By Jenni Baker | Assistant Editor

August 4, 2022 | 7 min read

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For brands to get the best long-term value from their marketing, they need to listen to their audiences, be invited into the conversation, have an opinion – but be authentic about how they share it, and be comfortable with the potentially uncomfortable when engaging with communities.

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Brands need to be comfortable with trying something new and with entering different types of medias

Be comfortable with not being able to measure everything, be comfortable with trying something new, and be comfortable with entering a different type of media that you haven’t done before. The online world is discussion based and it’s changing communications between brands and consumers.

Speaking at The Drum’s Cannes-Do Festival, Maria Purcell, global head of customer acquisition, Reddit and Carly Morris, global head of native advertising, Microsoft, discussed how changing privacy regulations and the explosion of tight-knit online communities have spurred the need for brands to target the ‘we’ rather than the ‘me’.

How marketers think about and reach key audiences is changing. The privacy conversation has moved on from brands dictating what privacy was, with the pendulum swinging back to consumers.

Drawing on her experience working across tech platforms Reddit, Facebook and Uber, Purcell says: “The difference now, especially when we look at privacy in a modern-day context and the next arc of the internet is that people have entered the chat, the users are now part of this conversation. Whereas before, privacy was very much dictated by brands and platforms.

“Now, we’re very much seeing the audience themselves demanding what privacy looks like, what they want to do with their data – we weren’t part of that conversation before. It’s becoming more of a human experience, more than just an algorithm or tech-first approach.”

Blurring real life and digital life

Morris concurs, noting that “privacy right now presents such a dichotomy for marketers”. She cites research which shows that 87% of users believe that privacy is a right not a privilege and that 80% of consumers are willing to give brands their data, as long as they’re getting rich, authentic experiences in return, and brands are connecting with them in the right ways. The challenge, she says, is making sure that “we’re connecting in privacy-safe ways but building personal connections”.

“Most of what we do in the tech world is mimicking the real world and magnifying the behaviors that we see offline,” says Purcell. “Communities give more space for creativity and authenticity because people feel like they can really say what’s on their mind versus portraying a position or profile that will then be used against them in a different conversation. They can be themselves and that’s where we see meaningful relationships in the real world accelerate. It’s the same with online communities, giving brands a unique opportunity to connect with them.”

Millennials and generation Z no longer look at the internet as a short-term thing to engage with – “it’s a 24/7 mechanism for community and connection,” adds Morris. And online communities provide a safe space where people can have open and authentic conversations.

All engagement counts

When it comes to engaging with communities, there is a big opportunity for brands to stake their claim, but they need to understand how consumers think, behave and act within online communities to earn their right to be part of it.

Micro-targeting isn’t what it used to be and with the third-party cookie going away, the topics, conversations and trends that these communities are orientating themselves around give brands a unique targeting element to position themselves in the conversation. “The focus should be on lifetime value, not just an instant measurement result,” says Purcell.

“We, as marketers, have to get a little more comfortable [with the fact] that some of our campaigns and impressions we can’t measure are still really valuable,” adds Morris. “Even if we can’t measure them, we shouldn’t call them waste – because it’s really those multiple touchpoints that are going to make that brand and personal conversation come to life.”

Authentic creativity

The value comes from knowing something about a person and engaging in conversations to be able to connect with them authentically and personally. “Breaking the mould is going to help us engage more creatively going forward,” says Morris.

Brands who are pushing the boundaries of creativity are those who don’t just rely on what’s worked before – they listen to communities, show up authentically and with consideration, and think long-term. Purcell cites Nike’s campaigns with Serena Williams and Bodyform’s ‘Womb Stories’ as two examples that show this in action.

“In the online community space, these communities are built by the people – it’s their community and you are a guest in that community. Going into spaces where the conversation is already happening and passionate consumers are talking about, is less work than you think. It can help inform the current work you’re doing and what you do next – by adding a new layer of qualitative richness based on what people would spend a lot of money on for a research group.”

“Some of the best marketing we’ve seen are those where a brand is directly responding to something that someone says,” adds Morris. “Getting to know audiences is where you can really start to expand, build bigger communities, and be part of the conversation. There’s lots of opportunities for connection. The more we can all think outside the box and bring in that creativity, it’s going to spur so much more marketing that consumers trust.”

Watch the full session ‘Privacy, by design: how to find your audience where they want to be found’ above.

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