pitched digital transformation, it’s essential to really get a clear idea of what exactly that person or company is referring to and how profound a change it will have. Depending on who you’re talking to it could mean anything from “let’s put all your marketing and communications online” all the way to “let’s completely change your business model and organizational structure” and everything in between. A digital transformation initiative is not something to take lightly as it has the potential to have huge consequences (hopefully great and long-lasting ones!). It requires serious auditing, very well thought out and informed strategy and operational roll-out, including robust measurement frameworks.
  2. Organize around the audience. While we’re a digital-led marcomms firm, I’ll be the first to tell you that TV and radio are not dead. Declined consumption and media fragmentation? Sure. But it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. First and foremost it’s important to understand where your audience is, how they interact with various forms of media, be it a podcast or pole poster, and plan accordingly. Think message before medium. 
  3. Infuse rather than pivot. Touching on my point above, integrated marketing communications (IMC) means using a range of touchpoints to communicate meaningfully. It is not a buzzword. IMC is a practice which has been around way before I first cut my teeth as a digital copywriter in a below-the-line ad agency, back in 1999. IMC is a responsible practice, which takes all touchpoints into consideration to make sure the brand story is revealed in a way that is well-received by its intended audience.

When we started Bravo Romeo earlier this year, we thought long and hard about digital transformation as a practice and really thought about what it meant and what our promise and philosophy is. What we quickly realized is that digital transformation within a marketing and communications context should be best practiced as part and parcel of IMC: responsibly, thoughtfully, beta testing, reviewing and augmenting to see what resonates with key stakeholders and what doesn’t; by overlaying the audience’s interests with business objectives and setting measurement frameworks which align with these objectives. We’re with team Solis here, digital transformation should be gradual and phased.

So, if you’re setting out on a digital transformation mission, ensure you’ve done your homework, ensure you have a compelling commercial and strategic mandate to make such a change and ensure you have the right partners on board. Because, pussycat, in an age where everything is faster, faster just be sure that the rush to the big shiny tech toy doesn’t kill kill.

Why You Can’t Afford To Operate In A Marcomms Vacuum

Guys, we need to get it together.

Here is a truth; everyone in this industry, no matter whether they’re client side or agency side wants to do great work. Everyone. Whether on a grand or small scale, we all want to do work that moves the dial and inspires action.

Lately however, I’ve been reading posts, mostly on LinkedIn, with people from agency land emotionally wilting. Feeling lost, miserable, their work feeling futile. I was quite taken aback by some of the discussions; they were coming from heavy hitters – some very well-established international industry types and they were utterly lamenting. Why? Budgets are being cut. They can’t get their work through. Struggling to find meaning, that sort of thing.

Client side, it’s same-same-but-different. I recently had a senior regional brand owner,  sit at my kitchen table on a sunny Saturday morning to discuss how she just felt like she was spinning her wheels. Internal alignment was a nightmare, managing her many agencies felt like herding cats, budgets had been slashed and she just didn’t feel that she could move the dial. And how on earth could she keep herself and her people up-to-date with everything that’s going on in the digital world?

This gig is tough at the moment, on a number of levels. We all know that. There is a little silver lining however: challenging times can be a strangely inspiring and produce quite incredible work. It forces people to spring into action and get it together; to think sharply and make the best of the resources they have.

In this environment, collaboration is key to success. In this crazy, hectic, sometimes bonkers world of acronyms, algorithms, and addressability, you simply can’t go it alone. There’s too much to know and too many opportunities to miss out on. In this feature in Campaign Magazine, we talk a little more about our thoughts on this and the role that we play in helping agencies and brand owners work in a more cohesive manner. Have a read and we invite you to share your views: http://campaignme.com/2017/09/10/112856/bravo-romeo-story/ 

The Cannes Lions Direct Jury ‘Elected A Trump’ by Awarding Burger King

Call it a stunt, call it a cheap thrill, call it what you will – just don’t call it good work.

I got into this industry because, even as a kid, bad adverts *really* annoy me. I therefore made it my business to create work that respects its audience. It’s a personal vendetta.

When I saw Burger King’s ‘Google Home Hack’ my stomach turned. It’s a gimmick, a 15-second video with a smarmy kid saying “OK Google, what is a Whopper?” which then triggers users’ Google Home devices to read aloud the Whopper’s Wikipedia page.

Honest to god, this work makes me see red. Essentially it’s malware dressed as an advert – a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sure, on the surface of things it may appear “clever” but how commercially smart was it? Here we have a brand that thinks it’s worthwhile to invade your home technology, trigger it to blurt product info – literally a list of ingredients – at you whilst enabling the tech to listen to private conversations without your active consent. 

And it’s, well, boring. The brand could have at least created something worth hearing, a funny joke, an interesting story. But no. What a missed opportunity. Voice recognition technology is just coming of age – the creative opportunity was simply squandered!

You can imagine therefore my shock and dismay at seeing this work be awarded a Direct Grand Prix at Cannes. According to the website, “the Direct Lions celebrate response-driven and relationship-building creativity. Entries will need to demonstrate the pursuit and application of customer relationships, directly targeting a specific audience with a call-to-action which produces measurable and meaningful results.” 

Relationship-building creativity? No. Pursuit and application of customer relationships? No. It it was abusive and opens the door to create mistrust. The brand placed its own desires at the expense of its audience – it’s clear the brand saw more value in creating a media stunt and garnering buzz than providing content of value. And sure, there were results in terms of media value and buzz – but not meaningful results. Nothing in terms of actual bottom line customer action – you know, direct response – the category it was entered into. 

It’s rare that I get mad but when I do…  I hunted that jury down. I was taking names and I was taking numbers. I wanted the lowdown on what that jury was smoking. Lo and behold, we have one amongst us in Dubai! I reached out to Ogilvy’s Sascha Kuntze. He was on the jury that short-listed the work. I explained my issue with the work and I asked him to defend it. Here’s what he had to say:

“Your point about it being a wolf in sheep’s clothing is rather a compliment to the idea than a negative. Advertising is intrusive in its nature. It’s accessing your inner thoughts and changes them to make you want to buy stuff. Whether that’s morally good or not is to be discussed elsewhere. Being cheeky like the idea was fits the brand well. A brand that has discontinued their flagship product once to create outrage and a consumer reaction. A brand that sold a proud whopper in an environment that wasn’t necessarily open to it. A brand that made giant chicken talk. Essentially it’s an (effectively) intrusive way that’s fun rather than boring. Imagine an ad getting your dumb phone to do something because it thinks it’s you. It’s almost a satire of the mobile dependent times we live in. And (though I think not intended) a charming warning that maybe we should look at how much technology we allow into our lives and how much we should focus on the simpler things in life instead. Like a chargrilled burger for example.”

I appreciate and respect Sascha’s point of view. However if you ever wanted to know the difference between an advertising agency and a content marketing firm, it’s summed up by our respective philosophies here. What are your thoughts on the piece, dear reader?

Work like this is exactly the opposite of what we do at Bravo Romeo. We believe that to build brand equity in today’s market, brands need to focus on more audience-centric strategies, fusing the audience’s interests with the business’s goals and finding common ground from which to tell cool stories. Like Calvin Klein did just last week and like Mercedes did here in Dubai earlier this year. As Red Bull and GE have been doing for years. Check out that work. Nice huh? Cool, exciting, creative, effective. 

On a  final and funny note, the campaign did have one accidental highlight. The audience hacked back, corrupting the Whopper’s Wikipedia page, and altered the list of ingredients to say that the Whopper was made with “100% medium sized child”. Ha ha ha, BK, it’s true, you flame-grilled your audience – great to see they burnt you back.

How to create and destroy a masterpiece. A case study of Twin Peaks’ content marketing and creative compromise.

“I don’t think it has a chance of succeeding. It is not commercial, it is radically different from what we as viewers are accustomed to seeing, there’s no one in the show to root for.” – Paul Schulman, Senior Media Analyst

This radically different show was Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks; a series that would go on to be listed as one of the greatest ever made; described by Time magazine as “the most hauntingly original work ever done for American TV.” Without giving too much away, its success lay in taking a typical TV drama format and turning that format inside out in the most strange and oftentimes hilarious way. Creative insight in the form of relate-ability was also a critical factor: Lynch held a mirror up to society… and then completely messed with everyones’ heads.

Now, after 25 years, Twin Peaks is coming back for one last season. And there’s a reason for this, which we’ll get to later.

But first, Twin Peaks is a compelling case study in excellence as well as pitiful failure. And on the eve of its return on May 21, 2017, I’d like to share a number of lessons I’ve taken from it, as it’s influenced my approach to content marketing strategy over the years.

Lesson 1: Don’t be afraid to do things differently… so long as it’s impactful and relevant

From the get-go, Twin Peaks refused to give the game away; and the launch marketing campaign reflected that. Rather than tell the public what was coming, the campaign teased and aroused curiosity, in order to drive WOM. It did so using unconventional marketing mediums for TV, such as pole posters. It gave people a personal motivation to watch, rather than simply saying “watch this”. With a curious audience psychologically primed ahead of its very first broadcast, Twin Peaks scored ABC’s highest ratings in four years for the time slot. 

Twin Peaks credit Twin Peaks Archive
Tactics include poles posters with hotline numbers. Credit@TwinPeaksArchive 

This time around it’s no different – only digital and social media are here. There are hotline numbers with bizarre recorded messages, podcast readings of Laura Palmer’s diary, clues and challenges in snippets of video. The show’s marketing tactics alone are generating media attention. 

Their strategy is interesting and effective. Twin Peaks takes a very grassroots, granular approach to its marketing, rather than applying a blanket, mass media approach. On one hand, it’s less expensive from a media buy perspective; on the other, it takes more resources to apply. The show’s marketers respect the intelligence of its audience, by providing content that gets fans to think, work and discuss together. It was a brilliant strategy in 1991 and it remains so in its digitally updated form, today. 

Lesson 2. BE BRAVE.

There’s no doubt that the second series of Twin Peaks was a massive failure. Despite international critical and public acclaim, despite the ratings, television executives remained determined that they knew better than the show’s creators. They forced Frost and Lynch to reveal the biggest plot mystery. And Frost and Lynch agreed to. 

Big mistake.

Twin Peaks’ ratings plummeted, the plot unravelled and the public – other than the die-hard super-fans – walked away. As did David Lynch. The entire production disintegrated until the last few episodes where Lynch returned to try and salvage what was left.

You see it all too often – clients or senior stakeholders watering down a big idea or brave strategy and creators allowing it to happen. I have a plea for both parties on this point:

Senior stakeholders – we are all in this together. Our success is fundamentally tethered to yours. So stick your neck out a little. Stop trying to be so controlling. Trust your experts and be brave.

Content strategists and creatives – hold your nerve. Draw on insights and be prepared to defend your case with a proper rationale – with relevant supporting data/info where possible. Don’t back down unless you really have to. Be prepared to walk away. Be brave.

This time around, Frost and Lynch took no prisoners. When Lynch didn’t get the funding he needed from Showtime, he simply cancelled the deal, walked away and apologized to fans. A few weeks later, the deal was back on, Showtime found the additional budget to meet Lynch’s creative requirements. Clearly everyone had learned the lessons from 25 years ago. Brave move on both parts.

Lesson 3. Persevere in the face of failure and play the long game

Who on earth would have thought that when Laura Palmer creepily told Special Agent Dale Cooper, “I will see you again in 25 years,”  that it would actually happen! That it has, is a masterstroke in storytelling, coupled with a strong audience relationship.

In our previous post on the United Airlines’ crisis (mis)management scenario we talk about how brands can develop authentic relationships with their audiences that endure, how to create advocacy and how it sees brands through good times and bad. In the case of Twin Peaks, the hard work that was put into developing authentic relationships with viewers has endured a disastrous second season and a 25 year hiatus.

Through the years, a slow but fascinating stream of content continued, trickling down through books, music, art, film and even a Festival of Disruption. Influential appearances were made by unusual and high-profile people, such as Trent Reznor and David Bowie in unusual but high profile settings, such as NY Fashion Week, with Julee Cruise. It’s a very interesting long play, when you look at it through a content marketing lens. 

Bowie, McLachlan and Lynch in the prequel film, Fire Walk With Me.

Ultimately, in playing the long game, the creators of Twin Peaks are looking to win the war, rather than the battle. For marketers this means thinking in terms of a long term marketing calendar/ program rather than on a campaign-only basis, by being brave and giving deep thought to the content distribution strategy.

Crisis management and tone-deaf CEOs: How brands are creating untold losses through introverted communications

While it could be Game Over for United Airline’s CEO Oscar Munoz, it’s Game On for Emirates Airline and others.

Upon winning the accolade of PR Week’s Communicator Of The Year last month Oscar Munoz, United Airlines’ CEO, said “Communication and communication strategy is not just part of the game, it IS the game.” In our industry, never are truer words spoken. After Oscar Munoz’s response to a crisis this week, one can only imagine his giant facepalm.

April, it seems, is the season for kicking corporate own goals. In just a matter of weeks we’ve seen all manner of corporate and senior spokesperson public mishaps, from Sean Spicer to United Airlines. Crises that are mismanaged and subsequently  inflamed by internal stakeholders are sending stocks plummeting, drastically impacting both revenue and business continuity, giving rise to popular boycotts and creating media feeding frenzies.

The United Airlines Crisis

Just a few days ago, a Chinese doctor on an overbooked United Airlines flight was violently removed – on the airline’s command – and was left bleeding from the head, on a stretcher. His crime? He was a paying customer declining to leave on the basis that he had patients to see at the destination. The reason for his removal? United needed his seat – any seat – for their own employees. You can read the sordid story here. As you can imagine, passengers and public were shocked; the incident, recorded by other passengers, quickly became viral.

Rather than taking a humble step back, apologizing and demonstrating action and compassion for the victim, Oscar Munoz, the company’s CEO went on the offensive, describing the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent” and stating that the airline had simply followed company procedures. This, from the CEO named “Communicator of the Year”….

Cue: a 6% stock nosedive – roughly equating to $US1bn.

Cue: social media outcry and savage trolling. Like the fake image you see as the header on this post.

Cue: the media frenzy.

Cue: claims of racial profiling.

Cue: an international boycott, particularly in China, which is a key market.

Cue: a scathingly witty and on-point response by their nemesis, Emirates, which not only delivered a brilliant attack but also hijacked United’s tagline of “Fly The Friendly Skies” (with Emirates).

…And didn’t everyone have fun with the memes!

United Airlines satire

…Not to mention that wickedly funny parody ad from Jimmy Kimmel.

For United, this won’t just go away. What we are witnessing is just the beginning of  what is likely to be sustained financial and reputation damage and exposure. We are yet to see just how this impacts the airline over the longer term (it’s further compounded by the public outcry to the airline’s “leggings ban” just two weeks ago).

While the situation on-board was ghastly, the CEO’s response made matters worse; his was selfish, cold and astonishingly tone deaf to the situation and public sentiment. The fact that he backtracked with a softer statement – after the stocks had taken a tumble mind you – was not interesting to the media or public and at any rate, it appeared commercially motivated and insincere. 

There’s also a bigger play here. It’s in the context of the Open Skies dispute – a ‘Dynasty’-like saga between the Gulf airlines and US airlines. United has handed this disaster to Emirates on a golden platter. Emirates, with their relatable and ongoing campaign featuring “America’s Sweetheart” Jennifer Aniston are winning the battle for American hearts and minds. And this is a point so many senior executives fail to remember; ultimately, we are in the business of winning hearts and minds.

It doesn’t matter how many lobbyists and lawyers and politicians the US airline consortium throw at the Open Skies scenario, travelers are going to vote with their feet. If the public believe that they are going to get better, kinder, more attentive service from the Gulf airlines, then attempts at hurting them will just create a bigger backlash toward the US carriers – and we’ve seen signs of this with the recent laptop ban.

Certain other brands must be breathing a sigh of relief. Finally the attention has turned a little from them. But that’s another story entirely… or is it?

Brand Extroversion vs. Brand Introversion

Looking at the recent spate of crises, from brands such as United to public figures such as Sean Spicer, there is a common thread worth noting. At Bravo Romeo, we talk about introversion and extroversion in communications. By definition, introversion is the act of directing one’s attention toward or getting gratification from one’s own interests, thoughts, and feelings. In an age of economic uncertainty and hard revenue targets, it’s seemingly too easy for executives to get caught up in the day to day and lose sight of the bigger picture. Placing this in the context of United’s response, you can see an introverted communications mentality at work. They’re blinkered, they can’t see the woods for the trees, they are simply caught up in their own world instead of listening to the perspectives, needs and wants of others.

This is not best practice for a modern day business. A business operating in the technological world of new media must be responsive and proactive. They must be Brand Extroverts.

Why Your Brand Should Be an Extrovert

For brands, extroversion is all about forming positive, authentic relationships with customers and stakeholders. Relationships that endure. It’s about having a public that love you when times are good and still stand by and defend your brand when times are bad…. because the public know you have a proven history of caring for them and that you demonstrate interest in them.

Being a Brand Extrovert is a process that is incremental; and it takes hard work. It requires a long term communications program, not a “hit-and-run”, on/off campaign-based approach. Think of your communications activities as milestones in a long marathon, rather than individual sprints and having more granular, more two way conversations with the public.

Being a Brand Extrovert means having a communications and a content marketing strategy that gives equal priority to both the needs of the audience and the business. It involves listening to the customer, reaching out proactively and developing products, services and communications around their needs.

This is a business strategy we’re talking about here – not “just” a communications strategy – and subsequently it must have buy-in at the highest level with the communications lead given a permanent seat at the boardroom table.

The mentality of brand extroversion needs to run through the company, from the CEO to the Receptionist; as an internal and external communications culture. See it as part of your corporate DNA – because the minute a company looks to serve itself ahead of its customers, it is setting itself up to kick an own goal.