I Don’t Love Consumers. Or Users.

A consumption is an event, a one-time happening that is over shortly after it’s begun. There is little remnant of a consumption, and what is left over is disposed of as quickly as possible. A paramecium is a consumer. Users are a cold, heartless breed that manipulate others for their own good with little empathy or regard for long-term consequence.

And yet, in marketing, we often use these terms to refer to those among whom we are trying to make a connection. Consumers and users are a faceless mass – a generalized grouping where we often find ourselves striving to deliver against a least common denominator. As smart marketers, we never purposely dehumanize our target audiences. Until we do.

The quest to understand why people consume and optimize the way that they maneuver through an experience is noble and necessary. But we cannot take a chance on becoming enthralled with the process, and less with the individuals involved in that process. Referring to those individuals simply as consumers or users sets the wrong tone from the outset.

Here are a couple of challenges that I’ll offer to help remind us to keep humanity at the core of our effort:

  • First, no more use of faces borrowed from Google Image searches to make our persona depictions dazzling. These images register little more emotional empathy than the sample picture inside a frame purchased at Target. Rather, include original pictures of real people that we have taken ourselves. Individuals who have told us about their unique experiences and journeys. Our presentations might not look as polished, but they will most certainly be more insightful, inspiring, and human.
  • Secondly, let’s replace the “consumer” in consumer journey mapping with an actual human being. A real person who is in our target audience; one that we have met and spent some time getting to know. Imagine how much more interesting and impactful a channel strategy would be if we were constructing it for Anna Curtis, rather than a faceless, nameless, generic consumer
  • Finally, challenge your team to a meeting without “consumers” or “users.” Just like an off-color word or phrase at some workplaces might cost you $1 in a jar, let’s collect every time someone uses one of these dehumanizing words in a meeting. Then stretch the challenge to a full day, and the day to a week. Your teams will start thinking differently about who we’re trying to reach and how they can make those connections more resonant and meaningful (And then donate the proceeds to a good cause, like a Friday afternoon happy hour…).

Does changing what we call our target audiences matter? Clearly, that alone will not guarantee that we will create meaningful relationships. But starting with the right mindset about who we are talking to should improve the chances of keeping our focus on the wonderfully human person at the other end of the mouse, tablet or television set.

Want to learn more about how to take your user experience strategy from now to next? Start the conversation with Michael Baer at 844.LC.IDEAS.

P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter, for the latest in industry news, tips and inspiration. To start receiving updates from Laughlin Constable, subscribe here.

Top 3 Takeaways from the PSFK 2016 Conference

The PSFK 2016 Conference, which was held in New York City in mid-May, featured speakers from both renowned and up-and-coming brands who presented innovative ideas for engaging today’s “always on” customers. Here are our key takeaways from the conference that are impacting the evolving state of marketing.

1. Brands must create human-centric experiences.

In order to succeed in the evolving digital landscape, brands must find ways to make the experiences they create more human and personal. Some ways to do this include developing customer experience maps that help in thinking through how a customer interacts with a brand and how to improve their experience, and by performing user experience (UX) research and usability testing. Leveraging methods like these can help ensure we understand our very human customers, including their needs, attitudes, expectations and behaviors, so we can design customer-centric experiences that allow both our customers and brands to win.

Here are some examples of brands that are working to create human-centric experiences that improve our “connected life”:

  • Jibo, a social robot, exemplified the idea that as Artificial Intelligence (AI) personal assistants (think Siri, Alexa and Cortana) become a more ubiquitous part of our everyday lives, it is important to inject humanity into the interactions we have with them, by way of context and simulated empathy.
Jibo

Image source: www.jibo.com

  • In 2013, Gatorade was asked by the Brazilian National Soccer team to help them win the World Cup. The mission started as a way to optimize the performance of each player with personalized hydration, and has resulted in GatoradeGX, the company’s new data-centric personalized sports fueling platform. The platform is intended to seamlessly tie together innovations in packaging and personal data tracking to allow athletes of all kinds to easily personalize their fuel to achieve maximum performance.

2. Retailers must help customers connect to things they care about.

To survive in an increasingly digital world, retailers must create a broader brand mission that is bigger than the products or services they offer; one that people want to connect to. By helping customers more easily connect to the things that matter to them, such as healthier eating or better sleep, brands can earn not only a loyal following, but also a passionate base of brand advocates.

The conference featured retailers that are disrupting traditional retail models and finding ways to build strong, loyal communities around their brands. Here are a couple examples:

  • Sweetgreen is a growing fast-casual, salad restaurant chain with a mission to “inspire healthier communities.” One way the company does this is by locally sourcing its food and offering seasonally-changing menus. Another is by finding creative ways to build a community around healthier eating, such as holding an annual music and food festival, aptly named Sweetlife. In a world where our phones allow us to have almost anything delivered to us instantly, Sweetgreen has made a conscious decision not to offer delivery, but instead created an app for placing pick-up orders, to encourage customers to come into the store location to experience the brand, while still providing convenience.
  • Casper is a brand built around the idea of bridging the gap between the science and realities of sleep by reframing what we expect from a mattress, as well as the experience of buying a mattress. The company has differentiated itself through a refreshing, no pressure showroom experience, a 100-night trail with free return pick-up, and building a community around sleep by producing content about the science of better sleep. By reimagining the entire experience around sleep and buying a mattress, Casper is driving new excitement within a seemingly stagnant category.

3. Brands must tell the right stories in the right ways to engage customers.

Brand storytelling is more important than ever for engaging customers. However, evolving channels and customer expectations present new challenges and opportunities for telling these stories. Brands must find ways to tell the right stories to the right audiences at the right time. Some ways to accomplish this include performing primary customer research and leveraging user data to inform the types of messages that will resonate with a brand’s audience, as well as the places and times when they are most receptive to these messages.

Here are some examples of brands that recognize the the importance of storytelling in building a strong, desirable brand:

  • As part of Microsoft’s effort over the last several years to shift its business model, including a dedication to new product innovations, in 2015 the company launched a new mission statement to “empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.” Microsoft’s Chief Storyteller, Steve Clayton, explained how his team works to change the perception of Microsoft through stories, such as how the company brought Wi-Fi access to a village in Kenya, and the positive impact it has had on the community. The emphasis on storytelling also lead to the launch of the “Microsoft Stories” content site.
  • When drone racing first came on the scene, it was dubbed “the sport of the future.” However, The Drone Racing League quickly realized that high expectations for the sport were based on unrealistic scenarios from movies, such as pod-racing in Star Wars: Episode I, and that disappointment in the reality of the sport could mean a quick life and death. By embracing expectations and carefully crafting the right story around how drone racing is executed, The Drone Racing League has succeeded in maintaining excitement and drawing a growing fan base.

All in all, the PSFK 2016 Conference offered a lot of inspiration for how brands and marketers can innovate today to create more human-centric experiences, help connect their customers to the things that matter to them, and craft more engaging stories. It also emphasized that in order to transform, we must rethink established ideas and concepts and constantly look at them from different perspectives.

3 Ways UX Research Can Save Your Site and Your Budget

 

What is the one thing you could do now—before you launch—to save your company time and money in the future? Invest in user experience (UX).

User experience can make or break a brand.

Four years from now, customer experience is predicted to be the one key brand differentiator—overtaking both price and product.* This means UX research has never been a more vital component of your process since its entire objective is to craft an experience that feels uniquely tailored to meet your customers’ needs, while eliminating any bugs or pitfalls and proving or disproving any gut assumptions.

Beyond eliminating issues, UX research can also identify your target audience, then track their journey through your digital environment—analyzing everything from behavior flows and completion rates to social, bounce rates and session timing. Essentially, UX is the one upfront investment you can make now that’s guaranteed to have a healthy return.

Unsure how UX plays into your process? Let’s explore 3 of the many tactics available.

 

ux interviewsIdea #1: Interviews

What’s the best way to understand your audience and their behaviors, values or goals? Ask them! By obtaining early user feedback or answers from real people and analyzing that data to create insights, you can uncover key information to grow any aspect of your business or create meaningful experiences for your customers. This helps you avoid any superfluous decisions, while being guided by the very user base you are trying to connect with. Now, you can’t just take what they say verbatim, (in the words of Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”), but it’s a good start to understanding a variety of things with real people.

One way to better define users and their needs is through the creation of personas. Personas are archetypes built specifically for your product to identify real users’ profiles, needs, wants and expectations in order to design best possible experiences for them. Without identifying the various characteristics of the user groups visiting your site, you cannot hope to design an experience that includes the key elements that each type of user needs. Instead, you will end up creating a website that doesn’t perform well for anyone. One easy step to understanding key characteristics is to ask users questions via a survey. It’s simple, cheap and an effective research method.

But, you never use one method of research in isolation…

 

ux testing imageIdea #2: Testing

Companies who test their sites early on can help uncover experience and functionality problems. This eliminates any interaction assumptions and helps dive deeper into satisfaction ratings and positive net promoter scores. For you, this means getting one step further toward a smooth, bug-free user experience that both the web (as a whole) and your customer base love. It also helps expose real-time user problems, while ensuring your current navigation is getting the job done right.

For example, we were in the development stages of redesigning a healthcare website with over 2,000 pages of content and multiple user personas to design an experience around. Multiple rounds of user testing was built into the design process to ensure what we were creating was useful, meaningful and aligned to user needs before the site was even launched. If you think user testing is expensive, it’s not. What’s expensive is designing a site that no one uses.

 

ux contextual studiesIdea #3: Contextual Studies

Contextual studies conducted in natural environments make it easy to observe and track natural user behaviors and patterns as opposed to conducting studies in labs, isolated from when, where and how the user interacts with your site. One study method we use effectively is the “diary study,” which provides detailed insight into the expectations, mindsets, moods and environments of your users, written by your users.

Picture this: a company that provides products for new mothers is looking to understand how their website could better help mothers in need to care for their baby or themselves. By performing a diary study where mothers would track when they needed help, how they sought help and what types of devices they used during that time in need, the company learned mobile was huge and mothers usually only have one arm to use their device because the other arm was holding their baby. Understanding the context behind their experience, UX was able to create a unique mobile experience that allowed mothers to seamlessly navigate a website and find the information they were seeking with just one hand. Performing this study in a lab would never yield the same results from the diary study. So if you know who your users are, you can pick the right research method to gain the correct data, which will help you better align your site, experience or service with user expectations, and avoid costly navigation or experience issues in the future.

 

The one goal of UX design and research is to better captivate, engage and emotionally connect with users when they are trying to achieve a goal—no matter the time, place or circumstances. By uncovering these otherwise invisible or unproven theories you are able to improve the performance of your site and the satisfaction of your customer base. And when your customer base feels supported and heard, and avoids any negative encounters (think: website crashes, loading issues, payment problems), they not only help you avoid any future costly repairs or tweaks, they become loyal fans and consumers.

Have questions as you help your brand navigate the UX waters? Call Michael Baer at 844.LC.IDEAS.

P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter, for the latest in industry news, tips and inspiration. To start receiving updates from Laughlin Constable, subscribe here.

*Walker: “Customers 2020: The Future of B-To-B Customer Experience” (2013 Report)

8 Key Takeaways from the 2016 Digital Summit

Digital-Summit_Logo_Resized-1

The 4th annual Digital Summit, sponsored by Laughlin Constable and the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University, took place on Thursday, February 25, 2016. The daylong conference brought marketers and college students together to learn and discuss the newest trends in the digital landscape. Speakers from companies across the country provided key insights into how digital is the ultimate game changer in the marketing landscape.

Here are our main takeaways from the 2016 Digital Summit.

1. Technology has enhanced the perpetual importance of storytelling.

A compelling story that captures an audience’s attention has the power to make consumers listen to your brand. The many ways we tell stories have evolved immensely over time, thanks to innovative technology that has changed how consumers search for and digest stories.

Dan Williams, Midwest Sales Director at Spotify, expressed this concept with the emergence of the Streaming Revolution. Millennials are “soundtracking” their lives and curating playlists for specific moments or activities. For example, there are over 40,000 active “Shower” playlists on Spotify, averaging over 550,000 streams per day. Brands that strategically tap into these precise moments and weave their story with the consumer’s story will be reap the benefits of user loyalty and advocacy.

Laura Markewicz, VP of Digital Strategy at Laughlin Constable, touched on major technological advances, both historical and recent, that have changed the way stories are communicated. However, while technology changes, the power of a good story does not. As marketers, we must never stop using new technology to continue to tell stories and create experiences people love.

2. Meet your customers where they are searching.

Today’s rapidly evolving technology has introduced new media for consumers to search for anything at any given moment.

Joe Veverka, Search Insights Manager and Melissa O’Brien, Account Executive from Microsoft stressed why marketers should begin to consider the significant impact that mobile personal assistants such as Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Now and Apple’s Siri are making on paid search and digital advertising. Veverka and O’Brien emphasized that marketers should be adapting their pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns for voice search by using question words in certain keywords, such as “how,” “why” and “what.”

Veverka and O’Brien also explained that by 2018, Cortana is predicted to be the primary personal assistant for one billion Windows 10 powered devices. As mobile personal assistants continue to change the way consumers search through mobile devices, marketers must continue to adapt their paid and organic search strategies to optimize the reach and relevance of their content through this new search medium.

3. Stay authentic.

Now more than ever, it is crucial for brands to evolve with the quickly changing digital landscape, but stay true to their roots at the same time. Whether brands stay faithful to their heritage, are transparent at every consumer touchpoint or give back to the community, being authentic is the key to earning respect among brands’ target audiences.

Brad Heidemann, CEO of Tahzoo, defined the Experience Economy, where people value brands based on the experiences they have during their interactions with them, as the new market in which brands must compete to provide the most valued experience.

Patrick O’Brien, CEO of Paris Presents Incorporated, expressed the same idea with the Real Techniques brand partnership with Sam and Nic Chapman, two makeup artists and sisters from the United Kingdom, selected by Paris Presents Incorporated for their genuine interest in educating women on makeup tips. In their makeup tutorial videos, the Chapman sisters often use other makeup brush brands, allowing them to keep their audience’s trust and provide an authentic online experience with honest reviews, thereby growing their popularity and credibility as experts.

4. Dare to be different.

How can brands truly differentiate themselves and cut through the noise in their industries?

Laura Markewicz challenged her audience to pay close attention to what the competition was doing and find ways to do the opposite. For example, when other airlines charged their passengers more for tickets, luggage and assigned seats, Southwest Airlines took an entirely opposite approach. They chose to focus their whole brand around the customer experience. Southwest passengers have the liberty to choose wherever they would like on the plane and check their bags for free. As a result, brands like Southwest Airlines found competitive advantage through an entirely different approach than its competition.

When marketers choose to stop making minuscule changes, and instead strategically shift their approach to differentiate from the rest of the industry, the reward is often worth the risk.

5. Plan for your brand’s future.

As the digital universe grows, the potential disruptions in the future will have major implications for marketers. Instead of avoiding these major innovations, marketers must adjust and react to keep their brand competitive.

As Mark Carlson, EVP of Strategic Planning at Laughlin Constable stated, “If you hate change, you’re really going to hate irrelevance.” As technology evolves, marketers cannot afford to wait for the next big change, because if they do, they’ll fall behind.

With the example of Facebook’s new “reaction” buttons allowing for different expressions online (e.g., love, haha, yay, wow, sad, angry), Carlson discussed how marketers will have to continuously monitor how Facebook’s new reaction buttons will evolve what these human, everyday emotions mean in a social media context. In short, the brands that analyze, predict and adjust to changing digital consumer behaviors will triumph.

6. Experience is the most valuable currency.

Customer experience (CX), as defined by Augie Ray, Director of Research at Gartner, is more than just customer service. It’s about providing value beyond your product or service, and ultimately making your consumer feel better, safer and more powerful.

An example of a brand with superior customer experience is the ride-sharing company Uber. From its founding, the renowned and beloved brand found a way to disrupt the transportation industry by providing a ride to the user’s location when he or she wants it, making both riders and drivers feel secure and empowered with ratings and reviews accessible to both parties. This innovative concept disrupted a stagnant taxicab industry that was in dire need of innovation.

Overall, marketers must place value in each interaction a consumer has with their brand, and work to make every experience one to remember.

7. Connect with your customers in the moments that matter.

Google’s La’Naeschia O’Rear, Matt Eschert and Marisa D’Amelio discussed how mobile is now a behavior, not just a technology. On average, people check their phone 150 times, or 177 minutes, a day. These instances of needs-based mobile moments are opportunities for marketers to capture mobile users at their moment of need or want.

An example of this is how YouTube has become a hub for influencers to reach consumers with useful, interesting content that provides value and answers their needs-based moments, in the moment, from any device. Brands like Lowes leverage YouTube to empower DIY enthusiasts to complete home renovation projects on their own.

Marketers must identify these micro-moments where consumers are looking for support during their needs-based moments, and support them with the content they need.

8. Think like a human, not like a marketer.

Marketers have a tendency to focus on selling products and gaining profit instead of delighting their customers.

Erin Ulicki, VP of Sales at Okanjo, provided key tips for reaching consumers through native commerce, or serving up shoppable ads that correspond with the content of the article or webpage. Putting themselves in the customers’ shoes can give marketers insight into how delivering the right message at the right time in the right place is crucial to delivering a superior customer experience.

Laura Markewicz proved this point further by rewinding back to the first banner ad ever, created by AT&T, which had a 44% click-through rate. Over the past two decades, marketers have ruined digital banner advertising through oversaturation, with today’s benchmark CTR at only .07%.

Despite evolving technologies and online consumer behaviors, marketers must be the customer champion by always keeping their consumers’ best interests at the forefront of every marketing effort.

Making Trust Mobile

 

“Virtually every commercial transaction has within itself an element of trust,” wrote Nobel prize winner Kenneth Arrow. Arrow’s line describes why banks emphasize consistent and personalized interactions with their customers across all branches– to build trust. Back when an actual bank was central to all banking activity, personalizing customer interactions wasn’t too complex. Executives placed greeters at every bank entrance and favored tellers with the local accent who would address us by name. But as we’ve exchanged our interactions with bank employees for banking apps on our phones, banks have been challenged to adopt their familiar strategy of emphasizing human interactions to our screens.

The technology that enables personalization is consistently improving and I’ve noticed increased personalization in my banking apps. Today, my American Express app, for example, greets me with a message appropriate to my time of day. And my Chase app welcomes me with a background based on my location (as I write this post in the Chicago office, I am greeted with the Chicago skyline). In the words of Chase’s head of digital for consumer and community banking, these apps were built with the intention of “humanizing the [digital] experience” aka giving the customer a digital experience similar to the retail experience, a concept that technology has only recently been able to realize. While the app will never replicate human interaction, it has the potential to master personalized interactions on a scale that is impossible for a bank employee (who can easily forget information or get stressed on the job) to do.

As banks seek to regain our trust after the Recession (Gallup), their increasing ability to create a consistent brand experience across all mediums for their customers is great news. Not only do they signal a bank’s excitement to help us where we are – whether online or in the store – they also bring consistency to the bank’s brand experience, an important part of building brand trust and loyalty (Journal of Consumer Research). The banking industry’s ability to use mobile for building customer trust is certainly something we can expect other industries to replicate.

 

The Brand Ad Is Dead. Long Live The Brand Ad.

The brand ad is dead. But it’s not because there are no more brand ads. In fact, the opposite is true.

Because every ad is a brand ad. Further, everything a brand does is an ad.

Product ad? It’s the brand’s product. Sale ad? It’s the brand’s sale. Strong call-to-action? It’s the brand doing the calling.

So rather than deciding whether we’re doing a brand ad, let’s decide what kind of brand ad we want it to be.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

Reaching “Peak Bullshit” and Where We Go From Here

I’m a college graduation speech junkie. When you ask interesting people to share life lessons, not surprisingly, it can make for some pretty great stuff.

My favorite of 2013 was Jon Lovett’s address to the graduates of Pitzer College, which the 30-year-old former Obama speechwriter later excerpted in a piece for The Atlantic called “Life Lessons on Fighting a Culture of Bullshit.”

You had me at “bullshit,” Jon. Being that the recession created skeptics out of even the most trusting among us, I’m willing to bet his point of view will strike a cord with you too. It’s kind of hard not to agree with statements like this:

“One of the greatest threats we face is, simply put, bullshit. We are drowning in it. We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie; in industry-sponsored research; in social media’s imitation of human connection; in legalese and corporate double-speak. It infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth, making it harder to achieve anything.”

You can see where I’m taking this as it relates to brands. Phoniness is becoming a liability and, conversely, there’s more opportunity than ever for brands that are honest. In a McKinsey & Company article about the rise of socially conscious consumers, the growing importance of brand integrity is spelled out in the stats:

“At the same time, consumer trust in corporations has declined by 50 percent since the crisis. Consumers now trust only one in four companies on average. The dearth of trust in the marketplace makes it an agent of differentiation. As a result, the correlation of trust to brand equity has increased by 35 percent in the past three years. Trust, once an afterthought, can even help companies enter new market categories.”

Jon Lovett not only recognized a similar demand for sincerity in his commencement speech, he argued that it’s led us to an important cultural tipping point:

“I believe we may have reached ‘peak bullshit.’ And that increasingly, those who push back against the noise and nonsense; those who refuse to accept the untruths of politics and commerce and entertainment and government will be rewarded. That we are at the beginning of something important. We see it across our culture, with not only popularity but hunger for the intellectual honesty of Jon Stewart or the raw sincerity of performers like Louis CK and Lena Dunham. You see it across the political spectrum, from Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts to Chris Christie in New Jersey to Rand Paul in Kentucky.”

Marketing can’t create trust in this environment, it can only magnify it. More and more, people are looking into the practices and policies of the companies they choose to hand their money over to. Do they treat their employees fairly? What are their environmental policies? Where/how are their products made?

That’s why I think Jon’s parting advice to the Pitzer graduates is as relevant to brands as it is to individuals:

“All you have to do is avoid BSing yourself — in whatever you choose to do…be honest with yourselves, and others…reject a culture of insincerity by virtue of the example you set.”

Scientology as a Brand

You can learn a lot about a brand from its advertising. Here’s a good example:

(1)  Go to Google.com

(2)  Type “Scientology” into the search bar.

(3)  Look at the top paid result. What do you see?

I see an ad sponsored by the Church of Scientology. It reads, “Truth About Scientology  – You’ve heard the controversy.”

Regardless of whatever prior knowledge you might have about the religion, you can easily see that the Church of Scientology is using the ad to defend itself. The Church, like Mormonism, has never fared well in public perception polls, especially in the past couple of years. In response, the Church has turned to advertising, spending unprecedented amounts to combat the negativity and build a positive brand. Even though the Church’s campaigns are reactive, I believe that other religions can learn from Scientology’s attempt to strategically build its brand of religion.

The Church’s first large-scale campaign was in 2008 right after a video of high-profile actor Tom Cruise acting “manic” during a Church ceremony leaked.  Soon after, ad campaign “Get the Facts” launched. This campaign urged viewers to ignore any rumors and go to the Church’s website to learn ‘the truth.’ Subsequent campaigns also launched in the wake of PR crises but use an emotion-evoking strategy and attempt to position Scientology as the provider of meaning. Ads from these campaigns play inspirational music and speak about one’s existential quest for the truth.

In recent months, the media has increased its mostly negative coverage about the Church. In November of 2012, Vanity Fair published an article claiming that the Church controlled and destroyed Katie Holmes’ high-profile marriage to Tom Cruise. Three months later, Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright published his highly publicized investigative book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief. These, as well as other exposés, encouraged critical media coverage.

In November of 2012, just as this media hype was building, the Church of Scientology launched “Knowledge,” its newest ad campaign. While its underlying strategy isn’t novel, Knowledge’s media strategy represents many firsts for the Church and general religion. In November and December of 2012, the Church played a “Knowledge” commercial 16 times an hour in Times Square, including New Years Eve. In January, they sponsored an editorial-like article in The Atlantic and also aired the commercial during the high viewership AFC Championship and Super Bowl.  According to Karin Pouw, the Church’s spokeswoman, near future plans include airing the commercial on other prime time shows like Modern Family, Dancing with the Stars, Glee, and Vampire Diaries. The Church has never used such widespread and public media to spread its message.

Thanks to the Mormon Church’s “I’m a Mormon” campaign, Times Square billboards are no strangers to a religion’s ad campaign. But Knowledge’s other media platforms are and they represent Scientology’s departure from the spiritual realm where religions are supposed to live and its entrance into the commercial-marketing world. Although Scientology is often mocked, I believe other religions can learn from its use of advertising and modern branding. We live in a time when work is replacing religious institutions as the place for social connections (Einstein, 331) and religious membership is dwindling. In many regards, the current religion system is broken. Perhaps it’s time for religious leaders to take advantage of modernity’s offerings and learnings. Brands realized long ago that they need to attract and engage customers to survive. Religions are no different. They need members. Perhaps religions, not just ones like Mormonism and Scientology, should reconsider their marketing strategy.

 

 

 

 

SOURCES

Borzak, Ilana Rae. “Digital Divinity: The Mormon PR Crusade.” Web log post. Http://blog.laughlin.com/. Laughlin Constable, 3 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

Borzak, Ilana Rae. “The Church of Marketing.” Web log post. Http://blog.laughlin.com/. Laughlin Constable, 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

Cook, John. “Cult Friction.” Radar Online. American Media, 23 Mar. 2008. Web. 4 Mar. 2013.

Einstein, Mara. “The Evolution of Religious Branding.” Social Compass 58.3 (2011): 331-38. Web. 4 Mar. 2013.

Orth, Maureen. “What Katie Didn’t Know.” Vanity Fair Oct. 2012: n. pag. Condé Nast. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

Poggi, Jeanine. “Are Scientology’s Ads Aimed at Recruitment or Retention?” Advertising Age. Crain Communications, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

Digital Divinity: The Mormon PR Crusade

“What’s your favorite advertisement?”

I hear this question a lot. From friends, family, and people like Mike, the guy who sat next to me on my last flight. At this point, my response is instinctual. [Pause]. Then respond, “the ‘I’m a Mormon’ ad campaign.”

“I’m a Mormon” isn’t known for its success. It never won any prominent awards nor is it particularly successful in transforming the public’s general perception of the Mormon religion. In fact, most of the buzz the campaign generated criticized both the campaign and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the “LDS Church” and “Mormon Church”). Despite these opinions, I admire the campaign because it not only provides clear insight into both a religion’s perception of itself and its desired positioning, but it also challenges our general understanding of how a religion functions.

The “I’m a Mormon” campaign launched in 2009 when the Church’s longstanding tensions with the American public were amplified. During this time, the Church and its members were taking an active role in the political sphere (ex: Proposition 8 and Jon Hunstman Jr.) while shows negatively depicting the religion, such as Big Love and Book of Mormon, were hurting the religion’s reputation. The media did not respond favorably and the Church turned to global agencies to help them with their image problem. The resulting campaign’s strategy is clear: depict the Mormons as an open and all-accepting religion. Members who defy the ‘Mormon stereotype’ (not just Republican, white, and well-educated) weave their personal stories and beliefs into compelling video clips. These were posted in taxis and on billboards (including two 40-foot billboards in Times Square), phone booths, and YouTube. Every ad directs the viewer to a then-newly revamped website — Mormon.org — where pictures of smiling Mormons from all ethnicities welcome the visitor. The site also provides a forum to chat with a Mormon hand-selected based on information one shares with the site. On every page, the visitor is urged to learn more about the religion. Regardless of whether the Church’s base intentions are retention or recruitment, the Church uses this digital-heavy advertising campaign to extend a friendly hand to the secular community of today.

The Mormon Church’s use of a multi-million dollar campaign shifted the religion from our American understanding of the Sacred to the Profane.  American culture and its understanding of social categories are influenced by its Puritan-Protestant beginnings which distinguishes between a physical and spiritual world. Grounded in these beliefs, American culture understands that spiritual institutions, or in this case religious ones, do not employ commercial tactics.[1] To some, the LDS Church’s use of an ad campaign transformed Mormonism from a consecrated American religion into a commercialized brand, like Gap or Dollywood (for which the LDS Church’s agency is also an Agency of Record).  For others, it eroded the distinction between the religious and commercial world. The advertising forced people to accommodate their schematic understanding of the relationship between advertising and religion, Mormonism, or both.[2]

I believe that the Mormon Church was fully aware that the “I’m a Mormon” campaign communicates more than its basic strategy. The Mormon Church’s public embrace of modern forms of communication that major brands of today’s world freely employ separate it from other more ‘traditional’ religions. Time will tell but I believe that while the “I’m a Mormon” campaign might not have accomplished its perception changing goals, it does mark the beginning steps in revolutionizing how we understand advertising and religion, or at least how a religion uses media.

And that is why “I’m a Mormon” is my favorite advertisement.

 


[1] In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber speaks about this phenomenon in his native North Europe where Protestantism is common. He argues this point when describing the rise of capitalism in this area.

[2] Peter Berger’s Sacred Canopy goes into great detail about how a nation’s worldview is shaped by a certain set of common assumptions.

Yoga For Brands: Alignment

Is your brand feeling sluggish? Is it becoming less flexible? Is it in need of a spark?

Brands that answer yes to one or more of those questions could learn a thing or two from alignment – a core concept of yoga.

Proper alignment:

  1. Promotes better circulation. When your brand is properly aligned, a central idea can flow more easily from one media to another. Defining the bigger picture clearly provides proactive support for real-time ideas.
  2. Provides proper space. When your brand is properly aligned, space is created. Space to think. Space to breathe. Space for more people to feel ownership while building from a common understanding.
  3. Creates a strong foundation. When your brand is properly aligned it can stretch farther than you ever thought possible – and still know that its feet are planted firmly on the ground.

Paying attention to the alignment of your brand – how its positioning, its architecture and its core principles affect how decisions are made – can help revitalize an otherwise plodding path.

With practice, enlightenment may follow.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.