Is marketing just a giant game of snap? Challenging thinking series 2.

You have something someone wants. They get excited when they get it, because they win. And that’s what it’s about, right? The customer winning. Plus, the really exciting bit is that you don’t really lose – their satisfaction is your fortune.

In this series, we’re exploring the countless ways challenging thinking has led to breakthroughs and positive change. Here are some top examples of ways people have challenged traditional marketing strategies and tactics to give their customers a winning hand.

Something for nothing

This principle is central to a good content marketing strategy. It’s not about giving people something to promote your brand, but something which is truly going to benefit them.

Take The Michelin Guide. First published in 1900 as a free guide for motorists, it contained useful information on hotels, petrol stations, and mechanics throughout France. Over time it evolved to include maps (1910), the first fine dining star (1926), and the second and third fine dining stars (1931). Today the guides are available in over 20 countries. And whilst the physical guide has been charged for since 1910, a lot of the information is once more available for free on Michelin’s country specific microsites. Michelin could not have predicted the enormous success of its guides – but what the Michelin brothers, André and Edouard, did predict was how the demand for driving motorcars would increase, and with it a desire to know places worth visiting, or worth stopping off at en route to their destination. Strategically clever. And different from earlier marketing tactics.

So, now we all know the tactic, and as it’s less surprising, can it still work? I think so. The success of the Arctic Monkeys, which alongside their obvious talent, can be largely attributed to their decision to make their music freely available via the Internet in 2005. Their devil-may-care attitude helped them to build a sizable fan base way before they signed to a record label, and gave their audience exactly what they wanted. Win-win.

However, this approach doesn’t always work – marketers with the best intentions end up muddying their content marketing efforts by combining something useful with a sales plug. Not quite what your audience is after. Keep your intentions aligned with your audience’s needs and you’ll have a better chance at success.

Stand for something

Not just anything, but something that you and your customers believe in. Let’s consider some of the brands which were built on just that: BrewDog, The Body Shop, Toms, and Oatly.

BrewDog shared a passion with their target market and stood up for it. On their website, they write “Martin and I (James) were bored of the industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales that dominated the UK beer market. We decided the best way to fix this undesirable predicament was to brew our own. Consequently in April 2007 BrewDog was born.” It’s a frustration that resonated widely, and through a number of marketing stunts and a strong product, they’re still on the up.

The Body Shop has had an interesting journey. Built on Dame Anita Roddick’s passionate stance on providing beauty products which were not tested on animals, it came as a big shock when to the public when it was sold to L’Oreal in 2006 – a brand which seemed to have very different values. Interestingly, in September this year it was bought from L’Oreal by Brazilian firm Natura. According to Marketing Week, Christopher Davis, international director of corporate responsibility and campaigns at The Body Shop, has taken stock of the importance of standing for something, stating, “The business was founded as a force for good and Natura is helping us to revive that activist spirit”.

Toms is a phenomenal brand, not only for the power of its “One for One” mission – where the company aims to give away a pair of shoes to someone who needs them for every pair bought – but also for its annual “One Day Without Shoes” initiative, which this year engaged 3.5 million people in a single day.

The brand Oatly is growing rapidly. According to The Guardian it “produced 28m litres of oat milk in 2016 and plans to have a capacity of 100m by 2020”. Oatly states on its website “Our sole purpose as a company is to make it easy for people to turn what they eat and drink into personal moments of healthy joy without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process.” You can see that they mean business.

Help people

According to a CIM report in March, “87% of marketers revealed there is now more pressure for brands to act ethically and provide a role model for society. This is not just because it’s a good thing to do, but because there is more pressure to do so – 89% believe the internet, and particularly social media, is giving consumers more information on how brands behave and more power to affect change.”

Marketing is increasingly tied in with finding ways to behave ethically as well as demonstrating their business’ desire to help. In times of crisis, this can be especially reassuring for people. Adweek reported that following Hurricane Harvey in August these brands offered support to those in Texas: Airbnb, Amazon-Whole Foods, AT&T, Chobani, Duracell, PepsiCo, United Airlines, Verizon, and Walmart.

Sharing goodwill and offering what you can may be becoming increasingly commonplace, but because there are so many important causes across the world, and so many people who need help – challenging thinking will always need to be applied to find new ways to support those who need it most.

Excite people

Sometimes you can give people the buzz of getting what they want through entertainment. Like the huge success of comparethemarket.com and its comparethemeerkat.com marketing campaign. People loved it because it was different, and the campaign challenged not just how brands advertised insurance, but how people advertised in general.

Red Bull is another brand which did something different. Their strapline, “Red Bull gives you wings” is still prevalent in their marketing and behaviours. The company’s marketing strategy has always focused on getting involved directly with their target audience – from their “sampling” promotions, led by energetic university and college students who were provided with a branded car, to their sponsorship of unique events aimed at people in their target market. True to their style, they haven’t stopped innovating. In January, Campaign reported “Red Bull was the most shared video brand of 2016, according to video ad tech company Unruly”. The brand is thriving on its ability to keep challenging convention.

Involve people

Whilst personalisation is increasingly mainstream, Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign was pretty groundbreaking. By replacing their logo with the 150 most popular names in various countries, they were able to drive sales and engage on a new level. What we can all take from the campaign is the importance of involving people and making them feel like they have a stake in your brand.

So, who wins?

Well, the brand and the customer. What’s interesting about each of these examples is how they challenged the marketing behaviours of their time, found new ways to establish themselves in the hearts and minds of their customers, and in doing so achieved the “snap” moment their buyers were looking for, making sure that their customers won every time.