Twitter is Not a Strategy

Techniques from an Expert Marketer

If you are marketing a company, a product, an idea, or even your personal brand, you may feel the pull between the new-media world and the traditional marketing methods you studied in school. When new technologies emerge, it often seems like everything is changing. Whether digital, mobile, or social, we are looking for new ways to connect with our audience.

What if these new ways actually prevented a brand from reaching its potential?

How do you get people to stick around?

How do you engage people in a substantive way, winning them over? 



Tom Doctoroff has more than 20 years of experience shaping hundreds of global brands ranging from Microsoft to Ford to Nestle.  He’s appeared regularly on NBC, CBS, CNBC and other major media outlets. Tom’s new book Twitter is Not a Strategy: Rediscovering the Art of Brand Marketing is all about engagement. Its wisdom spans the two worlds, combining digital and traditional marketing to win and engage consumers.


The Marketing Identity Crisis

Tom, you’re the CEO of J. Walter Thompson in AsiaPacific and for decades have shaped some of the world’s biggest brands. Your new book title, Twitter is Not a Strategy, seems to imply some level of frustration.  Did you write this book with some level of frustration?

I wouldn’t call it frustration exactly.  But, yes, I do think the communications industry is going through something of an identity crisis.  The fundamentals of advertising and branding are too often forsaken as marketers seek technological and algorithmic salvation. The rise of digital has led to marketer anxiety, consumer confusion and too many transactional brands.  But old and new, traditional and digital, broadcast and “lean in” media are complementary.



Twitter is Not a Strategy is not meant to be a breakthrough book.  Indeed it might even be “anti-breakthrough.”  It is a call for the entire industry to stand up and reclaim the conceptual high ground of marketing communications.  Carefully crafted strategies and executions—adherence to the ABCs of brand building—will remain our lighthouse.  As brand pioneers, we must explore the shoals of a new digital landscape.  But let’s not become stranded by anxiety and indecision. Timeless can be new.


Traditional versus New Marketing Tension

Your book explains the traditional top down branding approach (message clarity) with a bottom up (consumer empowerment) approach. How do these two approaches need to work together?Twitter is Not a Strategy

To avoid confusing consumers, engagement needs to be both authentic and constructed. Marketers must forge a paradigm that allows freedom within a framework, pulling off the trick of simultaneously permitting consumers to participate with brands while empowering marketers to manage the message and dialog.  Marketers must achieve:  harmony between the clarity of top-down positioning and the dynamism of bottom-up consumer engagement; between long-term brand equity and short-term tactical messaging; and between emotional relevance and results driven by data-driven technology.

Different kinds of media reach us for complementary purposes.  Analog (traditional) media shape our brand preference while most digital media deepens our engagement and leads to brand loyalty.

The former boast broad reach.  They forge perceptions across consumer masses. Film—with its sound, color, movement, and ability to break through clutter—is an indispensable tool to guide consumers amid an explosion of offerings. Even in the United States, despite the proliferation of smartphones and other digital devices, the 30-second broadcast television commercial continues to rule (and increase). Manufacturers spent some $67 billion on network and cable advertising in 2013 – and not for sentimental reasons.

The latter encourage engagement with brands. With more opportunity to trigger behavioral changes – learning more, using more, buying more, advocating more – marketers can increase the probability of purchase and repeat purchase.



As consumers move toward purchase, direct and digital media should dominate. These media provide more opportunity for engagement—that is, direct interaction with a brand idea and its creative expression. Marketers have more opportunity to trigger behavioral change and increase the probability the consumer will buy a product.

Advertising can encourage a limitless range of actions—from clicking through a banner ad and spending more time on a microsite to increasing consumers’ frequency of washing their hair. The arsenal of tools marketers can deploy to encourage certain behavior is broad. Marketers also can use analog media to trigger specific behavior during later phases—for example, by using stunning “product beauty shots” and other point-of-sale material to stimulate trial usage.


Start with the Brand Idea

What’s the best way to utilize digital media in your overall engagement plan?

It all starts with the brand idea, which defines the relationship between consumers and brand.  This relationship is interactive and provides the underpinning for subsequent engagement across different channels. The brand idea is then expressed by creative (or “engagement”) ideas that invite participation.  Each of these ideas must be consistent with the brand idea.  Importantly, we don’t invite participation for participation’s sake alone.



Participation in, or intimacy with, an engagement idea is not an end in itself. Through the creative platform, we must encourage a person to do something that leads to sales—learn more, buy more, use more, or tell (advocate) more. As we will now discuss at some length, the process of buying a product is often complex, the culmination of several stages that progress from awareness generation to information search to purchase and, hopefully, to repeat purchase. Each creative expression of the brand idea should be conceived with a specific behavioral objective in mind.


Digital Marketing Mistakes

What notable mistakes have you seen in digital marketing?

There are two basic types of mistakes marketers make.  First, they don’t define, tailor and measure the behavioral objectives of every element of digital communications. Therefore, digital creative is not optimized over time.  Second, digital creative is too often inconsistent with the brand idea which creates confusion and reduces engagement to base transactionalism which cheapens equity and dilutes loyalty.

Sometimes the best marketers make mistakes.

Uniqlo, the Japanese “fast fashion” retailer and one of the savviest online marketers (see below), falls prey to transactional temptation. Ahead of the reopening of its UK e-commerce site, Uniqlo ran a “Lucky Counter” Twitter promotion in which more tweets yielded deeper discounts.  A temporary web “micro-site” displayed ten items.  When users clicked on an article, a tweet appeared with the hashtag #luckycounter that users could personalize and send.  Prices dropped in relation to the number of tweets elicited by each article.  This exercise in unabashed discounting lacked even the faintest brand message and as such did nothing to enhance brand equity or strengthen loyalty.

In 2013 several McDonald’s franchises in Spain took advantage of their powerful Wi-Fi network signal to hijack customers who were eating in nearby establishments.  By changing their signal name into a message—for example, “Free drink with your McMenu,” or “Come eat with us and have a sundae on the house”—the McDonald’s franchises lured people into their restaurants.  The local stunt was clever and generated a burst of incremental sales.  But the fast-food chain missed an opportunity to combine hard-hitting discounts with reminders of why people love McDonald’s—that is, its reputation for quality food and family friendliness.


Digital Marketing Successes

Any success stories? (Nokia? Oreo? Etc.)

Some brands get it.  In both digital and “traditional media,” Coca-Cola transcends the goal of quenching thirst to present “moments of happiness” across all types of media.  One beautiful example: Coca-Cola created “Small World” vending machines featuring streaming live video feeds that enabled citizens of India and Pakistan, countries divided by decades of hostility, to share happiness.

Uniqlo was a pioneer in aligning timeless with new. In 2007 the fast-fashion brand created a phenomenon with its “Uniqlock” blog widget, which told time through dance and music. Throughout the day dancers wearing Uniqlo apparel performed energetic-but-controlled dance routines, moving to the “tick, tick, tock” beat of the Uniqlock. Every hour they performed a different dance and, at the same time, displayed Uniqlo’s apparel while reinforcing the brand idea of “Style for real people.”

The Nike+ digital ecosystem leverages technology to infuse “always on” dynamism into consumers’ daily lives. “Just do it” is not just a brand slogan but a call to participate in sports.   It is an exhortation to push against convention and define oneself independent of society. Nike’s spirit didn’t appear out of thin air or drip from a Twitter feed. It is the refined vision of Phil Knight, the company’s cofounder and CEO, and Nike has reinforced this quasi-religious credo at every level and in every corner of the organization for forty years.

LEGO, a brand that has represented creativity since 1932, also understands that an enduring brand idea unifies disparate media and sales objectives. Every manifestation of lego’s brand idea, “inspiring the builders of tomorrow,” strengthens brand equity. The company’s award-winning retail outlets are designed with innovative displays and spaces for family “building” events and kid-friendly exploration areas. lego Digital Designer, software that features a wide range of virtual bricks, encourages fans to “let your imagination run wild” and “build your dream model.” legoland encourages kids to open their imaginations at construction sites that dot the theme parks. To the tune of almost $500 million in global ticket sales, the 2014 film The lego Movie was branded entertainment that conveyed lego’s brand idea with emotional depth.

Tom DoctoroffGoogle, the ultimate 21st-century power brand, does not really sell many of its own services.  It brands the services others sell, largely through its search engine.  The Google brand is unified by experiences that add dimension to its brand idea, “bringing the world together through technology.”  This brand idea transcends everything Google does.  In the process, the company demonstrates its proprietary tools—airline status, mapping, street view, auto correct, etc,.  Every technology does this, including Google Glass, a wearable product designed for “those on the move.”

These are just a few examples that show now is the time for collaboration across the artificial digital-traditional divide. Only the brand idea can ensure long-term consistency, keeping order vs. chaos across an ever-shifting media landscape.


The Future of Marketing

What’s the Tom Doctoroff view of the marketing future in the next 10 years? How will the digital / traditional world develop?

A big question.

We need to build bridges of collaboration across different types of domains. Digital is a fat words and obscures the truth that there are two types of marketing thinking. First, there are technical engineering skills required to build a platform, optimize users’ experience, and design customer relationship management (CRM). These are linear, analytic, and “left brain.” On the other hand the creativity required for coming up with microsite campaigns, managing the online community, and developing content is lateral, conceptual, and “right brain.” The former is systematic thinking which opens up new possibilities of engagement. The latter is conceptual distillation and is critical in sharpening ideas and creative concepts.

Right now, the digital world is one hot mess. And everyone is duking it out in a fairly medieval way. This confusion will end. Messages will be consistent across the entire consumer journey/buying process, from preference shaping to post purchase reinforcement. Different types of experts will focus on their own knitting and new alliances between specialists will emerge in unexpected ways.


Twitter is Not a Strategy: Rediscovering the Art of Brand Marketing

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