Most marketers focus on one of two things: building demand for their brand or activating the brand.
“Dividing up those two makes sense,” Carl Hartman, CEO of Geometry Global North America, told me during a conversation we had on trends in direct marketing. “Most marketers have been taught to build strong brands. But getting people to love your brand is only half the battle. Getting them to buy it is the other half. Brand activation is about getting customers to buy a loved brand. So, owning brand activation is a respectable activity to own.”
Hartman doesn’t dismiss the importance of branding. What he does assert is that the power lies more in customer action than in just affinity. “Most of advertising is designed to get people to think differently about a brand,” he said. “Brand activation is about getting people to do something, not just think something. That’s the future of marketing.”
Social interactions are an essential part of that future, Hartman said. “The power of digital and social is participation,” he said. “It gets people to think differently and gets groups to participate.” Hartman cited, as an example, Kleenex brand’s super-successful “Softness Worth Sharing” social sampling initiative. Instead of advertising, “We’re 40% softer”—which would be about consumers thinking differently—the brand used a social sampling campaign to get customers to act differently; to use Kleenex as a gesture of showing they care. Consumers could visit its website to mail a Softness Share Pack; more than a million did. “The idea was about getting people to share, and doing so during a core retail period: cold and flu season,” Hartman explained. “It’s an example of a behavior-driving idea versus a thinking idea.”
When creating brand activation campaigns, Hartman advises, marketers—and their agency partners—should look at what could be a barrier or an accelerator to consumers taking action. Then they should determine how to use marketing to overcome the barrier or enhance the accelerator. He recommends using research to uncover barriers and accelerators. One area of research Hartman emphasized is user experience—not just in the digital domain, but all along the customer journey. “It’s about assuming the role of the consumer and going through the purchase process to uncover barriers,” he said.
Hartman also pointed out that many of today’s customer relationship management practices are tied to direct marketing. “Direct marketing techniques of the past are actually the best practices of relationship marketing today,” he said. “It’s not antiquated if it works. A direct—data-driven—approach is the lens through which we need to look at marketing today.”
In fact, Hartman asserts that marketers today need to adjust that lens to focus on activation and sales.
“Yes, marketers need to consider both short-term sales and long-term brand equity,” he said. “But in the past every communication had to do both, which created false choice. Some marketers lost the plot about activation. They need to get back on track and use activation campaigns to tell consumers, ‘Don’t just say you love me; show me.’”