Friday, July 08, 2011

The move from impressions to expressions

A lot of us remember when the role of the CMO was much simpler. Information flowed in one direction: from companies to consumers. When we drew up our plans and budgets, the key metric was consumer impressions: how many people would see, hear or read our ad?

Today the only place that approach still works is on Mad Men. Now information flows in many directions, consumer touch points have multiplied, and the old, one-size-fits-all approach has given way to precision marketing and one-to-one communications. Perhaps the most consequential change is how consumers have become empowered to create their own content about our brands and share it throughout their networks and beyond.

In the near term, "consumer impressions" will remain the backbone of our measurement because it is the metric universally used to compare audiences across nearly all types of media. But impressions only tell advertisers the raw size of the audience. By definition, impressions are passive. They give us no real sense of engagement, and consumer engagement with our brands is ultimately what we're striving to achieve. Awareness is fine, but advocacy will take your business to the next level. (I used to think that loyalty was the highest rung on the consumer pyramid) 

So, in addition to "consumer impressions," we are increasingly tracking "consumer expressions." To me, an expression is any level of engagement with our brand content by a consumer or constituent. It could be a comment, a "like," uploading a photo or video or passing content onto their networks. We need to measure those expressions and apply what we learn to brand activations 


So what are the keys to winning in this new era of empowered, engaged and networked consumers? Here are some of the top "expression" lessons Iv've learned so far:
Accept that consumers can generate more messages than you ever could. Don't fight this wave of expression. Feed it with content that touches consumers' passion points like sports, music and popular culture.

Develop content that is "Liquid and Linked." Liquid content is creative work that is so compelling, authentic and culturally relevant that it can flow through any medium. Liquid content includes emotionally compelling stories that quickly become pervasive. Similarly, "linked" content is content that is linked to our brand strategies and our business objectives. No matter where consumers encounter it, linked content supports our overall strategy. When content is both "Liquid and Linked," it generates consumer expressions and has the potential to scale quickly.

Accept that you don't own your brands; your consumers do. it's become even more important with the growth of social media.


Be a facilitator who manages communities, not a director who tries to control them In an era of consumer expressions, seek to facilitate and participate with communities, not control them.


Speak up to set the record straight, but give your fans a chance to do so first. Of course, not every consumer expression will be positive. You have to be part of the conversation so you can set the record straight when you need to