Getting AND Keeping Your Brand Future Ready

The media landscape is going through profound changes.  As a result, traditional methods for building brands are gradually becoming less effective while new opportunities are opening up.  The main changes that cause traditional methods for brand building to fail are the digitization of media and democratization of information.  How do these developments undermine traditional brand building?  How do you build brands with a “Digital 1st mindset”?  And how do you start the learning curve for Digital 1st thinking in your company today?

The Digitization Of Media

The Internet started as a source for reading but as bandwidth increased it first became an e-commerce platform and later, when social and video usage grew, the Internet became suitable for brand building.  It is now a media mix in its own right.  Most media plans however still look like the image below: one line for each offline medium with online bolted on as a single line at the end.

You will never use the full potential of digital if you treat it as a ‘below the line’ medium. If you fast-forward ten years, traditional media like TV, Outdoor and Radio will be fueled and managed by the same infrastructure as our laptops, smartphones, and tablets.  That single line in the media plan is the media mix of the future, and you need to start your learning curve with that mix today, because it is fundamentally different from the old one.  In a digital world, consumers do not accept aggressive push advertising the way we serve it on TV.  You can see this already in the emergence of ad blockers.  That means you need to get people to want to watch your brand messages rather than forcing them.

If your media plan looks like this, with one line for online advertising, your brand is not future ready

Image source and copyright: Joris Merks-Benjaminsen

The Democratization Of Information

To make things worse, due to the transparency of the Internet consumers have become advanced critics of advertising. Branding has been (mis)used too often to polish products that weren’t fundamentally different from the competition.  In a world where advertisers controlled the majority of the information concerning their brands, this method worked kind of okay.  This is no longer true however.  People have access to all information all the time, and what they say about your brand is at least as important as what you say about it.  That again means branding can no longer be a vague promise: your products need to deliver on the brand promise without any doubt.  Otherwise, consumers will let each other know something is wrong.

The key implication here is the fact that all touch points a consumer has with your brand need to communicate the same brand promises.  This includes your ads, content, products, helpdesk, e-commerce, tweets, financial statement and more.  That means brand management is no longer just the job of the Brand Director and the advertising agency. Everyone that interacts with consumers in some way has become a brand builder.

An Advanced New Toolkit And A New Creative Canvas

While traditional media were mostly suitable for one size fits all messaging in big bursts, the new digital mix has an endless amount of ad formats and targeting methods.  This makes it sophisticated and effective but also complex.  You can simplify the digital media mix by dividing it into three new opportunities:

1.  New Targeting Capabilities: 

While traditional media used to focus on demographic targeting, the Internet offers a wide range of data signals and contextual signals to target on.  E-commerce experts have already learned to use many of these signals – however; they focus primarily on direct sales impact.  So the advanced digital knowledge they have is often not used for the benefit of brand building. Companies need to bring their performance advertising experts together with their brand builders to reach different types of consumers across their full consumer journey with advanced targeting capabilities.

2.  New Technology For Automated Campaign And Data Management: 

The new media mix is automated.  People no longer have to make calls to reserve ad space or negotiate price.  The system does it for you.  That also means you don’t serve campaigns in bulk.  Each individual consumer interaction is served one by one, and you can check your database every time to assess the value of that consumer for your brand, to make an appropriate bid and serve the most appropriate message.  You can use each consumer interaction to serve a smarter message the next time you communicate with that same consumer.  That however only works if you integrate all systems you work with.  Nowadays TV campaigns are planned in separate tools from online video campaigns and, for instance, search campaigns are again managed in different tools. You can only provide a human experience across all ad formats if you manage all advertising in one system , which is exactly what is very fast becoming possible.  Programmatic (automated) systems are evolving to integrate all media buying.  Tests with programmatic buying of TV ads have happened already, and capabilities to store real-time interactions with our campaigns together with CRM data are improving every day.  Brands should start testing programmatic capabilities now to be future ready.

3.  A New Creative Canvas: 

Many people say data is becoming more important when media grows digital.  Creativity, however, grows in importance at least as much.  First of all, because you need to get people to want to watch your brand messages, but also because there are so many more things you can do in a digital world.  You are no longer limited to the thirty-second video spot or a few print ads.  Videos can be as long as you want and you can also make as many as you want to.  In fact, many brands have already started building extensive video content strategies.  Beauty brands like L’Oreal, for instance, inspire consumers with makeup and styling tips.  Volvo Trucks built a massive amount of followers on their YouTube channel educating people about trucks and entertaining them with stunts. Brands need to learn to think more like publishers and less like advertisers.

Blending The Old And New

Despite the fact that brand building has changed fundamentally, there is also timeless knowledge we should never forget.  Digital experts often have far too little knowledge about brand positioning and brand mission.  However, you can only create meaningful, consistent brand messages if all ads, content, and products originate from a clear brand mission and identity.  On top of that, the old media mix will not fail instantly. Even though mass advertising has already become less effective, it is still an important part of the media mix.

Companies that start experimenting with the new digital media mix will basically be using the old and new media mix simultaneously for multiple years.  The biggest priority right now, is to have sufficient budget available for the new digital mix to start building a learning curve.  That way, as traditional push strategies become less effective bit by bit, traditional budgets can flow into the new, tested and optimized digital mix creating a seamless transition.

The Key Challenge Of Digital Transformation

The hard part about transformation is the fact you can’t predict the impact of something you never tried and new methods never fit established processes.  So any professional that decides to experiment with the new media mix faces more work and more risk, but not facing these barriers means you will eventually lose your ability to build brands altogether.  This is why company leaders should give a strong signal to the people working for them.  Only if company leaders have a clear vision for the future of the company and encourage their employees to start experimenting today, will people be willing to put in the extra effort.  Digital transformation should be perceived as a career opportunity.  Only then will professionals be motivated to balance short-term tasks with the need for the company to be future ready.

The process for transformation can be described as ‘Ignite, Think, Grow’: ‘Ignite’ is about translating the future vision for the company into meaningful missions that make the teams want to work on the transformation challenges they face.  ‘Think’ is about anchoring inspiring missions in the reality of the organization, in data and insights, so missions are not just audacious but also realistic and meaningful.  ‘Grow’ is about action, translating missions in a roadmap of experiments you can start running today so a process of trial and error can be started immediately. Digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight, and isn’t something you can plan from A to Z ; it is hard work and for every transformation challenge you nail a new one emerges.  The journey never stops.