How do you build a lasting brand?
It’s an ever more prescient question in a world where the concept of the marketing funnel is breaking down, and as consumers, we’re relying more and more on our personal networks to make purchasing decisions.
If I want to buy a new camera, for example, my first port of call for tips is my WhatsApp group full of video gear-heads. And if I want to know where to get the best lobster roll in Boston, I’ll bypass Google and go straight to our #team-wistia Slack Channel.
How do all of these recommendations come about? Some are a consequence of direct personal experience, but some are driven by word of mouth (Maureen) and others by an ineffable affinity for the state of Maine (Jay). As a business, chances are that you want to encourage more of this type of behavior.
Contemporary thinking would suggest you focus on improving your overall "brand experience" — which is the notion that every interaction customers have with your business (both inside and outside of their purchasing cycle) contributes to the overall perception of your brand, which drives preference and purchasing intent.
Because our brands have become the essential factor that dictates what we choose to buy, and most importantly, what products and services others recommend to us, this has lead businesses to invest more in it.
Brand-building efforts centered around improving and optimizing the customer experience look like the following:
- Designing our websites to be aesthetically pleasing and easy to use
- Ensuring our products and services meaningfully solve customer problems
- Offering best-in-class customer support
- Hiring a talented and well-informed sales team
- Creating marketing content that educates and informs potential customers
Our implicit goal here is to out-perform our competitors in each of the above areas, and thereby become the preferred vendor in our respective markets. In essence, businesses aim to create brand advocates through an amazing customer experience.
“In essence, businesses aim to create brand advocates through an amazing customer experience.”
By ensuring our existing customers love us, we hope (and assume) a good subset of them will become “net promoters," recommending our products and services to others, increasing the positive market perception of our brand.
This way of thinking has a critical flaw.
If you rely on your existing customers as the potential pool of individuals who will become brand advocates, word of mouth becomes extremely hard to scale.
A situation where a positive NPS score leads to one new customer being acquired via a word-of-mouth recommendation for every ten new customers you get (a not unreasonable standard, especially in B2B), you still need to ensure a very low churn rate for your customer base to grow at all.
And to grow dramatically, you need to hit a viral coefficient of >1 (each customer brings in at least one other), which is a standard achieved by only 0.01% of new businesses.
Because, for most of us, organic word-of-mouth at a dramatic level is hard to achieve via customer experience, we end up supplementing our organic efforts with some sponsored advocacy. The staggering rise of influencer marketing over the last few years, paired with the astonishing amount of money top influencers are making today is a testament to this trend.
But, this growth cannot continue infinitely. People are starting to slowly reduce the time they spend on social media, and there’s only so much room for sponsored posts (as well as members of the Kardashian family) before we hit oversaturation.
Therefore, we see the cost for influencer marketing growing quickly, to the point where a cost per (potential) thousand impressions is hitting >$10.
At these rates, influencer marketing looks incredibly expensive (and risky) when compared with an obvious, more measurable investment — digital advertising. And because this is expensive and untrackable, we aim to buy brand preference with ads.
This tactic, in various forms, has been the primary brand-building default for the last hundred years. The idea is based on the (now very outdated) notion that through repeated exposure to your brand, people will remember you better, and think more positively about you.
“The idea is based on the (now very outdated) notion that through repeated exposure to your brand, people will remember you better, and think more positively about you.”
In the pre-internet era, this meant buying ads in places where they were likely to be seen by potential customers — billboards, print media, TV — and then coming up with creative, compelling executions that spoke to the needs of your potential customers.
Today, most businesses create a few short, creative assets, and then pay Google and Facebook to provide as many small interactions with them as possible. This tactic, in order to be worth the investment, relies on the assumption that increasing awareness alone will increase affinity.
Because media agencies gain revenue by taking a percentage cut of ad spend, they have a vested interest in supporting this “impression-centric” model. And because big Silicon Valley giants now see the majority of revenue that was once spent on printed media and TV, they are more than happy to serve them.
This spend continues to rise, and the revenues of Google, Facebook, Havas, IPG, Omnicom, Publicis, Dentsu, and WPP continues to grow with it.
But despite all this investment, digital advertising doesn’t work very well. Here are the factors that contribute to its downfall.
Because the web is now so saturated with advertising, most users have become adept at ignoring things they don’t want to see. This means that for most people, ads just become part of the background noise of the internet rather than something they actively view and consider. Don’t believe me? Just take a moment to think about how many of the ads you’ve seen online recently that you can remember.
To mask this problem and ensure maximum revenue for themselves, media companies then sell ads primarily on a cost-per-impression or cost-per-view basis, which falsely equate trivial interactions with meaningful engagements.
Users are increasingly in control (both consciously or unconsciously) of their own digital worlds thanks to filter bubbles caused by AdBlockers, personalized search, and algorithms like Facebook EdgeRank. This means consumers often only see your ads if they have previously engaged with your content.
Due to competition, channel saturation, and the increasing costs of distributing messaging on search and social, overall customer acquisition costs from advertising continue to rise.
While most ads are ignored, even unskippable ads only last for a maximum of 30 seconds. It’s very hard to tell a compelling, emotionally resonant story in 30 seconds. Certainly, there is the exception that proves the rule — a giant consumer brand that hires the world’s best creatives and achieves viral success — but 99.9% of campaigns attempting to achieve these results fails dramatically.
In 2019, Our perceptions of companies are no longer based on how many times we’ve interacted with them in passing, but rather the depth of our personal experiences, and the experiences of those we trust, both of which are typically impacted very little by advertising. Because digital advertising doesn’t make people like you, we need to find a new way of increasing preference and word of mouth.
“Because digital advertising doesn’t make people like you, we need to find a new way of increasing preference and word of mouth.”
As marketers at businesses big and small, we need to recognize that we can’t make potential customers fall in love with us at first sight.
Constantly interrupting people with messages and short videos they didn’t ask to see is not behavior conducive to making them like us more. Sure, they may then have heard of us…but brand awareness does not inherently lead to the creation of brand advocates.
So, instead, we need to find a new marketing tactic that builds meaningful, positive connections between brands and consumers — in a scalable and cost-effective way.
We need a way to market to the circles of influence for our potential buyers and to positively dispose them to our offerings. And this is what we’re developing here at Wistia, with Brand Affinity Marketing.