Why understanding audience permissions can help brands create more meaningful campaigns

The trend for outlandish ad campaigns has reached saturation point recently, begging the question of whether it's enough for brands to be merely entertaining their audience with whacky content, or if they should be doing much more.

For many FMCG brands, entertaining ads can sometimes work, as long as the product takes centre stage, but for service-based brands such as internet providers, mobile phone and insurance companies, this strategy is often a total misfire.

Many of these companies have difficulties with customer satisfaction, and so it’s a mistake for these brands to invest so heavily in entertaining and social campaigns designed to attracts new customers if they are having difficulty satisfying their existing ones. Creating an 'entertaining for entertainment’s sake' campaign that doesn’t ring true for many customers’ lacklustre experience of the brand threatens to alienate current customers, not engage them, and where will they voice this? On social media, questioning the value of having run the campaign to begin with.

Instead of throwing money at perceived marketing problems, brands need to get better at listening to their audiences so they can invest in improving their product and service accordingly, and create campaigns that genuinely chime with their customers.

If you’re a brand, a big part of this is understanding what permission your audience gives you, as that dictates what level you can interact with them, and how. The trick here is to balance what you want to do with your marketing versus what your audience will allow you to do. An audience won’t let a brand get away with whacky advertising if they perceive them as being a poor service provider.

So why are brands still getting it wrong? A lot of the time it’s because ‘marketing’ is treated as a separate entity to other facets of the business, not as a joined-up part of the brand as a whole. This often results in the brand promise and personality of ad campaigns bearing little or no resemblance to the product itself and consumers’ experiences of it. Brands go to their agencies with marketing-shaped problems that often don’t reflect the real challenges the brand is facing. It can take a lot of digging to get back to the root of the problem and a good agency is one is one that creates successful campaigns by listening to the brand and working with them to understand what permission their audience give them.

Another problem can be quickly seen when googling ‘social media strategy’. Most search results will give the advice to ‘produce lots of content’, ‘be relevant’, ‘create videos, ‘set up a twitter schedule and tweet every day’. While this works well for many brands, others launch into this high level of ‘engagement’ without having fully listened to their audience or understood the permission value given to them.

This often results in the brand simply pushing messages out to their audience, a one-way conversation, which can quickly get tedious. People may comment that they like an ad, but you don’t get any genuine engagement or two-way conversations going until you listen to your audience and correctly gauge what permission they give you to interact with them.

Old Spice seem to have mastered it well. They started off with an entertaining new ad strategy, which they used to build an online community. Once the buzz had reached the right level, they hosted live filming days where their audience could use social media to inform and influence the campaign in real time. Soon the community was driving the campaign and the content coming out of it, which was a clever move in terms of audience engagement and growing consumers’ trust, permission and interaction with the brand.

So once again it all comes back to every brand’s greatest challenge of gaining, increasing and sustaining their audience’s trust. While entertaining advertising may work for a short-term hit, long-term the only way brands can do this is to carefully listen to their audience and understand what permissions they give them.

This will avoid pressing play on campaigns that can potentially do more harm than good and ultimately lead to more meaningful engagement with new, and existing, customers.

Matt Gelder is associate creative director at Clinic

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