From Persuasion To Participation

by Robert Goldsmith, Managing Partner, Spinnaker London

Robert Goldsmith, Managing Partner

Robert Goldsmith, Managing Partner at Spinnaker, explains why the successful marketing models of the future will be more naturally in step with human nature

A herd of stampeding buffalo may not be an obvious source of inspiration for digital marketers. But, says Robert Goldsmith at Spinnaker, there’s a valuable lesson to be learned by brands.

Buffalo on the move can go no faster than the slowest member of the group. They are, by instinct, profoundly team-based, collaborative and participative animals.


Goldsmith and his team at Spinnaker are strong believers in brand humanisation and, he says, “Brands need to practice less kingship, a la lion. Successful brands in the future will be instinctively human by nature. They’ll listen first and respond second. They’ll be less about selling and more about relationships. They’ll be more contextual and natural in how they get consumers to participate. Successful brand communication has always been based in human insight. The strongest advertising has always been inherently emotional. The omnipresence of technology means that consumers call the shots when it comes to conversations, engagement and the relationships they have with brands.”

It’s not just hardware that’s driving this shift. It’s also our deeply intimate relationship with the devices themselves and our sense that the digital realm – especially when it comes to mobile – is an innately personal space. Wearable tech, says Goldsmith, is only likely to strengthen that sense. The natural response from brands, then, might be to embark on a frantic arms-building exercise and create more digital assets and content. But, to rephrase Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, just because you build it, that doesn’t mean they’ll come.

Make It Emotional

“We need to be smarter, more considered and more personalised in how we communicate with our audience,” says Goldsmith. “But it’s important that we’re relevant and contextual. According to eConsultancy, 94 per cent of companies agree that personalisation is critical to their current and future success. Despite that fact, the ‘personalised push’ is still where the majority are.”

Just because a brand has personal data on a user – age, family circumstances and possibly even whether they’re in the vicinity of a store – that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to bombard them with deals and offers. Personalising in a ‘push context’ is no longer enough. “We need to be personalising in a much more emotional sense. If we don’t, it’ll be intrusive. And intrusiveness is inherently anti-social.”

So, the successful digital marketing models of the future will be more naturally in step with human nature. “It’s key that we listen, observe and understand how consumers interact and what insights are being thrown up,” says Goldsmith. If brands and marketers listen, what they create will be inherently popular. If it’s inherently popular, consumers will engage and share. What we’re looking at now, explains Goldsmith, is a new definition of ROI: return on involvement.

Involvement, however, isn’t something that can be spun out of thin air. Underpinning it is trust. “We need to be very authentic in how we present our brands,” he says. “Nothing will work unless we’ve engendered trust.

Brands can’t fake it. Consumers are too intelligent. Build relationships first, not just sales. Brand humanisation needs to start from the bottom up. But if you get it right, trust feeds the essence of what we believe humanisation is all about.”

Enter The Inner Sanctum

Trust, then, is what kick-starts communities. But what binds them together over time is storytelling, which needs to flow in both directions between a brand and its audience. So who’s getting this approach right? Instant messaging service WhatsApp, says Goldsmith, is an example of a brand with humanisation at its heart.

“The very nature of the product is rooted in listening and insight. The conversation pre-launch was all about young people’s concerns: texting can be expensive, it’s not intuitive, group chat opportunities are limited. By responding to those concerns, trust naturally followed. WhatsApp’s products are in line with what people are looking for.”

Burberry is another example of a brand which has reimagined its story, humanising its online and offline presence with clever, creative content. Back in the early noughties Burberry set out to reposition itself by appealing to younger consumers. “You could sense that listening to people and understanding human behaviour sat at the very heart of how they were working,” says Goldsmith.

Now, he notes, on the brand’s YouTube channel you’ll find everything from campaign footage to
personalised garments to acoustic music sessions by up-and-coming artists. Why has the focus on music been so successful? In part because the strategy is born out of Burberry CRO Christopher Bailey’s well-documented passion for it, which provides the approach with an un-buyable air of authenticity. Cleverly, Burberry have also retained a separate Twitter account for their customer service, enabling their main account to spread its wings and focus on ongoing creative messaging. “It’s about being drawn into the inner sanctum and getting behind the scenes of the brand so there’s a sense of involvement,” says Goldsmith.

So, digital may be the default medium and technology the focus of marketers’ attention. But for those who want to develop meaningful and ongoing relationships with consumers, it’s not simply about the tablet or the handset, but the human hand in which they’re sitting.

Feature by Jon Fortgang.