And who’s driving my car?
Just over a decade ago , building a brand was pretty straightforward, almost formulaic. It was very much like a one-way street which you drove your car along with the consumer looking on from the sidewalk. Define the distribution plan and objectives for your brand, craft the universal message, create the ads and then put what you wanted out there, including spots on TV, radio, in the press, and maybe even the odd bus stop placement if you were feeling ambitious. Whatever you put on those channels, everything would be set for your customers to see.
Fast-forward to the digital age; your one-way street is now hundreds of interconnected streets with people walking everywhere while driving in your car along, what was once, your street.
People now not only have almost complete access to information, they also control and shape what that information means to them and how it fulfils a purpose in their lives. Moreover, with the interconnected cluster of today’s communication channels – social media, customer review forums, websites and blogs, how can CMOs possibly control the brand when it is other people who shape and mould what that brand means?
The truth is, you can’t control what people do with your brand. Instead, you have to focus on the things which have remained constant.
Humans are, and always will be, emotional, irrational creatures. We are not as calculated and decisive as we might like to think. To speak to system one; our primary decision-making system that makes fast, instinctive, emotionally-driven and somewhat, sub-conscious decisions, you must hit people’s feeling and act according to them. This begins with your story, messages and values, otherwise known as your brand DNA. Ensure that your brand DNA is built on fundamental human needs that drive desires and trigger reactions. Create experiences that inspire people to be better or connect with something that truly matters to them. With a little innovation and a focus on context , you will have your customers telling your story in multiple forms that connect with many different people.
So, where do you start? I’ve written up a quick guide to point you in the right direction – towards shifting into the facilitator role. This is by no means a complete guide, but there are a few important things in there, whether you’re from a B2B or B2C, that can put you on the right road.
1. Understand your customer’s system one
Start by interviewing a selection of your target customers within the area (15-20 would suffice to get things moving) and really unpack their needs, motivations, challenges, frustrations and underlying drivers for buying within the category. Sometimes your interviewees may try to give you the answers they think you want to hear, so try to be creative by using open-ended questions.
After extracting those key insights, compare with your current brand DNA. Does it connect with the human elements that ignite action or reaction? Does it reflect similar values and aspirations of your customers? Does it acknowledge the real reasons why your customers purchase your products?
2. Information gathering and documentation
Create formal documentation of the current situation, define the strong, human-focused insight statements and where the gaps and opportunities lie to connect with the deep emotional needs of your customers to boost standing. Refraining from subjectivity at this point is essential. If you think there’s an opportunity to tweak elements of the current brand DNA, but don’t have insights or evidence to back it up, think long and hard before placing it into the review because I can assure you that you’ll have many questions to answer.
While it might be difficult, try to book 30 minutes with the senior leadership team to discuss this review. Prove that thinking upstream and sparking certain behaviours and perceptions within consumers can impact the P&L in the long-term, while sales and promotional activities achieve those smaller sales objectives. Many members may feel strongly about certain elements of the brand so treat this as an open discussion. If you have all of the facts lined up to support your opportunities for change, then members who are good at their job will take it on board.
3. Brand DNA, Design & Feasibility
This is the part where you begin plans to renovate – incorporating information from steps one and two. At this stage, it’s important not to throw your existing brand DNA out the window. Maybe your brand story has a great framework but needs to be more focused on the emotional needs of the people, or perhaps some messages just need a few tweaks to reflect newly-learnt information.
Features like content formats and other execution elements will unfold later. Right now, it’s all about developing the architecture for the brand in a simple way that everyone can understand. This will help you get the sign-off from your stakeholders and gatekeepers that don’t wish to do anything drastic.
4. Content and brand facilitation planning
Everyone used to be so obsessed with the word ‘content’. Later it was all about the channels. However, what you must always be thinking about first before creating any content is context. Context simply means the hidden meaning or purpose of your content. It’s about what you want your customers to do after they interact with your content. It’s about the environment within which they receive it. What’s the emotional response we want people to feel after we put it out there? What do we want people to do after they’ve interacted with it?
Eliciting an emotional response is an essential element of all successful viral brand campaigns. It’s human nature that people will share their emotional experiences by communicating them with others. And in orchestrating this reaction from people over time, BOOM, you’ve become a facilitator brand. You are facilitating the ability for people to be better, happier, stronger, more successful, or to take a stand on something. In turn, you’re allowing your brand’s story and messages to be told by other people, who will then tell more people, and then even more people.
Once you’ve cracked the key to the context of what you want to create, defining the content formats in which they come to life, and the channels through which to communicate them through will be easy. You just need to know your customers.
5. Measure and learn
Now for the least sexy but most vital part of the phase – measuring effectiveness. Thanks to the influx of data available and the influence of client procurement, proving that your marketing budgets have been invested efficiently and effectively has never been so important. A lack of understanding and communication about what a company defines as ‘marketing effectiveness’ continues to be a significant challenge for marketing and sales teams.
Many marketers will agree that there is no golden KPI that defines the effectiveness of your campaigns. However, building a robust measurement framework that involves a range of brand-focused and sales-focused KPIs to measure different levels of success is critical. For longer-term brand campaigns, KPIs take on roles for different performance measurements. These include: to monitor your brand’s progress against objectives and to check that your brand DNA and strategy is functioning at its best.
I could list all of the specific measurements types for long-term brand building, but that will be a waste of space as we are all likely to know and use them. What I can tell you though is that the path to success lies in fostering a culture of ‘innovate and learn’. Bring your marketing, sales and senior teams together to remove barriers and build a KPI model together that acknowledges each other’s objectives in driving people through the funnel.
Centralising data systems and allowing access to information between teams, while also ensuring that everyone understands the data and analytics, will enable your company to gain a holistic picture of how everyone’s efforts are working and how each is interconnected to deliver success for every single offering and market.
This allows you, as the senior marketing manager, to then define the patterns of behavioural change and isolate those KPIs that can then be pulled through to the P&L. This is what will orchestrate complete transparency within your department and different levels of your company. The best thing you can do is create an environment that is collectively responsible for its success, allowing for creativity and innovation not to be feared, but to be welcomed.