Are You a Fireworks or Bonfire Marketer?

Marketing is an attention game, and always has been. For most of our history we’ve focused on capturing immediate attention. A TV spot, a billboard, a print ad – they all request seconds of our focus – just enough time to place the brand and convey a simple message. Digital marketing has its equivalents – banners, search and social ads, for example. The quick impression has value, especially when we can scale and sustain enough frequency, but there’s an emerging ideology which believes that to consistently and efficiently drive business outcomes, our brands and products must capture longer form attention as well.

Ben Parr, former co-editor of Mashable and now author of Captivology takes a scientific approach to understanding and acquiring attention. His core premise is built on a quote by Adrian Grenier who compares capturing attention to building a fire:

First you need the kindling. You need the little leaves and the twigs, and you get that going, which is easy to ignite. Then you move on to your bigger logs, and eventually the whole big bonfire. At first you need something to ignite the attention, and then you got to keep it going somehow.

Parr goes on to define the three stages like this:
Ignition: where we try to capture immediate attention
Kindling: where we try to capture short attention
Bonfire: where we capture long attention that drives sales and advocacy

Does this sound like your marketing approach? I didn’t think so. Most campaigns focus on large spikes of awareness that fade quickly – like fireworks – not building raging bonfires over time.

This framework assumes longer attention is increasingly more valuable and that the pursuit of deeper engagement (attention) aligns to and even drives the purchase funnel. Is this true for you and your business? Always-on social media, the explosion of platforms and channels, immense competition in every category and mobile all drive a sense that attention is dwindling and that we must do everything we can to draw consumers deeper. It seems right, but there’s also a good bit of evidence that small attention tactics at scale can drive sales too.

I believe the pursuit of richer engagement is absolutely valuable to brands and has become the central challenge for most marketers. It is precisely where the two worlds – fireworks vs. bonfires – collide that I think is the most interesting.

How do we scale deep engagement?

This question sums up the two biggest challenges facing marketers today: how do we reach key audiences at the moments that matter and how do we craft a content strategy that increases engagement and drives sales?

To vastly over simplify, we need expertise in journalism and data science.

Hire Journalists

‘Storytelling’ has become a marketing cliché. From Mad Men to Snapchat, stories are what drive engagement; it’s innately human communication. But across all of the advertising and marketing we engage with moment-to-moment, VERY little is truly story-driven.

Traditionally, marketers looked to their ad agencies to craft stories, primarily as 30-second spots for television: the ultimate in immediate and short attention capture. But with digital marketing, and now the digitization of the offline world (IoT), storytelling needs a redux. Even though agency holding companies have bloated their offerings across all sorts of marketing disciplines, their ability to successfully craft effective and integrated stories across media and devices is still elusive.

Journalists, especially those well versed in transmedia storytelling, are the best models for marketers. They know how to identify viable leads, do the research required to go beyond the obvious and are able to craft narratives across formats and contexts. While marketing storytelling is very different than news – most of the time – the skills and processes are very similar.

Brands need internal expertise and agency partners that can take deep consumer and market insights and transform them into cohesive stories that are as compelling in 140 characters as they are as a video on a phone. This requires that we understand both story craft and new media, content creation and distribution and how to do this all quickly and cost effectively.

Data-Driven Media

It’s a cliché, but I think the biggest challenges for marketers over the next 18-24 months will be data related.

To reach people effectively today, you need the help of data scientists. Whether you’re considering programmatic display, search or social advertising, you’re going to need to consider how both 1st party and 3rd party data come together to define the key audience segments you want to reach. You’re also going to need to consider how the behavioral and remarketing data you generate during your campaigns can be used to target even more granularly and improve performance. This is very different than rearview mirror website and campaign performance data, which is important as well. Ultimately, there’s a data war coming and Marketers must quickly develop expertise in data capture, security, segmentation and iterative marketing across devices.

Value Exchange is a KPI

We’ve forever seen consumers as ‘addressable markets.’  We address them, they buy. The data we needed to reach key audiences was largely owned and managed by publishers and retailers. Over the next 18-24 months, largely driven by the meteoric proliferation of connected devices – from watches to cars to refrigerators – consumers will become a new source of the data we need. The next golden age of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is quickly approaching and marketers will need to spend more $$ and resources trying to get consumers to share their personal data streams. This isn’t a Like (owned by the social networks) or a banner click (owned by publishers), or a purchase on (owned by the retailer), this is brand as API, accepting data feeds in and, in real time, offering value back out.

What are you able to provide in exchange for your customer’s health monitor data stream? What about her refrigerator data? What about her car data? How will her data then improve your products and services and drive deeper loyalty and lifetime value?

Before you get excited – or scared – about the possibilities, there’s MUCH work to do before you can connect to that first consumer data stream. Brands can’t even keep credit card numbers and emails safe, this scale and level of personal data management isn’t yet in the realm of possibility for most. This will change but not quickly.

Lastly, be prepared to spend working dollars in many media channels to drive different levels of engagement. Social requires dollars to both boost your most viral content and to reach key audiences. Influencer programs require dollars to drive authentic engagement and sharing. You now need many buckets of media dollars across your mix and teams.

As we forage for kindling and look for stories that spark interest, we must give ourselves room to start small and build over time. Back to Ben:

When our long attention is engaged, we go beyond turning up the radio when our favorite artists are playing to buying their albums and attending their concerts. We go beyond watching Game of Thrones to focusing our attention on reading the entire book series. We go beyond aligning with a particular political view to spending time watching TV shows that express it, volunteering time to disseminate it, and donating money to candidates that support it. Long attention is the stage where they’ve truly captured their target audience’s deep and undivided attention. Their attention is roaring into a bonfire that lasts.

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