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I walked out of The Art of Marketing conference the day before yesterday with one thought resounding through my mind: Whatever business you’re in, no matter your customer or cause, you can no longer afford not to empower your advocates.

Industry heavyweights like Method’s Eric Ryan, Author of “Contagious” Jonah Berger, and keynote speaker and media ingenue Arianna Huffington, among others, emphasized the power of passionate people and how their involvement is crucial to turning your brand’s message into a mission, heard across the Web and around the globe.

What are the most powerful vehicles for igniting advocacy? Most notably: Stories, intimacy, and remarkability.

The Trojan Horse method to marketing and storytelling

Eric Ryan, one of the founders of Method, opened the event with a universal truth, “everybody loves a good story”. Though it’s safe to say that the majority agreed, Jonah Berger spit out the slightly unsettling fact that often, “marketers don’t make for great storytellers”. In Berger’s talk, centred around topics he explores deeper in his book ‘Contagious: Why Things Catch On’, he broke down the science behind why and what people share. Simply put, people share stories, not information.

Berger cited an interesting analogy to help marketers craft more meaningful messages, that is the “Trojan Horse” method of storytelling which means creating a narrative, a Trojan Horse, that serves as a vehicle for your underlying marketing message. Supporting this notion, Tom Fishburne, Marketoonist and Founder of Marketoon Studios, provided a superb example of Berger’s analogy with a case study on the rebrand of the State of Kentucky, or more accurately the rebrand of the rebrand.

Kentucky Kicks Ass – Rebranding Kentucky from Kentucky for Kentucky on Vimeo.

Another important note on the art of storytelling worth mentioning, from the wisdom of Eric Ryan, “don’t just tell a story, share your philosophy”.

The art of intimacy and cozying up to customers

Sharing your values and philosophies through compelling stories is one way to attract an audience, but  their loyalty is a direct result of fostering intimacy through open, earnest communication. The refreshingly candid Scooter Braun, famed manager of Justin Bieber, shared how to achieve Bieber-fever like social media fame. Take his word for it, with over 44 million followers and counting, Bieber is the most followed celebrity of all time. The answer seems almost too simple to be true:

Naturally, this lead to the question of how one extremely busy young man has the time to manage such a robust presence. Apparently, Bieber approves all outgoing messages but in terms of scalability, Braun made the smart move of hiring some of Bieber’s biggest fans to act as his social media ambassadors and help with day to day execution and communications. After all, who shows more love and loyalty than the fans?

For Method, passion for the product is generated from the inside out. Ryan repeatedly stressed the importance of fostering a strong internal culture where every single member of the company “lives the values”. Even Method’s adorably quirky ads feature a full cast of Method employees.

Externally, Method brings their customers into the fold by making them true “insiders”, another strategy that was almost unanimously promoted across speakers. For the soap brand, a team of “Method Mavens” comprised of passionate product ambassadors avidly contribute to the blog, drawing in like-minded readers and fans. A method that, according to Jonah Berger, can lead to ample referred customers who ultimately wind up generating 13% more value.

Find your inner remarkability, take risks, embrace spontaneity

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As Arianna Huffington astutely put it, we share because “we want to be part of the stories of our time … self expression is the new entertainment.” But going back to what we’ve said earlier, the only stories worth sharing are those that have an element of remarkability. According to Berger, “remarkability” is about illuminating the surprising, novel, or interesting aspects of your brand or as Seth Godin famously put it, finding your “Purple Cow”. This fact, unanimously agreed upon by all speakers, took on various interpretations.

For Eric Ryan, Method is remarkable not only because of their values and commitment to design and aesthetic, but equally for their commitment to always keep things “a little weird”. For Arianna Huffington, the key is to recognize that contagious content is remarkable because it is dramatic, playful, and has a sense of occasion.

On that note, prime remarkability opportunities occur when brands embrace spontaneous moments. For example, when Method founders Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan were faced with a lawsuit over their use of daisies, they produced the following video to let fans in on the issue:

Taking this further, Tom Fisburne highlighted an interesting case study from 2011 wher the Axe brand collaborated with their legal team to develop some risqué creative around a new line of loofahs for young men. Without this collaboration, marketers risked overly censoring their ideas due to a lack of knowledge on their legal limits. According to a brand manager at Axe, the legal team were encouraged to “think of themselves as marketers on the marketing team,” allowing them to use their knowledge to push Axe’s boundaries further and avoid launching a seriously unremarkable campaign.

Content production is hard and Community Managers are essential

Midway through the day, a panel of marketing executives brought to light two points that I think are vitally important to repeat: Content production is hard and Community Managers are essential components of any marketing department. Community Management and content production are full-time endeavours. Rather than go on at length about how essential it is to build marketing departments that support these functions, I’ll instead defer to Mr. Ryan in saying: “The soul cannot be outsourced.”

So sums up some of the incredible learnings, ideas, and inspiration provided by The Art of Marketing conference and its illustrious speakers. As John Gerzema, author of “The Athena Doctrine” notes, “customer-centric brands are disrupting distressed categories” but I would venture to say that customer-centric brands are disrupting marketing strategies at large, across a wide set of categories. Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself, in this day and age, can you afford not to be customer-centric?

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