Thursday, May 3, 2012

Matching Name to Purpose: IMC2 Becomes MEplusYOU

As a former agency leader, I find it fascinating to observe and learn from the ways agencies foster their own brands. After all, agencies exist to manage clients' brands, so they ought to bring the full force of their knowledge and experience to maximizing their own brands. Alas, like the fabled cobbler's children, agencies often don't do a very good job of dedicating resources to managing their own brands. This is why I took notice when IMC2 announced a name change to MEplusYOU.

I had the opportunity to speak with agency leaders about the reasons for the change. The journey IMC2 took to become MEplusYOU speaks not only of the passion and vision of the agency leaders, but also of the changes occurring to marketing in the age of the digital, mobile and social consumer.

I have had the good fortune to know Ian Wolfman, CMO, and Doug Levy, CEO, of IMC2 for some time. I first became acquainted with the agency's work while I was at Forrester covering interactive marketing, and several of its programs made their way as case studies into my reports. IMC2 impressed me with the way its work engaged emotions and delivered results.

A favorite IMC2 example that I've often shared (and was included in my report, The ROI of Social Media Marketing) is the program for P&G's Secret deodorant. You can imagine the challenge encouraging consumers to "friend" their underarm deodorant, but IMC2 brought a sense of meaning to the brand with “Let Her Jump,” a petition to let Lindsey Van and other female ski jumpers compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics. I dare you to watch the evocative video and not get choked up. The program engaged emotions, drew consumers to friend the Secret brand on Facebook and delivered a significant and measurable increase in purchase intent.

IMC2 has a solid reputation built from years of successful client work. So, why change the name of the agency and risk confusion in the marketplace? I had a conversation with Levy about the reasons behind the rebranding to MEplusYOU.

Levy insists the name change merely reflects the work the agency is already doing, and he points to the ebook, Winning in the Relationship Era: a New Model for Marketing Success that the agency first published two years ago. The free book (which is a very brief and worthwhile read) conveys IMC2's view that the product and consumer eras have given way to a new Relationship Era. Levy wrote in Winning in the Relationship Era that "The brand must know its authentic self before it can engage in sustainable relationships with people" and the starting point for brands was to be "clear on their purpose, the reason for the brand’s existence."

According to Levy, one of the factors in the transition from the consumer era to the Relationship Era is the disintegration of mass media. I probed if Levy really believe mass marketing was dying, and his answer was interesting and paradoxical. "Mass marketing is definitely dying, and at the same time traditional paid media can be very effective for marketers."

Levy explains: "First, there is no doubt that mass is dying.  Forty years ago, marketers were able to reach a sizable portion of the population with a single TV spot on a major network. Now, blanketing all of the major networks reaches a fraction of those eyeballs, and 40% of the people on the receiving end of TV ads have DVRs that they can use to speed through the commercials.  Attention is split among thousands of cable channels, Hulu, Netflix, X-Box, YouTube.  Magazine ad revenue has dropped $5 billion since 2007.  Young people are choosing digital music over radio.  And, only a tiny fraction of Web sites are able to charge for ad space.  In every mass channel, mass is giving way to fragmentation.

"Yet, marketers can and do benefit from paid media. It can complement other aspects of marketing and  help brands reach people where they hang out. We recommend an approach to marketing that is built on a combination of paid, owned, shared, and hopefully earned media. Paid plays a role. In today’s increasingly complex marketing landscape, it’s just not the whole shebang."

Levy foresees that successful marketing will look and feel different than what consumers, brands and agencies have experienced over the last several decades. "The shift to a Relationship Era approach suggests a decreasing reliance on the traditional use of mass media to influence and persuade a passive audience to buy more of whatever the marketer is trying to sell. Relationship Era marketers embrace approaches that build stronger relationships between their brands and people."

Campaigns have been the building block of marketing for decades, and I was curious how MEplusYOU believed episodic marketing might change in the Relationship Era. "We tend to think less about campaigns that end and more about cultivating never-ending communities of like-minded people. When communities are in place, we plan ‘ignitions’ to activate the community in areas of shared interest."

What's an "ignition?" Levy pointed to the work that MEplusYOU has done for Secret. The "Let Her Jump" program was one such ignition; others included an effort to back 60-year old distance swimmer Diana Nyad and an initiative focused on replacing bullying in schools with niceness. These ignitions engaged the Secret community around their shared interest in helping women be fearless. As a result of these ongoing programs of engagement and community building, nearly 1.5 million fans have chosen to connect with Secret. (If an antiperspirant can engage that many people, what's your brand's excuse?)

I asked Levy if he thought every brand would need to embrace the Relationship Era or if some brands might differentiate on other attributes, such as price or convenience. "Differentiation has more to do with how a brand acts and what it does," notes Levy, but he contends the Relationship Era is about purpose. "Purpose has to do with why a brand exists. Brands that are clear on their purpose and act upon that purpose have more engaged employees, more loyal customers, and healthier financial results than others, according to a variety of data sources. The most successful brands deliver exceptional products and services that are proof of their why."

Says Levy, differentiation without purpose creates unsustainable brands. "A brand could certainly differentiate in a purposeful way based on being cheaper or faster than their competition. When competitive advantages such as those are born out of a heartfelt understanding of why the brand exists, the competitive advantages are much more sustainable than the one-upsmanship of more typical marketing."

IMC2 has been delivering programs that "foster deeper and more purposeful interaction and build more enduring connections" between clients' brands and their consumers. This is the reason for the change to the new name. Levy wants marketers to recognize that MEplusYOU delivers a different sort of marketing for a different era--"something that is ultimately as meaningful as it is effective, building both trust and transactions that help brands endure and thrive. In many ways, the re-launch of the agency allows our name and public persona to catch up with where we are."

Taking a page out of his own book (literally), Levy felt his agency needed a name that reflected its purpose. "As we have evolved, we thought it was important to have a name that best represents the agency we are today and one that encompasses our purpose—to advance relationships.  We have taken a firm stand for our purpose and our work in advancing relationships between brands and people, and we wanted a name that reflects it."

I asked for an example of the sort of work MEplusYOU is doing that demonstrates how marketing is done in the Relationship Era. Levy pointed to the World Series Bat Drop, a program for Louisville Slugger, whose purpose is to "make players great." The agency used digital and experiential approaches to deepen the connection between the brand and its fans.

The Louisville Slugger World Series Bat Drop took place on the Saturday immediately following the 2011 World Series victory by the St. Louis Cardinals. Armed with an SUV, a few iPhones and 45 commemorative Louisville Slugger World Series bats, a team of MEplusYOU staffers took to the streets and dropped each of the bats in secret locations across the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. As each bat was “dropped,” the crew posted clues (including riddles, trivia and pictures from the bat’s perspective) to the Louisville Slugger Facebook and Twitter pages.

St. Louis residents spent hours in their cars, crisscrossing the city, camping out at popular tourist destinations and following the “bat drop” SUV. Facebook fans not able to physically “hunt” offered virtual support by helping to solve riddles and identify locations for hunters. Fans posted pictures with their commemorative bats, messages to one another about the brand and answers to clues to Louisville Slugger’s social media channels.

The results: Over the course of eight hours, the Louisville Slugger fan base increased by 143%; the Twitter fan base increased by 163%; and the new Facebook metric, “talking about this,” increased by 834%.

Asked to sum up the agency's rebranding, Levy noted, "We exist to advance relationships. We have discovered that effective marketing starts with introspection and clarity of beliefs and purpose--the ME part. From that place of clarity, brands are ready to build authentic relationships with people--the plusYOU part."

Hard to argue with the logic of focusing on building relationships and not just messages in today's world. I wish MEplusYOU luck with their new name and old focus on helping their clients succeed in the Relationship Era.

Winning in the Relationship Era - A New Model for Marketing Success

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