I spend a lot of my time planning integrated campaigns with our clients, and the one thing everyone wants is to be relevant. To be part of the conversation that’s happening right now. And these days, that’s no mean feat. Our moods and conversations are swift, dynamic and transient. Social discourse is increasingly impermanent and hard to grasp, taking place in stories and snaps that are gone within hours or minutes. If you’ve ever seen a murmuration of starlings, shift and turn, I imagine it something like that. Millions of tiny pieces of content, flowing and changing each moment.
This year in particular, this has really hit home. How many months or years of planning were obliterated when the pandemic became the only story? I doubt anyone’s plans for 2020 bear much resemblance to the campaigns and appeals they have live right now. As marketers, we’ve started to realise how hard it is to predict our audiences – to be audience-led, when they keep slipping through our fingers. We create a campaign; gather insight, plan the media, develop the proposition, all to find the conversation’s moved on without us.
Take this week. Just when we thought we understood the media story, had a proposition around coronavirus we were starting to optimise; George Floyd. Overnight, our audiences’ attention and emotional charge has shifted. A vital, brutal conversation is happening that we cannot, should not, ignore.
What do we do, then? Because (and I say this with the greatest love for our dear sector) speed isn’t always our forte. Just doing things faster isn’t always an option. When we don’t know where the minds of our audiences will be from one day to the next, how can we be truly audience led? How can we plan? And how can we do it before the discourse has changed again?
I suggest, three things.
The first is a question to ask yourself repeatedly. Should we be telling this story? Does this campaign come from our most pressing and urgent organisational need? It’s great to be out fast with a relevant message, but get this wrong, and it could backfire horribly. If you don’t have a seat on that bandwagon, don’t jump on it.
The second is to be ready to pivot. It’s hard when we’ve spent months or even years planning activity to have it suddenly on hold. Forcing things through won’t help. If the flock has moved on, try to go with the flow and embrace where they are headed.
The third is the most radical but I think the most potent. If you do have the right story to tell, if, suddenly, the media is behind you, just get out there with something for your audiences to share, support or do. We don’t always need to craft a polished suite of ads to put in front of our audiences. Sometimes all that encourages is a passive action. We can activate them, let them get involved, and ask them to help create and share our campaign.
Platforms like TikTok are designed just for this. We can look to the music industry who are having massive advertising success on the platform, by letting the audience tell the story their way. Your deliverable here isn’t a film, it’s a brief for creators, that gives them the story to tell, the inspiration to get creative.
And you have to trust. They may want to flex your brand guidelines, let them. They might want to give in a different way, let them. This is where earned media and peer to peer lives. This is where viral lives. This is where #nomakeupselfie and Choose Love and Run 5k live. Colonel Tom didn’t have a campaign strategy. But NHS Charities Together told their story in a way that allowed everyone to play their part. There isn’t just one way to support that campaign, there are hundreds. The result is people sharing stories, and doing what they can, for a cause they believe in. Which is, in its purest, loveliest iteration, charity.
You may not end up with the campaign you intended, but if people have taken your story, and found their own way to tell it, share it and support it, isn’t that even better? Isn’t that totally and completely beautiful?
That’s why we’re developing new kinds of campaign strategies, that look beyond paid media and leave the door open for supporters.
If we really want to be relevant, we need to relinquish some control over to the people we are speaking to. They’re not just ‘target audiences’, they can be advocates, makers, dancers, volunteers and billboards if we give them a chance. If you really inspire them, they’ll do more for you, for free, than any paid media ever will. Be brave. Let them.
If you’re ready to let supporters tell your stories and would like to talk about how Open can help you develop a truly relevant campaign strategy, we’d love a chat, just ping us an email.