Why you need to be proactive about reactive marketing

White Paper

Reactive marketing, news-jacking, piggyback-marketing or ambush marketing – there are many names thrown around to describe the techniques where brands react to their wider environment and attach their marketing communications on to popular cultural, sporting or social events.

Download this paper to learn how you can inject your brand seamlessly into the discussion of major events.

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Reaping the benefits

The Super Bowl is one of the world’s most iconic sporting events, watched by more than 100 million people in the United States and many more across the world, so it is somewhat unsurprising that Oreo’s tweet is held up as the gold standard when it comes to reactive marketing. It is unlikely that the success of this campaign will ever be surpassed, but the lessons are there for all to see.

But it doesn’t necessarily require such an enormous event to make an impact and find your own respective ‘pot of gold’. Events that your audiences value and are engaged with come in all shapes and sizes. Whether your audiences are engaged in sport, film, arts, television, a particular kind of politics or the latest internet meme or fad, the opportunities for reaching your audiences are limitless.

Over the course of 2015, we have seen brands achieve huge levels of coverage targeting events as varied as the Rugby World Cup, The Great British Bake-Off and Back to the Future Day – to name just three. The Great British Bake-Off, in the UK in particular, has become something of a cultural phenomenon, with audiences spread across an incredibly broad demographic. This has created an opportunity for a wide variety of brands to use #GBBO as an extremely powerful tool to join in the conversation with a highly engaged audience. Twitter and Instagram hashtags are providing a golden opportunity and platform for brands to produce genuinely useful, relevant and engaging content on some of the world’s hottest cultural events.

But isn’t everyone doing this now?

Reactive marketing is becoming something of a crowded marketplace, but that is no different to practically any other form of digital marketing, particularly if you are using the medium of social media. That’s because this form of marketing offers potentially huge rewards for comparatively minimal cost. Put Oreo’s campaign into the context of the typical $4.5million that it takes to advertise for 30 seconds during the Super Bowl, and there is no questioning the success of that tweet. But whatever you do try to do in this format, it has to be fast, it has to be relevant and it has to be remarkable.

It is important here however to ensure that your brand doesn’t attempt to ‘shoehorn’ itself into a conversation that is offering nothing to. Worse still, you should not try to inject your brand into a conversation that it has no right to be a part of. There are plenty of brands that have been caught out by trying to latch-on to hashtags that weren’t appropriate for their audiences. You can read about those in our How to Manage a Social Media Crisis guide. The content you produce here has to add something to the conversation. It could be a humorous take on events, it could be an opinion, an interesting fact or an engaging piece of creative. Achieve this and, by the very nature of social media, your campaign has the potential to soar.

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Reaping the Benefits

As with many social media campaigns, benefits such as engagement, click-through rates, likes, shares, retweets and social media conversation are all in the discussion, and these all represent the value on a cost effective, quick to deploy campaign that does not necessarily have to be resource intensive. Much of this is because the audience that you want to attract is already congregating in a central location, typically rallying around a particular event or hashtag around whatever it is that they are interested in, be it a sporting event or a television programme.

They are already engaged with that event, engaging with the huge quantities of content around it. This level of engagement around an event allows you to demonstrate your brand’s personality. Consumers have a tendency to engage more actively with people and brands that have a personality that they can align with, and with brands that share the same levels of passion as them for the things that interest them; it is why brands spend huge sums trying to align themselves to particular sporting events or television programmes. This is why, contrary to what many may tell you, reactive marketing doesn’t come across as intrusive or welcome. In fact, done correctly, it is often embraced.

Done correctly, and with a bit of luck on the side, this approach to marketing can yield benefits that go way beyond the typical social media metrics. It’s common now for examples to effective or innovative reactive and social media marketing to receive write-ups across the web as an example of best practice (and if done badly, worst practice), which generates long-lasting exposure and high authority referrals – which bring with them benefits to your search marketing campaign.

Getting proactive about reactive marketing

Reactive marketing is something that many brands have been guilty of diving into without any real strategy or approach, and no real idea on the end goal.

It’s important to take a proactive approach to reactive marketing and plan your strategy well in advance. This might sound counter-intuitive in some respects (after all, how can you plan a reaction to something that may or may not happen in a live event?), but putting a strategy in place will give your campaign the best possible change of success and, perhaps more importantly, help to mitigate and manage any risks that are associated with launching a campaign on what is often a volatile medium.

Identifying your events

What events matter to your audiences? What do they engage with, and how do they respond to those events online? What is likely to align with both their values and your brand values? These are the questions that you need to answer if you are going to try and use reactive marketing as an engagement strategy. If your audiences are avid football fans, then you have a pretty clear direction on the types of events that you should be targeted. If your audience is perhaps a bit geeky, then a blockbuster Sci-Fi release is probably going to be more successful.

Ensuring a valid connection between event and brand is paramount. A great example of such is the World Cup series of tweets from Guinness. Taking their iconic white-headed pint image, smart reactions to several match results allowed for variations of said image to be deployed swiftly after a game’s completion. Once you understand the events that matter to the audiences that you want to attract, start planning these into an event marketing calendar.

An event calendar is an essential part of your reactive marketing strategy. However, this does not mean that your campaign should be rigid and regimented – expect the unexpected and be prepared to respond to anything that could be of interest to your audiences. A process and a resource for responding to breaking events, such as a royal story or key news that is relevant to your brand, industry or audiences, should also be firmly in place to ensure all opportunities are explored.

Resourcing your reactive marketing operation

You need to establish who within your organisation is responsible for this kind of activity. Will reactive marketing fall within the remit of an existing team, or will you plan a specific resource (be it third party or inhouse)? Remember that many of the events that you may target could occur outside of traditional office hours (and even in different time zones) so consider how you will schedule this resource.

Whoever you do entrust to run your campaign, ensure that they are fully guided on just what they should and shouldn’t be doing on behalf of your brand. It is very easy for a brand to be caught in a social media furore due to nothing more than an ill-planned or misguided post, so ensure that the people running your campaign are aware of the boundaries. Your brand guidelines will be useful here, as these will reflect the image and the tone of voice that your brand wants to project, and what your audiences expect.

Know where your audiences are active

In any given week, there will be numerous opportunities for a brand to execute some form of reactive marketing campaign. Events such as Strictly Come Dancing and the X Factor, staples in the annual TV, can be easily prepared for but others, such as the announcement of the latest Bond movie, could come somewhat more out of the blue.

Whatever the event is, you need to understand just how likely your target audiences are to engage with that event and, if the event is relevant to your brand in some way, the ways in which they will engage with it. Are those users likely to rally around a particular hashtag? Which platforms are they most likely to use?

Choosing the right platform

The social media landscape has never been more disparate and it is important as a marketer to understand the nuances of each platform, how they distribute content and how audiences interact with those platforms. Facebook, for example, offers plenty of targeting options but its algorithm strong controls how content is distributed to its users in a manner which isn’t conducive to ‘live’ content that relies on an immediate impact.

At a recent Twitter conference, one message shone through loud and clear: “Use our platform for reactive advertising!”

The very concept of Twitter is built around immediacy and brevity, and when you’re trying to use it as a marketing channel, artistry. Advertising needs to be digestible to make an impact, especially when the greater focus is elsewhere (in this case, the events on the pitch, on screen or on stage). Users browse Twitter during television ad breaks, whilst commuting, before rising from their slumber. Facebook users may do likewise, but they don’t follow events in quite the same way. Twitter is focused more on information discovery and interaction; and that relies on relevance and immediacy.

Twitter and TV - A match made in heaven?

Second-screen viewing is really facilitating this style of marketing, and it is largely being encouraged by both event promoters and broadcasters. A recent Accenture report found that 87% of consumers use a second screen device (such as a tablet or smartphone) simultaneously whilst watching TV, usually discussing amongst a community of highly engaged followers on social media.

Twitter is now providing a specialist targeting options that are designed to allow brands to really capitalise on this phenomenon. TV targeting allows a brand to reach users continuously, or to reach them either during or immediately after a show has aired – when users are likely to be discussing the event of programme most fervently.

Event targeting, a recent introduction in the UK, has an ever growing list of wonderful albeit somewhat randomised list of popular events from video game or movie releases to mainstream sporting tournaments and political dates. This helps marketers to overcome what is often the trickiest element of reactive marketing – precision targeting. With behavioural targeting also introduced, marketers can also find heavily vetted data of people matching the ideal persona in their respective target niche, be it fashion, pets, food or any other special interest. That makes it very easy for brands to identify who they should be targeting with their tweets about, London Fashion Week, Crufts or #GBBO.

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The Four Golden Rules of reactive marketing

When it comes to deploying your campaign, you should have your target audiences identified, you should know the events that you want to target based on those audience groups, and you have an idea of the platforms you’re going to utilise in order to reach them. You should also have established a resource for deploying this activity, and you should have created an environment in which that resource can use their creative talents within the boundaries of your brand and legal limitations.

1: Trust your team

Whether you are using in-house or agency resource, immediacy is essential. Your team and strategy has to have agility if you are to deploy a successful reactive marketing campaign. This form of marketing simply doesn’t work if your team has to go through layer upon layer of sign-off and approval process and, as tempting as it might be to have stringent process from both a legal and brand protection perspective, it is not conducive to a successful campaign.

This is why you need to establish clear boundaries to your teams from the very start. You need to make clear what is and isn’t acceptable and how your brand should and shouldn’t be portrayed but, within those parameters your teams need the creative freedom to be able to deploy what they believe is the right content at the right time. You need to be first with what you do.

The previously cited Oreo example was the brainchild of a 15 man team that was on hand specifically for the Super Bowl. Not all brands will need or be able to resource such a team, but those teams need to be in an environment where they are entrusted to make the right call.

2: Amplify

All leading social media platforms provide paid advertising options, with Instagram being the latest platform to the party, and you need to think about how these can be used to amplify your message. Don’t limit your reach to existing fans or followers. Instead, drive out and share your message with the vast audiences already connected to the event in question. It’s a great method for making them sit up and take notice of your brand.

3: Sell your brand

People respond to personality, not robots, so make sure that you demonstrate the personality of your brand in everything that you publish. You need to give people a reason to connect with you and, if they like the cut of your jib, they’ll remember you.

4: Engage your audiences

Remember that word “remarkable” that we used earlier? Well, that is what you need to be if people are going to engage with your brand. You need to create something that people are going to respond to. During the 2015 UK general election, Innocent Smoothies launched a crowd-sourcing effort in the form of #DogsAtPollingStations. It involved, as you can imagine, pictures of dogs outside polling stations.

What started as a spot of fun turned into one of the year’s biggest social media trends. It is a perfect demonstration of a brand creating something remarkable and eliciting a reaction that organically drove the story forward.

Reactive Marketing Checklist

1: Plan, but be flexible

Know what your target audiences is talking about, and what matters to them most. Once you have gathered as much insight into your audiences’ interests, identify which events are most suitable for your brand to get involved in. But remember to be flexible. Don’t miss out on an opportunity because you didn’t expect the unexpected.

2: Create the connection

Look for any existing connection that could be made between your brand and the event. Have you commented previously in some capacity on this or a similar event? If so, develop that conversation. If not, look to see how others have done so, and learn the lessons.

3: Build your creative

Follow your brand style and guidelines, ensuring that your creative reflects your brand values. Consider how your creative, be it an image, gif, tweet or video, can align to the event and engage that audience. Remember, make it remarkable.

4: Pick your moment

Be sure to reach out at the right time. Don’t waste your ticket to involvement through rushing out a tweet for the sake of being first. Sometimes, subtlety is more appropriate than immediacy.

5: Amplify your message

Be ready to amplify. Choose the golden nuggets amongst your content and take it to the masses. You want to be in the news feeds of those audiences, especially those who aren’t already followers!

6: Monitor and measure the impact

Monitor your campaign after you have deployed it. It may be that your post causes a negative reaction and, if this is the case, you need to be on hand to respond. Similarly, if your campaign is generating positive praise, respond in kind to those audiences. Measure the impact to see what worked and what didn’t. This will provide invaluable lessons for the next campaign.

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