The Collapse of the Journey
Why are we overcomplicating how we interact with audiences?
Hi. Hey. Hello. This is the seventh edition of The Other 90. If you missed the first six, you can read them here. It's been a while since I posted, so I hope you didn't miss me too much.
SXSW: It's panel picking season, and if you liked my post about The Science of Hype from earlier this year you'll love my SXSW panel about... The Science of Hype. But don't vote for it because of me - do it for my fellow panelists - Rod Thill (aka @Rod of TikTok fame), Facebook's Social DEI Marketing Lead Bridget Bogee, and Havas CSO/President Tim Maleeny. Give us an upvote and I'll give you a hug if that's a thing people are doing in person in the spring of 2022.
Let’s start here:
Do you have a favorite slide or talking point? That one thing that you try to fit into as many presentations as you can because it feels prescient and needed and valid? For some folks, it's a specific stat they love to call out. For others, it might be a beautifully designed ecosystem. For some, it's just a photo.
My favorite slides & talking points come and go with the seasons, and even if the point being made is the same, the content is ever-evolving. For example, I always find it important to remind folks how little time & attention people have for brands. At first, I used a bunch of stats detailing this dilemma in intentionally overwhelming fashion. When I got tired of the stats, I filled a slide with dozens of GIFs of pop culture minutiae to make a similar point (this also gave me a good chance to work in Easter eggs for my own satisfaction, like a GIF of Nick Foles lifting the Super Bowl trophy and a smiling Guy Fieri popping out from behind an oven). Finally, a few weeks ago someone from my team found this delightful video on Instagram, which summed things up much better than the first two versions of the slide and is currently how I express the original point that I was trying to make.
That paragraph is a bit of a long walk, but the point is that it’s okay to admit we have favorite talking tracks that we use again and again to help make some of the key statements you sometimes have to make in our industry. And right now, one of those points that keeps popping up in my rotation looks a little like this:
As strategists, we spend a lot of time looking to understand the path through which someone comes to a product. Consumer research tools and survey data, sentiment analysis and trend reports - they all help us understand where our primary audiencemay discover something for the first time, and also where they are more likely to end up purchasing from. I'll admit that for some products (particularly major purchases or long campaign trajectories), the journey remains extremely extensive. BUT, for many many other products (the majority of them?), the journey has become a lot more simple. And that's the point of the slide that I love: That in a lot of cases today, there isn't a "journey" so much as there's one piece of well-placed content that can potentially do it all.
Why is this happening now? Blame digital innovation. The more commerce driven social platforms become, the less an arrow-to-here-then-to-here-then-over-to-here makes sense from a touchpoints perspective. Data from past campaigns I worked on showed that in most cases, every hoop we made someone jump through lost us a bunch of the people we wanted to jump (the exception to the rule: extremely rare or coveted products that made the hoop-jumping worth it). But now, most of the hoops of the past are gone. Hell, you don't even need to make people swipe-up on Instagram much anymore. Instead, Instagram shopping has exploded, TikTok is testing native shopping, and every social platform looks basically the same.
The same-ification connected commerce push of established social platforms - plus the continued division of attention & time spent due to a renaissance moment for new and emerging platforms - should be forcing us to simplify the story we want to tell and the way we talk about how we get our audience from awareness to purchase. I love a good messaging hierarchy and a clean set of communications tasks, but sometimes we strategists can architect ourselves into a position I can only describe as being framework fucked. Instead, one of my favorite questions to ask clients is "What is the one thing you want your potential audience to tell their friends about you?" Armed with their thoughts, we can compare that to the reality of our consumers' expectations, and see where a story can blossom that allows us to talk to people like... heaven forbid... people.
At the end of the day, this conversation comes back to value. The majority of the time we show up in the spaces of our consumers, we weren't invited. So if we're going to invade their space, take up their time, and ask for their money, what value are we providing them in return? Discount codes are cool, but value can be so many other things - humor, knowledge, even time. If you show that you respect your audience and their decision making skills by giving them the clarity they need to make their decision, they are going to listen, and act. And they might even do it all from one post.
So what's your favorite slide right now? And what story are you trying to tell with it?
I learned via Twitter earlier this year that icebergs don’t actually float like the icon I’ve used for The Other 90’s logo. In retrospect, this seems obvious, but if you’d like to draw your own iceberg and check on how it would float, you can do so here. My sincerest apologies to anyone who was using my icon as a true scientific barometer of how icebergs work.
Again, please vote for our SXSW panel. Thanks!
The Other 90 is written by Rob Engelsman, a former baby model and now the SVP, Head of Strategy & Relevance at Annex88 in New York City. You can find him on Twitter, Instagram, & LinkedIn.
I believe I've mentioned this before, but I find calling people a "target" audience uncomfortable and a bit malicious. At Annex88, we try to avoid that language and prefer things like "primary" or "focus" audience.