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The Beauty of Uselessness
By Kevin Lee
Design & Brand Communications Specialist
Brands such as Shopper Army and Google have reaped great rewards from practicing uselessness to gain engagement. But execution remains the key to success.
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If you’re a marketer trying to expand your brand experience and engage your target audience, you already know that you need to strategize and revitalize. And with Web 2.0, the possibilities are endless!
But here’s a crazy idea: What if following an instinct to over-intellectualize serves more to make your brand run-of-the-mill than unique? What if the overbearing goal of boosting your return on investment is actually the very thing hurting ROI?
Consider an approach that we at Shopper Army HQ call “the beauty of uselessness.” That is, sometimes the most trivial details, which may seem like a waste of time, can run unexpected marketing marathons for your brand in a powerful mélange of content and engagement.
At Shopper Army, we make a point of integrating small details into our processes to help immerse members in our missions and to craft a complete brand experience. We come up with superfluous mission names like “Operation: I Don’t Think We’re Ready for this Jelly.” We send little toy soldiers out to each member along with products that we want them to test. It’s not about specific tools but rather about the approach, steadily building engagement in a low-engagement category.
Trying to understand the point of the Google Doodle is a bit like trying to understand Buddhist philosophy: the point is that there is no point. In fact, the first Doodles weren’t even hyperlinked to anything – they were simply there for fun – but this burst of randomness turned into something that paradoxically sustained traffic and set a precedent for Google’s out-of-the-box brand.
Google’s success illustrates the application of uselessness and its relationship to engagement levels: the deeper you go with useless content and random creativity, the more engaging it will be – within limits.
Consider the faux-Windows OS art project Windows 93. The sheer amount of detail in this masterfully odd onion of content will keep a visitor on the site for days, and it has gained enough traction to be covered by Vice, Fast Company and other sites. The aimless eccentricity of Windows 93 alone contributes to the desire to see how far the weirdness can go – and for how long.
We’ve taken a similar approach with our Shopper Army ForMama campaign (packaged in the TORSTAR Campus Survival Pack sampling bag) to recruit millennials into our community. We take care to flesh out the fictional experience (or “world build”) so that it bleeds into our survey language, onto a fictional Twitter account, and into “Easter eggs” on the site. Millennials love quirkiness!
At the end of the business day, what you do with higher levels of engagement and interaction with your brand is key – otherwise, the useless details will not just be useless but actually detrimental, given the opportunity cost you’ve paid to set it all up. The seemingly trivial builds resources that you can “Tai Chi” into benefits for your specific business model, whether that calls for heightening a customer’s brand experience or driving up sales or time spent on a platform.
And that’s the beauty of uselessness.