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  • Robin Hawksworth

Brand Affinity Marketing. The Run-DMC edition.


Brand affinity marketing is nothing new for many of you. Since it's defining moments of the late 1980's it has become a key component of many legacy brands local and global strategies.


So what defines Affinity Marketing?


Simply put, affinity marketing aims to build life-long relationships between your products/brand and a growing audience. It seeks to nurture a sense of 'like-mindedness' and rapport while offering connection opportunities between the customers themselves. By placing the customers own values and aspirations centre-stage, companies reverse engineer ways to help them achieve these through the companies products/services.


The traditional 'Desire To Buy' is replaced with a 'Desire To Belong'.


Due too it's effectiveness you would think that its prevalent in todays market place, however this is far from the truth. There are not that many major players who go down this route due to the time taken to implement. Many set-out with the right intention before falling back into 'Buy Me Now' mode that clouds the messaging waters.


Then there are the perceived costs.


For years this was off limits for most as the cost of hiring recognisable names, established directors, filming costs and distribution could drain a bank account fast. Recent technology has blown this out of the water as anyone with a creative vision, a smart phone camera and the desire can effectively join in. Mix this with a social media infrastructure that offers up an almost free distribution system and a myriad of possibilities open up to all of us.


So what is stopping you?


Culture dictates the landscape.


Marketers have always tried to understand culture and manifest in us a 'Desire to buy' through the glossy images of the rich and famous pimping products. Looking back, I crack a smile at the staged pictures of the Hollywood elite lighting up a Marlboro as they try to look cool in their designer clothes under a hot Californian sun. It worked, for decades we bought into the idea and day-dreamed about being them as we sipped our Martini Rosso cocktails in the rain soaked gardens of our semi-detached houses.


By the 1970s culture had seriously shifted downwards, dragging the advertising industry along with it. The movie icons popularity had become hijacked by the emerging musical movements and street fashion of the time. These people sounded like us and looked like us. A key point was in 1986 when the iconic 'My Adidas' rap by Run-DMC hit the airwaves. The group's intention was to send a positive message about not judging a book by it's cover or by what people chose to wear, however in the process they inadvertently rocketed the sales of Adidas shell-toe's in the US almost over night. Adidas quickly took notice and so did the advertising industry as bottom-up affinity marketing was born.


While the Run-DMC scenario was a fluke, start-up brands such as FUBU thrived in this era as their established personal relationships allowed them to infiltrate the growing music video scene and work in tandem with a growing hip-hop culture.


On the flip side, established agencies have been scrambling ever since to have their clients featured in film, videos, referenced in popular songs and have B-list celebrities pimp products.... This in many ways is not brand affinity marketing as money is trying to influence cultural trends rather than supporting them.


While Busta Rhymes did seem plausible as he decided to 'Pass the Courvoisier' to P Diddy, James Bond pulling up to the club in a Ford and swigging Heineken from the bottle did not.


Here are four ideas to get you started in Affinity marketing.


Cultural marketing.


Create news, trends and events based around your business. Your aim is not so much sell directly to your customers but create content and opportunities that relate to them personally.

Think ‘Nike’. They rarely spend time selling specific products as their narrative is to talk constantly about fitness. Their strategy is grounded in telling stories of ordinary people creating life changing goals, while wearing Nike clothing. Thus creating a common culture of aiming for 'higher human standards' They partner-up with events on a local level and have built a network of fitness ambassadors in each region. If you are motivated by, taught by, invited to events sponsored by and surrounded by like-minded individuals who seem to be wearing the latest Nike designs, then guess which brand you head for when you are ready to invest in new clothes/trainers/equipment. You want to fit in.


Even their tie-ins with famous athletes or personalities tend to lean towards a narrative of the underdog made good. Did I mentioned they also take risks....

While Nike has an enviable budget, this can work for you on a local level by tying your products/intentions/narratives to individuals or unique culture specific to your region.

What can you offer a potential customer?


Emotional marketing.


Create shareable moments or content that evokes a specific emotion in potential customers. Generating a true emotion is a sure-fire way for your content to be organically shared. If you look back at the trending videos over the last few years, they either pull on the heart strings, make you laugh out-loud or generate conversations on social issues.

This is not be an exercise in producing unrelated stories or aiming for a vitality, it is more about linking your unique story to a much larger conversation.


Think about obesity for a moment. In most countries this is a hot topic with numerous high profile campaigns and political discussions. For many in the hospitality industry this offers up chance after chance to serve healthy, balanced meals or form creative trends aimed at helping reverse the effects of obesity. Instead of complaining start campaigning. Send out weekly videos from the chef that promotes healthy eating as a viable choice for FREE. Open up conversations on the high prices of healthy foods or work with local farmers to produce more varieties of fresh ingredients. This will draw diners into healthy-eating focused promotions in your restaurants.


Imagine if a company such as McDonalds took the lead on this.... the internet would surely explode.


While obesity is an easy subject to tackle, there are many topics trending in your area that can in some way be linked to your business. You just have to search for them and create a narrative around them.


Cognitive marketing.


Created with clever use of visuals, music and words that are digested by your brains but not always immediately understood. Some require a second or third watch to gain all of the information delivered. These are designed to create surprise and entertain while add some level of cognitive stimulation so they are not easily forgotten or remembered with gentle stimulation. In all cases, musical beats are added for an instant change in brainwave function.


Think about the Marks and Spencers food adverts. Over the last few years they have broken down the ingredients from certain dishes or regions and filmed each being cut/mince/shredded/juiced/sliced in various ways. Always filmed against a dark background, the ingredients vibrant colours pop. No ingredient is on the screen for more than a second thus building a picture in our minds of freshness, made-to-order and always cumulates in the last few frames of a the desirable, tasty, commonly-named, complete dish(es). Another component is the key musical-intro hooks from Clean Bandit and Ed Sheeran. Each track was predicted to stay on radio/download rotation for the foreseeable future hence increasing the chance of us hearing it randomly in public. As each song starts we suddenly feel hungry for that lunch time 'Beef burrito' or strangely want to pick up a 'Taste of England' cheese board on the way home.


The effectiveness is always defined with the edit. Story board, take lots of footage, lots of different angles and creatively chip away until you have an impactful 15-20 second insight into your business. While they work well on TV, they impact even better on Instagram and Facebook because they make you stop scrolling and pay attention.


Association marketing.


These days the trend is to join with others or pay individuals to allow you to appear in front of their audiences. While this is fast becoming a pay-to-play industry there are still opportunities to cross-pollinate and expand mutual benefical conversations. Social media seems to offer-up a never ending stream of want-to-be influencers, musicians or artisits who are looking to monetarist their audience.


The challenge is to align yourself with the right person for your brand going forward. It is not a great idea to work with an individual who will promote your competitor next week or who's daily offering has become a gallery of brand deals..... Then there are the mistakes, the misspellings along side the lack of thought, actions and words of the individuals in real life.


Even simple errors such as an influencer promoting a new Android phone that was tagged 'posted though iOS' should be deemed unacceptable.

Do your homework, look beyond the individual and deep-dive into their actual audience. If this shows potential and they present themselves in a way that you like, then reach out. Always have in the back of your mind your ideal goal but do not try to mould the way it is presented.


Remember the number of followers on any account should always play second place to the location and age of it's reach. Smaller companies should look for more specific people or a localised audiences in which to spread your message.


Affinity marketing is not difficult.


It is all about honest creativity in a world where relationships are becoming valued once again. As a brand, customers know that you want them to buy from you so stop spending time creating a narrative around the sale or digital magazine ads. Change your focus to one of mutual gain and aligned goals for years to come.... Nike gets it, Virgin gets it, Apple gets it, Adidas gets it, Honda gets it, Starbucks gets it..... do YOU!


Thank you for reading my thoughts on affinity marketing. I would love to read you comments below. Please feel free to share with your colleagues or LinkedIn connections to start conversations around your business, after all who knows where it may lead.


Your Run-DMC moment may just be on the horizon.


Robin Hawksworth.

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