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Brands have accrued decades of tacit knowledge - the time is now right to share it

Brand needs to start sharing their tacit knowledge with information-weary consumers, writes James Brown, strategist at digital agency Zone.

Channel 4's disability sport coverage has communicated complex 'tacit knowledge'

Channel 4's disability sport coverage has communicated complex 'tacit knowledge'

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Knowledge is power. And nowadays we can access the world’s knowledge whenever and wherever we want. So you could say we’re all-powerful.

Today, there’s a pressure to be on top of knowledge. There’s an urge to check our emails, to check the news, and to know what's happening with our friends.

That's because if we say something is important to us, then we are expected to know about it. You say you love a football club, but you didn't know the final score from a couple of minutes ago? You didn't even know that the manager changed last week? Be real. You're no fan.

But there’s only so much time in the day. With such a super-abundance of information available, what do we choose to say we know personally – to really, really know? Knowledge has become how consumers signal their identities.

How is this relevant for us marketers and brand managers?

We need to give away knowledge that consumers can’t get anywhere else. Today, the richest and most valuable kind of information is something that can't just be looked up. This is known as "tacit" knowledge.

Learned over time

It’s the stuff that can only be learned over time: through experience, patience and application. It’s not easy to communicate, and it certainly can’t be articulated in a one-off broadcast. For example, you could read a dozen books about London, but until you’ve lived there, you wouldn’t know what it means to be a Londoner.

All brands have tacit knowledge. Some have spent generations creating it.

Marketing campaigns that give consumers new knowledge - that articulate something we knew but were struggling to express - are the most powerful.

But most brands are still pumping out junk knowledge into the world. Our cut-through techniques - ramping up the emotion, the weirdness, the number of channels used - tends to be based around exaggerations, false claims or outright lies.

Brand marketing needs to change, to focus more on creating and sharing their tacit knowledge. Think about skilled craftsmen and women passing on their skills. To do so requires a close interaction over time, consideration for the learner, and an ability to come at it from many angles. We need to think of our marketing as apprenticeship schemes for consumers.

That’s why marketing campaigns that give consumers new knowledge - that articulate something we knew but were struggling to express - are the most powerful these days. They let us signal our tacit knowledge. Think about recent beauty campaigns that have given society a new language about feminism and the body.

Longer-term view

Campaigns with a longer-term view are equally compelling: they build up knowledge that eventually becomes second nature. Look at Channel 4’s Paralympics teaser campaign, "Thanks For The Warm Up", which accompanied their moving ‘Superheroes’ spot. It positioned the Olympics as merely an amuse-bouche before the real event.

Its follow up – ‘The Last Leg’ – was a TV show featuring chat and comedy from a one-legged man. It pulled in over a million viewers each night of the games. ‘The Last Leg’ is now in its fourth series.

This witty, self-deprecating take on disabilities gives viewers an appreciation and a confidence to talk about inclusiveness, resilience and sport in a new way. Channel 4's willingness to trailblaze has improved our society, and has been rightly praised for its commitment to communicating this complex tacit knowledge. 

Channel 4's willingness to trailblaze has improved our society, and has been rightly praised for its commitment to communicating this complex tacit knowledge.

There's a small, successful beer company in Worcester called BeerBods, who are giving the big names a run for their money. They really get the new way we should be engaging with consumers about knowledge. For a small subscription fee, they send you twelve beers in the post every twelve weeks.

Everyone drinks one beer a week – the same beer, often at exactly the same time and on the same night. It’s a community of (mostly) blokes, chatting online about beer and whatever else comes to mind.

The whole concept is based on a brilliant insight. These 30-year-old-ish guys are settling down, aren't going to the pub as much, and are losing their knowledge about beer and the latest banter.

But more than that, they worry they’re losing knowledge about being a man. And this brand is helping them to grow it anew. It's guiding them to the kind of knowledge that's profoundly personal to their lives, and giving them ways to signal it.

Today that kind of brand behaviour has a deep power to it.  It’s something that no one-off campaign, however funny or famous or beautifully shot, can match.

This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk

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