Wolff Olins’ Mary Ellen Muckerman on Brand Loyalty

Mary Ellen Muckerman is Strategy Director at Wolff Olins, a brand consultancy that ‘helps ambitious leaders invent the future by reinventing their business or category’. With nearly 20 years of experience in both Fortune 100 companies and nationally recognized advertising agencies, Mary Ellen has developed multinational integrated marketing and advertising strategies. The Makegood recently spoke with Mary Ellen about creating brand loyalty and challenges in social media.

The Makegood: Mary Ellen, as head of strategy at Wolff Olins, what would you determine as the toughest challenge marketers have in today’s world of social media, mobile and digital communication, and what is your answer for them?

As social media, mobile and digital communications continue to proliferate and determine how and when conversations take place, the need for marketers to have a strong purpose and point of view is more important than ever. Starting from this rock solid foundation – with a crystal clear understanding of your brand’s role and value in your users’ lives and relevant experiences that demonstrate this value – allows a greater level of fluidity and flexibility, across communication platforms, by a wider symphony of voices, to contribute to a constantly shifting dialogue. This conviction also enables marketers to be transparent and honest about their opinions and perspectives, creating a level of trust, authenticity and when appropriate, expertise.

The Makegood: In September, you stated in your Forbes column brand loyalty as the top concern according to IMB’s study, in which 72% of the midmarket CMOs don’t feel sufficiently prepared to effectively build it. What are your three key messages for them to create and sustain brand loyalty?

1. Don’t think of brand loyalty as a program, run by a manager, with a line item budget, a punch card and a set of monthly offers. This is the surest way to turn it into a tactic or a promotion. Instead, think of it as an outcome that each and everyone of your leaders are responsible to nurture and grow.

2. Do think of brand loyalty as something you both give and get. Love your audience, customer, user, or consumer. Really understand them inside and out. That commitment to their needs will logically translate into an uncanny ability to create compelling, can’t miss experiences – which is what keeps people coming back again and again, and telling their friends to come back with them.

3. Loyalty follows usefulness. Once you truly understand what makes your consumers tick, then you have the insight and knowledge to become indispensable in their lives. If you can become essential to their every day lives or most special moments and consistently delivering value, then customers will reward with their advocacy, support and devotion. But the moment you stop being useful, that loyalty disappears. Loyalty must be earned, and re-earned, at every interaction.

The Makegood: For the Smithsonian Institution, Wolff Olins created the first-ever national branding and awareness campaign that targets young people and shows them how ‘seriously amazing’ the Smithsonian is. What were the challenges and consumer insights you found and how did you address them with the ‘seriously amazing’ campaign?

The Smithsonian is an American icon, and has almost 90% awareness with people throughout the country. However, when you dig into those numbers and break them out by age groups, the awareness falls the younger you go. Based on that research, we knew that Millennials would be an important target for the brand campaign – we wanted to increase their awareness of the Smithsonian and help them understand what a vital, multi-faceted accessible resource it could be for them throughout their lives.

Another important insight is that being “smart” holds significant social currency for Millennials. And so we knew we had a way in with them because the Smithsonian has something they want – an endless, ever-evolving stream of facts, figures, research, discoveries and dialogues.

Based on these insights, we focused the creative concept for the campaign around the idea of “Questions Alive,” using provocative questions and visuals as a way to hook and invite the audience into an experience with the Smithsonian where they could learn and share something new and surprising.

The Makegood: The Smithsonian Institution will run the ads for the campaign around the ‘questions alive’ theme until mid November. What communication channels do you use and how do you use them to reach the young target group?

We used traditional channels like print and outdoor in targeted cities in order to grab people’s attention and create awareness. Radio is also being used in specific markets to elevate the voice of the campaign. Digital is our most targeted and interactive channel, where questions literally come alive through video and motion. And social media has been extremely important as well, creating a platform for the multitude of Smithsonian properties to start and participate in conversations with people everywhere.

The Makegood: What’s next in brand communication and how does that affect
your work at Wolff Olins?

As technology continues to become more ubiquitous in our lives, we’re finding that the disciplines of brand strategy and user experience are coming closer and closer to together. More and more, we find the best way to articulate a brand is to prototype actual user experiences in order to show what the journey feels like and looks like. This not only helps make the strategic platform real and tangible for our clients, but also quickly uncovers the brand experience principles that can guide everything from product to partnership to communication activation. So we’re making lots of movies, doing lots of sketching, using lots of infographics – any tool necessary to take the brand strategy off the page and into the hands of people.

The Makegood: Thanks, Mary Ellen.