What Marketers Can Learn from Actors

When was the last time you went to the theater?  What do you remember about that experience?  Does Romeo’s confession of undying love for Juliet still pull at your heartstrings? Do you still feel the anxiety you had sitting next to the boyfriend you went to see it with- the one you broke up with immediately afterwards because you realized while watching that he was never going to be your Romeo?
You remember these things because they have emotional relevance to you. 

photo by Alex Avalos

photo by Alex Avalos

We go to the theater to witness our shared human experience. Professional stage actors have spent years studying different techniques in order to authentically embody characters on stage.  These same methodologies can be accessed by marketers to channel our audience when developing our campaigns.
Alright, so tell us how.  While traditional marketing uses methods like data-driven customer segmentation, brand audits and competitive analysis to shape a strategy, one of the most widely taught acting techniques, the Stanislavski system, uses “emotional memory recall, spiritual realism and self-analysis” to bring an actor into the state of the character he or she is performing.
These very different techniques are used to answer the same set of seven questions with the shared goal of telling a compelling story that engages, resonates and entertains an audience.  (source)
These are those questions: 

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This presents us as marketers with an opportunity to cross-pollinate; to be inspired by Stanislavski to build upon our current approach to creative strategy, on the side of both agency and client.

"Empathy is at the heart of the actor's art.”  - Meryl Streep

I get it, but now what do I do? We can use the actor’s method to build upon our existing marketing strategic framework, as illustrated below.

The magic happens when we embark on building out an emotional journey roadmap for our target customer, inspired by both our own experience as well as in depth qualitative research.  When done effectively, this thoughtful work can inspire product and brand marketing that breaks through the clutter, hitting at the emotional hierarchy of needs, and ultimately driving relevance.

In order to build an emotional journey roadmap, you must first be clear on who your ideal target customer is.  Below is a sample framework, that can be fleshed out using demographic & psychographic data, ethnographic research, cultural trend mapping, and a bit of imagination.

This is your jumping off point.  From here, determine the emotional life of this person through empathy mapping, using emotional recall, as well as qualitative research, to concept what people think, say, do and feel at each step of the customer journey.  IDEO presents a great technique, but if you don’t have the time and team to tackle this undertaking, identify the key moments in that customer journey and dive in deeply at these moments.
Use the 7 questions to dig deeper into the person's need state, its causes, our contrary nature as human beings, and how we, as marketers, can deliver value at this moment in time.
If you leave with nothing else, remember this: In order to build an emotional journey roadmap, you must first understand that humans are not simple or rational.  Our reactions to things are based upon our experiences as people in the world. 

When building a creative strategy, it is essential that we consider the multitude of influences that will affect how someone experiences our marketing communications.  Yes, our audience may be thousands, if not millions of people, but the power comes when you aim to make an intimate connection with one person.  
The marketing machine will put the rest of the puzzle pieces together to ensure the we hit our touchpoints, but deeper, emotions-driven thinking, is the key to delivering breakthrough across the customer lifecycle. 

What we can learn from Micro-Marketing

Design for maximum resonance rather than for maximum exposure.
Clever brands are recognizing that you can't please everyone - so they’re exploring strategies to develop campaigns designed to reach a smaller target audiences in thoughtful and unique ways – through the use of hyper-local out-of home advertising, creative ad space, and niche communities. These hyper-targeted campaigns are particularly successful in building authentic breakthrough communication with a brand's audience.

Reconsider the spray & pray model
Advertising designed to reach and appeal to the greatest number of people is less effective with younger consumers who have grown up bombarded with OOH, television, digital, and now mobile advertising.

Studies show that when faced with generic marketing online materials like pop-up ads or email communications, Millennials often choose to disengage entirely from the brand serving the content. In fact, the number of young people blocking traditional ads grew in 2017 to encompass 86.6m users. 46% of US Millennials currently have a desktop ad blocker installed and 31% reported using mobile ad blocking software. (2016, Anatomy Media)

Social media isn’t always the place to convert sales
When it comes to ROI, understanding that social media isn't always the place to convert sales is still a mindset marketers need to embrace.

"I think at the moment, when it comes to Instagram, the smart brands aren't looking at it as a purchase activation channel. It's much more about brand discovery and engagement, which strongly supports purchase decisions further down the line.” 

- Mats Stigzelius, founder of UK-based influencer app Takumi

Looking to expand your campaign message to an audience that’s more engaged? Look no further than micro-influencers.
Ad campaigns featuring Micro-influencers drive more conversion than those starring celebrities, with the most influential influence platform being Instagram. 

  • Small but powerful: micro-influencers have a smaller Instagram following (around 1,000 to 100,000) but a far more engaged audience than larger influencers.

  • Benefits to brands: micro-influencers are less costly than celebrity influencers and present a more authentic and relatable social media story

  • Effectiveness: ROI can be measured by calculating engagement levels. Brands must realize that the purpose of social media is not always to drive sales.

Image:  localwanderer
Image:  Seamless

Image: Seamless

Take a page from smaller brands.   
Smaller independent brands, most of whom have been priced out of traditional television or billboard advertising have turned to scaled-down campaigns and Millennial friendly activations. Their approach is a testament to the power of advertising designed for maximum resonance rather than for maximum exposure. 

Seamless, the food delivery app has been using localized messaging in its out-of-home advertising since 2015. The campaign, “How New York Eats”, created a sense of identification amongst city-dwellers who saw themselves in the ad copy. On New York City subways, ads carried clever messages such as “Avoid cooking like you avoid Times Square” or “You’ll cook when you’re dead – or living in Westchester”. For tourists or newcomers to the city the ads might not resonate or even make sense, but for a local it feels like an inside joke and a nod to a shared experience.

They created spots that aired on New York-area TV channels, highlighting the diversity and convenience of food delivery options throughout New York’s five boroughs with a commercial inspired by the struggle to get a table at the city's most popular restaurants.

The magic of these ads is that they tap into the niche pride of the communities the brand serves. The messages are based on intimate truths of the audience, and that’s what breaks through traditional clutter.

Image:  Glossier

Image: Glossier

Glossier, the direct-to-consumer brand, believes that social media should drive the relationship with the consumer. They engage their hardcore base of fans through their content arm. For its most successful launch to date - the brand deliberately did not send any product to influencers, instead gifting it to 500 superfans who had previously bought the most products or were the most engaged. According to Glossier’s COO Henry Davis, “Customer is at the heart of product development, customer is at the heart of strategy and customer is at the heart of the sale.”

“When your friend says, ‘you have to try this thing’, you listen. You cannot buy that much goodwill with all the advertising and the best creatives in the world. That’s what we’re focused on.”

- Henry Davis, COO of Glossier

These examples show that micro-marketing will likely alienate some consumers, but that’s all part of the plan. Those who respond positively to the hyper-focused attention will feel like they are being understood by a brand, rather than pandered to. That’s when brands break through. 

Sources: WGSN: Micro Marketing: US Strategies, Micro-Influencers: A Goldmine for Marketers

How to apply this approach to your own marketing?

  • Dial in to shared mindsets, and situations vs. diverse demographics.

  • Propose unique ad placements that target and celebrate audiences that share something in common.

  • When partnering with a micro-influencer, look for the common aesthetic and shared values within their niche community of followers – to inform your creative strategy.

  • As a creative exercise: Try developing a concept that begins with where/when the ad runs – to inform it’s messaging – rather than the other way around.

"The Caring Economy" is having a moment.

What is a cultural moment? A cultural moment is a cultural trend, a change in attitude and/or lifestyle, that causes a shift in how we live in and engage with the world around us.   Examples of cultural moments include the #metoo movement, Black Lives Matter, #adulting, and the shift towards a “caring economy”. 

Many of these cultural moments, have grown so quickly because of the power of the internet and the unique capabilities of the social media platforms we mindlessly scroll through while we sit in traffic.  As a result, values and movements spread faster now than ever before, and social media algorithms have made it possible to live in a world in which the beliefs of our immediate community reach us.  And in this tunnel, ideas and trends proliferate at a faster rate than ever before. 

Marketing what’s trending:

The Caring Economy:

“It’s our belief that we, as a society, are heading towards mass adoption of purpose… What brand can afford to ignore that?  Working to make a positive impact on society isn’t a ‘nice to have’, it should be part of a brand’s DNA and a pillar of any communications and interactions with consumers.” (Pauline Robson, Managing Partner @MediaCom

 Millennials are the first generation to have had recycling and sustainability built into their elementary school curriculum.  And the first generation to have grown up with the internet, viral videos and Facebook posts. 

As millennials progress in their careers and charge head first into adulthood, the values of this generation and its successors, are impacting how they perceive and interact with brands. In fact, 63% of Americans, led by millennials, expect businesses to catalyze social and environmental change moving forward, and 87% of consumers will choose not to purchase a company’s product or services if its social and environmental values did not align with his or her own. (source)

And this doesn’t pose an issue for millennials who are flush with options when it comes to shopping (thanks to the limitless online marketplace), and know that they have the opportunity to choose products that not only look good but do good, resonating with the values that have been instilled in them since grade school. It is the responsibility of brands to step up to meet this consumer expectation, incorporating sustainable practices throughout their business,  committing to transparency in their manufacturing process, a circular economy, and humane business practices. 

How does this show up in product marketing? Allbirds’ vows to “mak[e]… better things in a better way”.  It has not only built a line of products that celebrates its mission, but uses its knowledge of generational and cultural insights to target its millennial and Gen Z audience with its current “Meet Your Shoes” campaign. 

While never explicitly stating in their commercials, “We have sustainable practices”, the “Meet your Shoes” campaign tells a sustainable sourcing story.  By doing this, they distinguish themselves in the shoe industry, appealing to their “care conscious” audience, and silently nodding to the often controversial production and sourcing practices across the sneaker industry. 

Marketing in the age of the caring economy is not about beating your chest saying, “Hey, look at us, we are GREEN!” or “Dear customer, aren’t you proud we’re on trend?”  Rather it’s about finding a way to tell the story of sustainable and socially aware business practices in a way that simultaneously honors an authentic brand and product story.  This is a warning against “greenwashing”.  The audience that cares about conscientious business practices and sustainable goods is incredibly tech savvy, and knows just where to look to learn the authenticity of a marketers’ “sustainable” claims. 

Allbirds’ is successful because of its straight-forward product-focused storyline. Their use of voice and tone aligns itself as a brand that is the product of the “caring economy”, a generation based, educated, values-driven audience.  (Check out the campaign here.)  

Consider this & other cultural mo(ve)ments.  What resonates authentically with your company, ethos and product strategy?  What strikes a chord in the heart of your users?  When choosing to take a stand, or at least, speak from our heart, where do we draw the line between authentic, company driven alignment to a culture moments and “being trendy”? 

Gillette’s latest, highly controversial ad, The Best A Man Can Be, inspired by its tag line of nearly 30 years  “The Best a Man Can Get”, was the company’s stab at taking a social stance.  Inspired by the movement to defeat toxic masculinity in the age of #MeToo, the brand’s choice to make a social stance itself was new, with no evidence of action taken by Gillette to in fact move the community in this direction.  

Does that warrant the level of dislike (1.2M+ thumbs down on YouTube versus just over 708.5K thumbs up), and in some, rage, that it has elicited?  This reaction points to a larger social stratification plaguing our country.   And we’re not here to talk politics.

The takeaway?  Before taking the leap as a brand, we must ensure that we honor the cultural moment beyond our messaging, and in the actions of the brands we speak for.

-Dell Blue Strategy