5 Brand Activation Trends Sweeping Through APAC

Brand activation is just another one of those fancy marketing phrases, right?

Wrong.

Brand activation is the strategy behind how marketers are creating engaging audience conversations. Whether via social platforms, experiential marketing, or native advertising, the end goal is not to push products but to engage consumers in an experience that builds brand awareness.

The recent 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro offers a pair of solid examples: Car manufacturer and official games sponsor Nissan created inspiring athlete videos and a 40-foot bungy jump for tourist use. Post-Olympics, Nissan reported 2.4 billion Twitter impressions and 4,000 global articles.

Equipment supplier Technogym also got involved through its “Let’s Move for Rio” social campaign, creating beach gyms and donating equipment based on logging people’s “moves” through its cloud-based recording system. Post-Olympics, 49 million moves were collected and 22 gyms were outfitted accordingly.

Increasing customer engagement and participation, however, are not new, so what tactics are getting the best cut-through for marketers across the APAC region? Here are five brand activation trends achieving successful results.

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence has started to resonate with marketers and, surprisingly, in complicated industries, such as banking and finance, which are incorporating the technology to improve customer experiences.

As leader of ANZ’s digital sales and marketing team, Chaminda Ranasinghe has made streamlining the customer journey the bank’s main priority.

“The simpler you make a journey, a product, or an experience, the more success you have, particularly in the digital sphere,” he said. “That’s from a customer experience perspective, as well as a business outcome point of view.”

AI has become such an anticipated tool for marketers because the processing power, speed, and connectivity of computers now offers some incredible opportunities, Ranasinghe said. “I can see a future where the device that I’m holding–my phone or computer–will have AI built into it,” he said. “It’s almost like a virtual private assistant or personal assistant that makes the choice for you based on your previous behaviour.”

Ranasinghe said he sees marketers’ roles evolving to become far more creative, leaving computers to do the analytical “grunt work.” He added: “Computers aren’t very creative. They’re good at doing repetitive things, but thinking outside the box, understanding someone’s emotional state and responding to it–that’s the sort of stuff that machines don’t do well.”

Communication Platform Advertising
New players in the social platform space are continuing to emerge and challenge the established giants, such as Facebook and Twitter. Some, such as China’s WeChat and Russia’s VK, have carved out large shares of their own country’s social platform market.

Social platforms are attractive for marketers looking to expand into a local market because they provide a one-to-one communication channel with a mass audience. A good example of a successful creative campaign was Burburry’s exclusive experience for WeChat followers to view the Fashion Week Autumn/Winter Womenswear show. Users received exclusive audio, photos, and text messages from celebrities.

In China, WeChat dominates social media platforms with 800 million active monthly users–a number that is hard to ignore, said Graham Fink, Ogilvy and Mather’s chief creative officer.

“Social media in China is huge. It’s not just a way of connecting with people–it’s almost a way of life,” he said. “People are often humble and don’t really say much in their day-to-day life, but on social media they can express themselves.”

However, Fink warned that engagement will not come by storming the platform with a generic message; communication needs to be customised. What works in one province in China, for example, won’t always work in another, he said.

Audience Segmentation Revisited
Audience segmentation, specifically gender targeting, is making a resurgence in marketing plans.

According to Bec Brideson, a gender marketing pioneer who assists companies to better target women–who account for 50% of the world’s population and is worth $24 trillion annually–that group is overlooked strategically and underestimated in value. In fact, she said, many brands still market to women through a male lens.

But others are getting it right when they back appropriate causes that create engaging experiences for female consumers. “There’s the ‘Like A Girl’ ad, which has been a phenomenal success and questions what it means to run like a girl,” Brideson pointed out.

Native Advertising
Native advertising has had a poor reputation for placing awkwardly branded advertisements on your favourite media channels just to annoy, but that perception is finally changing.

Ian McClelland, managing director of The Guardian Australia, said he is seeing huge growth in its native advertising stream. “There’s a desire for brands to engage more with their audiences–to tell stories and to properly communicate and participate in two-way conversations,” he told the CMO Show in the spring.

By stating exactly which stories have been written or paid for by brands, The Guardian has successfully implemented a native advertising model without turning off its audience, McClelland said.

“We’re making our language even clearer, so we’re going to say ‘paid for by’ and then the sponsor, giving an explainer that says basically the money for this content has been provided by a brand and they’ve had to sign off on it, so they’re in control,” McClelland said. “We’re pretty comfortable now with that terminology, and we know our readers are because we’ve done this in dialogue with them.”

Native advertising won’t necessarily work for every brand and should be assessed as part of your holistic marketing approach, McClelland added.

Empowering Your Front Line
Frontline staff are the face of the company, which means training and investment are both necessary to keep them on-brand.

This is especially true in retail, where empowering frontline staff should be a main priority, said Emma Sharley, director of Emma Sharley Consulting and an experienced brand marketer.

“When you’re visiting a Westfield [shopping mall], it’s the whole experience which really defines whether the customer will come back or not,” she said. “One of the main trends we’re seeing this year regarding brand strategy is the importance of looking internally.”

The key to empowering staff is to ask them directly for feedback. “Often you’ve got brand ambassadors in the company of all age levels and backgrounds that you can consult,” she said. “It’s not a sales assistant anymore–it’s a genius or a brand ambassador or whatever term may be relevant for the industry.”

For brands with brick-and-mortar stores, experienced and invested staff are an essential differentiator to the prevailing online market, Sharley added. “Everything from their presentation to their product knowledge to their service is important,” she said. “They’re an ambassador for the brand, and customers become emotionally connected to them and the business at the same time.”

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