Thanks to massive media conventions like SXSW, ‘brand activation’ is one of the hottest trends in consumer marketing today. But when you source a definition of this newest buzzword, it comes suspiciously close to reading like text-book definitions of good ol’ fashion ‘marketing.’ Plug the term into Google and you’ll stumble upon this common definition: ‘brand activation is the art of driving consumer action through brand interaction and experiences…to get consumers to act…it’s about bringing brands to life.’ There’s nothing wrong with that definition, but it doesn’t enlighten us on how activation marketing can be used to shift public opinion when you’re facing a public affairs challenge. Typically, marketing deals with messages that challenge your a brand (a competitor arguing that their product is better than yours). By contrast, public affairs deals with messages that attack (a protest group saying your product kills). In this context, having an ability to mobilize supporters can make the difference between a winning and losing campaign.
Call us biased, but because most of us at Navigator cut our teeth in the world of hard-knock politics, activation marketing isn’t exactly a hot trend. It’s been a fundamental part of how we do our work for some time. Every objective of every single political campaign is, at its core, activating people to show up on election day to vote. And since most campaigns have limited budgets, voter identification and activation efforts need to be hyper-targeted and cost-effective. That’s where digital activation campaigns come into play.
First, a quick review of some fundamentals: In a political fight, if your base of supporters doesn’t show-up on Election Day, you will lose. One of your first priorities is to shore up that vote early, before you turn to approachable segments of the population who don’t associate themselves with your cause. A well-organized party will have an extensive database of identified supporters. But if you’re not a political party and find yourself in a public affairs fight, how do you get that intelligence? You have to build it. If that sounds daunting, that’s because it is. But now you can build it in record-time without ever having to knock on a single door or make a single phone call. But if that’s the sort of thing you’re into, we highly recommend volunteering on the next election campaign. There’s no greater exercise in humility than having people slam doors in your face!
Once you have that database, you can do what political parties have been very successful at doing: keep supporters engaged so that when you need to mobilize them, they take action. And when they take action, they lend you social proof. Social proof is the credibility of word-of-mouth marketing, and with that comes the opportunity to shift public opinion. At its core, an activation campaign mobilizes the supporter base, which then mobilizes its own network of friends and family. We go after these individuals—your advocates—because they have a better chance of convincing inaccessible individuals to come on side than you do. People trust each other more than they trust most brands, especially brands caught in a public affairs fight. The real value of an activation campaign is that you’re giving your best spokespeople a chance to speak on your behalf.
A word of caution, however. Yes, you can build your list in record time—we now have access to unprecedented technology to do this—but to do it well, you need to focus on building a supporter list of quality prospects. In a world where most people go online for a dose of dopamine, getting them to care about your (serious) issue enough to opt-in to your database is no easy task. It can only be done with the right message. Finding the right message takes science. It takes research. You need to know which segments of the population would be most responsive to your campaign, where to find them, what language motivates them, and what it would take for them to lend social proof to your campaign. Armed with that evidence-based knowledge, you can begin the hard work of reaching out to your potential supporters. Then, once you start, you should never stop. Because to activate your supporters, you’ll need to know what makes them tick. But getting them to that point requires care—it requires an ongoing relationship between you and them. Are you nurturing your advocates? If not, you’ll find yourself on your back foot when the time comes to win your public affairs campaign.
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