How to Engage Consumers, Johnson & Johnson Style

It isn’t uncommon for marketers to deliver a brand message with hope, not expectation – hope that consumers will receive, respond, and perhaps buy a product. Much to their chagrin, hope is an ineffective strategy.

I sat down with Colleen Sellers, Group Brand Director at Johnson & Johnson, following the receipt of Johnson & Johnson’s 2014 Effie award. Sellers said facilitating an authentic, reciprocal relationship with consumers is the most effective strategy for the digital age and that, in the end, both consumer and brand benefit from it.

“Your consumers want and demand a conversation with you at all times,” Sellers said. “They demand engagement.”

Today, the ability to understand and work with consumers drives the brand loyalty – or disloyalty – that gives a brand its character and voice to consumers. Just like people, if consumers can’t relate to a product, they have little reason to continue a relationship with it. If consumers can’t relate to a brand’s message, then the product is already irrelevant.

So how, exactly, do marketers engage with the customers? Listen to them, Sellers said.

She explained that Zyrtec’s campaign, which won the Effie, began by talking to consumers. Mostly, allergy-sufferers felt the products weren’t engaging customers realistically.

“A lot of the products in the space weren’t talking to them because they pictured running through fields of flowers and being happy about their allergies and not being authentic about how hard it is sometimes to have allergies,” Sellers said.

Naturally, the group took a ground-level approach to allergies. Instead of presenting the after-effects of allergy medication (i.e., people smiling outside), they related to the consumer with comical advertisements about the reality of allergies: they’re annoying, inconvenient and sometimes embarrassing.

The strategy was effective for both Johnson & Johnson and its consumers. And ultimately, those are the two most precious facets of marketing.

“I think the other way you can think about [effectiveness] is how your consumers relate to you,” Sellers said. “Do consumers think that you’re talking more authentically to them, that they are more part of the conversation with you? Do you feel like you get them?”

“One of our key metrics on the Zyrtec brand is trying to see improvement in being the brand that ‘gets them’ versus just a brand that they bought.”

Consumer emphasis seems obvious, but after remembering the myriad of numbers, analytics and dollars that are thrown into the equation, it’s obvious why so many marketers lose touch with their consumers. Digital media is just another way to connect to these consumers. Of course, strategy is always important – it’s just certainly leaning toward a new platform.

When asked about the role of digital in marketing, Sellers said any marketer must still be careful and clever about their strategy, but also choose the right medium. More often than not, that means digital today.

Just as advertisements shifted leverage from print to television, the information technology we use will consistently determine where marketers place their message. The idea, on any medium, has to be right. It’s simply not enough to just “go digital” because everyone is already there.

“At the end of the day, it’s about talking to the consumers about what matters to them,” Sellers said. “To be good at [marketing] you have to be in the channels where they are listening to you.”

Although going digital isn’t enough in itself to make a brand successful, social media networks are proving to be great outlets for consumers to respond to products, messages and marketing techniques through social media and analytics.

“To me, social media is actually an incredible listening tool,” Sellers said. “Learning to put stuff out there and get a response and then learn from that response is part of being a good marketer and, you know, in the environment we live in, I think that goes for our personal lives too.”

Watch the interview:


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