Despite the pace of change in the marketing world, tying the impact of a particular advertisement directly to a product’s sales has proven to be an enduring challenge. Until a better tracking system can be developed, striving for customer activation is a worthwhile and measurable secondary goal.

[inlinetweet]Customer activation is picking up steam as a viable marketing metric.[/inlinetweet] Digital marketing software and solutions company Marketo defines customer activation as helping a customer to become a better customer. This can mean anything from helping customers to better engage with your company’s content or to buy more­ of your product—anything that moves the relationship in a positive direction.

A recent KPMG survey of senior retail executives in the United States revealed that 88% of them believe that social media or multichannel customer engagement are the technological trends having the most significant impacts on their organizations. A survey conducted by McKinsey and Company found that chief marketing officers from around the world name customer activation and engagement in the digital realm as their top priorities.

Successful online customer activation: Cats & Conan

One example of successful online customer activation comes via Conan O’Brien’s Clueless Gamer series. These segments are consistently hilarious because Conan, who takes pride in not being a gamer, narrates his experience playing a game and then reviews the game afterward. His awkward humour lightens up serious games and makes them accessible to his casual audience, thereby giving game studios exposure to markets that would not have otherwise seen their products in action.

In an interview at the 2013 Cannes Lions festival, Conan summarized his approach to sponsored content: “I did things my way, for better or worse, and I think that’s part of what kept my fans connected.” To date, excluding accounts that have reposted the videos, the Clueless Gamer series has generated over 82 million views and almost one million likes.

Another tremendous example of digital customer activation comes via the partnership between BuzzFeed and Purina, which resulted in the wildly successful Dear Kitten video series. The short videos consist of an elderly cat welcoming a new kitten into his home with advice and interpretations on why the humans in the home act the way they do. Purina cat food is only promoted toward the end of the videos, a subtle approach that has garnered the series over 111 million views and over 400,000 likes. Purina was so pleased with the Dear Kitten videos that it used one of the ads on TV during the 2015 Super Bowl.

Why authentic customer activation matters

These examples demonstrate the power of authenticity. Authenticity has become quite the buzzword in marketing these past few years, but what it comes down to is matching your message with your medium. The Internet loves cats and BuzzFeed is central to this love, so a partnership with Purina made sense. Conan O’Brien’s TV show is the least corporate among the late-night talk shows. By opening up your video games to his jokes, you also open up his audience to your product.

Pay attention, retail startups! [inlinetweet]You can’t sell a product if you don’t have the customers’ attention[/inlinetweet] and marketing is how you capture this attention. In a time where attention spans have never been shorter and product offerings have never been larger, customer activation is sure to only play a greater role in how brands succeed.

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Jeremy De Mello

Jeremy is an intern with the Venture Services and Entrepreneurship Programs teams at MaRS. He is studying towards a dual-degree in business and political science at Western University and the Richard Ivey School of Business. See more…