Earlier this year, at its corporate headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany, Adidas inked a sponsorship extension with Real Madrid’s wunderkind, James Rodriguez, the top scorer at the 2014 World Cup. Sealing a contract like this would typically happen quietly in a nondescript conference room in advance of a press conference.
But these are not typical times. In partnership with the new live-streaming app Periscope, Adidas tweeted live video of Rodriguez signing his contract and in this way invited millions worldwide to witness a huge personal moment for the 23-year-old soccer star, and a key business move for Adidas -- live.
All things considered, the live stream was fairly uneventful. Rodriguez signed the deal, then flashed a grin and gave the Adidas three-finger hand sign; but the event was a signal of things to come. Over the past decade, walls between brands and customers have tumbled, one after the next, and the coming live streaming revolution is poised to bring the two parties closer than ever, with all the opportunity and awkwardness that level of transparency implies.
To thrive in this new environment will require more than a carefully managed transition to a live-streamed world. Customers today can spot a phony from a mile away, and brand success will require that companies foster real, authentic connections that mirror human relationships.
So, what does this mean for your company? In the old days, brands spent a lot of time trying to surprise and delight their customers with new products, catchy jingles and flashy messages. That worked fine when communication between brands and customers was one-directional. But customers today, empowered by social media and mobile technologies, expect a different kind of relationship with brands than their predecessors did.
That different relationship? Today's customers are used to connecting with brands directly, in real time; and they’re savvy enough to see right through overly polished online personalities. Customers increasingly want an authentic connection -- with all that entails. And the transparency brought on by live streaming has turned that trickle of change into a tsunami.
The live streaming apps Periscope and Meerkat have lately seen meteoric growth. In August, Periscope announced that in the four months since its launch, it had grown its app to 10 million users, who now daily stream a combined 40 years of content on the site.
Financial analysts suggest that the $100 million Twitter paid for the Periscope app could be the best investment the company has ever made. And at Meerkat, meanwhile, CEO Ben Rubin says that the amount of time users spend with its app has doubled every month.
Some brands have been experimenting with ways to connect with customers through this fast-growing platform. Some have launched products through live streams, like Frito-Lay’s new Roulette chips and the car company Smart’s move to unveil its new car model, the Smart fortwo, via Meerkat.
Wendy’s hosted a live chat with a comedy duo to advertise its iced tea drinks. T-Mobile hosts live streams almost daily, offering a behind-the-scenes look at corporate headquarters, and unvarnished discussions about new devices. And reports have circulated that Periscope is developing an app for Apple TV, to bring livestreams straight from our smartphones to our televisions.
Certainly, the live streaming revolution is upon us, bringing with it a greater level of transparency than we’ve seen before. But nothing new is always smooth. The live streaming revolution will be awkward. It will be messy. It will be funny, and it will be sad. And all of that is exactly what customers want.
One reason may be that there’s something pure and honest about live streaming -- the raw, unvarnished, direct connection possible only through a live transmission -- and smart brands will continue to capitalize on this factor. Brands may even use video to reveal to customers how they make their products, how they come to high-level decisions or how they respond to customer feedback.
Inevitably, such revelations will involve heavy moments. Live streams will include gaffes, raw emotions and real people bumbling their way through real, sometimes painful, situations.
Fortunately, those are the things deep human relationships are built on. Lightness and frivolity are good among acquaintances, but your best friends have been through the weeds with you. As with any relationship, it's nice to surprise and delight customers, occasionally. But communities built on authentic relationships create serious conversations. To foster the strongest, most intimate communities, marketers have to get "real" from time to time.
As things look now, they will get real, whether they like it or not, as live streaming apps increasingly force transparency and authenticity on brands. Customers -- as they always do -- will find new and innovative uses for live streaming technology, and they’ll use it to “out” both the brands they love and those they hate.
Some brands will resist the new transparency, but some will embrace live streaming. Indeed, some, like T-Mobile, already have. It’s only a matter of time before someone makes a bold move to double down on live streaming. Competitors will wish they’d done the same.