AAA Digital Brand Activation

I have have been getting more frequent questions about digital marketing planning, particularly about how to determine the right blend of paid, owned, earned and social media. To help make this ever-more complicated process accessible, I outlined the following Triple A Digital Brand Activation:


We believe that the customer should be at the heart of the marketing plan. Actually we believe that the customer should be at the heart of every business. We also believe that there is huge benefit to going beyond customers, to serve everyone connected to the business in various ways. That includes partners, vendors, enthusiasts, and people affected by what the product does. Customers and brand users are of course people. To serve them we must understand them and their connections to Tribal communities. Culture is complicated and with all of the digital channels available it’s even more challenging to find where people go for information, deals, ideas and other peoples’ opinions. Frankly that’s why we spend more time talking to customers than to our clients, because understanding what’s important to them is perhaps the most important thing to the success of the business. Primary research, including interviews and focus groups are tried and true ways to understand the market. Secondary research through existing studies about markets, people, behaviors and trends. Now information gathered through social media and other digital channels can help us understand audiences by listening to conversations. The process begins with finding relevant activity across the web, including social destinations, blogs, websites, reviews, comments and opinions. Free tools for social listening like Google alerts, SocialBro and Klout can help tune into what’s going on quickly. Low-cost services like Sprout Social and HootSuite provide campaign automation and reporting capabilities. The key: listen up, the marketplace is abuzz with info that can help companies find their audiences and interests.


Most people reading this post have run adverting programs using traditional mass media channels. You’ve also likely been using some combination of paid (banner and keyword advertising), owned (website and email content), earned (opinions and comments), and social media. Some have probably gone as far as optimizing for mobile users, too. What’s new with these digital channels is that they aren’t just for pushing out content and generating awareness. Now the approach to marketing is to create interest among the right audiences. We need to give them reasons to share brand, product and people stories. Our goal is to have them advocate for us, share stories, ultimately leading to influence and purchase. Activate can include a call to action, but it’s more than just that. Activation campaigns provide reasons to respond in specific ways, across multiple touch points that build involvement in increments. Emails and banners get people talking. Incentives for influencers gets them trying and sharing. Free stuff gets people requesting. And if the product delights, people will try & recommend, and more purchases follow. Lots of steps, right? That's why marketing is now bigger than the marketing department. The customer experience is affected by different departments and people in the company. There's a role in the marketing process for those departments and people, too. Leadership is expert in why the company does what it does; they can write and talk about it. Product people are expert at what makes the product extraordinary; they can demonstrate it. Customer service are expert at helping people get the most from their product; they can educate. All these people can participate in the creation and support of digital content and social interaction. But to do it well, they need to coordinate and collaborate. They need tools and resources to be consistent and sustained. Lots of moving parts, right? Here are some of the roles, practices and tools that can help facilitate activation, social and content marketing by putting resources in the hands of people, enabling consistency and allowing measurement.


Given the levels of audience interaction with brand and user-created content, marketers can't expect to manage or predict the future. The process of marketing and even brand meaning have moved from controlling and managing, to audience influence and collaboration. To benefit from all this movement, marketing programs must be agile, which means they need to be planned around “sprints” of activity which can be tracked. This way, marketers can adjust and refocus the program based on the interaction, what’s being talked about and what’s moving them toward their goals. Agile marketing is lean and smart. It has ways to quickly test and try ideas. Think of A-B testing built into the process at every level. This takes us back to where we started, listening to users and evolving the offer, the message, the product and the creative themes so that the the brand story comes to life in sharable ways. Audience/Activate/Agile, AAA Marketing calls for a new mindset. It also calls for organizations to put the right team, roles and activities in place. These are the essential practices:

  • Determine the goals: what does the business want to see in terms of sales and growth, and what progress measures will be leading indicators, such as traffic to the site or online store, response and interaction with content, etc.
  • Establishing responsibilities for the team, which can include people from sales, HR, product and account management, and other departments, not just marketing.
  • Set up incentives for the team. That could include social motivators and competitive game elements.
  • Study weekly and monthly reports and make adjustments to the program.

These are the functional roles:

  • Campaign planner who understands the business & marketing needs, as well as digital and traditional communication channels.
  • Content planner to write the editorial plan and calendar.
  • Content creators to write articles, gather still and moving images and to find and connect existing and user-content from the web. This team can include leaders and experts across the company as well as in the creative & marketing department.
  • Engagement managers to handle the steady flow of posts, respond to comments and activity and expand the social network of followers, likes, influencers, reviewers and other advocates.
  • Administrator to coordinate the content flow, monitor activity and generate reports.