The Super Bowl is coming soon and with it we can expect a variety of eye-popping television commercials designed to capture our attention and provide advertisers a spike in sales activity. The bar is raised every year to see which brands demonstrate the most creativity or controversy. In parallel, the price of the opportunity is rising as well. Thirty seconds of air time will come at the job-risking cost of an estimated $4 million, up from $3.8 million last year.

The return on investment for Super Bowl ads always seems a topic of hot debate around this time of year. Yet, for consumer products marketers -- regardless of season -- the mass media ad buy remains a staple in the constant effort to differentiate and grow sales even a few tenths of a percent.

Consumers are simply becoming ever more price conscious while at the same time manufacturers face competition from retail private labels and rising input costs. The squeeze is on for marketing to step up and perform, as demonstrated by news out of Unilever recently.

The Digital Fix

Meanwhile, all things digital have swept over the consumer packaged goods industry landscape, even while brands cling to the alluring reach offered by television. So in parallel to mass media, marketers have agencies and consultants acting on their behalf executing web, email, mobile and social marketing campaigns. For companies like Procter & Gamble, Unilever, ConAgra and Kraft, the scale of these efforts across their brands, agencies and consumer channels is considerable, if not completely intimidating.

Think Direct Branding

Brand marketers succeeding today despite down economies characterized by price sensitive consumers recognize the opportunity to marry the brand storytelling exemplified in mass media with direct response marketing principles. You could characterize this convergence as “direct branding” or an intersection of two marketing ideologies which provides brands and their agencies with a flexible and measurable storytelling platform.

It’s a different way of thinking about digital marketing that helps understand how both new and established methods of influencing consumers can work together, and not necessarily be an “either / or” proposition. Taking this hybrid approach enables:

  • The quality of creative marketing content in addressable channels to be gauged by indicators of brand affinity. For example, how many consumers communicate with your brand through multiple channels versus one (indicative of engagement and value), how many consumers that you have direct relationships with express affinity in social channels and also participate in your loyalty program (indicative of leverage)? How much content is shared, in either emails or social channels, and what is the reach afforded?
  • Responses to digital channels like web and email to be recorded, evaluated and targeted for improvement over time. When enabled at scale, “test and learn” serves to make the most of your marketing budget by applying dollars to the programs that promise the highest response.
  • The value of agency creative to be evaluated objectively for either addressable or mass media. Indicators of quality and response for addressable channels allow brand marketers to quantify the value of their agency investments. In the case of mass media (i.e. television), progressive brand marketers are increasingly tying it to complementary digital activities so that they work in unison to yield an overall better result.

It’s important that the creative energy that agencies bring to developing brand content be retained, while at the same time laying the foundation for capturing consumer interaction data across brands, campaigns and channels. Content is king, but relevance and engagement depends on the right mix of technologies and an accurate data-based view of the consumer.

Adaptive Engagement

A key benefit of most digital marketing is that the dials on codified consumer interactions can be tuned in-market to increase the likelihood of positively impacting sales. You can’t so easily change a television spot.

Regardless of media, if you have engaged with your consumers correctly, sales should correlate. The difference with digital channels is the ability to course correct “on the fly.” If sales remain flat or down, it indicates that something is amiss -- you haven’t connected with the right consumers, your strategy is flawed, or your agency creative and execution is off. The key is to be able to turn these dials quickly to improve affinity with the right audience, which should meaningfully impact sales figures.

Digital Marketing is Dead

It’s ironic that the world’s largest advertiser is also leading the way in melding traditional brand marketing methods with the latest digital approaches -- Although you might not suspect that based on what P&G Chief Marketing Officer Marc Pritchard said in September of 2013:

Let’s celebrate the end of digital marketing. Let’s focus on creating the great ideas that move people and build great brands. And let’s leverage the tools, platforms and technology to make them bigger and engage with people like never before. Our brand building teams, our agencies and most of the people who see our stuff and buy our products will thank us for it.”

He further said that P&G’s marketing teams no longer think of digital in terms of “the tools, the platforms, the apps, the QR codes, augmented reality, holograms or whatever is coming next” or as a “mysterious medium with its own set of metrics,” but for what it is: “a tool to build out brands by reaching people with fresh, creative, campaigns.”

Prichard reported that P&G campaigns today were developed starting with digital considerations, then other channels and approaches added to the mix -- or “digital back.” In this way, marketing teams are able to think creatively and not focus on the latest digital “shiny object.”

The result of a “digital back” approach ensures addressable and mass media channels leverage one another and are measurable in near real-time. A campaign for Braun shavers was cited by Pritchard as an example that employed digital and mass media channels in unison to exceed sales targets eight times over. In this case, mass media advertising was added to the mix right after awareness was created among the targeted consumers through digital channels.

Thinking about brand and digital marketing in this context sets the stage for embracing consumer engagement as a critical function that can sit at the table among other quantifiable business processes like retail sales and supply chain.

Title image by David Lee (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read another perspective on the state of digital marketing in The Future of Digital Marketing: 8 Trends