Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Branding needs to change. And fast.
Branding as most agencies currently deliver has failed to adapt to a changing consumer landscape. So what's next? With digital changing the face of business more rapidly than ever before, great brands of tomorrow will need to address the following:
First to market has a two-fold advantage. First to market means front of the consumer mind. Market leaders in a category are twice as hard to shift as challenger brands and every advantage goes to a market leader, Pepsi won't overtake Coke nor will Avis jump ahead of Hertz regardless of clever marketing.
As the often heard but rarely understood concepts of innovation, sustainability, partnership and flexibility are repeated across industries, the basic foundation of distinction is lost. As Stephen Geissbuler eloquently states 'artificially adopted notions of growth, global business and aggressive, forward-moving technology become meaningless and overused ... because it's everybody's strategy, mission and positioning'. In a world of brand inconsistencies, we have forgotten the art of emotional connection. The need to refocus on people and bonding helps to create the most powerful assets any brand has; brand advocates.
For success in the coming decade, business needs to acknowledge that the message may stay the same ... but the medium is shifting dramatically. If your business and brand are not digital now, you're of a dying breed. Traditional print and campaign style approaches to marketing are losing relevance with today's consumers. It is the user that drives and shapes brands today as they look to align with brands that reflect their lifestyle. The equation is simple; go digital or die.
Brand champions and brand advocates are terms we're all familiar with. However, the places where they are developed has changed. Online communities are deciding the fates of businesses through advocacy and recommendation. The hotel industry is a good example, the consumer reviews on Tripadvisor often determine the fate of a hotel regardless of their external marketing. It also checks whether you’re positioned correctly; if you’re really a business orientated hotel masquerading as a boutique, the consumer will very quickly let you know your short-comings or misconceptions. Those who cannot adjust quickly, fall even faster.
The hotel example highlights an excellent point. Agencies must analysis and pinpoint appropriate brand touchpoints and place emphasise therein. Yesterday's approach of a single message thrown into the mass market in the hope it randomly resonates is no longer working in an environment that is dictated by the end user. By targeting specific markets and demographics, mediums like mobile technology, websites and online communities can directly hit consumers that are known to have an interest in a brand, product or service. Speaking directly to an interested consumer has replaced yelling into a crowd.
Brand Service (or Consumers First)
The traditional that will never die. A simple fact that no branding or advertising can cover is; unless you can deliver the quality and services you promote, long term success will remain elusive. The digital realm has elevated word-of-mouth to new heights and through blogs, communities and online reviews consumers/users now determine the success of brands. Make your consumers happy and leverage this by giving them avenues to share their positive experiences. Zappos is a famous example; by focusing their business efforts on relationship marketing and a loyalty business model, they have become the world’s largest online shoe retailer. Built upon a core value of ‘delivering wow through service’, Zappos have achieved record numbers of repeat business.
Brand People, Brand Touchpoints, Company Culture
It's easy to forget that every employee within a company is a brand touchpoint and you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Whether or not your people are the most consistent brand touchpoint or not is irrelevant, they are the most important. Face to face communication allows consumers to experience a brand on a human level and research shows a positive human interaction breeds word of mouth promotion more powerfully than any other medium. Great branding ultimately needs to inspire, not just make visible a business strategy. Emphasis on a company culture that resonates and can be articulated by employees thus becomes essential.
Handing over a strategic solution without being able to demonstrate a tangible result will change as digital makes KPI’s and ROI’s measurable in real-time. It can also work in an evolutionary or organic way, with strategic and creative executions able to be adjusted and tailored post-launch by recording consumer feedback, keyword spikes, online reviews and other forms of interaction.
The Shift We Need To Make
Touchpoint analysis, company culture, consumer focus and digital activation are the areas that most agencies are struggling to take advantage of but understandably so. Whilst younger businesses have an appreciation of these areas, older and more established clients still struggle to recognise their potential .. and agencies have yet to develop case studies showing tangible benefits. Proving that these areas require the most attention whilst providing the best return on investment will determine an agency's own relevance in a changing marketplace.