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Can Magic Be Manufactured Through Marketing?


Marketers are often expected to work magic on consumers, putting them under a spell and convincing them that the cure for all that ails them is their company’s product or service. But the high expectations placed on brands often do little more than set them up for a fall.

An IBM study found that nearly 70 percent of consumers were disappointed in the digital interactions brands offered them. ClickZ found that 71 percent of buyers have expressed disappointment in content marketing. And according to a survey report by Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford, 43 percent of U.S. respondents felt disappointed or “deceived” by native ads.

That’s a weighty amount of disappointment being dropped at marketers’ feet. But when the expectation is magic, fantasy and enchantment, how could anything possibly hit the mark? Perhaps we should be pleased rather than dismayed by the responses businesses receive — a 30 percent success rate when the threshold is “magic” isn’t too shabby. In fact, it’s nearly on par with Babe Ruth’s lifetime batting average.

The real question, then, is whether “magic” is a feasible goal. It turns out that with some imagination, reframing and conversation, it’s a goal well within the reach of most growing brands.

How we define ‘magic’

In recent years, big brands with outsized budgets have defined “magic” for the masses, positing flashy theatrical productions as the pinnacle of brand marketing. The idea is that the allure — the untouchable nature — of the image they’re presenting pulls consumers in. Aspirational marketing is the way to make buyers feel they need what’s being sold.

But that’s backward thinking in an era when transparency is what the vast majority of consumers value. Consumers want inspiration, not aspiration, and that comes from businesses communicating attainable values, missions and needs — something small businesses excel at. So instead of feeling pressured to replicate the multimillion-dollar brand experiences big businesses create, small businesses should be motivated to manufacture magic on a shoestring budget.

Brewing magic on a small scale

To capitalize on their ability to create attainable moments of delight and magic, entrepreneurs should keep a few things in mind.

  1. Keep it appealing but simple.

The glitz and glamour of marketing campaigns for companies with big budgets can certainly be appealing, but startups and small businesses don’t need to aim quite that high to succeed. Take event marketing, for example. While adding technological elements can breathe life into an experience, small businesses don’t need to go overboard.

“Avoid the temptation of adding too many bells and whistles. It’s easy to start adding technology in endless layers until your event is so complex you need an advanced degree and a staff of 20 to coordinate the logistics,” explains Darren Wilson, president of bluemedia, a fabrication, decor and experiential marketing company. “You should have only one or two key technology components at your event, but they should work together and fit with the narrative of the experience and the setting.”

  1. Play to the company’s strengths.

Another quick way to reframe success in terms of creating magic is by purposely focusing a team’s marketing plans to play to its strengths. You know that event we were talking about? Eschewing what may be impressive when others execute it in favor of what a small brand does well can help a small business leave a favorable impression on its customers.

Consider the social media facet of event marketing. “If your team isn’t well-trained in responding to or engaging customers on social media, you might not want to use technology that allows you to monitor social sentiment,” Wilson says. “For something simpler, like a photo booth, all you need is the booth itself and a way to link it to social media so customers can share their pictures. Choose tech elements that fit both your team and your event.”

  1. Use data to the entire team’s advantage.

Disney’s theme parks made a pricey $1 billion bet on magic — MagicBands, that is. The beacon-containing bracelets track visitors, helping them do everything from getting on rides more quickly to opening their hotel room doors. But the real secret of the MagicBands is the amount of data they collect that Disney can utilize in developing new attractions, features and functions within its parks and product lines.

Entrepreneurs may not have the same budget as Disney, but they can collect essential data for their own purposes. Surveys are a simple and affordable way to gather insights on what consumers are delighted by, and they can be distributed as full-length questionnaires or one-off pop-ups to website visitors. They can also filter data on customer behavior, from frequency of purchases to reasons for returns. All that information then needs to be shared across departments so they’re operating from the same playbook. “When you have groups that hoard data or keep it in siloes … it limits your view of the customer,” says Nate Smith, senior product marketing manager for Adobe Analytics.

Magic can be manufactured through a small business’s marketing, but some are so busy looking at flashy demonstrations that they miss the real moments of magical substance happening right around them. By keeping things simple, appealing, focused and influenced by data, entrepreneurs can inspire people and cast a unique spell all their own.

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