Brand Activation and Internet Marketing -

Brand Activation and Internet Marketing – Ikechukwu Kalu, Adjunct Lecturer, PAU, Lagos.

Experiential and Alternative marketing are two strategies in my mind. I have been reflecting on them, particularly in the context of the new realities Covid19 would present to us. Experiential and Alternative Marketing have over the years become very exciting and quite rewarding options of activating brands and truly providing proof for the claims that brands make. This is particularly so in today’s world that consumers are constantly asking for proof.

When a brand says ‘we create value through consumer insights’, the big question is, how? Why should I believe you? Brand activation provides that proof if properly designed and executed.

 My experience with the use of brand activations (experiential and alternative marketing) dates back to my early days in marketing at Guinness Nigeria Plc (Diageo Nigeria), howbeit, then, brand was emerging. Brand activation is now very big, but the principles have remained the same over the years.

I remember working with my agency on the Guinness Millennial Jam to usher in the year 2000 as a junior brand manager. I also remember the use of brand activations to launch Gordon Spark, a gin mixed drink from Guinness Nigeria. In fact, it was one of the activations that exposed me to my next place of work, MTN.

I also remember with excitement, the crafting of a very strong proposition that later became one of the cardinal activation pointers for MTN in their drive for grass root dominance and market share – MDCC [Mobile Direct Consumer Contact] in 2008. The concept and execution strategies were crafted on my desk with the CEO of Exp Marketing at that time. Awesome.

Attracting attention to a brand message is becoming increasingly difficult. The new way is to prove the claim. This does not only make the message credible, but it also makes it distinctive. However, we see from the generic definition of brand activation that, most times, it involves physical interaction between the brand and her target audience. “Tell me, and I will forget, but show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand” – Confucius 450 BC. Consumers want to experience the brand to understand what the brand is saying to them. Some even say “Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced” relying on the fact that ‘’80% of our life is emotion and only 20% Intellect”.

“A brand activation is the act of inducing loyalty in consumers and driving interactions between them and a brand by immersing them in brand-created (sometimes) tech-driven live experiences that leave them with lasting memories.” – LIVE SPORT

No doubt, brand activation is powerful and gives expression to Experiential and Alternative marketing strategies. It is already fast replacing non-traditional marketing as a credible and affordable way of connecting with different audiences in ways that are experiential, affordable and memorable. I am one of those advocating that brands should do more brand activations and it is interesting to note that more brands now build a large chunk of their marketing plan around Experiential and Alternative marketing and are getting good results.

Smart organizations have imbibed the Smart Diamond Theory – Have a big idea as the creative platform for the activation, coupled with an activity or activities that confirm the message and use media like e-mail and internet to create awareness for these activities to stimulate interaction with the target group. The sole aim is to stimulate interest, trial and loyalty.

Covid 19 is changing things but I am not sure the reasons for the growth of brand activation will change drastically. The market will always need to support traditional advertising (radio, TV, print, etc.) to engage her audience effectively and efficiently through brand activations. Also, rival brands will continue to pop up every day and the fight between brands to be in the forefront of consumers’ minds will continue, in fact it will actually get more intense.

The big question now is, how do we activate our brands with limited or no physical interaction with the consumers? Is it possible – how? Can the internet assist in any way? These and more are what I would like us to explore now and in the future.

Experiential Marketing often refers to the evidence-based design and execution of live, one-on-one activities that emotionally engage target groups with messages, activities or programs that are personal, relevant and meaningful behavior change experiences. It is about identifying the emotional triggers a target audience has with a cause and then leveraging them as a brand. It is a medium to personally engage the target audience, connect them with relevant behavior change experiences, drive personal experiences, conversations and impressions to make communication more meaningful and memorable.

Alternative marketing, on the other hand, is “low-cost ways to target specific neighborhoods, age groups, ethnic communities, and/or low literacy groups with special or customized messages. It has been widely used to drive product adoption and brand equity growth. It consists of low-cost ways to target a specific audience with special or targeted messages. It would be good to note that there are instances where and when it could arise accidentally, that is without any planning from the side of the brand but would definitely have an appeal to the target audience. Recall the Olajumoke “the bread seller’ case?

How can we deploy these strategies with minimal or no interaction with the audience? Do we have to make it a live event for there to be a strong engagement? Can we leverage technology to create the same memorable experiences without physical contact? I guess the answer is yes. Once a problem presents itself, there must be a solution. There is no vacuum in life.

So, the solution is not to stop brand activation altogether, whether experiential or alternative marketing, but to explore possible execution with digital technology. We must think up how digital marketing and brand activation can collaborate to enhance brands connecting with their audiences.

Obviously, the internet as a tool for marketing will play a larger role in the emerging new world. A closer look at internet marketing as a means of communication would reveal practical aspects such as personalization, direct response and marketing research, but also strategic issues of industry restructuring and integrated channel communications.

By considering each of these facets of the new media, marketing managers can develop marketing plans that accommodate the characteristics of the new media. This will include brand activation.

Brands will definitely have to do more on the internet. A recent study to examine the utilization of the Internet as a marketing tool among retailers in Labuan, Malaysia revealed that website is now a ‘must-have’ for businesses and it should be interactive and functional such that customers can practically connect with the brand as though they are physical. The brand should be able to deliver branded experience to their customers online with ease and with minimal additional cost to the customer.

Internet communication differs from conventional marketing communication and this must be understood by brands who seek to truly engage their customers experientially on the net. John Deighton (Deighton, 1996) discussing the key characteristics of Internet communication identified six ‘Is’ which if understood and effectively leveraged would provide the opportunity we are looking for to excel with brand activations post-Covid 19.

The first ‘I’ is interactivity. The customer initiates contact, seeking information (pull), the medium is highly intensive. Brands will have 100% of the individual’s attention when he or she is viewing a web site, a brand can gather and store the responses and the individual needs of the customer can be addressed and taken into account in future dialogues.

Hoffman and Novak (1997) believe that this change is significant enough to represent a new model for marketing or a new marketing paradigm. They suggest that the facilities of the Internet, including the web, represent a computer-mediated environment in which the interactions are not between the sender and receiver of information, but with the medium itself. Yes, consumers can interact with the medium, firms can provide content to the medium, and in the most radical departure from traditional marketing environments, and consumers can provide commercially oriented content to the medium.

The second I is Intelligence. The Internet can be used as a relatively low-cost method of collecting marketing research, particularly about customer perceptions of products and services. A wealth of marketing research information is also available from the website itself, since every time a user clicks on a link it is recorded in a transaction log file summarizing what information on the site the customer is interested in. Again we see the importance of the website.

Thirdly, Individualization. This is a very powerful feature of interactive marketing. Brand communication can be tailored to the individual unlike in traditional media where the same message tends to be broadcast to everyone.

The process of tailoring is also referred to as personalization and is an important aspect of achieving customer relationship management online. Personalization is often achieved through extranets which are set up with key accounts to manage the buying and after-sales processes. This sure would provide the one-on-one and evidence-based engagement that experiential marketing provides.

The remaining ‘I’s are Integration, Industry restructuring and Independence of location. These can all work together to facilitate memorable interactions between brands and their audience without serious physical contact.

So, is there still hope for brand activation post-Covid 19? Yes and I believe that if we leverage the internet properly, the outcome and impact of the kind of exciting activations that would result would be huge and even more affordable to all.

Ikechukwu Kalu is a Value Creation Consultant with over 30 years of decent work experience spanning manufacturing, telecommunication and financial services. He is the Lead Consultant at Customer Passion Point Limited (CPPL). He teaches Brand Strategy & Communication as well as Experiential and Alternative Marketing at MSc level at the Pan Atlantic University, Lagos. He is also a Resource Person (MBA Stream) at the Lagos Business School. Finally, he designs and executes customized brand activations for small, medium and large corporations across industries.

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