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Clever vs. Strategic: What You Need to Know

I was the marketing manager for an urban residential real estate developer back when real estate was booming. You could see any number of cranes in the downtown Seattle skyline. Budgets were big, competitors were plentiful, and we needed to get attention for our projects to fill them up with retail and residents.

clever vs strategic

Someone decided we would send out mysterious care packages to strategic partners and potential tenants. It would be a series: Magnets for the refrigerator and one after another they’d arrive in the recipients mailboxes slowly unraveling the mystery to who was sending the packages and what we were “selling.”

I didn’t get it. How was this expensive campaign, as clever and original, and perhaps thought-provoking as it was, going to lease our beautiful spaces? This was prior to 9/11. One could get away with sending anonymous packages through the mail, and spending money on initiatives that create brand awareness and “buzz” without necessarily showing any direct revenue.

And today, technology enables us to implement these kinds of buzz grabbing campaigns at relatively little to no cost. This translates to more brands trying like crazy to get attention with whatever it takes to get attention. Even if it means posting a picture of a puppy.

But attention doesn’t equate to sales. Given limited resources, each of us has to make decisions on behalf of our employers or clients: How do we allocate the budget based on a return?

There is a place in this world for clever campaigns that make us laugh and share. I’m not opposed to the clever tweet or video that goes viral simply because it makes us all laugh or cry, and not necessarily buy. They build buzz and get people talking about you.

The best happen organically and not because a brand set out to do it, but because they have a social strategy in place that allows for creativity and quick thinking.

Like Oreo.

Clever that works

The Oreo cookie in the Superbowl blackout was very clever. It was delivered right on time – not after the blackout but right in the middle of it. It was funny, smart and I honestly can’t believe how much buzz it created – for one piece of share-able content.


Stirring the pot when it shouldn’t be stirred

On the other end of spectrum of clever is brands trying too hard to get attention. They are so focused on increasing metrics like followers, shares and likes, they stop thinking strategically and do whatever it takes to get that thumbs up.

That kind of thinking gets brands in hot water. I don’t know the backstory but I’d guess when Epicurious tweeted about cranberry scones in honor of the Boston Marathon, someone was focused on metrics and saw a potential opportunity to get attention and drive traffic to their site. It ends up being disingenuous and offensive.

Newsjacking that makes sense

Most of us don’t have the luxury of implementing tactics that are designed to generate conversation. We have to show bottom line results.

Newsjacking is the idea of getting attention by tying into a trend or current event and offering a unique perspective. Every time the internet blows up with something newsworthy or cringeworthy, only a small handful of brands legitimately have the opportunity to newsjack and it always depends on the situation. It’s never the same.

When a former head of PR communications for a major corporation sent an offensive tweet before boarding a long flight and that tweet went viral with no one to respond/defend for several hours, it highlighted the need to be monitoring reputation 24/7. The reaction to the tweet attracted national media attention and the world awaited Justine to land, even creating a hashtag for the event.

That’s when GoGo Inflight joined the conversation. While some felt it was distasteful of them to do so, and they later apologized, there was a legitimate message. Things would have been different had she had inflight internet.

Remember United Breaks Guitars? A country singer wrote song and created a video around his bad experience with United, which broke his guitar. The video went viral.

Taylor Guitars successfully newsjacked with a video of the CEO in their factory, in a genuinely informative video on how to travel with guitars, TSA regulations and where you can find them (on their website), and how they fix all guitars not just ones they make.

I like to think marketing has changed. I like to think we value the intellect of our audience enough that a mysterious package of cool magnets isn’t enough to convince them to open their boutique in the ground level of your beautiful new glass tower with high income residents living in the floors above.

That we don’t have to engage in what Gogo’s Steve Nolan calls “borderline topics to raise some activity in social media…”

A brand’s activity online should be driven by a strategy based on bottom line metrics.

For more marketing advice from Lisa Gerber, click here. 

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