“Why didn’t they see this coming?”
I had just learned of yet another company catastrophically failing to understand their audience. Who thought it would be a good idea to host an AMA after your company was involved in one of the biggest financial scandals in modern history?
Then it hit me. Every team makes silly mistakes. It’s all down to forgetting to ask yourself some basic marketing questions.
While this post was originally going to be reviewing Getting Goosebumps by Bryan Adams and Dave Hazlehurst, the examples and theories they pose in that book (which is well worth a read) are perfect for demonstrating how easy it can be to avoid marketing disasters. All you have to do is keep asking these questions to form a coherent strategy with no nasty surprises.
But enough rambling – it’s time to learn how to avoid marketing disasters!
The 6 marketing questions behind every good campaign
Many people have built successful careers on giving tailored marketing advice to their clients. Often this will involve a complex, nuanced strategy which caters for every circumstance – something which is far out of reach for anyone who is either inexperienced or doesn’t have the budget to hire a similar service.
However, the principles behind these tactics all boil down to answering the following six questions in some capacity.
And, most importantly:
These are so simple that it’s often easier to take them for granted and forget than it is to ask them of every element of your marketing campaign (or, indeed, of any other practice). However, some of the biggest flops in recent advertising and events damaging brand reputation could have been avoided by just sitting down and asking these questions honestly.
Bryan and Dave repeat this throughout Getting Goosebumps, which I’d highly recommend reading if you haven’t already. It does a fantastic job of introducing the basics of inbound marketing in a way anyone can understand and apply. It’s also much more interesting that I make it sound – I promise!
These 6 marketing questions can and should be applied to every aspect possible, as this will make sure that everything you’re doing has a purpose and works towards a set goal without missing key information. For example, asking “who are our target audience”, “what are their values and habits” and “how do we reach them” is a great way to start any campaign.
However, the most important question of all (which you need to make sure you constantly ask yourself) is “why”, as this can undermine everything you think you know about your tactics. “Why are we targeting this audience persona” is a question that can uproot an entire campaign by causing the focus to shift to a different, more suitable demographic.
It’s difficult to describe the importance and uses of these questions as they are, so let’s dive into some juicy examples to show just how effective these questions can be.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
WestJet’s 2013 Christmas ad
Commercial airlines face hefty competition. Household names like RyanAir and EasyJet are titans when it comes to both brand recognition and being known for low prices, making it difficult to find success with the traditional “we’re cheaper” marketing tactic.
WestJet knew this, and it’s obvious that they asked themselves a few basic questions, including:
“What are our brand values?”
“Does our business reflect those values?”
“How can we display this in our marketing?”
“Why would customers choose to fly with use instead of competitors?”
Thus the path to their 2013 Christmas ad was born. They knew that their brand was a customer-centric one, and that even though others had them beat on prices, they left customers wanting when it came to comfort, reliability, and service. Speaking from experience, while RyanAir flights are cheap, they often make you feel like cattle being herded rather than a valued customer.
WestJet’s practices showed their customer-centric approach to air travel, and so they knew that producing an ad to give the same impression wouldn’t be seen as cheap or false. By asking their customers what they wanted for Christmas, scrambling to buy everything, and having it all ready for the place those customers touched down, they showed that they care about each individual and tied their brand emotionally to the holiday spirit.
While I can’t speak in terms of direct benefits, the ad has more than 47.5 million views and counting – not too shabby for answering a few basic questions, eh?
Also, as an aside, Air New Zealand produced an ad showing much the same understanding of what could make them stand out, except this time combined it with their safety video. It’s a little too similar in nature to warrant its own section, but it’s well worth checking out as another example of how building a campaign off of the back of these basic questions is likely to succeed.
JP Morgan’s Twitter Q&A
Another campaign mentioned in Getting Goosebumps is that of the investment bank JP Morgan, who was the polar opposite of WestJet when deciding to host a Twitter Q&A back in 2013.
JPM’s problem was that they didn’t ask themselves the six basic marketing questions at every key juncture. Their core values at the time (according to their website) included this statement:
“We do our best to manage and operate our company with a consistent set of business principles. We believe that shareholders will benefit as we do the right thing for our clients and the communities we serve.” – Bryan Adams & Dave Hazlehurst, Getting Goosebumps, p.36
As such it made sense to attempt to engage with their customers directly, with one of the best ways of achieving this being through Twitter. That’s why they decided to host a Q&A on the platform in February 2013 with the #AskJPM.
Unfortunately, they forgot to ask themselves “how do our customers view our brand” and “what values does the public attribute to us”.
The response was certainly widespread, with over 80,000 tweets using the hashtag, but with at least two-thirds of them being negative, one can hardly call the event a success. JP Morgan’s role in the financial crisis left them in less-than-stellar public approval, and so such a reaction should have been seen coming in advance had the tea stopped and asked themselves the necessary basic questions.
“Twitter users questioned and condemned everything from the bank’s role in the financial crisis and why no-one had been held accountable, to their involvement in the Bernie Madoff investment scandal.” – Bryan Adams & Dave Hazlehurst, Getting Goosebumps, p.36
Getting Goosebumps does a great job of highlighting this and (rightfully) placing the blame on a lack of social media monitoring in their PR efforts – something that would have been obvious if these simple questions had been asked.
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to get carried away with your plans and take basic information for granted; JP Morgan was far from the first to do so, and they certainly won’t be the last…
EA’s record-breaking Reddit run
Star Wars Battlefront 2 was one of the biggest video games to release in 2017, at least in terms of the (estimated) budget, level of marketing, and sheer hype behind it. With so much time and money being dedicated to the product, the last thing any team would want is for a massive controversy to label it, the studio (EA DICE), and the publisher (Electronic Arts, or EA) as being a symbol of an industry-wide problem.
Except that’s exactly what happened.
The main controversy centered around the progression system in the multiplayer game – one which allowed players to purchase “loot boxes” to gain a random reward. These rewards could be used to customize playable characters or increase the player’s power in one way or another. This issue was only heightened with limitations on players who decided to invest their time to earn the in-game unlocks instead of paying to skip the grind.
This landed the team in hot water among growing talks of wider gambling classification and regulation problems in video games.
Despite this backlash being highly vocal, EA doubled down on both the practices being criticized and their own publicity attempts.
In November 2016, EA broke the record for the most downvoted comment in the history of Reddit. Their reply to a disgruntled fan was received terribly, and their own disastrous AMA was held 3 days later, helping to fan the flames of a backlash so severe that it transcended the company and is affecting the video game industry as a whole.
That’s no exaggeration either – the product inspired governments including that of Belgium and the state of Hawaii to alter their gambling classification laws to include the practices seen in Star Wars Battlefront 2. EA’s stock value also fell by more than 8%, albeit temporarily.
While not entirely due to the AMA (the issue has been growing for years, with this just being the latest and greatest example), the disastrous event could have easily been avoided and perhaps even served to limit the damage to EA’s reputation if they had stopped and asked whether this was a good idea.
The same could even be said of the decision to include these systems in the product in the first place – by examining the current attitude towards these practices and the disappointment surrounding the previous installment in the Battlefront series, it should have been clear that this was not the time to attempt to push monetization even further.
You don’t need millions of dollars behind your marketing team to realize that if public opinion is tearing you and your product to shreds, it’s probably not a good idea to host an AMA. You just have to be willing to stop and realize the situation you’re in.
Parisian Love by Google
Google has produced some fantastic ad campaigns, and their Parisian Love video is a perfect example. It’s also useful in that it shows how powerful storytelling can be for brands which have such widespread use cases that it’s hard to summarize their value.
The team behind this ad (whether consciously or not) showed appreciation for the basic questions all teams should ask. Primarily, these are:
- What does our product do?
- How might our customers use our product?
- What value do we provide?
- How will that value affect our users’ lives?
The answers to these are simple, but not all that memorable, powerful, or effective – it doesn’t make them stand out from other search competitors to your average user.
So, instead, the ad tells you that Google can guide you through the important moments and decisions in your life, and help you when you most need it. It’s performing basic tasks, sure, but this time we’ve got an emotional tie to the ad through the love story being told, and thus a connection to the company.
As silly as it may first sound, emotional links are incredibly powerful for brands. They help to make your company stand out from the crowd, and are a great way to break through the monotony that marketing often causes among potential customers.
With so many sources vying for attention, modern audiences have become masters at ignoring most marketing efforts; think of how many emails you immediately trash every day. This ad avoids that monotony by holding back and telling a short, simple story that provides an emotional reaction. It doesn’t actively push you to use Google, and so it doesn’t feel cheap.
#LuisSuarez by Snickers
Snickers’ marketing has gained a reputation for being comedic, if a little odd and mildly insulting. Their “you’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign produced several incredibly popular ads and served to portray their brand as the go-to snack to satisfy hunger.
So, their tone and popularity were fairly well established. However, in 2014 they decided to try a technique called “trend jacking”, meaning that they tried to take a popular event and piggyback off it to gain some publicity.
The problem with this is that it’s hard to do so without looking cheap, desperate, or a little sleazy. Your publicity, product, and the trending event all have to be relevant to each other, which means that you need to know the history of the event, what it stands for, and why it’s popular (or controversial).
During the FIFA World Cup of that year, Luis Suarez caused a stir when he appeared to bite an Italian player during a tackle. The event blew up, with many criticizing and poking fun at what appeared to happen, and Snickers saw their opportunity.
Their product had been posed as the perfect solution to hunger – especially when you’re so hungry that you don’t act like yourself. With a little clever wordplay, they were able to twist the event to both incorporate their brand’s tone and push their product in a relevant way.
Getting more than 42,000 retweets, their social media team showed that they knew exactly how the public saw their brand, and knew precisely how to jump onto the trending topic without seeming desperate. Instead of showing a Snickers bar alongside a soccer ball or some such forgettable imagery, they used the same down-to-earth tone and humor to create something that would get extra exposure through shares.
That’s the magic of not taking this information for granted – it’s not just about avoiding big mistakes, but taking everything into account to turn a generic campaign into an effective and memorable one.
Wendy’s Twitter account
In many ways, Wendy’s was in the same position as WestJet. Their competitors (McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and so on) are more household names, and all of them are associated with cheap fast food options that have stood the test of time. As such, they needed a way to stand out.
In other words, they’d already asked themselves:
- How do our competitor’s present their brand?
- What do they lack in their marketing or presentation?
- How do we fill that gap?
Turns out their competitors shared one thing in common; they played it extremely safe when it came to their brand’s tone, leaving an opportunity which Wendy’s took with their Twitter account. Instead of producing generic material showing fancy images of their food and bragging about deals, Wendy’s Twitter began posting scathing takedowns and comebacks against other users and their competitors.
They didn’t, however, go out of their way to pick fights with everyone and insult their customers. Instead, they used the tactic to reply to as many tweets as possible in the same manner a stand-up comedian might engage a heckler.
The regular tweets about their latest deals still get published, and customers with genuine complaints are addressed with care and consideration. However, the controversy and humor generated from these more scathing interactions have generated millions of retweets and poked holes in their competitors’ advertising at the same time.
This technique was a risk, sure, but it paid off because Wendy’s knew what they needed to do to stand out, and how to do so without alienating their customers too much. Controversy and humor are powerful tools for online marketing, but there’s an incredibly fine line between using them correctly and ruining everything with a single bad tweet.
No matter what you’re doing, consider the 6 marketing questions
I’m fully aware that this post might seem long-winded for saying “ask yourself who, what, when, where, how, and why”, but it’s easy to take these things for granted when you’re running through your tasks. All it takes is one assumption for an entire marketing campaign or activity to collapse when put into practice.
As for how to do this, the best way is to add a step to your documented marketing processes to answer these questions. If you’re creating a blog post, make sure you know who the audience is and what the point of the piece will be. If you’re opening yourself up for questions, make sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons and not at a time when you’re more likely to get abuse then genuine issues which you can solve.
After all, sometimes the best way to save time and money and avoid disaster is to start from scratch. Remember:
“To assume makes an ASS out of U and ME” – Jerry Belson
Have you ever run afoul of one of these basic questions? I’d love to chat in the comments below!