Digital marketing is a game with lots of rules. The web is littered with best practices and how-to guides: Set your goal, find your audience and build your tactics. Start with your subject line and end with a call to action. Use actionable language and remove buyer's journey friction.
I'm not saying these strategies are wrong. Plenty of companies have found success following them. But you don't have to.
Hear me out. Marketing is both creative and strategic, so the rules should be fluid. For decades, brands have succeeded by breaking the norm and using marketing hacks. Remember when Volkswagen entered the U.S. with messaging that trashed its own product?
You can get creative without tanking your brand. I'll lay out five marketing hacks to change your strategy, and I won't lie—you'll probably question everything. But know this: each has been field tested by brands to successfully break through the clutter.
1) Take Your Brand Voice to the Limit
You've heard about brand voice. To be successful in a crowded environment, you have to establish your personality in a way that makes you unique. But here's a secret: most brands play their brand voice too safely.
You know why that happens. You don't want your messaging to offend anyone. Go too far, and your board of directors may be on your back. But it's okay to creep toward the edge.
Dollar Shave Club shows us a perfect example of hitting that sweet spot. Its viral spot from 2012 wasn't afraid to play with language (and even get a little bit frisky). And after 25 million views, Dollar Shave Club is a billion-dollar brand under the Unilever umbrella.
You've done some homework, reading guide after guide to building your brand voice. Now's your turn to put it into action. Start with a few questions:
- How does your target audience talk in a comfortable environment?
- How are your competitors trying to reach that customer base?
- Would your audience feel comfortable if you spoke the way they talk to each other?
But don't stop there. Do more research. Run surveys or focus groups with various messaging samples. Combine a few safe ones with some that are over the line to see what resonates. This will help you find the perfect balance to take your brand voice to the edge without crashing.
2) Truly Embrace Video Tactics
Marketing hacks take established truths and stretch them further than you thought they'd go. You know that video is the most effective form of content. Visuals and moving images draw audiences in better than other tactics, and you've probably spent money on it.
But I have another secret: you're not taking your video strategy far enough. Consider a few more video opportunities:
- Short-form videos that are about 10 seconds long, like Bounce's to-the-point dryer sheet ad
- Creative and brand-specific typography, as Mercedes demonstrates
- Plays with the format and advertising restrictions, like Geico's award-winning "Unskippable Elevator"
- Live-streamed events, like Buzzfeed's iconic exploding watermelon
- 'Choose your own adventure' videos like the Philips Click and Style video.
It's not just about brands making videos or special effects. They push the medium so it's impossible to look away, and that's how you win at video marketing.
Video requires so many moving parts, so it's difficult to know where to start in your own efforts. Using quality examples as inspiration gets you halfway there. But consider your own brand. What are your core messages? How can you communicate these messages in unexpected ways?
3) Personalize the Web Experience
Today, audiences expect personalization. They just aren't satisfied with generic messaging that doesn't speak to their unique needs. But that doesn't stop most brands from sticking to the basics, from inserting custom names in emails to segmenting communication flows.
These are tips you get from best practice guides. They're not wrong, but couldn't you go further?
With the right marketing hacks, you can personalize almost the entire web experience. Amazon is a prime (Get it?) example of effective digital personalization. When you visit the site, it gives you product recommendations, shopping cart reminders and complimentary items.
You don't have to be a billion dollar company to do this. DoggyLoot, for instance, prompts users to enter a range of data about their furry friends. After users hit the submit button, the website shifts based on that dog's needs. So, a German Shepard owner won't waste time browsing products designed for Chihuahuas.
And really, you can personalize the user experience without knowing a single thing about your audience. The British eCommerce site Very, for instance, customizes its homepage based on the weather in each user's area. Geo-fenced targeting options are easy to deploy if you have the resources to build them out.
4) Incorporate Real-Time Information into Your Static Communication
It's an oldie, but a goodie: email still works. But you're still at the mercy of your audience. The content is static, and if users open a time-sensitive message after a promotion, you're out of luck.
At least that's how it used to be.
Luckily, the email game is changing rapidly. Now, it's possible feed real-time information into otherwise static messages. Specialized tools let you embed code in your emails that feeds content into the message when the audience reads it.
As Adobe outlines, you can leverage anything from weather data to recent site visits on behalf of your audience. For instance, AAA shows current weather data for its promoted destinations. Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons have led the way by showing live scores and ticket sales in promotional messaging.
To achieve similar success, you have to:
- Understand the data your audience wants
- Make sure you can gather data reliably, with a focus on accuracy
- Work with email clients that can embed real-time data into messages
- Build an email strategy around data, using it in ways that enhance user experience.
5) Gamify the Buyer's Journey
Digital marketers build their efforts around the buyer's journey, understanding the stages their audiences go through to become customers. Then, they build content than addresses pain points and guide their audience along the way.
But what if that process is, well, boring? We don't think about process from an audience perspective. Customers don't actually move step to step in a linear way. They get distracted, bored and change their minds, so marketers have to keep audiences engaged.
So I personally suggest a fifth marketing hack: gamify your buyer's journey. Gamification is used across marketing, but few marketers embrace it prior to conversion.
Take, for example, Magnum's pleasure hunt, a digital game where users hunt for ice cream bars. Social integration ensured maximum exposure and acknowledged how casually we make ice cream decisions. Meanwhile, the James Bond promotion "Unlock the 007 in You" took gamification offline, immersing audiences in real-life missions that created both brand loyalty and desire to see the movie.
For similar success, you have to be strategic. That includes:
- Understanding your buyer's journey and audience mindsets along the way
- Building a scope of work, ranging from online experiences to complex installations
- Test driving your gamification efforts before rolling them out
- Quality control to ensure your gamified buyer's journey remains true to your brand voice.
Ready to Try These Marketing Hacks?
None of these marketing hacks is revolutionary, as much as I'd like to take the credit. Instead, they build on established best practices, which makes all the difference.
The key to modern marketing is to push the envelope, constantly making sure you're different from (and ahead of) your competition. You may have to rethink everything, but you'll find more reliable ways to achieve long-term success.
Do you have the tools to personalize your web experience? Don't get stuck in the rut of adhering to marketing "rules." Break from the norm, push boundaries and move your marketing into 2020 and beyond.