Written by Matt Langie, Senior Director of Strategic Marketing for the Digital Marketing Business Unit at Adobe and Board Vice Chairman for the Internet Marketing Association:
Although Adobe Summit 2014 is starting to fade in the rearview mirror, I keep going back to some of the incredible learning experiences we had as marketers. One standout for me was the relevant marketing lessons from someone we least expected—Super Bowl Champion Richard Sherman.
Sherman is a great competitor. He commands respect on the athletic field. But he also competes well in the marketing sphere. He possesses the requisite skills and the appropriate training (Stanford educated) to compete as a marketer. Many of us have similar skills and training, but we do not compete successfully. Why is that?
What are we missing when it comes to creating the responses we desire with the marketing practices we deploy?
Adobe Summit (#adobesummit) this year was driven by a theme addressing the reinvention of the digital marketer. I’d like to share my thoughts about how we can push the reinvention of marketers and digital marketing, and I’ll start with Sherman’s story, how he reinvented his image because of some of the competitive advantages he possessed.
Sherman explained several advantages during his onstage interview at the Summit event in March. I clearly saw six key takeaways that each of us could embed to reinvent the way we approach our digital marketing.
1. Have a Plan
I know this sounds obvious but a remarkable number of businesses do not adequately plan their marketing. If our goal is to compete in a specific market, what people, processes, and products will we deploy to accomplish that goal? Once feedback is received from our audience, how will we shape our response? We must create a plan that accounts for positive and negative customer reactions.
Richard Sherman knew he wanted to make an impression that set him apart from previous NFL notables, such as Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders. He recognized that those players frequently gained exposure through the media, so he targeted TV as a channel to gain exposure for himself.
Although thankful to be playing in the NFL, Sherman realized that being a fifth round pick for the Seahawks “out there in the northwest” would make national exposure challenging. But he followed the plan he had laid out once the opportunity presented itself. He knew the microphone would be on and eyes would be on him. He leveraged the theme of conflict that is prevalent in sports, gaining impression after impression with his “moment” during the NFC Championship game.
2. Deep Dive into the Digital Marketing Mission
We all understand that our overarching mission is to advance our brand and deliver amazing experiences through digital channels. What we’re talking about here is the sub–mission, if you will. What events/themes/circumstances are we looking to exploit with our messaging? Which influencers or celebrities must we engage to advance our message? The underlying objectives that comprise the sub-mission may include changing a perception or creating a new paradigm about our vertical.
For Sherman, the primary mission was to establish his brand as an athlete and a person that deserves appreciation. Within that mission, one of his objectives was to “provoke a response” following the game. (Would you agree he accomplished that?)
3. Have a Message Prepared
What would be our message in the event the eyes of the world were on us? We should define our response before events occur, so we can shape impressions that preserve and/or expand our brand.
Sherman had a message he wanted to send. He said that, if the play he was involved in happened earlier in the game, he might not have delivered as vociferously, but he was prepared to share his message “I am to be respected. I can play this game.”
However, because the delivery backfired, he had to react by shaping a completely different image, an image of person to be liked, admired—and followed. The audience perception changed from negative to positive over the course of a few weeks. That message was part of his arsenal as well, but it needed to be delivered as a response rather than as an introduction.
4. Determine How to Respond to a Catastrophe or Adverse Reaction
Not all launches are received the way we envision the response. Take the #myNYPD PR campaign that launched a barrage of police brutality images, for example. Our mandate to advance our brand should encompass potential image recovery tactics. How will we adjust our marketing to fit an unexpected outcome?
Sherman went into what he called “recovery mode” to respond in a positive manner to accusations of being a bad guy. He changed the message. He adjusted the conversation by talking about teammates at the next day’s press conference. He altered his strategic message delivery once feedback was received.
Central to achieving an effective outcome following a disastrous launch is measurement. Without accurate feedback analytics, it can be challenging to determine the best course of action. Sherman said, “provoke a response … then measure that response.” To win against your toughest competitors, we should heed his advice.
5. Perceive and Prepare for Negative Outcomes
We cannot be prepared for a negative response to a campaign without first acknowledging possible adverse outcomes. Once we determine the specific outcomes (website traffic, social mentions, etc.), we make decisions about the channels, messaging, timing, and anticipated response and feedback. But what we often fail to do is consider that we may generate an unintended reaction—and we must be ready to counteract that reaction.
This is one that I believe Sherman teaches us because of the way his intended message was overtaken by an unintended burst of bravado and a firestorm of negative response. Even before he hit the field for that fateful game, Sherman knew the type of audience he was in front of and the message he wanted to convey. However, he did not anticipate the end of the game with its rush of adrenaline that led to his outburst.
6. Own Your Moment and Make It Last
When you experience a defining moment for your brand, own it, no matter what feedback you receive. Once you own it, take the steps defined in number 5 to guide the audience to the point where you maximize your value.
Sherman knew he would not accomplish what he wants to by owning the image of a “thug,” which evolved instantaneously after the interview. The next day following the stunning final play in the NFC Championship game and subsequent viral response, at the team press conference, Sherman focused on his team and his role within the team, deflecting the attention to the controversial viral video. He spoke about his teammates with respectful, heartfelt appreciation.
He turned what could have been a highly visible disastrous encounter into an opportunity to take accountability for his actions, praise others, recognize the blessings in life, and work toward creating a positive environment that includes racial equality. What followed was an impressive rise in social media followers (not necessarily the type that have cemented their impression based on the game-ending video) and global recognition as an achiever and a good person.
Competing with the Best in the Game
So, how will we compete?
If we’re facing a “Richard Sherman” on the digital marketing playing field, we’ll embed these steps into our strategic development and be prepared for all outcomes. We’ll look for a moment when we can leverage our message most effectively. We’ll also be ready to measure response and react quickly. The tools are certainly available; it’s up to us to develop the processes and foster successful team deployment that will allow us to compete effectively.
The competition for mindshare is fierce, and we can’t always forecast defining moments. However, the lessons we can learn from Richard Sherman as a great marketer provide a foundation for competing in the digital marketing domain. Imagine our brand’s future, make a plan, and be prepared to respond to moments and movements. Do the things that will put us in the best position to capitalize on our moment in the spotlight.
Now I ask you, what business or brand turnarounds do you admire? How were those impressions reinvented? Who is the competitive marketer that you admire?