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The death of the marketing campaign: Why brands should rethink the dynamics of customer relationships

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Initials on how brands can meet consumer expectations better.

Ever-evolving marketing technology and the proliferation of communication channels means that ‘communicating’, or getting your message out there, has never been easier. That’s a positive development, but for some this has created a problem of its own. The level and frequency of comms has resulted in some brands publishing ‘nothing to say’ content for the very sake of it, perhaps doing more damage to their brand equity than if they said nothing at all.

In addition to this, people’s lifestyles have changed when it comes to how (i.e. where), and how frequently (i.e. when), they communicate. We’re all posting on social all the time - 95 million photos and videos are shared on Instagram every day. We expect to hear from both individuals and brands almost constantly, via the never-ending stream of content that bombards us. We are also more digitally sociable than ever before (what a shame this hasn’t spilled over into the real world!).

So, expectations have changed in line with the new behaviours that have evolved, but are some brands falling behind this curve? 81% of brands could disappear tomorrow and no one would care, perhaps because they are failing to rethink their strategy and adapt it in line with developments? Legacy strategy is more common than you think, where brands repeat the same campaign style activations year-in-year-out simply because that is what they have always done.

Obviously, the risk profile of individual companies does effect this, some brands are more inclined to rock the boat than others. Regardless of the appetite for change in the long term too many brands are still settling for safe work by default, work where the best it ever does is ‘not go wrong’.

This type of marketing campaign isn’t without value, but a new approach is required. Take sports sponsorship. I’m not saying that brands shouldn’t support big set piece sporting events, or other key calendar moments, but if you fail to maintain engagement throughout the year are they ever worth the investment? How much money is spent each year by brands trying to reengage an audience that they lost touch with between campaigns?

This is a waste of money and time. If we applied this thinking to our everyday lives, we would be friendless in a very short period of time. You can’t just drop someone and then expect to pick up right where you left off some time later. Healthy relationships require ongoing communication, whether they’re with an individual or a company. After all, selective communication is against loyal human behaviour.

Also, just because you got their attention the first-time round doesn’t in any way guarantee that it will be easy to secure it next time. Yes, there will always be some that think ‘my interaction with this brand last time was worth it, so I’ll connect again’ but in today’s competitive landscape many will have moved on by the time you get back in touch. They might even resent this seasonal (and therefore seemingly fickle) approach to communication given the always on world they now inhabit. Mental health collective CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) ran a very successful campaign focusing on the message of ‘be the friend you’d want’ - there is something for brands to learn here.

The solution to these challenges is clear. The ability and speed at which brands are now able to use data to ensure sufficient personalisation of their communications will be fundamental to their future success, not just understanding the content that will resonate with each individual but also the right frequency and channels with which to reach them. This is where technology comes in to its own and why there has to be a tighter relationship between tech, IT, data analysts and marketing departments. There is no one size fits all solution here but the level of data available and the proliferation of channels at a brand’s disposal means there doesn’t have to be.

Traditionally timed, on-and-off marketing campaigns might no longer cut it, but in the death of the marketing campaign might we see the birth of truly bespoke brand relationships? Ones developed on a personal level, where brands really ‘show us you know us’?

We were recently speaking to a well-known restaurant chain about helping them unlock the real key to loyalty. The conversation wasn’t about four to five promotional techniques that would coincide with seasonal initiatives in the hope they might appeal to a wide audience set. Instead we were looking at hundreds of bespoke and totally tailored promotions to engage individuals. That’s the way forward. And data and tech make it all possible.

Hospitality brands provide us with an obvious example of how this can now be put into action, as you can build individual profiles for customers based on their previous visits. If you know they always order white wine, then letting them know about the arrival of a new vintage is likely to be more impactful than a blanket communication offering a free starter on their next visit. Modern customer relationships bring with them a new dynamic. Consumers expect more, brands must now deliver.

Richard Barrett, managing director at Initials.

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