A seamless omnichannel experience, a contribution to the larger cultural discourse and the right kind of spontaneity all contribute to buzzworthy branding.
Gone are the days of transparently “click bait-y” banner ads—today, brands hoping to cut through the noise and compel consumer attention must turn to disruptive or innovative means. But in a marketing industry whereby “disruption” has become a kind of catch-all, it’s growing more difficult to distinguish the legitimately innovative from those aggressively self-branding as such—but with no real buzz-building to show for it.
Jeff Fromm is the president of the millennial- and Gen Z-focused marketing consultancy FutureCast and a contributing writer at Forbes. He is a frequent speaker on marketing, consumer trends and innovation. Leigh Sevin is the co-founder of retail sales and marketing software Endear and partners with brands to align their sales practices to the behaviors of the modern shopper. Both offered their insights on three ways that brands can cut through the noise to build buzz.
Offer an omnichannel experience for consumers
The goal of omnichannel content marketing is a seamless user experience.
“Especially now that the internet and e-commerce have changed the consumer landscape, brands need to reach their consumers across multiple channels if they want to stay top of mind,” shared Sevin. “When my partner and I first started Endear, we quickly realized that the consumer was already an expert at optimizing their channels for shopping and delivery; it was actually the retailer that needed to improve its logistics, operations and technology to stay in the game.”
The most obvious example of a well-leveraged omnichannel approach is, of course, Amazon. Aside from the best-in-class distribution and logistics—and the fact that the brand integrates all its consumer-facing channels on the back-end—Amazon’s consumer messaging in particular is strong here. Customer data informs the brand’s marketing efforts such that personalized, responsive interaction reaches customers at each touchpoint and across each channel they engage.
Another strong example? Chipotle. The darling of burrito lovers and tin foil manufacturers alike launched a new mobile app this year which allowed for effortless customization, along with a Chipotle Rewards Program “layered into the digital experience.” Subscription services and loyalty programs also play into this by engaging consumers in unique ways while rewarding ongoing engagement.
“Chipotle Rewards gives us another way to engage our customers, understand their behaviors, and offer them very targeted and personalized bonuses and rewards,” said Nicole West, VP of digital strategy and product at Chipotle Mexican Grill, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The QSR brand is certainly reaping its own rewards; the program hit its millionth member within a week of launch. Talk about brand buzz.
Swap out the hard sell for storytelling—and show your heart
“Today’s consumer is often considered disloyal, and I couldn’t disagree more,” said Fromm. “They’re discerning, not disloyal.”
Meaning: Consumers own their purchasing choices and they’ve done their research. Not only that, but, according to Fromm, modern consumers also respond positively to brands willing to lean into larger conversations.
“Brands with a soul usually create cultural conversations—and consumers respond,” said Fromm. “Brands that have more love also have a price elasticity advantage because consumers invest in a brand mission, first and last.”
And, said Fromm, “If your goal is to create differentiation, brand buzz matters.”
Sevin echoed this point.
“I think that the changes in retail have been the best indication that you have to constantly be building brand equity and buzz,” she said. “It’s all about having people feel a relationship to you—that’s why the biggest shift in marketing has been the pivot from product orientation to consumer orientation. A consumer relationship to a brand isn’t because you love a certain handbag; it’s because you align from a self-awareness and mission perspective.”
In other words, “Brand buzz keeps the picture of the brand alive for the consumer, before they find someone else who is speaking to them on a more consistent or engaging way,” Sevin said.
Examples of mission-driven messaging abound.
Starbucks serves as a powerful example, as does Ben & Jerry’s, whose mission statement includes the kind of explicit social focus that can make traditional marketers and PR reps flinch. Perhaps the strongest showing of mission-driven branding happened early in the year: Gillette's “We Believe” short film, which called out toxic masculinity and evolved the brand tagline from "the best a man can get" to "the best men can be."
Nike’s 2019 inspirational ad celebrating the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team victory in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, while clearly in line with brand authority, also stands out as a compelling example. According to AdWeek, the ad “is more direct in what this championship means beyond women’s soccer” and “celebrates the achievement and impact of the players off the field.” The focus lands on all-star and Trump jouster Megan Rapinoe, showing that “Nike is, to some degree, walking the walk in supporting athletes’ beliefs.”
“Contributing to the cultural conversation, as appropriate, is important, said Fromm. “Ultimately, when you talk about brand buzz, you’re talking about word of mouth. It makes sense for brands to also participate in those conversations.”
Balance consistency and spontaneity
According to Fromm, the secret to brand love is “consistency and spontaneity.”
“Brands tend to get consistency right, but struggle with spontaneity because they think, ‘Hey, that worked. Let’s just do it again.’ But it doesn’t follow that an experience that’s great the first time is therefore great every time, over and over.”
According to Fromm, brand spontaneity is a nuanced mix of product sampling, product innovation, inspiring content and engaging consumers in unexpected ways.
Sounds like some secret sauce—but there are brands getting it right.
Take Taco Bell and its 2014 breakfast menu marketing campaign. The spirited QSR brand unveiled the new menu in a way that was anything but conventional, distributing burner phones to 1,000 influencers across seven cities.
According to the DigiDay write-up on the campaign, “Once the influencers have received their phones, they will await a call or text with a challenge from Taco Bell. These challenges generally will come in the form of a question or a task that can be completed by replying to the chain within four hours with an Instagram photo or a tweet. Taco Bell will be picking the best responses as winners.”
Said Fromm, “If you didn’t post a picture of your meal to Instagram, did you even eat?”
There’s something to chew on.