Building brands in the mad men era was a relatively straight forward endeavor...
A brand needed to effectively communicate its value to the consumer, plainly stating its functional benefits and for the more enduring brands—connecting with consumers at the emotional level typically through a story told via television led advertising campaigns. The most iconic of brands over time, mastered the art of really digging into the "soul" of a brand. How it was differentiated from others and how it should be expressed in all parts of the world.
Building brands became something of a religious pursuit, with high priests and gatekeepers of brands in place to ensure that a brand did not become diluted. These guardians of brands created all kinds of doctrine meant to keep a brand's value proposition pure and true. Brands have always been built and expressed based on how they met consumers needs at the rational and emotional levels. More recently, brand stewards have been grappling with the notion of a brand's "purpose"—industry shorthand for how a brand's "values" take into account societal context. Can a brand stand for something bigger than itself? Does it exist for a higher purpose? Is there a cultural tension point that a brand has a right to participate in (or lead) a conversation around?
Data from Edelman's Brandshare study concluded that today's consumers look for and evaluate their relationship with a brand beyond traditional rational and emotional benefits into areas that veer into societal. Well over half of 10,000 consumers polled globally indicated that brands having a clear "mission and purpose" influenced how they felt about that brand.
In short, today's marketers must ask themselves—does our brand stand for something? Does it stand against something else?
It is this tension point that takes us back to the drawing board when it comes to the "soul" of a brand. But we cannot divorce this exercise from how a brand must be brought to life. The re-visiting of a brand's foundation requires taking another look at how it comes to life an today's always on, multi channel world. Modern brands must master the relationship between these three key facets for how brands sustain their relationship with consumers after answering what it stands for and against:
It's tempting to think at the program level (campaigns, etc.) that once a foundational brand strategy is set—we can go right to ideas and tactics both big, medium and small. Avoid the temptation. Strategy at the program level should be the nucleus of any program and it should inform and influence all ideas. It should present clearly the balance between meeting business, brand and consumer/customer objectives.
Never has creativity been so important. People are rarely motivated by statistics and logic—but rich stories and experiences can lead to desired action. However, telling stories and designing useful, usable and desirable experiences requires out of the box thinking. Stories don't get shared by people unless they are exceptionally compelling, entertaining or educational. There are thousands of apps to compete with and digital influencers can often times build audiences better than brands can. Creativity is now complicated.
Probably the newest and most disruptive dynamic out of the three. Most brands grapple with agility because they are still operating in a construct built for the industrial broadcast era of marketing. As I've outlined in Responsive Marketing, it's adding a layer of smaller more nimble initiatives than can help inform and even optimize the bigger more comprehensive programs that are still linear in nature. What both layers have in common is that they must move away from the launch and walk away model and move toward a model that puts various "things" in a live environment and adapts along the way. Google's Ben Jones recently pointed out the elephant in the room when it comes to agility:
"Advertising has radically shifted to be more agile, useful, and relevant in the always-on age of mobile. Yet the foundation of creative work, the creative brief, remains largely unchanged."
The creative brief shouldn't go away, but if you truly buy into the notion of agility then the doctrine of briefs and briefing must become more dynamic than static while preserving the ability to influence big, medium and even small ideas.
It's been said that the more things change, the more they remain the same. In the context of building and preserving brands—this holds somewhat true. A brand becomes a brand only the the hearts and minds of consumers. And today's consumers have ever evolving values, demographics and technology/lifestyle habits. We didn't walk around with super computers in our pockets years ago and millennials are a far cry from baby boomers.
Modern brands will be built and re-built on foundations which reflect these evolutions but they must come to life informed by strategy, inspired by creativity and designed for agility.