Communication is just one tool to convey brand message. Marketers and brand strategists are not employed by companies to create communications – they are employed to create change in consumer behavior. Instead of deluging customers with messages about the point a brand is trying to make, imagine how a brand might let customers experience the point it’s trying to make.
This subtle, but powerful shift moves customers up the ladder of marketing effectiveness*. Instead of absorbing a message (theoretically), customers begin to interact with the brand (practically).
Take credit cards as a first example: Most of the revenue made by credit card companies comes from card use. Many card companies have automatic budget alerts, monitors, trackers, and smartphone apps – these all help customers perceive they are better in control of their finances as they have something easy and practical to help them economize. They go beyond the message by designing an immersive program that encourages sustained interaction with the product. Who doesn’t want more control of their finances? And what card company doesn’t want more point of sale and transaction fees? A win for both, and the message is only a small part in the program design.
People buy brands, not managers. And yet think about the number of managers who make judgment calls, sometimes very big judgment calls, based on their own opinions and experiences? They feel comfortable because they are expressing views and making decisions that fit with their worldview. But that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily doing the brand justice, particularly if their viewpoints compromise the personality of the brand itself.
Hands up if you’ve ever been to this meeting:
“I like orange.”
Or “Don’t make it orange.”
“Use short words.”
Or “People don’t read.”
“We need to be on TV.”
And/or “We need to export.”
Brands thrive when they are based on meaning, trust, relevance and delight – but of course they must deliver that meaning, trust, relevance and delight to the buyer, not the seller. Otherwise they risk narcissism.
Every brand must pursue a life of its own – not affirm the life of a manager. And to me, that integral sense of being an asset in its own right hangs on ten things. A brand must have:
“I never worry about action, but only inaction.” ~ Winston Churchill
There’s a simple, human reason why behaviors happen time and time again. We are creatures of habit and familiarity. It is much more comforting to keep hammering away at what we know than it is to stop, reappraise the problem and completely redesign the playbook.
Relentless speed and ubiquitous impatience have spawned an approach to strategy based on “not enough time”. The underpinning philosophy is that there are either not enough minutes in the day to do the thinking, or even if these can be found, the strategy will be outmoded by the time the company gets to implement it.
Wrong. It will almost certainly take far less time to strategize the road ahead than it took to get into trouble. And it will cost a whole lot less than reacting to another bad snap decision.
However, those who hate change can always fall back on a simple tactic. If in doubt, raise more doubt…
“What if it doesn’t work?”
“But it’s not working now.”
“OK, what if it makes it worse?”
We’ve all been in those meetings.
I mentioned previously that branding goes as far back as recorded history. However, in the modern era, outside of brand identity development, branding activities were largely confined to consumer packaged goods companies such as General Mills, Kraft Foods, Nestle, P&G and Unilever. Then, in the mid-to-late 1990s, companies began to realize that their corporate brands were assets of great value that needed to be managed and leveraged. This is when companies started creating brand management positions at senior, and sometimes even corporate officer levels in the their organizations. I was the beneficiary of this movement at Hallmark Cards, when I was named Hallmark’s brand czar (not my real title).
Since that time, municipalities, universities, museums, professional trade associations, sports teams, churches and even individuals have gotten into the branding act. Talk of brands and brand positioning has become ubiquitous within our society.
Today, when we are asked to facilitate brand positioning workshops for organizations, the workshop participants are almost always the organization’s CEO and his or her staff, not the marketing department (although they participate). Further, increasingly, we are asked to facilitate a mission, vision, values workshop for the company just prior to the brand positioning workshop because the two activities are closely linked for organization brands. I have also written about the need to touch organization-wide communication, training and development, organization design, recruiting, performance appraisal, budgeting, capital investments, customer service design and other functions as a way to ensure that the organization delivers on the promises that it makes. These activities are clearly outside of the scope of a typical chief marketing officer’s role and responsibilities.
This is the time of year when many marketing departments decide how their particular share of the industry’s enormous marketing spend will be applied in the following year.
In practice this means senior marketers make predictions for the coming year, perform an objective review of the performance of the previous year’s expenditure and then finally allocate their spend across their chosen marketing investments.
The vast majority of firms still use a top-down budgeting system. Senior managers decide on the total marketing budget for the year and leave marketing to allocate it accordingly. This figure is usually calculated in one of two ways. In its most pathetic form, top-down budgeting involves senior management looking at last year’s budget and then increasing it or decreasing based on expectations of turnover.
Or else they apply an ‘advertising:sales ratio’. Senior managers estimate how much they expect to sell in the coming year and then apply a completely arbitrary percentage to this estimate. Thus the marketing budget is set.
The problems with a top-down approach should be obvious. It is non-strategic, takes no account of new initiatives within the company, and ignores changes in the external market.
It also involves estimating how much a firm expects to sell before making any decision on marketing spend, thus inferring that marketing is an inconsequential expense, rather than integral investment. Firms that use the top-down approach are hindered in their marketing strategy, long before that strategy has even been devised.