Re-addressing a brand’s relationship with its public

Once upon a time we could avoid a brand simply by changing the channel, or making tea in the ad break. Now viewers are able to pause live TV, allowing them to fast forward adverts, and the online viewer can download 'Adblocker', a piece of software which has become so popular that channels such as 4OD and ITV Player are stopping viewers from watching their programmes unless they disable software; but surely brands need to learn from the fact that people are actively seeking ways to avoid them, rather than finding ways to force themselves upon an unwilling public?

Some people (myself included), will create a separate e-mail account for brands who they believe may spam them in order to claim a discount or participate in a promotion without being bombarded with messages, or will give out mobile numbers with the last digit changed when registering with brands online. However attempts to hide from brands are amateur in comparison to the increasingly sophisticated technology which enables brands to track our online activity and 'digital body language'. A software called 'C3 Metrics', for example, can identify how far a website user has scrolled down on a page in order to interpret whether an advert has been seen or not and another piece of software, 'drawbridge', tracks a person's activity as they move across devices (i.e. from tablet to mobile). Brands mustn't make the mistake of stalking and trapping their audience, there is a reason that we are deliberately misdirecting their messages, but should spend more time researching what an audience actually wants from them Australia.

Even though there are increasing amounts of information available about consumers' spending habits, brands must carefully consider how to use this information to avoid being associated with security breaches and spamming. The use of 'Do not call' and 'Do not mail' lists is increasing and there are proposals to introduce a 'Do not track' list to prevent companies tracking the online activity of under 18s. This significant growth in people actively seeking to reclaim their privacy and demanding to be able to opt out of being contacted has an inevitable knock-on effect for marketing, and brands need to become more sophisticated in tailoring their messages to individual consumers and potential consumers without it appearing that they have tracked their online activity and purchase history; even if this is the case.

Another key message that brands need to take on board is that less is, more often than not, more. Whilst an occasional post to alert the public about an offer, discount or new campaign is acceptable, repeatedly spamming the public with identical posts is not and is only going to annoy and alienate the very people that the brand wishes to engage. Brands seem to have learnt from Habitat's mistake of 'hashtag hijacking' in 2012 when the company used 'hot words' on Twitter to ensure the company was always trending – a horrific use of digital media – yet posts by brands still often contain multiple and irrelevant hashtags. A 2014 survey conducted by Stastica found that the average number of interactions generated by brands' Facebook posts drops when more than two hashtags are included, highlighting the importance of how posts by brands on social media must be clear and relevant. There is also a misconception by brands that young people, in particular students, are happy to communicate with brands because they are tech-savvy, have the most spare time, and spend the most time online. Yet the Freshers' Marketing Report 2013 by the Beans Group revealed that almost half of the 1,115 university students surveyed said explicitly that they do not want to talk to brands using social media, while a third said they do not follow a single brand. Brands know more about their target audience than ever before and although this information must be used carefully, it means that brands should be able to engage with audiences in a more relevant and personal way, rather than tricking consumers into seeing them on social media by using a multitude of irrelevant hashtags.

The key message that brands need to learn is that they must invite the public to engage with them. Brands need to work to make their audiences captive, and this will not happen by simply regurgitating the same message again and again or by using sly tricks to try to force a passive public to listen. One way that brands can re-address their relationship with the public is to switch from intrusion to invitation, and Twitter's 'flock to unlock' tool highlights a step towards this new way of thinking. The concept of the tool is to ingeniously reverse a consumer's mentality from wishing to avoid an advert, to actively wanting to view it. Pioneered by Puma, Twitter users must actively engage with the brand by re-tweeting a post in order to 'unlock' the advert. This concept of making adverts a privilege, rather than a misfortune, must be built upon if brands want to avoid losing customers.

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