When it comes to brand building, a lot of organisations and agencies are in need of a reality check. Too many companies are still putting their brand on a pedestal, spending millions polishing it and expecting that manufactured “thing” to be how people see them. In a world where brands control a far smaller proportion of the messages people receive, there is a need to divert attention and investment into a much wider variety of activities at the same time as ensuring that you are well-placed stand up to the increased scrutiny a world of transparency and multiple brand touch points now brings with it.
The diminished role of push messaging is no revelation and is something a lot of top executives admit is keeping them up at night. The CMO of of the largest car manufacturers in the world recently said to me “habitual behaviour may be costing us a fortune…but we don’t really know. Awareness is of course crucial but, out of habit, we are still ploughing money in to prime time TV spots because we know the numbers are there and we’ve always done it. It feels safe because it’s familiar.”
It’s interesting to look at the new age brands that have got to grips with data and who know what works for them and their audiences. Organisations with data-driven marketing strategies are shying away from expensive, old-school advertising methods. For example, Uber don’t pay to play in the traditional sense at all with less than 10% of their marketing budget being spent on “advertising” as we know it. Now you may think that’s to be expected from a tech giant whose audiences are largely digitally native but even the big traditional advertisers like Coca Cola are embracing the new world and taking some fairly bold steps. Their head of content recently spoke about around 80% of their branded content now being UGC in one form or another. The key is to listen, understand and try to influence or join the conversation when relevant, enabling others to tell your story for you instead of trying to control them – which is impossible by the way!
I think a redefinition of brand marketing is needed in some cases. Branding has always involved storytelling and nothing has changed there. The ability to tell a compelling story was the differentiating factor for the Mad Men era of agencies. Brands would pay big money for a story that would influence their audience into making a purchase. Mass media provided a captive audience for these stories, with eyeballs and the associated hearts and minds of a generation unburdened by the internet.
We were living in a world of dreams – where our aspirations of wealth, health, acceptance and excitement were fuelled by the promises of advertising creative and PR spin conceived in agency boardrooms; and those with the desire and means to pay for it. Tell people who you are, tell it with the right reach and frequency, tell it with a creative treatment or angle that is new, relevant and exciting.
That still works to a degree, but the crucial thing to acknowledge is that there are now more storytellers out there than ever before and identifying, understanding and then harnessing these individuals is crucial. The 1, 9, 90 rule is the social web’s twist on the Pareto Principle, and it says that with regards to online behaviour; one percent of people will create content, another 9 percent will engage with it in some way, and the remainder will simply lurk and consume. With new, more intuitive and social tools and platforms emerging all the time, people are better able to create and share content than ever before. Couple this with mass adoption and we’re beginning to see the amount of “creators” and “sharers” increase and we’re seeing these propositions get closer to 10, 30, 60. So, inspiring creators to create on your behalf and engaging connected people who can share your story is more powerful than ever before in helping you reach your audiences.
Brands exist in the minds of people. They are attitudes and opinions built up by a series of experiences and exposures of one sort or another. As well as investing in your traditional push communications and brand building activities, you must also consider all other touch-points that can shape your reputation just as significantly. This might mean treating your entire workforce as brand managers, ensuring they are bought into the vision and well-equipped to advocate your position both in the real world and through social media channels. In fact, the smartest brands are not only selling a brand vision in to staff, but actively empowering and inviting them to help build a more authentic position that works for all stakeholders (employees, clients, partners, customers and so on). But it should also involve the consideration of non-human interactions, customer journeys, processes and even technology. For example, for many millennials who don’t consume mainstream media, a series of digital interactions with their mobile banking app and Twitter customer help may be their own brand exposure. In this sense, these online interactions ARE the brand.
So what can brands do to embrace the new world?
Scrutinise your brand
Develop a strong, truthful brand position that you can genuinely live, breathe and deliver on time and time again. Of course your brand positioning must be established with business objectives in mind, but it also has to be TRUE and something you can deliver on and sustain at every single audience touch-point. Why not take advantage of the masses of data that already exists to see how close the real perception of your brand is to the story you are trying to tell? Advanced social data mining solutions such as Crimson Hexagon can help you uncover the conversation themes and attitudes towards your brand as well as helping you understand what is driving certain sentiment and themes. Whether repositioning is needed or certain delivery points simply need enhancing, developing a compelling but genuine brand story is an essential first step. If you don’t, you WILL get found out.
Identify, understand and engage your key storytellers
Once you have your story (or stories) nailed, it’s worth taking the time to undertake a landscape mapping exercise. Only once you have a full understanding of where your audiences are, how they consume information and through which channels will you be able to select the format, platforms and people to best help you cut though the noise and land your messages. Again, for this stage, smart use of data is required. There is now far too much data out there for us to process (even if the entire human race were experts) and so enabling your experts with the right tools is essential. As well as the tools already mentioned, we would suggest applying advanced network mapping tools such as Gephi or Nodexl to tap into the well-connected key influencers who can proliferate your content for you. As well as focusing on human interaction, make sure you also pat attention to ALL brand experiences. How good is your online app for example? What “story” does your process for dealing with complaints tell? And so complaints tell? And so on
Develop appropriate, valuable content
Having formulated your stories and distribution channels, it’s time to turn your hand to content. How can your messages and ideas be packaged and created in a way that suits the channel and will best facilitate sharing? Social sharing comes down to a value exchange and so the traditional principles of delivering the right messages to the right people at the right time are crucial. You must invest in genuine, sharable content and encourage and enable people to share this on your behalf.
If you’d like to discuss any of the issues raised in the above blogpost with Russ or one of the wider team of Lansons digital experts, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org