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‘Brands need to find a model for letting go’ in consumer-led world says P&G social marketer

James Miner, Josh Black, Jim Ribbans, Stuart Labrooy, and Andrew Trimboli

James Miner, Josh Black, Jim Ribbans, Stuart Labrooy, and Andrew Trimboli at Digital Matters in Singapore

A former P&G marketer who was behind SK-II’s award-winning foray into Japan’s beauty blogosphere said at an event last week that brands needed to be braver in a consumer-led world, but the industry is struggling to keep up because “there is no model for letting go.”

Speaking on a Digital Matters panel on brands working with influencers called ‘The revolution is not being televised’, Stuart Labrooy, who led a blogger engagement project called ‘Beauty Circle’ that gave influencers complete editorial control, said that brands “being afraid to invest and lean in comes from lacking a way of thinking that feels strategic.”

“The agency world is saying let’s go do something, but the brand world is obsessed with how it’ll work. We need to be ok with letting go,” said Labrooy, who now works for digital marketing consultancy Point of Ignition.

“Five decades of training [in traditional marketing] needs to be unlearned because of how in control consumers now are. But we don’t have a systemic model for letting go,” he said, adding that brands are often encumbered by “indecision or paralysis by analysis”.

Brands “need to listen first. We are supposed to do that. It’s becoming more important now,” in a world where marketers are becoming “overwhelmed by complexity and distracted by technology,” said Labrooy.

“We say consumer centric, but we don’t do it,” he commented. “You need to be humble with your brand, you’re not that important,” he said.

Labrooy said at an event earlier in the year that brands shouldn’t worry about bloggers trashing their brands. “If they want to hate on your product they’ll do it anyway, whether they’re working with you or not,” he said at the last ever Ad:tech Asean.

Also on the panel was Andrew Trimboli, regional head of content strategy at Sapient Nitro. He reiterated the need to understand “what’s important to the consumer in their world.”

“Good copywriting doesn’t necessarily make a good content creator,” he said. “Bravery for brands doesn’t necessarily mean a big show or a flash mob. The bravest are those who truly listen to consumers and are not brand centric.”

The regional head of content for media agency GroupM, Josh Black, who later shared that of his company’s 8,000 staff in Asia, 320 work in the content space (the rest do traditional planning and buying), said that brands in the digital space haven’t learned from the TV industry.

“It was all about interruption,” he said of the TV ad era. “A tax for watching content.” The introduction of the interruption model on to the internet, pre-roll ads on YouTube an example, has been met by consumers saying “they’re not interested,” Black said.

But content marketing has not yet been able to convince clients of its value, he added.

“Marketing directors have to convince their boss about measurement, how it impact sales, awareness, loyalty and brand love. We don’t always give them that. That’s why good content ideas die on the floor,” he said.

Content is becoming “industrialised,” Black said. “It’s a price discussion. It gets to the point where the margins are so slim that you literally can’t put your best people on it.”

He recounted an occasion recently where his agency lost a pitch to a competitor that was pitching on a one per cent margin. “What sort of people do you expect to hire? A bunch of interns and junior staff?” he said.

Black noted that the brands well known for producing popular content, such as Red Bull and Pepsi, operate on high margins.

Labrooy concluded that the best way to sell-in a content marketing idea is to come up with a good working prototype. “Even if it’s a bit of a failure, you have something to build on. You have a structure on which you can bet harder.”

“Figure out an argument that works commonsensically. Partner share or revenue share and go and execute it. That’s how clients can scale up,” he said.

The traditional campaign approach “should die. Campaign thinking is flawed logic,” he said, adding that brands need to build platforms that last.

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