SXSW 2018: Serve Ads to the Circumstance, Not Just the Individual

Potbelly Smile ScaleAs marketers, one of the first and most important things that we can do for our business is to identify the audiences for our product or service. Our audiences (yes, that should always be plural) are typically defined by a combination of demographics and psychographics that help us fit a diverse selection of human beings into a few loosely constructed boxes. But with an unprecedented amount of data now available to businesses it’s time that we introduce context and circumstance into the equation.

The MAP Lab, part of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at Michigan State University, has executed a number of studies on the effect of ads and marketing on individuals and how empirical data can be used to help reach the right person, with the right message, at the right time. The team there suggests that our Appetitive System, which combined with our Aversive System helps drive human motivations, is the key to getting individuals to change their behaviors. In other words, marketers and brands need to deliver messaging that quickly and clearly encourages people to “approach” psychologically instead of the withdrawal that the wrong message can cause.

A great practical example of this framework comes from a case study shared by Marcus Collins, a professor at MSU and a SVP at Doner Advertising. Potbelly, a Chicago-based (delicious) sandwich shop, wanted to differentiate themselves from a glut of other similar (but, in this author’s opinion, not as good) competitors by creating messaging around the fact that they were selling happiness and not just a sandwich. As part of a 2017 campaign to help launch this new messaging, Potbelly found 100 “sad” tweets and had musicians deliver custom videos with songs addressing the upset individual. Smiles and sharing followed in droves.

Additionally, Doner and Potbelly created the “Smile Scale”, an algorithm that listens in on social conversations to collect data on happiness (or lack thereof). So when Chicagoans were cranky about traffic or the citizens of Cleveland were mad the Indians lost, users saw different ads tailored to their city’s unique topics and “sadness drivers.” The video case study below highlights the program and some of their incredible business results.

Another way to use content to bring joy to your customers is by accurately serving engaging content that speaks directly to their stage in the customer journey. Many brands, both small and large, create wide swaths of prospecting, top of the funnel content (Uber and Lyft, with their discounts that are only good for the new customers, are great examples of this) and then consider their job done. But all that strategy does nothing to increase loyalty, engagement or trust. No matter their demographic or psychographic, the message a customer wants to see will differ greatly depending on where they are in the product lifecycle.

Next time you’re creating a content strategy think about your customers as human beings and consider all stages of the journey they are in with your brand. How nice would it be to be sent a great, relevant piece of content AFTER your purchase or interaction is already complete?

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