For the past 70 years, business branding has been largely guided by principles developed in the 1950s and 1960s, when there were only three television networks, messaging through advertising was easy to control and information flowed from a few “trusted” news sources to millions of people.
This one-to-many model of information flow has been upended since the advent of the internet and social media. Now, information flows in millions of different directions at once—to, from and by people all over the globe—in an all-to-all free-for-all for eyeballs and market share. Some of the well-established rules of branding still apply in this new, hyper-connected environment. But that doesn’t change the fact that building and differentiating a brand is harder than ever and will only prove tougher in 2015.
In the coming year, the technological connectedness of everyone on Earth will reach a level never before experienced by humanity. The old rules don’t apply in this world. New rules must be developed.
Here are a few to start with:
1. Be worthy of your customer’s trust. At its core, effective branding is about a consistent connection between a company, its products and its promise to customers. No matter what physical product or service you sell, your true product is trust. On the internet, trust in a brand can be destroyed in an instant, so safeguarding it is of paramount importance. The good news for serious brands is that, because the internet is so full of scams, half-truths and outright lies, people will continue to look to brands as a trusted resource. Earn their trust—then work every day, as hard as you can, to keep it.
2. Don’t just avoid evil—do good. Google’s infamous tag line, “Don’t be evil” is not the same thing as “Do be good”—and the latter is a much better motto to live by. Young people, particularly Millennials and the generation after them, Digital Natives, like their consumption to reflect their values. More often than not, they make buying decisions based on what certain brands stand for, whether it’s environmental friendliness (Prius), fair-wage pay (Costco), LGBT equality (Kellogg), sustainable energy (3M) or whatever. Spin will only get you so far, though—at some point it has to be backed up by honest, well-intentioned action. The world is full of cheaters and liars. Don’t be one of them.
3. Aim for fewer memes, more me. Because messaging can no longer be controlled by the messenger, brands have had to figure out how to get customers themselves to spread the word. One of the most effective ways to do this is through a “meme” (an idea, behavior or style that spreads person to person within a culture). It grabs people’s imagination—such as last summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge—and goes viral. Modern marketers spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how to create successful memes. Some work, but most don’t, because the nature of memes is that they are spontaneous and unpredictable.
So-called meme marketing is still in its infancy, but it is already giving way to a more me-oriented form of messaging: the sort of super-targeted, hyper-personalized messaging that is becoming possible with the convergence of Big Data, artificial intelligence, and ubiquitous mobile and personal devices of all kinds. There will always be a place on the internet for absurd humor, but Big Data allows companies to understand and connect with each individual customer in ever more intimate ways. In turn, each of those customers has unprecedented control over the messages they receive. Memes may work for a long time to come, but more “me” is what people really want. Learn how to give it to them.
4. Comfort the afflicted. The speed of technological and cultural change people are experiencing today isn’t just mind-boggling—it’s disorienting and, for some people, quite scary. The world they used to know is disappearing, and the world that is replacing it isn’t always reassuring. Time-tested brands can often serve as psychological anchors in turbulent times. People are creatures of habit, and they seek out comfort, particularly when they are uncomfortable. Brands that can provide that comfort (Campbell’s, L.L.Bean), or serve as signposts to a better future (Charles Schwab, Apple) will continue to attract loyal customers even as the retail marketplace continues to fragment and choices multiply. Sometimes, the tried and true is the only thing people will try.
5. Share, don’t sell. All social-media platforms in existence today rely upon one basic principle: people like to share. Brands, too, can benefit from sharing—but many are still too focused on selling. Sharing, for brands, means connecting customers with information, ideas and resources that can help customers improve their lives. The “selling” is done by associating the brand with related networks of information that may or may not have much to do with the brand’s products. The term of art for this approach is “curated content,” but it’s really about offering help to people in ways that don’t feel like a direct sales pitch—because they aren’t. They’re just useful pieces of information that you gave them, with no strings attached—and for that, they will remember you, all the way into 2016.
Owen Shapiro is the author of Brand Shift: The Future of Brands and Marketing. Shapiro is a market researcher, strategist and speaker and spent more than 30 years in customer insights and market strategy. He has a career-long interest in helping launch innovative start-up companies, several of which have become well-known brands, including Staples, PetSmart, Sports Authority, Ulta and Five Below. www.brandshiftbook.com.
>>Top 10 Most Valuable Brands In The World
Company Brand Value Brand Revenue
- Apple $124.2 billion $170.9 billion
- Microsoft $ 63 billion $ 86.7 billion
- Google $ 56.6 billion $ 51.4 billion
- Coca-Cola $ 56.1 billion $ 23.8 billion
- IBM $ 47.9 billion $ 99.8 billion
- McDonald’s $ 39.9 billion $ 89.1 billion
- General Electric $ 37.1 billion $126 billion
- Samsung $ 35 billion $209.6 billion
- Toyota $ 39.3 billion $182.2 billion
- Louis Vuitton $ 29.9 billion $ 9.7 billion
Sources: Factset; Forbes November 2014
Hey, Big Data
Every time a customer makes an online transaction, they potentially make information about themselves known to the vendor, such as their age, postcode and the value of their purchase.
This kind of information can help firms draw up a clear picture of their customers’ tastes and habits, so they can anticipate their future needs and work out what marketing messages are most likely to be effective.
Many people also volunteer information through market research or perhaps on feedback forms, while analytics of how well a company’s website is performing can also be a useful mine of data.
• What specific products are people searching for?
• What keywords and related terms are they searching for online?
• What questions are they asking and what are they talking about on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter?
• Is online activity largely coming from desktop PCs or web-connected smartphones and tablets?
• Are people who favor particular channels in a certain demographic group or geographical area?
It’s surprising how much information customers disclose about themselves when they engage with a brand, but perhaps even more surprising is that firms have the capability to track all this activity.
Using big data for customer segmentation means firms could:
• Establish a competitive advantage over their rivals by offering tailored, relevant and timely marketing campaigns for different consumer subsets
• Align themselves better to meet client and customer needs, so they can bring relevant products and services to the market faster
• React more quickly to customers’ needs and circumstances and tailor communications to reflect this evolving understanding of what they want
• Operate more efficiently, with resources devoted to areas likely to generate the highest returns, rather than be risked on projects that might be less successful
• Spend money more appropriately across the business, particularly in areas such as marketing and R & D
Such decisions could be the decisive factor in enabling a business to stand head and shoulders above other firms in the same industry.
Excerpted with permission from the white paper “How Big Data Can Drive Marketing Innovation” produced by distributor 4imprint Direct Limited, part of 4imprint Group plc.