Investing in Unconventional Thinking

April 23, 2013

PJA Some of the best brand stories emerge from unconventional thinking, especially in a market environment where pure financial wins are harder and harder to come by. Big blue-chip companies are increasingly turning to less traditional methods for expanding brand awareness and affinity by adding a more “human” touch to their marketing efforts. At the BRITE ’13 conference, PJA Advertising + Marketing’s President Mike O’Toole led a panel of marketers from Intel and PepsiCo who have invested in just this type of thinking. Panel members relayed some unique brand-building tactics and how they’re positioning themselves for stronger relationships with current and future customers.

O’Toole, host of PJA Radio’s “The Unconventionals”, started the conversation by noting some of the common characteristics of outside-the-box approaches. In particular, he highlighted the long-term nature of these initiatives, saying, “There’s a sense that if you create experiences that your customer cares about, the goodness will accrue back to you over time.” He also notes that content-owned platforms, vs. external media sponsors, have become a popular tactic in recent years. Txchnologist, an online magazine created in partnership with and sponsored by GE, is one example. Populated by a network of freelance writers and reporters, Txchnologist articles and op-eds discuss technology and innovation’s impact on modern day society. Through this vehicle, GE is able to drive conversation in the space and strengthen its position as an industry thought leader.

Another approach is to provide an outlet or resource that allows consumers to relate better to, or learn from, a brand. Both Intel and PepsiCo have heavily relied on this strategy, lending to the success they’re now seeing nearly three years after kicking off their respective initiatives. Intel’s Creators Project was developed to support new and emerging artists in music, film and design. Run by Creative Director David Haroldsen, the Project produces videos, releases albums, and builds stages for bands, among other things – all in the hopes of showing younger generations how technology enables them to reach larger audiences and celebrate creative expression.

PepsiCo, on the other hand, dedicates about 10% of its digital media spend working with startups during their nascent stages, believing that early investment in these highly innovative companies will lead to valuable business partnerships down the road. PepsiCo Beverages’ Global Head of Digital Shiv Singh tells Crain’s, “We decided to formalize a relationship, to really think about how to bring infrastructure to supporting startups, helping them help us.” Singh likened the relationship to a venture capital firm, but without the need for a checkbook. Startups benefit primarily from PepsiCo’s guidance on things like monetization strategies and marketing insights. PepsiCo team members co-locate incubator spaces, sponsor key events and broaden media relationships. In turn, these startups help develop PepsiCo’s credibility in the social and digital spaces.

Both Intel and PepsiCo have hit plenty of speed bumps before achieving the results they are seeing today. The panelists were also quick to underscore the importance of ongoing measurement. Data and findings from focus groups, website traffic, and attendance at sponsored events are critical to recalibrating program strategy where needed and helping to secure increased budget, time and credibility.

Watch BRITE ’13’s “Unconventional Marketing Investments” to learn more about how PepsiCo and Intel go beyond traditional marketing tactics to strengthen consumer engagement.

Visit Public Radio Exchange for full episodes of “The Unconventionals,” a PJA Radio Production with academic sponsor The Center for Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School.

BY NANDITA RAY

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