Farewell Don Draper - How to Increase Brand Engagement in the Modern Media Landscape

A headshot of Leisa Northcott

by Leisa Northcott

Colourful illustration of two men watching a commercial advertisements with notifications popping out of the screen.

The brooding, bourbon-swilling creative mess that was Don Draper once said, “People want to be told what to do so badly they’ll listen to anyone”. The man may be fictional and the sentiment obnoxious, but he wasn’t entirely wrong. In marketing’s early days, a catchy jingle, clever slogan or buxom spokesmodel was all a brand needed to capture the hearts and minds of its audience—and open their pocketbooks. But the traditional channels of print, radio and TV have since expanded to include PC, tablet and phone where modern consumers are bombarded with brand messages every waking hour. And this is only the tip of the iceberg as marketers plaster their messages everywhere from shopping carts and bathroom stalls to bus stops, sidewalks and hay bales in farmers’ fields.

All told, digital marketing experts estimate that the average person is exposed to somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 brand messages each day. These guesstimates are nigh on impossible to validate but suffice to say, people are up to their screen-fatigued eyeballs in advertising.

Colourful cartoon illustration of TV displaying and advertisement of a woman in a red bikini with multiple urgent calls-to-action.

The landscape has changed and so have people. No longer are we the passive, doe-eyed targets of Don Draper’s Madison Avenue heyday. Today’s consumers are savvy, spending-conscious and more than a little bit jaded. And today’s technology-driven digital economy has tipped the power scale in the consumer’s favour. Empty brand promises are promptly – and often viciously – exposed in our borderless digital world where peers and influencers spread both positive and negative sentiment like wildfire. Most importantly, people actually don’t want to be told what to do – least of all by someone who is trying to sell them something.  

So, if (surprise, surprise) shouting at people doesn’t help brands endear themselves, what does? Increasingly, people are choosing to interact (and transact) with brands that bring value into their lives. These brands may provide entertainment, help their customers do something better, make them smarter, make them happier or even send signals about their values, social ideals or status. People engage with brands that provide enrichment and enablement – they make their lives better and/or empower them to achieve their personal goals or project a particular image. You don’t just buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, you buy into everything it means to be a HOG (Harley Owners Group) member and everything the iconic brand represents, and has stood for, for over a century.

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Brand engagement is taking over where one-directional advertising left off. This isn’t just some trendy marketing tactic, it's a new way of thinking about how your brand relates to its audiences. Brands should no longer think of the customer’s relationship with the brand. The customer’s relationship is the brand.  The same digital world that has, in some ways, complicated things for marketers, has also opened up endless opportunities to engage with customers in real-time at many different touchpoints. At one time, brands only interacted with customers at the point of sale and through their customer service department, usually in the event of a grievance. Now, brands can engage with their audiences at any point in the sales funnel or customer journey.

Read More: 4 Steps to Engagement Marketing

The old adage goes that, "all things being equal, we do business with people we like and trust”. Brand engagement is the ongoing process through which you and your brand become liked and trusted. Ideally, when the time comes for a purchase decision, you’re the one they’ll think of first. To accomplish this, you’ll need to connect with your audience openly and often. There are a number of different ways to do this including experiential events, direct marketing campaigns, loyalty programs, surveys, and social media polls and conversations. if you’re present and willing to listen, you’ll find that people are eager to tell you what they want.

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From there, you’ll be equipped to provide them with valuable content. Obviously, it’s not the role of a medical supply company to crack people up with witty videos, or the role of a comedy channel to provide tips on travelling with oxygen tanks. You have to approach engagement from the perspective of adding value related to what you do best and the problems your brand solves. Current customers will appreciate the useful info, and prospective customers will see you as a brand who cares about its customer’s problems and needs. Blogs, newsletters, websites, e-blasts and social content offers can all be used effectively to deliver tailored content to your fans and followers.

Involving your customers in the ideation process and letting them have a voice in your products or services is also a great way to build trust and gain valuable insight. You may have heard of crowdsourcing, where a company poses a particular problem or challenge to the public to solicit fresh ideas or solutions. This can work well as a one-off or occasional stunt to garner some buzz for your brand . If you’re up for a longer-term engagement, co-creation is an ongoing, collaborative process that can deliver continuous value. Co-creation requires building a community of a brand’s most enthusiastic customers and employees, and regularly interacting with this community of peers to innovate and solve problems together. By collaborating on the regular, both brand loyalty and advocacy are ignited and maintained for a much longer time.

Build a Community: Our Community Platform Features

Another way you can engage more meaningfully with your audiences is to take them ‘backstage’ for a glimpse of the inner workings of your brand.  Behind the scenes stories and videos are great ways to show off the human side of your brand and make people feel like VIPs. Insanely popular on Reddit, an AMA (Ask Me Anything) is a fun way to let your audience get to know you, while gaining insight into the questions and topics on their minds.  You can also build excitement and anticipation through giving valuable customers sneak peeks of new products or services, or by offering them exclusive access to updates, special offers or product trials. HTC built a wildly successful community for their superfans where they tested products before they hit the market, got feedback, and built buzz for each release. 

Deploying some or all of these tactics will no doubt reap tangible benefits including increased loyalty and advocacy and decreased churn. Creating your own branded online community can help you corral your target audiences and consolidate your efforts under a single, more easily managed umbrella. Here, you can serve content, share in memorable brand experiences and let your customers help craft better marketing decisions and campaigns.

Some of these outcomes can be achieved using a social platform like Facebook, but there are advantages to managing the bulk of your community interactions in a space your brand owns and controls. In an owned community, you can custom tailor the content, provide a wider variety of activities, have more control over the narrative and build smart groups. Plus, you’ll own your data and can pull in-depth, personalized reports.

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Ultimately, in a post Don Draper world, customers want to be in charge of their own journey, and it’s up to brands to find a way to steward the process, add value, and find opportunities to connect. In a fragmented global market, your customers can be almost anywhere. You can spend a lot of time shouting into the digital abyss hoping you’ll reach them – or you can find ways to gather them together and speak with them directly. Either way, it’s what you do when you have their attention that matters. The most successful and memorable brands build strong, two-way communication channels that form rational and emotional connections with their customers. The kind of genuine connections that ensure people will want to do business with you so badly you won’t even have to worry about telling them what to do.

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