Harnessing the power of nonlinear marketing
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Harnessing the power of nonlinear marketing

With such an enigmatic headline, you might be asking yourself, “What exactly is ‘nonlinear marketing’?” And with good reason.

A quick Google search reveals only 2,000 results for that exact phrase – a drop in the Internet Ocean, and a term that I’m sure many marketers won’t have come across yet.

So, if so few of us are engaging in nonlinear activities, why am I taking the time to write this article and share my tuppence worth with you? It’s because I’m convinced that the world of nonlinear is about to get busier, as brands are forced to crank up their creativity in order to stand out from the content marketing crowd.

Whether you realise it or not, you’ve probably witnessed a few nonlinear campaigns already. In any case, let’s take a distinctly linear approach and start at the beginning.

What is nonlinear marketing?

You could say it’s the opposite of linear marketing, which I’d define as a campaign that follows a very distinct and straightforward route, with a single narrative that doesn’t allow for interactivity. Traditional advertising has almost always followed a linear path – television ads and radio commercials of a predetermined length, played within a specific time slot, ensuring that each audience member is presented with exactly the same content in exactly the same way, each time it’s played.

There’s nothing wrong with linear advertising, per se. It doesn’t totally block creativity, nor does it stop advertisers from eliciting emotional responses from target demographics. Linear marketing has been an effective sales tool for many, many years, and will continue to be so.

The trouble is, however, that every brand under the sun is doing it, which means consumers are bombarded with marketing messages virtually every second of the day – often leading to a numbness and ambivalence towards advertising. Indeed, it’s recently been reported that the average human attention span is only 8.25 seconds. So, in a world of smartphones and social media moans, marketers need to turn up the volume in order to cut through the noise.

Rather than being part of the problem, the variety of online platforms and advancing technologies present an exciting opportunity to produce innovative, integrated, multi-narrative campaigns that capture the imagination and get people talking.

This is my understanding of nonlinear marketing and why I’m so excited about the future of branding, as companies move away from straight sales and start thinking like publishers, with effective brands creating immersive experiences that blur the lines between online and offline worlds, causing intrigue, offering entertainment and, occasionally, adding real value to people’s lives.

Why is nonlinear so superior?

Ultimately, successful nonlinear marketing should generate deep connections between brands and consumers, with audiences actively engaging with content rather than being passive to its consumption.

The global success of Always’ #LIKEAGIRL campaign started out as a social experiment in 2014, with the aim of challenging negative preconceptions that surround the phrase ‘like a girl’. In 2015, the brand went on to stage an international Confidence Summit in partnership with TED, inviting confidence experts and inspirational young women to speak at events all over the world. Suddenly, Always transformed itself from an everyday feminine care brand to a full-blown social movement.

In 2016, they kicked off the ‘Girl Emojis’ campaign, with this video questioning the lack of positive, professional female characters depicted in the universal language of emoji.


Note how they invite comment with the #LIKEAGIRL hashtag, encouraging viewers to interact with the brand – classic nonlinear marketing. And interact they did, as people flooded social media with suggestions.

This latest battle against gender stereotyping gained much media attention, earning Always plenty of praise along the way. At no point was their product range the focal point, but it goes without saying that the kudos attached to such positive messaging is priceless.

The pace soon gathered, and within three months both Google and Facebook announced a new range of emojis to reflect the diversity of professional women.

With emotive video content to spark conversation and a welcoming, collaborative approach to social media, Always moved away from the linear realms of ‘PLEASE BUY THIS PRODUCT’ and into a much more compelling user experience, backed up with real-world events that focused on spreading positivity.

There is no formulaic structure to the campaign, no need for the audience to consume each and every part of it in chronological order – it’s easy to understand and buy into the messaging, regardless of where you pick it up.

It’s very likely that many people were moved by the video, but didn’t take to social media to share their thoughts. Likewise, it’s safe to assume that many encountered the #LIKEAGIRL hashtag on their timelines and tracked the campaign without first being prompted by the video, or simply read about it in widespread news coverage.

The point is that Always has had great success by creating a tangible movement that taps into people’s emotions, facilitating conversation, empowering its target audience and encouraging major organisations to take action. This multi-layered, multi-narrative, nonlinear approach has framed the brand as a beacon for equality, and the results have been impressive: 90 million views for the original #LIKEAGIRL video; 4000% growth in YouTube subscribers; 3x Twitter followers in the first three months; and a staggering 4 billion media impressions in the same period.

I imagine the return on investment looks pretty healthy, too.

Could you be a nonlinear winner?

You might not have the budget or global exposure of Always, but there are many ways that marketers can leverage multi-channel campaigns to connect with customers. A travel company, for example, could tease treasure hunt clues on social media and whip up a real-world frenzy by hiding ‘golden tickets’ in prominent locations, inviting followers to interact with the brand and actively seek out prizes.

And it would be impossible to espouse the virtues nonlinear marketing in the summer of 2016 without mentioning the global phenomenon of Pokémon GO. High street businesses, big and small, have been running unofficial Pokémon promotions for several weeks, using the AR game to attract customers by showcasing what monsters they have in store via social media.

Local retailers, restaurants and bars have also been making in-app purchases known as ‘Lures’, which increase the generation of Pokémon in specific areas for 30 minute periods, luring sustained foot traffic to the venue. In Japan, McDonald’s recently signed a deal to become the first officially sponsored Pokéstops, which could indicate that the game is here to stay rather than being a seasonal fad.

Either way, jumping on the bandwagon and framing your marketing output in accordance with popular trends opens the door for high engagement and interactivity, the key principles of nonlinear marketing.

I’ve long been championing the need for video marketers to create emotional connections, but if you can go one step further and have a two-way conversation with your audience, building an interactive experience that inspires action, the brand loyalty will only intensify, potentially creating happy customers for life.

Jon Mowat is the managing director of video production agency Hurricane Media.

Jon Mowat Managing Director Hurricane Media
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