Brand Marketing in the Digital Age

Brand_4Brand is many things but at its core it is an emotional connection between a user and a product or service. That connection has its greatest impact at the experience level where an interaction between the user and the product or service takes place. So what is interactive marketing then if not branding? And how can we separate the emotional connection of branding with the emotions that a user experiences online in the effort to complete their goals? We can’t.

The first thing we need to understand in order to achieve brand success in digital is the medium, because of its interactive nature and participatory veins, blurs the line between direct marketing and branding. These square peg marketing silos, developed long before the advent of the internet just don’t fit into the round hole dynamic that takes place between consumers and businesses online. Nor are the independent strategies that were developed for each marketing discipline appropriate in this medium.

The second thing we must understand is how to deliver relevance in this new media paradigm. Relevance makes that emotional connection. Relevance fuels interaction. In digital, brands and branding must be relevant or they will die.

So how should we begin to take a strategic course to improve our brand by creating positive emotions that lead to interaction and/or creating positive interaction that leads to emotions? Here are the rules I live by:

• Relevance means the USERS goals and the way THEY think (not your goals and the way your business or client thinks).

• Relevance can only be delivered through technology

• Relevance is only achieved with creative that is segmented & targeted

• Relevance is measurable and must constantly be validated and optimized with testing

These rules partly explain the difficulty traditional agencies have had understanding and finding success in digital. It also partly explains the difficulty old-line digital agencies have had leveraging the emergent synergies between search and social media, UGC as well as cross-digital optimization. This is because until very recently it had only been in paid search where all these strategies were in practice.

Possibly the answer for what’s ailing many agencies also rests in the words of Howard Draft of Draft FCB. While speaking at the 4A’s management conference last week he said, “I suspect that many of us secretly believe that measurement is the death of creativity.” Howard’s move towards “total accountability” and embracing measurement as a force to drive creative is spot-on. Yet, many advertisers, marketers and Creative Directors are apprehensive about this approach because accountability in front of live users in real-time is a scary thought.

As the Chief Strategy Officer of an agency rooted in optimization and technology that also has a growing creative practice I can tell you that measurement only makes you more creative. This is because in order to succeed in a measured approach to creative you not only need to create more, you must also work within a methodology that embraces being unique, taking risks and coming up with big ideas. The same mindsets from which the best creations have always been born.

Besides being just downright fun to practice and chock full of learning, the marriage of consumers, technology, creative and accountability has a bottom-line impact to business results. From a brand perspective the fact that we can now optimize user interactions and measure their emotional connections (and vice versa) means that in the digital age brands that seize this opportunity will be stronger and more relevant than ever.

6 thoughts on “Brand Marketing in the Digital Age

  1. Here, here.
    It is all about engagement online. The best agencies were practicing this before there was an Internet to give consumers a way to engage back. They developed creative that forced you to think, to act, to laugh. Anything but just watch. I agree that only by sticking to the status quo and the tired cliche do clients and agencies risk a lack of performance in the measured digital space.

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  3. Jonathan,
    Excellent post, thank you. I believe that the problem isn’t the numbers, but people’s ability to use them correctly. Many agency strategy people don’t know how to use basic statistic functions in Excel, much less know what a “null hypothesis” is.
    Nowhere are numbers more misused than in magazine cover testing. To my knowledge (and I could be wrong) no study has been done to determine whether cover testing actually produces more sales. Nevertheless, the conclusions are blindly followed because people are scared not to.
    Maybe cover testing works, maybe it doesn’t. However, either the test hasn’t been evaluated or the effectiveness hasn’t been communicated to editors. Either way, numbers get a bad name.
    As somebody once put it to me, “Data is an input, not an output,” and if research is used as a starting point to gain insight, creativity is improved (as you so effectively described).
    Finally, (sorry for the long comment) I think the digital world would be much better off if they learned more about how the industry has struggled with these issues for the past 50 years or so, what wisdom has been gained, what there still is to learn, etc.
    I wrote about some of the issues in ” 5 things New Media Can Learn From Old Media). You can read it here: http://www.digitaltonto.com/archives/99
    Regards,
    Greg

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