In this fast-changing, crowded day and age, brand experimentation is essential. It’s not just about changing parts of a brand’s messaging, look & feel, or advertising — it’s also about trying out new or different platforms. The process can be a little hit and miss — I laughed when I saw that L’Oreal created Snapchat lenses — but having content spread out across unexpected touchpoints does pay off: L’Oreal has been repeatedly named the world’s most powerful cosmetic brand. In an interview with Google, L’Oreal mentioned:
Whether you’re a global company like L’Oréal or a smaller brand, testing new ideas or tools takes investment and resources. That’s why anything that we test has to be something that we think can really make a difference at scale. This isn’t about looking for shiny objects, this is about taking big bets on things that we think will really help achieve a wider business goal, then seeing whether or not we were right.
To make sure that we’re staying on track and getting the biggest bang for our buck, every test has to have what we call a “learning agenda”. That’s where we outline what questions we’re looking to answer, what new insights we’d like to uncover and the steps that we’ll take to get there.
To take a page out of L’Oreal, this means:
- Having an overarching goal for your marketing: whether it’s to get X number of quality leads a month or to get Y number more visits to your site. Having a definite set of Key Performance Indicators in mind will keep your strategy on track.
- Don’t be afraid to try new ideas or new tools, even if it takes an investment.
- Anything you test should be potentially able to help you reach your overarching goal.
- Have a set of ideas that you need confirmed or answered. Is X your best target audience for your product? Is it being sold in the right way, at the right place? Should you expand?
Brand Experimentation on Different Platforms
If you’re above a certain age, or not particularly into social media, you probably aren’t familiar with TikTok. It’s currently one of the most popular social media apps on the planet: in September 2018, it had more monthly installs on the App Store than Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, and was downloaded more than a billion times that year. Tiktok is, basically, a video-based social media platform for sharing and creating short lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos. You might have seen its influence in the rise of the biggest song right now on the charts: Lil Nas X’s smash country trap hit “Old Town Road”. Prior to gaining mainstream success, it built its popularity through memes on TikTok. This eventually led to the song rising through the Billboard Country charts, only to get struck off for not being “country” enough, igniting a furore about inclusiveness in country music (Lil Nas X is young, black, and queer). A remake that included Billy Ray Cyrus has been on a record-breaking run on the charts and is currently Billboard’s longest-running #1 song ever.
This success might not have happened without TikTok. The app is a second iteration of the now-defunct Musical.ly, which was a similar app launched in 2014 by Chinese entrepreneurs Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang. It was acquired by a Chinese tech company, Bytedance, and merged into TikTok (called Douyin in China). It’s now available in 150 countries, in 75 languages. While TikTok is still finding its legs as a commercial platform, the Director of US Marketing, Stefan Heinrich, was a popular figure at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. Via FastCompany:
“Part of the reason TikTok has taken off is that things move in trends,” he says. “People have been in a perfect, manufactured world for a while, where they have to live up to expectations and ideals. Now it’s about real life. Real people. It’s getting a window into someone else’s life, with surprise and delight. And because it’s content-driven, not connection-driven, you see people you wouldn’t normally see, outside of your traditional circle.”
The app doesn’t currently have a broad paid advertising business, though brands and organizations—from Chipotle to the UN to the San Diego Zoo to the NBA—have signed up and are creating content, as individual users, not official advertisers. Given its revenue potential, that won’t last long. TikTok does have an ad-tools platform in beta being tested by a select number of agencies right now, but for the moment Henrich says they’re simply working to connect brands with their community of creators.
Brands should consider TikTok ads or TikTok influencers if they’re marketing to a young user base (16+), have social media and video content as a core part of their strategy, and are focused on entertainment, reach, and engagement. Relatively untapped platforms like TikTok would mean that your brand’s marketing would be more visible than usual, since you aren’t competing with as many brands for attention in that space. Just like L’Oreal, brands should try new platforms (if it fits their aims and target audience).
That aside, there’s much that brands can learn from TikTok itself. The concept behind it isn’t new–it’s pretty much Vine 2.0 as a social app–but the way it’s taken off in such a massive way indicates that often, the ticket to success is equal parts luck, identifying an unfulfilled niche, and having a brand that strongly appeals to a large section of the market. There’s nothing marketing can really do about the first bit other than try to help it along, but experimentation can definitely help you find your niche and perfect market.
Messing with your Messaging
Messaging isn’t just the copy that goes with your brand–it includes how your brand portrays and conducts itself over varying touchpoints. This could include packaging, imagery, even the tone of customer service. Does it fit your brand guidelines? (Dare we ask: do you even have brand guidelines?)
Experimentation can also include testing the messaging in focus groups before the campaign is released to the public at large. This is the safest way to have a good indication of how a campaign will be received, but it’s not a set-in-stone indication. We usually recommend it to customers who can afford the budget for testing.
According to comScore, about 54% of digital messaging goes unseen by consumers. To get heard nowadays among all the noise, you need a strong message and strong content that’s relevant and accessible to your target audience. Are there alt tags? Subtitles? Does your video work with the sound off? Is your message memorable, and isn’t unnecessarily detailed or convoluted? Experimentation will help you determine whether your message is working, or help you find and tweak it until it does. You can do that by carefully testing different offerings over a period of time, and doing monthly audits to check which gave you the most value in terms of engagement or leads.
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