Marketing Goes Off-Script
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Marketing Feb 1, 2016

Mar­ket­ing Goes Off-Script

Behind the scenes with three orga­ni­za­tions that are suc­cess­ful­ly engag­ing customers.

A woman steps out of a mobile device to engaging with a customer

Yevgenia Nayberg

Based on insights from

Gregory Carpenter

Farhad Manjoo

Matt Simpson

Kathy Button Bell

In March 2016, Chicago’s Muse­um of Sci­ence and Indus­try will open an exhi­bi­tion called Brick by Brick,” fea­tur­ing, among oth­er LEGO cre­ations, a 60-foot repli­ca of the Gold­en Gate Bridge. The exhi­bi­tion mar­ries the museum’s abil­i­ty to pro­duce com­plex, ambi­tious exhi­bi­tions with LEGO’s sta­tus as a ven­er­a­ble, well-loved brand that has had a real resur­gence in the last five to ten years,” says Matt Simp­son, the museum’s chief mar­ket­ing officer.

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For Simpson’s mar­ket­ing team, build­ing a show around a great prod­uct is only half the bat­tle. The team also has to fig­ure out how to use dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy to gen­er­ate inter­est and add val­ue to the exhibition.

We’ll use dig­i­tal media to do some sto­ry­telling at the front end,” Simp­son explained. And we’ll look to use dig­i­tal in fun and new ways that extend the expe­ri­ence. We may allow kids to design some­thing using dig­i­tal tools, for instance, and then cre­ate it using 3-D print­ing. So you may be using dig­i­tal tools, but your cre­ation isn’t trapped there.”

In oth­er words, the team’s strat­e­gy takes full advan­tage of new tech­nol­o­gy to tell a sto­ry and encour­age engage­ment with a brand. Simp­son and oth­ers at the 2015 Kel­logg Mar­ket­ing Lead­er­ship Sum­mit empha­size the impor­tance of cre­at­ing a cul­ture that can embrace inno­va­tion and respond nim­bly to chal­lenges at a time when dig­i­tal tools are pro­lif­er­at­ing rapidly.

The ques­tion for orga­ni­za­tions is how they can adapt what they do well while also chang­ing what they don’t do well,” says Gre­go­ry Car­pen­ter, a pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing and direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Mar­ket Lead­er­ship at Kel­logg. Every orga­ni­za­tion devel­ops a cul­ture based on past expe­ri­ences, and then they’re faced with a new real­i­ty. And that new real­i­ty is digital.

To be adept at dig­i­tal, you have to be fast, you have to be agile, you have to be decen­tral­ized and less struc­tured, and you have to have more coop­er­a­tion and trust,” Car­pen­ter says. The big chal­lenge orga­ni­za­tions face is trans­form­ing them­selves from hier­ar­chi­cal and cen­tral­ized to more col­lab­o­ra­tive and trusting.”

Here are ways com­pa­nies are look­ing to mas­ter their dig­i­tal-media mar­ket­ing strategies.

Using Dig­i­tal Partnerships

To cre­ate Brick by Brick,” the Muse­um of Sci­ence and Indus­try part­nered with Adam Reed Tuck­er, one of about a dozen LEGO Mas­ter Builders in the world.

The col­lab­o­ra­tion makes sense logis­ti­cal­ly — Reed Tuck­er lives in the Chica­go area — and syn­er­gis­ti­cal­ly, since it gives LEGO and Reed Tuck­er a stake in the exhibition’s suc­cess. The dig­i­tal pos­si­bil­i­ties of this part­ner­ship are espe­cial­ly promis­ing. The muse­um will enhance its YouTube pres­ence, mar­ket the exhi­bi­tion, and add val­ue for guests — and poten­tial guests — with short, share­able videos that not only doc­u­ment the devel­op­ment of the exhibition’s struc­tures, but invite LEGO fans and dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ties to build” entire­ly new cre­ations that become part of the Brick by Brick” story.

The big chal­lenge orga­ni­za­tions face is trans­form­ing them­selves from hier­ar­chi­cal and cen­tral­ized to more col­lab­o­ra­tive and trust­ing.” —Gre­go­ry Carpenter

Sim­i­lar­ly, the glob­al man­u­fac­tur­ing and tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny Emer­son Elec­tric has part­nered with Hank Green — a musi­cian, blog­ger, and sci­ence pop­u­lar­iz­er whose short YouTube videos about sci­ence have a par­tic­u­lar­ly large fol­low­ing — to cel­e­brate its 125th anniver­sary in 2015. Emer­son cre­at­ed a plat­form on its web­site that fea­tures Green’s short videos, as well as links to arti­cles and updates on sci­ence and engineering.

With their mutu­al goal of encour­ag­ing inter­est in sci­ence, Emer­son and Green are an easy fit. Their rela­tion­ship has helped Emer­son reach a broad audi­ence while also build­ing its iden­ti­ty. In a three-month peri­od in ear­ly 2015, traf­fic to Emerson’s web­site spiked — from about 25,000 page views to near­ly 500,000. One explic­it ben­e­fit to Emer­son has been the grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple who vis­it its careers page, result­ing in a larg­er pool of appli­cants seek­ing jobs with the company.

In anoth­er suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship, Emer­son Elec­tric col­lab­o­rat­ed with LinkedIn and The Atlantic mag­a­zine on a tar­get­ed mar­ket­ing cam­paign. The Atlantic curat­ed the edi­to­r­i­al con­tent, which focused on women and engi­neer­ing, while LinkedIn used its data­base to pin­point recip­i­ents. It’s been the sin­gle most suc­cess­ful thing we’ve done, per dol­lar,” says Kathy But­ton Bell, Emer­son Electric’s chief mar­ket­ing offi­cer. The engage­ment lev­el — peo­ple read­ing it, shar­ing it, push­ing it along — is just over the top when you can make the con­tent that precise.”

Telling the Brand Sto­ry through Digital

Suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies can offer cus­tomers a sig­nif­i­cant com­pet­i­tive dif­fer­ence by telling the right story.

Take the tech indus­try. What makes many tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies so suc­cess­ful is not nec­es­sar­i­ly that their prod­ucts are faster or objec­tive­ly bet­ter, accord­ing to Farhad Man­joo, who writes about tech­nol­o­gy for The New York Times. Instead, it is the sto­ry those com­pa­nies tell about them­selves that makes the difference.

In many ways, Apple is the leader in show­ing how to sur­vive and thrive in a world dom­i­nat­ed by lots of choic­es,” says Man­joo. A few years ago, many peo­ple in the tech indus­try thought that com­pet­ing smart­phones would become so good that peo­ple would start ditch­ing the iPhone for com­peti­tors. And the rea­son that hasn’t hap­pened is that peo­ple have a deep affin­i­ty with their iPhones. The sto­ry that Apple tells becomes part of their identity.”

A key to Emer­son Electric’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Hank Green, accord­ing to But­ton Bell, is the pow­er of dig­i­tal cam­paigns to help define and tell a company’s sto­ry. The empha­sis on sto­ry­telling led the com­pa­ny to focus on sup­port­ing sci­ence edu­ca­tion and women in engi­neer­ing, espe­cial­ly on LinkedIn. That more gen­er­al advo­ca­cy, rather than prod­uct-cen­tric appeals, has helped to define, rede­fine, and expose the company’s values.

Doing some­thing about your cor­po­rate char­ac­ter, rather than sell­ing, is 100 times more effec­tive when you’re doing social,” But­ton Bell says, because it gets shared, and you can’t be a shill. If you’re doing social, it had bet­ter be pure of heart. Oth­er­wise, you look like a cheap rug salesman.”

In addi­tion to help­ing you reach the audi­ence you want in a way that comes across as authen­tic, using the most cur­rent media chan­nels con­veys a pow­er­ful mes­sage about how com­mit­ted the com­pa­ny is to stay­ing cut­ting edge.

Cre­at­ing Com­mu­nal Expe­ri­ences through Digital

TV and video stream­ing and on-demand ser­vices have made it increas­ing­ly pos­si­ble for view­ers to watch what­ev­er they want, when­ev­er they want to. This has led to TV audi­ence frag­men­ta­tion. But some shows are buck­ing the trend, becom­ing appoint­ment tele­vi­sion” by using social media to add val­ue to the expe­ri­ence dur­ing the shows’ orig­i­nal air­ings. One of the high­est-rat­ed shows on net­work tele­vi­sion, Scan­dal, is par­tic­u­lar­ly adept at doing so: its cast and crew use Twit­ter to add com­men­tary in real time dur­ing orig­i­nal broadcasts.

There’s this com­mu­nal feel­ing that peo­ple get when they watch while talk­ing to oth­er peo­ple, and that’s lack­ing when they watch alone,” Man­joo said.

The dou­ble-edged sword of tech­nol­o­gy — its frag­ment­ing effects and its abil­i­ty to bring peo­ple togeth­er — presents both chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties for organizations.

The Muse­um of Sci­ence and Industry’s ongo­ing exhi­bi­tion, Future Ener­gy Chica­go,” now offers a mul­ti-par­tic­i­pant sim­u­la­tion game in which teams com­pete against one anoth­er, using the same piece of soft­ware, to design a sys­tem of ener­gy con­sump­tion, pro­duc­tion, and dis­tri­b­u­tion. The team that cre­ates the most ener­gy-effi­cient sys­tem wins the game.

You can be mak­ing a deci­sion across the room that impacts what I see in front of me,” Simp­son said. So, what you learn very quick­ly is the inter­de­pen­dence of all the elements.”

The game’s flu­id­i­ty and inter­ac­tive and coop­er­a­tive dimen­sions are a good mod­el for the kind of busi­ness cul­tures that are poised to thrive in the dig­i­tal era.

In the past, devel­op­ing a strat­e­gy was like mak­ing a movie, where you could script every­thing,” says Car­pen­ter. Today, it’s much more like improv, and peo­ple who are good at mak­ing movies aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly good at improv. In the more decen­tral­ized world, lead­er­ship isn’t about dic­tat­ing. It’s more about devel­op­ing a shared vision. That’s one rea­son you see so many more orga­ni­za­tions focus­ing beyond mak­ing mon­ey on mean­ing. That focus helps every­one feel more con­nect­ed to the core mis­sion of the organization.”

Featured Faculty

Gregory Carpenter

James Farley/Booz Allen Hamilton Professor of Marketing Strategy and Director of the Center for Market Leadership

About the Writer

Theo Anderson is a writer and editor who lives in Chicago.

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