The Changing Role of Brand Management in the Era of Digital Marketing
Customer experience expert Mike Ashton discusses the key steps to drive successful brand management in a rapidly changing landscape.
Much is made of the impact of digital disruption on the role, relevance and value of brands, with some even suggesting that brands are drowning in a whirlpool of digital channels, social media and online intermediaries. A whirlpool where price is king and brands are yesterday’s news.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. There’s overwhelming evidence to suggest that the critical importance of strong, well management brands is in fact growing among a new generations of savvy, well informed and highly brand literate consumers.
The core purpose and commercial value of brands remains pretty much unchanged if not strengthened. That is, to influence purchase behaviour among precisely targeted consumer segments by offering a value proposition that’s different, relevant and compelling.
Of course, while the core functionality and appeal of strong brands may be reasonably constant, we’re experiencing a revolution in the commercial environment within which brands are developed, launched and managed – a revolution that’s had its fair share of casualties with poorly managed brands losing their relevance, appeal and consumer franchise.
7 Key Steps to Drive Successful Brand Management
Based on my work with a broad spectrum of B2C and B2B brands in the UK and further afield, I’ve put together a list of areas to look at that might help anticipate and prioritise some of the main issues driving successful brand management in a digital landscape. Unsurprisingly, some issues have more to do with organisational capability and customer experience than mainstream marketing.
1) Value proposition: How clearly defined, compelling and distinctive is your brand value proposition? Is it built around a USP that addresses needs not being met by your competitors?
This has always been important, but in multi-channel markets where brand promotion often lies in the hands of intermediaries, surely it has never been more vital for brand managers to do the hard yards and make sure their brands really do have something fresh and vibrant to say and a personality and message that has a chance of cutting through.
2) Insight: What do you know about your consumers that your competitors don’t know?
Great insight built on real emotional depth and a visceral understanding of buying drivers within a segment is, in and of itself, a powerful source of competitive advantage for any brand – the wellspring of differentiation and value. Yet how many brand managers settle for research that stops well short of this gold mine and fails to reveal subtle nuances in emotional and behavioural response that really drive our brand decisions.
So much invaluable information resides within the data cubes, research and spreadsheets of our data and analytics teams yet it appears that marketers and analysts continue to speak a different language, fail to engage and leave cash on the table.
3) Experience: Does your brand proposition satisfy the ‘which means that…’ test? Put another way, have you articulated in sufficient depth how your customer experience should look and feel at every point of engagement - especially in digital channels)?
This usually means working with your operations and HR teams to create the brand standards, operating procedures and manuals that will guide delivery at each touch point and ensure that training activity is focussed on supporting the right behaviours.
Failing to do this, and failing to back it up with relentless communication and monitoring, is likely to result in an inconsistent experience that falls well short of your brand promise and your customers’ expectations.
4) Integration: Are your brand marketing, digital, customer experience and analytics departments a) engaged in a turf war, b) paying lip service to each other or c) really collaborating to deliver a tightly defined brand strategy and execution plan?
Frustratingly, I encounter internecine rivalry and silo-based dysfunctionality all too often and the impact on the brand’s bottom line is usually easy to see and recognised by those within the organisation – yet it continues to undermine brand performance. In such a volatile and rapidly shifting digital environment, flexibility and speed of response and usually the casualties.
5) Dialogue leading action: Brand marketers have always yearned for a meaningful dialogue with their customers, driving heightened levels of mutual value and affinity. But now we have it, brands and the organisations that promote them seem to spend so much energy deflecting and defusing that consumer response, rather than embracing it and responding to the call for change, innovation and sensitivity.
It seems that digital technology has moved well ahead of our organisations’ capacity (and perhaps desire) to respond in the way their customers want. The damage to brand affinity is palpable and costly when so many others will step into the breach.
6) Trust: Words like openness, transparency and integrity are commonplace in the digital conversation, and so they should be, driven as much by commercial expediency as by any higher ethical aspiration.
I love the new digitally driven metric, “Return on Conversation”. It is the idea that brands engage in a meaningful conversation with individuals and communities which evolves over time, nourished by an exchange of useful information and tailored experience. It’s a conversation which, if skilfully and patiently managed, may very well convert to commercial value and long term loyalty based on trust.
But are we patient? Do we understand well enough, the spectrum of behaviours that exist in social channels and how this relates to the sales conversion funnel of a brand? And how often do we compromise that trust by replacing rich content with clumsy sales promotion?
7) Capability: If I hear one more ‘professional’ brand marketer say something along the lines of, “I don’t really get digital – it all moves so fast”, I’ll explode. Would any of us want to be operated on by a surgeon who couldn’t be bothered to keep up with the latest medical breakthroughs?
Yes, things keep changing and the pace of change is exponential, that’s want makes marketing and brand management so exciting. But it means marketers have to be hungry for new knowledge, tools and techniques, willing to experiment and smart about figuring out what works for their brands and consumer segments.
Frequent and tailored assessments of marketing capability together with continuing investment in applied training are critical success factors for marketing organisations in a digital environment.
The one word that perhaps characterises the impact of digital on brand management is ‘change’; fast, furious and unstoppable. Volatility and change are invariably a source of great commercial opportunity for those smart and agile enough to see it and grasp it. As a US General once said, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less”.