Brand activation came to Pakistan in 2005 when Engro Foods appointed the first full time brand activation manager. Unilever followed suit the same year and then it became the norm to have a brand activation team as an integral part of the marketing function. Yet, although today most companies have brand activation teams, the activation they do is not at par with global concepts. In fact, in Pakistan the brand activation experience has not graduated from BTL and hence fails to deliver results.
Successful brand activation campaigns deliver on the following: they facilitate the consumer experience of the brand; create desire and excitement; and make the experience so wow it creates word of mouth.
In Pakistan, brand activation executions have two major flaws that dilute the impact of this very effective and consumer centric medium. One is the absence of effective measurement tools to establish ROI; the other is the absence of an integrated conceptual approach where all marketing initiatives are part of a single big idea and complement each other in order to achieve success.
The mainstream media has worked on measuring effectiveness and as a result brand teams are aware of their ROI and therefore their belief in the effectiveness of the mainstream media is stronger. On the other hand, brand activation agencies have not invested in developing the necessary measurement tools and techniques for the following reasons. Firstly, because of the short term tactical approach they take, they are more interested in ticking off all the items in an activation calendar rather than contributing to the brand’s long term success. Secondly, because most of them are execution oriented, they are reluctant to invest resources to develop plans that are measurable against agreed KPIs.
In 2005 and 2006 there were a few examples of good strategic brand activation, but the trend did not continue as most brand activation teams were unwilling to pay for the kind of specialised resources that would have enabled them to track the relevance and effectiveness of their brand activation experience with scientific tools and techniques.
For context, let’s take a look at what Olper’s did when it was launched in 2005; the simple mechanism for its launch brand activation experience could be a starting point for many other brands, especially those that have trackers in place for brand health measurement. Here is a brief description of the process:
Olper’s divided areas within Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad into active and controlled blocks. The active blocks were areas where on-ground brand activation experiences were created; the controlled blocks were not part of the brand activation plan. Both the active and controlled blocks were targeted by every other marketing activity, but the active blocks had the additional medium of experiential brand activation. All media used had common brand health indicators as their KPIs, and the brand health scores were tracked in both the active and controlled blocks through a research agency. At the end of the exercise, the scores were higher for the active blocks (compared to the controlled blocks) and this was attributed to the brand experience consumers in the active block were exposed to. Had the brand activation scores in the active blocks been equal to or less than those for the controlled blocks the brand activation effort would have been ineffective.
Integrated marketing should be the responsibility of the brand team who must involve all agencies, including brand activation, from the beginning of a campaign, so that they can be part of the team who conceive the big idea.
This example demonstrates the importance of having both an integrated marketing plan as well as effective brand activation measurement tools. The root cause for the lack of integrated marketing approach is because of the way marketing teams are structured, whereby the brand manager is not the owner of the brand activation. The teams responsible for planning and monitoring media seldom interact with the brand activation teams because they do not consider brand activation to be a part of media. As a result, amplification of on-ground brand experience activations is almost non-existent. Integrated marketing should be the responsibility of the brand team who must involve all agencies, including brand activation, from the beginning of a campaign, so that they can be part of the team who conceive the big idea. Each media stream must then develop an execution plan that is relevant to both the medium and the consumer, while the KPIs of each media should be defined and assigned.
Coca-Cola mastered this in their recent campaign ‘Share a Coke’, by making activation an integral part of the big idea. Consumers were given the opportunity to share their Coke on all media, including brand activation. The experience of sharing a Coke on-ground was amplified on digital and in the OOH media.
Another issue is that brand activation is often confused with sales promotion and immediate increases in sales are expected. This year was a difficult one for brand activation because revenues were not growing due to the increasing costs of doing business. Brands skewed their efforts towards sales growth, while brand building and creating experiences were put on the backburner. Management committees pushed the marketing teams to at least achieve if not exceed sales targets. These expectations do not allow brand activation managers to become part of a big idea to build a brand. Brands need to avoid focusing on short term tactical activities for sales promotion; they should plan for long term experiential engagement. This will certainly increase sales because a powerful and relevant experience creates word of mouth that eventually translates into purchase intent and sales.
Creating powerful experiences requires strategic thinking, detailing and operational planning. These include aligning the activation experience with the brand essence and creating the brand world on-ground. Selecting the right brand ambassadors is crucial; a brand is as good or as bad as its brand ambassador. Equally important is to identify the touch points that will be relevant to both the brand and consumers. Creating brand relevant ideas that can delight the consumer and generate word of mouth and preparing, executing, monitoring and recording detailed operational plans are also crucial to success.
Brand activation is a powerful medium. Marketers need to make it part of the overall big idea and work on strategic creativity and develop effective measurement tools if they want to gain maximum benefit out from this medium.
Muhammad Anwar Gaddafi is a consultant and trainer and has 15 years of experience in sales, marketing and distribution. firstname.lastname@example.org