Getting Your Brand Permission Slip Signed

Melissa Parrish

“Marketer’s Note” is a regular column informing marketers about the rapidly evolving, digital marketing technology ecosystem. This week it is written by Melissa Parrish, Executive Director, AdExchanger Research.

Last week I spoke at an event about video marketing, and I met a marketer there who was in a bit of a quandary about some content that his company had recently developed. He’s dealing with a double-whammy: not just a new service, but a whole new type of service, targeted at a demographic that has never been introduced to the company before. The company decided to create an animated video with a Spanish voice over, hoping to be friendly and accessible.

But now that the video is made, some of the company’s stakeholders aren’t sure this was the right direction. Does it come across as accessible or condescending? Is it friendly or playing to insensitive stereotypes? These were questions I would like to have answered off the top of my head, but unfortunately I couldn’t help this marketer so easily. What I told him was that it all comes down to two important inputs: customer insights and brand permission.

There’s no substitute for great customer research. That will tell you what you need to know about your target customers’ expectations and will help you figure out what’s most likely to resonate with them. But that alone won’t guide you to the right strategy. You have to look at this data in the greater context of the world you’re operating in.

Consider what happened to Cartoon Network in 2007, when it decided on the provocative but seemingly innocent strategy of placing LED signs around Boston to promote a show. Maybe at a different time in history—or even just a different geography—this wouldn’t have caused a bomb scare. But in an “if you see something, say something” city, these devices looked just too unusual for citizens and police to ignore.

Second, it’s not enough to know what your target customers are likely to respond to in general– you have to consider what your brand has permission to say and do. Malaysia Airlines learned this lesson back in September when it tried to revive its brand reputation with a contest called My Ultimate Bucket List. To win airline tickets or an iPad, contestants had to answer the question, “What and where would you like to tick off on your bucket list?” From nearly any other airline this wouldn’t have been any problem at all; but considering that the whole point of this contest was to recover from two tragedies in which over 500 people lost their lives, After consumer backlash and embarrassing media coverage, the company pulled the entire campaign.

And finally, gut instinct must play a role too. The marketer I spoke with was clearly having misgivings, and whether those feelings turn out to be well-founded or not, they shouldn’t be ignored. Though I understand how the phrase “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night” fits perfectly with Bud Light’s new campaign around being ready for anything, I find it hard to believe that not a single person saw that among the list of slogans and felt a little uncomfortable. The solution? Speak up and then test, test, and test again. Focus groups? Yes. Online feedback? Yes. A/B tests? Yes. Sure, these things cost money, but in the worst-case scenario, you’ve learned your campaign will cause brand damage and spent a fraction of what you would’ve spent on crisis communications. In the best-case scenario, you’ve spent a bit more money to be totally confident you’ve made the right decision.

Gut instinct is never a substitution for great research. And customer research isn’t a substitution for understanding the world your brand lives in. Ultimately, it’s not just about picking the words that sound right to you. It’s about knowing what your brand, words, and images will mean to the people who matter most: your customer.

Follow Melissa Parrish (@MelissaRParrish) and AdExchanger Research (@AdExchangerRsch) on Twitter.

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