Empty13: How Will You Keep Conversation Alive in 2013?

Empty13: How Will You Keep Conversation Alive in 2013?

The close of 2012 is rapidly drawing near; and marketers are already looking to the year ahead and laying foundations for their 2013 strategy. The buzz word has been ‘Empty13’: Here’s what it is and what it could mean for your brand.

‘Empty13’ as a concept is pretty straight-forward: It’s the prediction, or perhaps I should say observation, that not much is going to happen in 2013. And particularly by comparison to 2012 – the year of the London Olympics, important elections both at home and abroad, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – the emptiness of 2013 will seem all the more obvious.

People often use ‘stock’ topics of conversation (including the weather, work, football or ‘the kids’) because they are globally familiar. These so-called ‘shared agendas’ are important for marketers and advertisers as they provide the common ground required to break the ice and start a dialogue with an audience.

A brand will ideally find a novel or refreshing ice-breaker where the majority of people are like-minded; and importantly those with other opinions aren’t too sensitive about it. A brand can therefore engage the majority without upsetting any marginal groups. Once that first bridge has been built—using shared feelings and common opinions as bricks and mortar—a more involved relationship can start to bloom.

But what if there is no agenda? What if there’s nothing fresh, compelling or exciting to talk about? Do we have to resort to the same tired old clichés? Fortunately we’re here to tell you that it’s not all that bad…

Don’t Panic!

Anyone who has ever done sales (proper sales) will know that silence, if used correctly, can be invaluable. One very popular sales tactic is called ‘Price & Pause’ and it works like this… Once you have engaged a potential buyer you should be able to get them to ask you for a price (assuming you know how to demonstrate the value in the product and can enthuse people about it – or ‘create a need’ as your sales manager would say). Once they have asked, even if you are in the middle of another sentence, no matter how out of the blue, no matter if it takes 20 minutes for them to ask or 30 seconds, you should deliver the price (perhaps with a one sentence summary of all the key benefits they will get) and then you should shut up…

Say nothing…


Cross fingers if you like…

And eventually, you will get a response. Why? As much as you feel the ‘awkward silence’, the customer does too. Therefore, if you stick to your guns, they tend to let genuine emotions show (which any good salesperson can read as buying signals) while they clutch at straws for things to say. Psychiatrists use similar techniques to get people to open up in their sessions.

The key is to not get worried by it, buckle and say something out of desperation. That rarely leads to good places. It just makes you a nuisance to the people you’re trying to help and impress, potentially interrupting them as they are weighing up the benefits of your brand/product/service/idea.

Therein lies the object lesson of this comparison. In 2013, your customers won’t have lots of fresh, relevant, novel, compelling or exciting things to talk about, so don’t try to invent them. A guy at a bar is not likely to get very far by leering at a girl and screaming about how nice her bum looks – she probably knows it, has been told way too many times already and has her mind on other things like finding someone who has anything of genuine interest to say. Well the moral here is… don’t make your brand that creepy guy at the bar, shouting things everyone knows and/or doesn’t care about just for attention.

You’re much better off being the approachable guy in the corner; with enough presence to be in the mix without being over-bearing; able to jump in if and when a real opportunity to start a meaningful conversation arises.

All you need is a wicked cool outfit and a nice smile. In business that translates to a strong brand, as I will get to next…

Choosing Your Arenas


As consumers will be bombarded less by ‘piggyback’ advertising, linking hand cream to the Olympics and biscuits to the Queen’s 60th Jubilee, they will become more attuned to the long-term brand values that you push. People are always looking for value, it’s just that judgement can be clouded by short-term excitement sometimes, as was the case in 2012.

So-called ‘Empty13’ will be the time when, more than ever, you’ll need a strong brand, an impactful website and a seamless web presence to gain trust and mind-share.

Pop Culture

When there is a lack of political or sporting events, many brands turn to popular culture in order to stay relevant. Playing on trends and habits adopted by consumers in light of recent blockbuster films, new music, technology and other media-related consumables is a good way of staying relevant and capturing the ‘freshest’ parts of people’s imaginations.

There’s just one obstacle to be careful of here: People often become polarised over popular culture.

Digital Channels

There are so many different ways to engage people online nowadays that you can segment your audience and deliver tailored messages very efficiently. By planning ahead, implementing a modern CRM system and collecting as much data as possible, you can stay responsive and capitalise on unexpected events as and when they happen.

Your ‘Ideas Team’

The biggest piece of advice I can offer? Surround yourself with talented, creative, experienced people who you can trust to deliver commercially viable solutions. You’re gonna need some peace of mind.

As a result of the media circus throughout 2012, most brands have tried tactics that could only have worked in that precise environment. They have seen erratic marketing results and have therefore lost sight of their ‘baseline’ success rate… Without the Olympics and elections and everything else going on, exactly how much would your sales have differed? The trouble is nobody can say; at least not confidently.

So without the ability to compare year-on-year sales in any significant way, you are reliant on something that has been pushed out of people’s minds since the recession first sank in: Outright trust that your marketers are doing the most efficient things they could. Measurability has been crucial to spend-conscious brand-owners ever since the recession, but 2013 will be the first time that the measured data has no basis for historical comparison.

The Conclusions for 2013

1. Focus on brand above all else.

2. Be smart with your data to stay responsive.

3. Learn to be quiet every now and again if you have nothing relevant to say.

4. Don’t reinvent the wheel without genuine impetus.

5. Find good, trustworthy people with experience and insight to plan your communications.


Further Reading & More Info

‘Empty13′ was first coined and then developed as a concept by the big brains over at Bite Communications – an excellent marketing consultancy firm with offices around the globe. If you would like to keep current in marketing and read more about their ideas as they trickle from fingertip to internet, you should follow them on Twitter – @bitecomms. Thanks guys!