A brand spokesperson or character can bring a brand to life, give it emotional range, and create instant recognition and connection. It can also create headaches for the marketers charged with translating that character into interactive media. I recently spoke with Julie Burrows, a veteran marketer and digital brand consultant, about the challenges of expanding brand characters into digital and social mediums. Julie should know. The Pillsbury Doughboy reported to her.
Julie identified a couple of key issues to keep in mind when working with a real or animated brand spokesperson, including:
Characters have been on packaging, on TV, and in the pages of magazines, but until recently they never spoke back. When you move from a one-way medium like print or TV to the interactive space, you have to factor in the audience expectations of that brand and character. You are bringing that spokesperson much closer to the consumer in a much more familiar and personal way. While that provides many more possibilities for interaction, you also have multiplied the opportunities for missteps. Julie advises, "It's critically important to understand what your character can't do or can't say and also focus on the areas they can be. It's important to keep [them] credible." Social media presents an entirely new set of challenges as you now have to be ready to respond in unscripted, real, or almost real-time situations.
If you have a spokesperson or character that represents the brand in radio, print, TV, and FSIs and you are not using it online, there is a disconnect for consumers as well as a missed opportunity for the brand. Characters have always created a connection with people - picture the very first Doughboy poke in the belly. Can you hear that giggle?
Successful spokespeople in today's market need a cross-platform approach. Most often we see well-known brand characters launched in TV. TV has broad reach and a longer history of characters, but even those characters more recently born and flourishing online like Flo, the Aflac Duck, the Roaming Gnome, the Old Spice Guy, or the Dos Equis Man seem to have benefited from the full sound, motion video experience, and mass reach that they could get with TV. These spokespeople acquire dimension online as they have many more interactions, talk back, and challenge viewers. Remarketing opportunities like email lists, fan lists, Twitter lists, coupons, and other valuable touch points built through this diverse approach are predominantly and most efficiently delivered online.
One of the trials of having a spokesperson online is that it's not just a content challenge, it's also a brand challenge, and they come together at this important juncture. Usually a brand challenge can be addressed with strategy that speaks to cross-medium issues. On top of that you have content strategies that you have to tackle online and off. When you have a spokesperson, they come together - you have content and brand challenges wrapped up as one. Brands that aren't prepared for that can fail spectacularly.
The value of a successful spokesperson online is undeniable, but it is not an easy thing to do well. These fun, quirky characters require a lot of thought and work to connect appropriately to your audiences and add value to your business. For every Flo, there are probably a thousand spokespeople or characters that were not as well thought-out, not supported cross-channel, and not consistently used. That's probably why we are not on a first name basis with them.
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Robin is the CEO and cofounder of NetPlus Marketing Inc., a top 50 interactive agency established in 1996 to focus exclusively on online marketing and advertising best practices. Robin brings innovative strategy and a depth and breadth of marketing experience to the agency's practice and management. As one of the industry's pioneers, she is a driving force behind NetPlus Marketing's ongoing success with a diverse and discerning client base that considers online results critical to their business success.
Robin is a frequent speaker at national industry events, including ClickZ, internet.com, OMMA, Ad:Tech, SES, Online Marketing Summit, and Thunder Lizard conferences and is a sought-after resource for industry and business publications for her insight and advice on such topics as digital strategy, social media marketing, and behavioral targeting.
March 19, 2014