12 years ago I worked for a promotional company that was remarkably innovative, even though we didn't think so at the time. Instead of simply creating promotions and sweepstakes programs and then filtering them through the usual channels (commercials, counter cards in retailers, and infrequent radio spots), we began looking into other ways to reach audiences through what would later be described as "experiential" marketing and online engagement.
One of the first projects to encompass all these elements was for TNT's new show (at the time), Witchblade. While our company didn't produced the TV spots that would run for three months leading up to the show's premiere, we did manage another route - online comic book forums. You see, Witchblade was a comic prior to being a series. As with any good marketing initiatives, up-front research provides the best insights into who your audiences are and how to best engage them. For three months leading up to the premiere, we had our employees (particularly the comic book savvy ones) interacting with the forum members of Dark Horse, Image comix and others. They talked comic books, compared notes, and got to know each other. Then, we slowly fed that audience "unique content" they couldn't find anywhere else.
We urged them to join our newsletter, the Bladewielder, and gave them Witchblade-inspired games to play, exclusive trailers, downloadable avatars for their desktop and dozens of production photos and updates to the show. When Witchblade premiered, it was the most watched cable series premiere at that time in television history. It was a great lesson in how thinking outside of the rigid box of marketing can offer great dividends.
Today, there are fewer agencies who exclusively follow the "traditional" route of marketing. Nearly every firm out there now has engaged digital, social, and the content-based route. The difference, however, is not in who's using these tools and who isn't but in which agencies actually do their research, think outside of the box, and speak directly to their client's customers.
I've seen work by dozens of agencies recently that offer SEO and social marketing but have little to no idea how to work it to a client's benefit. Simply, they put together a PPC campaign, build a blog, and feed said blog articles or videos through Twitter, Facebook, and others and call it a day. While it is a lot of busy work it is also just the tip of the iceberg. There's so much more agencies can do.
The next time you have a chance to really connect with your customers, try offering them something different:
• Create a unique promotion that not only reinforces your client's brand but finds a clever way to talk to them - then incent others through Instagram and Twitter to pass this promotion along.
• Produce videos that tell a story rather than just listing the benefits of your client's product or service. Sure, there are dozens of consumer-facing videos like this (beginning way back in 2001 with The Hire for BMW), but most B2B clients have yet to take advantage of story and humor. It is not just the purvey of consumer. John Cleese of Monty Python had a very successful business many years back producing humorous "industrial" videos.
• Build unique websites that focus on your industry rather than just your products and educate your audience without expecting immediate compensation. Referred to as category-focused websites, these "wiki's" can do what your own sites cannot.
• Find some fun, enjoyable and news-worthy way to promote your product or service. Agencies DraftFCB and 360i took the cake with their work for Oreo.
• Conduct polls with customers, offer incentives and merchandise that are truly value-added, and find ways to make their lives better through your product or service.
Build a brand that is bigger than you.
There will always be companies - agencies and the like - that will never do more than the bare minimum because doing so provides enough of a financial benefit without having to work up a sweat. That may be fine for them. But the agencies that matter, and the work that's remembered, are those that always strive for more, seek to entertain and inform, and honestly look to raise awareness of their client's brand in the most innovative way - and, not for nothing, it makes our jobs that much more fun and our clients coming back for more.