Stanford GSB article. How to break through the digital noise

The company’s chief evangelist for brand marketing explains how to “get your customers to listen.”

If you want to know how dramatically brand marketing has changed in the digital world, consider the humble Ziploc bag. It used to be that such mundane products were only the fodder of advertising inserts in the Sunday newspaper. But if you search for “Ziploc bags” on YouTube, you will find them there — or, more precisely, customers’ reviews of them — by the thousands.

That is because even mainstay companies such as SC Johnson are experiencing a huge shift in the way customers spread the word about their products, said Gopi Kallayil, chief evangelist for brand marketing at Google. Brands ignite, and customers amplify, he told a standing-room-only crowd at Stanford Graduate School of Business on Wednesday, February 19.

YouTube reviews amplify the household staple whether SC Johnson encourages it or not. “You don’t have a choice; they are going to do it anyway,’’ he said of customers speaking their minds digitally.

“Brand marketing is becoming permission-based,” said Kallayil during his lunch-hour talk entitled “Building your Brand in the Digital Age,” sponsored by the Mastery in Communication Initiativeand the Center for Social Innovation. Even as customers click past ads or ignore them, they do give some brands permission to market to them. They do so by liking the company’s Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and Google+ pages. “Accumulating permissions is the one thing savvy companies do,” he said. It sends companies the message “every day you can send me messages and I am willing to read them.”

Toyota has even started putting customers in the driver’s seat when it comes to buying a car. Knowing that many car shoppers dread going to the dealer and soon become overwhelmed by choices, Toyota wanted to find a way to make the shopping experience more pleasant and useful. And, who better to seek advice in buying a car than from your dad or big sister. Enter theToyota Collaborator, which Kallayil helped the auto company develop. It allows users to hold a Google+ Hangout video chat with their friends and relatives, who can help them design their dream car by dragging and dropping various features into a model of the auto. Should you have a question, you can click to call a dealer into the Hangout to answer the inquiry.

Kallayil would not give exact user numbers for the Collaborator, which started three months ago, but said Toyota is happy about the results so far. This is a “branding event” that carries the message that Toyota is reinventing the car-buying experience.

To be successful, companies have always had to establish an emotional connection between their customers and their brand, and today there are so many different – and relatively low-cost — tools for doing so. The Indian government’s highly successful #incredibleindia tourism promotion is based on crowdsourced photos from travelers rather than those from professional photographers. The ongoing “Thank you, Mom” campaign that P&G has been broadcasting throughout NBC’s coverage of the Olympics in Sochi was built with video snippets of 12 athletes throughout their childhood.

The video Kallayil showed of the moms picking up after the falls of their budding Olympic athletes, left some in the audience wiping away tears afterwards, even as a few snickered over its sappiness.

Consumers will ignore brand advertising unless it engages, entertains or educates, he said. Consider Volvo’s video of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Epic Split Feat.”

Attracting more than 69 million views thus far, the video created by Volvo includes just a single sentence of promotional text: “This test was set up to demonstrate the stability and precision of Volvo Dynamic Steering.” One look at Van Damme stretching his legs between two Volvo semis driving in reverse and you will understand why it went viral.

Taking the “extremely boring” and turning it into entertainment is the brilliance of a Virgin America Safety Video, that depicts entertainers dressed as flight attendants and passengers dancing and singing about the plane’s safety features. Total views of the 5-minute YouTube video: more than 8 million and counting. Now that the FAA has allowed mobile devices on some flights, the big question on social media is whether the texting nun depicted in the video will stay or go if that section gets cut, he said. And even more amazing is the fact that passengers on Virgin America flights actually watch the video, Kallayil said.

“The noise is deafening now across all sorts of media,” he said. The question is how to “get your audience to listen.”

Deborah Petersen