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Adopting a Value-First Advertising Strategy

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Advertising has come a long way from Madison Avenue’s much-celebrated heyday. Advertising has undergone massive disruption in the last twenty years, more so than most industries. Even so, many website banner ads, pop-ups, and Instagram ads that the Mad Men of yore never dreamed of still follow somewhat traditional, straightforward formulas. Traditional advertising uses campaigns to create impressions for brand awareness, recall of a product, message, or promotion. 

Advertising is a uniquely powerful tool that teaches us about our world. Traditional strategies use that power to manufacture wants by presenting the viewer with an idealized version of the world where the product or service being advertised fills a hole, fixes a problem, or elevates their life. 

The unprecedented power of the internet as a platform that delivers consumers to advertisers has created an information-saturated culture with shorter user attention spans that are harder than ever to capture. Along with that comes an increased awareness, wariness, and rejection of traditional advertising styles and messaging. That means companies need to think outside the box beyond just adjusting the medium and the message. It’s time to change the very nature of advertising from a straightforward transaction, into an exchange. Enter “Value-First” strategies.

What is Value-First Advertising?

The next step in advertising’s evolution is a trend that’s already gained significant traction in recent years as companies jockey to stand out in the constant cacophony of information bombarding consumers. Value-first advertising puts a “give” ahead of the sale. Simply put, value-first is “an approach that aims to give consumers something—education or entertainment—as opposed to a straight sale. It initiates an exchange rather than a transaction.” 

Rather than relying on traditional methods that seek to simply inform, sell, or engender a want, value-first strategies provide the consumer with something. The goal is to provide a value-add up front, creating a positive, useful experience for the consumer before they even become a customer, thus building a strong consumer/brand relationship. 

Consumers are more likely to patronize a brand they are familiar with, a brand that’s established its credibility, and a brand of which they have a positive valuation. Value-first advertising covers all those bases and has the added bonus of benefitting the consumer before they ever click “add to cart” or “contact us.” 

In Practice

There are already quite a few brands making use of this strategy and the practice is only growing. From in-app games to Snapchat filters to sponsored YouTube tutorials, some of the biggest brands in the world are driving the value-first advertising train full speed ahead.

Snapchat and Gatorade:
Gatorade has made spectacular use of the wildly popular social media platform, Snapchat. Teenagers and young adults, two of their biggest target demographics are already on Snapchat, so that box is already ticked. To coincide with the US Open a few years ago, they ran an ad that prompted users to swipe up to play a game of tennis against Serena Williams. Interactive, fun, and timely, the game garnered great results. People spent an average of 200 seconds playing the game, it had a 16% play rate, and 35% of people who saw the game shared it with friends. 

Playing a micro-game of tennis with Serena Williams is far from a hard sell for a sports drink, but it creates a positive brand experience; a soft sell that can be far more effective with Millennials and Gen Z, who notoriously loathe being sold to.

The world’s most famous pig-tailed red-head is also the undisputed queen of corporate social media accounts. Wendy’s Twitter and Instagram pages are consistently witty, relevant, quick, and downright hilarious. They’ve got a knack for interacting with customers and other brands in ways that quickly go viral. In 2017, they ran an Instagram story in conjunction with their “Fresh, Never Frozen” slogan. The story prompted viewers to freeze the screen to discover ideas on how to use frozen beef that ranged from cosplay to hockey pucks.

Their Twitter account is notorious for roasting haters and competitors alike, garnering them an enormous amount of free press and more internet cred than any other brand in their industry (or most others, for that matter.) On National Roast Day in January, they spent an entire day replying to hundreds of average Tweeters and brands from Mr. Peanut to Hooters to the official Twitter account for beef as they asked to be roasted by @Wendys. Naturally, they delivered a slew of hilariously snarky responses that got shared all over the internet. 

You literally can’t buy this level of exposure and brand/consumer relationship building. People who might never have patronized a Wendy’s getting a giggle from a listicle featuring their best roasts are that much more likely to hit their drive-thru next time they’re after a burger on the go.

Home Improvement:
It’s not all fun, games, and giggles. A lot of big brands are getting into the value-up-front game with educational content. Home improvement behemoths Lowe’s and Sherwin-Williams have stocked their YouTube channels with loads of extremely helpful DIY videos. 

For a homeowner looking to get tips on painting, Sherwin-Williams YouTube channel offers videos on everything from color selection, to cutting in, to painting an ombre accent wall. Lowe’s YouTube channel has a wide variety of content for DIYers of all skill levels. Their Weekender series follows a DIY expert who helps homeowners transform problem spaces over a weekend and “The Wall” series offers up a series of interesting and artistic experiments. They offer basic DIY tips like “How do I remove a Stripped Screw” as well. The point is to be useful and entertaining. Brands who stick to pure, straightforward advertising content are missing an enormous opportunity. 

Seek First to Add Value

Bill Carmody, founder, and CEO of Trepoint has this sage advice for fellow business owners: “Connect problems with your passion and purpose and you will never lack for opportunity and growth. Help as many people as you are capable of assisting every day and you will be unstoppable.”

Back in 2014, he predicted that the tried and true “Four P’s of marketing” (Product, Price, Place, and Promotion) would be challenged by value-first strategies. His prediction has proved extremely prescient. Offering people something they enjoy and/or can use, upfront, with no strings is one of the best possible ways to build a solid relationship with potential customers. Even better, campaigns like these are often less expensive to run than traditional ads. It’s a winning formula and companies that don’t get on the “Ask not what your customers can do for me, ask what you can do for your customers.” train of thought risk getting left in the dust.

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