Brand-building Expert Norty Cohen to Marketers: Consumer Engagement Is Key

Share this:


Some local marketers have the wrong end of the stick. That’s the message from veteran brand expert, Norty Cohen CEO of St. Louis-based ad and creative agency Moosylvania. The company produces an annual report on the Top 100 global brands.

What he learned from that research has now been made into a book on the matter of how to market in what amounts to a brand new world for brands. Its titled “The Participation Game: How The Top 100 Brands Build Loyalty In A Skeptical World,” and was published last month by Ideapress Publishing.

Cohen’s message is simple. The old ways of trying to connect via TV and other media just aren’t as effective as they used to be. What you need now is to make a connection with the potential consumer of your product or service. That person who now has a relationship with the brand can then help spread the message about what you’re selling by word of mouth, he says.

“We want to be in the friends-of-friends set,” he told Street Fight recently. “Once you have people talking about you then you reach exponential strength and that means you get bigger reach.”

He also explains why he gives couponing a miss. It is too much financial “burden” on the retailers and many people who use them are simply going to a store to save money rather than because they love the brand in question.

Why did you write the book?
I was doing some research starting about five years ago to find out why some people adopt brands. I had a research business and agency. The problem was that usual sort of 18-35 data wasn’t getting to the bottom of the matter.

To do more research on the matter, we isolated data on millennial consumers. We looked at this thing after a year, and then in the second year, we called it as the top 50 brands. For the last three years, we did the top 100 brands. We look at what social channels the consumers connect on and how they connect with each other and how they get influenced by friends and family. We had the benefit of asking over five years. We would keep some questions the same and some different. 

And then I started going out and presenting this study and presenting at major fortune 500 companies.  I was out at such a speaking engagement and I met a publisher who said the presentation should be a book.

What has changed over the last couple of years in hyperlocal marketing?
In this world, local still tries to sell in the same way as they have over the last 30-40 years. I think local is probably the last to see the difference. What we are seeing is that people aren’t consuming the same way as they used to.

One of the statistics is that “word of mouth” from “friends and family” was two-and-a-half times more likely to help a brand than YouTube, Facebook and TV combined. Pretty much anyone talking about a brand was more likely to mean brand adoption.

Would you give an example?
What you want to do is to create programming.

First get permission using an original idea. Come up with the idea for a promotion or a charity event or information that the customer might connect with.  And then consumer says okay I like that idea. Then it comes down to what medium makes sense to use. Digital can make sense and but more important is figuring out who you want to talk about you.

Third part of the process is creating two-way participation between the brand and the consumer. We look for an opportunity to have a conversation and not literally drop information. So we cross a line from being an advertiser to being a friend. I think it this true for local as well. One thing is that sometimes whole communities can support brands, and there is some functional reason that this happens.

For instance, The Gap did a concept called “mind the pay gap.” They were talking about the fact that women get paid differently to men. The message is simple: Here’s something you care about and we care about it too. So consumers shared it with their friends. And then all these things came together. 

Some ideas can be altruistic and some not. Some are just self-promotional, but the key is that the successful ones still connect with consumers.

What was your biggest marketing goof?
I was part of a team that blended new spirit concepts. We came up with a new concept tequila and rum drink. We thought tequila infused rum made sense because the two did combine well. But the concept didn’t work well for consumers. They couldn’t imagine how it would taste.

And the funny part of that is that I kept buying it when I saw a bottle in the store. It was called The Ciclon. It wasn’t the name that was the problem, it was just that people couldn’t understand it as a drink.

What did you learn from it?
We learned that what consumers felt about tequila was polarizing. At the time we didn’t see that. Certain people had great experiences and certain people didn’t.

Do mobile offers, such as those from Groupon, help boost sales permanently as opposed to just over the short term?
I started one of these couponing sites so I am familiar with the territory. We moved on from it because it was quite a burden to the retailer. Once you get a consumer in you clearly want to keep them there. The issue overall is that there were a lot of consumers there for the discount rather than the brand itself. In other words, it isn’t a brand building technique and I wouldn’t suggest using such marketing techniques too often.

Simon Constable is a Street Fight contributor. He has written about business and economics for a wide variety of publications. This interview was edited for length and clarity.