Have you ever run into conflicts between what a company’s “brand book” dictates and digital marketing success?
Are you worried your brand is stuck in the past and you can’t improve customer satisfaction or ROI?
Are you concerned you may be vulnerable to disruption?
Then you’ll love this article… because we’re going to talk about trends that answer how to solve those problems.
Branding IS critical to the success of your company, your products and your services.
If you have no identity, and you can’t project that identity to position yourself in the marketplace, your company may fail.
It’s also matter of degree.
How well you do this branding can limit how much you succeed.
But branding is not all there is in the modern world of digital marketing. There’s also:
- Customer Segmentation
- Digital Marketing
- Social Marketing
- And more…
Digital and social marketing and advertising have become more and more important over the last two decades. More and more money and attention and people have moved from traditional marketing and advertising to Internet marketing.
How The Internet Has Changed Branding
Your brand is not just what your company intends. It’s also the average consumer perception of your brand. Here are some factors that have changed:
- The Internet may be a customer’s first experience of your brand: Your new customer’s first experience of your brand may be online: websites, social, ads, videos… yours or someone else’s.
- Customer opinion is everywhere: Easy-to-launch blogs and Yelp/TripAdvisor review-sites have created more voices and louder voices, making it simple for consumers to discover what their peers think about your brand.
- Customer service expectations are higher: Customers expect brands to be available, responsive and engaging via social media. Relationships, authenticity and transparency can be very powerful, and not making this shift can put you at a disadvantage.
- Reputation can go sideways quickly: The Internet, social media and news can change our perception of a brand. It may be out of the company’s control. Mistakes and bad news can spiral out of control and create reputation problems. The Internet never forgets.
- Competition is greater: There are more options and more competitors. Barriers to entry are lower. You need more of a competitive advantage, a unique identity and you can no longer take loyalty for granted. You don’t own your customers. Just about every company is vulnerable to Uber/AirBnB-style disruption.
- Personalization is easier and expected: Segmented ads give you the opportunity to present multiple voices and faces to different customers. We can truly personalize our marketing. You need a brand voice but you no longer need be limited to just one. Personalization can be a competitive advantage and may be expected by your customer.
- Microtesting can increase customer satisfaction and ROI: You can run small tests to find out how evolving your brand may get you bigger and better business results. The most successful online brands like Facebook, Google and Amazon have this built into their websites and cultures. Their customers are highly satisfied and loyal because these companies use data to personalize the experience- making things more relevant and saving people time. If you don’t take advantage of this opportunity to evolve in a way that satisfies your customers more, you may get disrupted.
With that in mind, here are 10 trends can help us do better branding in the digital marketing era.
Let’s look at each one in detail…
#1: Make Sure You Have a Brand
If you aren’t intentional about what you are, you won’t understand why people react the way they do.
You may just be a big hot mess. Or not so hot.
You have a brand even if you think you don’t.
It’s saying something to people, even if you don’t intend it to.
Get a brand.
Be intentional about it.
#2: Invest In Your Brand
A lot of small businesses, but even a surprising number of medium sized businesses under-invest in branding or advertising.
Many seem to think that having a logo or a few designated colors is all that’s required. “Yay, we checked the branding box!” Not really.
Here are some of the things involved in brand definition:
- Brand Name
- Attributes, Personality, Values
- Emotional Benefits to the Customer
- Tagline or Catchphrase
- Visual Identity, Graphics, Shapes, Colors, Logo
- Sounds, Scents, Tastes, Movements
Just reading through that list may give you an idea how well you’ve thought through your own brand.
Via advertising, you can segment the projection of your brand to individual personas or customer types and vary the brand voice or customer voices.
Many companies do not meet their business goals because they simply do not reach enough potential customers, and advertising is the quickest way to get in front of your ideal customer.
#3: Segment Your Brand Voice
There’s all this talk that you have to have “a brand voice.”
I get it. But if you’re going to anthropomorphize the company, let’s take the analogy all the way.
If your brand is supposed to be like a person that talks to people, let me ask you this… you’re a person: do you talk to everyone the same way?
Do you talk to your kids the same way you talk to a taxi drivers or the fast food drive through person?
Do you talk to your significant other the same way you talk to a police officer?
I hope not.
Ok, there might be some scenarios… we’re not talking about that!
You customize your approach. You have to.
It’s the same with marketing. We personalize to different types of customers.
Everyone talks about segmentation, because almost nobody has just one type of customer.
The one brand voice thing comes from the old world of traditional media where we weren’t able to target customers…
The ultimate example of NOT targeting is a superbowl ad: so many different types of Americans are viewing your superbowl ad that it has to appeal to all your customer types at once.
But the opposite of that is a highly segmented Facebook ad, let’s say for example, to one of your 12 personas: professional millennial women… and you can customize the look and the voice to appeal to and stimulate this group exactly.
You’re going to want it to be different than when you advertise or try to engage your retired male baby boomer customers, right? I hope so!
If you don’t, you’re not going to maximize your response, the customer experience, your sales or loyalty.
We can’t talk the same to everyone. The brand can’t look or act the same to everyone. Similar, but not exactly the same.
We need to strike a balance between identity and personalization without being complete chameleons.
Google’s logo shifts with the holiday, but it’s always Google. It’s a great example of a flexible identity. Part of their identity is simplicity, efficiency and personalization.
So, who are your customers? Personas? And how does your brand voice sound different for each one?
#4: Speak in Customer Voices
Sometimes when we advertise, we use testimonials, or we speak in the first person as the customer.
So it’s not just about the brand voice… it’s also about the customer voice.
But as we’ve already said, there are multiple customers or personas.
What are your customers’s voices?
Read customer testimonials and social media comments. What do they sound like? Can you separate them into personas?
Try writing some messages and ads in their voices.
#5: Let Your Brand Evolve Through Testing And Data
Branding is only one piece of the marketing puzzle.
Identity and looks aren’t the only goal. There are other business and direct response conversion goals.
Branding can either help or hinder the business or conversion goals. If branding is hurting other goals, then branding may have to evolve. You can use advertising microtests to do this.
If the brand voice is so restrictive that we can’t test new ideas to see how customers react…
Especially if customers are not buying or becoming leads in response to the current “brand voice” type messaging.
If the brand voice is suppressing digital marketing results, you need to chillax and loosen the brand voice parameters.
#6: Take Your SEO Keywords with a Grain of Salt
Keyword domain names are so 2010! Google is pretty smart now. It knows when you’re trying to fool it vs. when you’re actually relevant to the keyword.
Keyword domains are not worth it, and don’t make a good brand statement.
It’s a great example of not being able to see the forest for the trees. Missing the big picture because of a fear of no traffic. Missing out on an opportunity to signal value and quality.
I made this mistake with my cowbell book. I let my emphasis on Amazon keywords research hold too much sway over the subtitle, and it confused potential readers and ironically limited the number of people who thought it was relevant to them. Never again!
SEO can and should help determine what content marketing or infographics you create- it still has a place, but be careful how it affects your brand.
#7: Combine Art and Science
In the dark ages of marketing and branding, all we had was faith, opinion and confidence.
We now have the opportunity to research the data, add that to panels and surveys, do micro advertising tests to our ideal customers. We can discover what customers will love with a high degree of certainty. We no longer have to guess.
We don’t have to fall under the sway of creative con-men. We don’t need magical Don Drapers to make us feel safe.
Yes, we need creative people more than ever, but we can’t stop there. We need to be scientific and make sure that our branding drives business.
Don’t be a stubborn holdouts of the old paradigm of not testing, not evolving, not looking at metrics (they tell you what customers want!), not split-testing.
Tomorrow’s brand managers want to run tests… because the CMO is asking about trends, best practices and data… because the CFO and CEO and are wondering about disruption risk and how to push forward profitability.
#8: Evolve Your Brand Forward
The 90’s version of your brand should not be the 21st century version of your brand.
The 2015 version of your brand may not be good enough in 2017.
Yes, Coca-Cola’s logo and taste will remain the same post-Internet, but that doesn’t mean their social or digital strategy should.
In a world where Old Spice can suddenly refresh and dominate its category and Uber can disrupt an entire industry, no brand can afford to stand pat.
#9: Get Your Brand Team and Your Digital Team on the Same Page
As we’ve identified, branding touches on creativity, identity and customer segmentation- but all of these need to go into a feedback loop with the customer to see how customers respond, and what they respond to.
For too long, branding has been an ivory tower activity that happens in isolation from the customer.
We now can evolve the brand forward via customer feedback (without the customer even realizing it), but to do that, brand managers need to team up with content marketers and social advertisers to run micro tests.
Branding folks can also get demographic and psychographic persona info from the Twitter and Facebook audience insights and ad interfaces… IF they team up with the digital marketers.
Just as the disconnect between marketing and sales can hurt your company, a disconnect between your brand manager and your advertising or digital marketing teams can stunt your company’s growth and prevent maximum customer response.
If you aren’t getting this kind of data about your brand, you should talk to us!
#10: Let Each Channel Empower the Brand Voice Differently
Many branding people want a consistent brand voice everywhere, and that makes sense, but it shouldn’t be robotic.
Every channel and medium is different.
How do you execute consistency against each channel’s limits without missing out on the advantages of each channel as well? It can be harder than you might think.
- Your brand on TV is video, with a super-high budget, big reach and big credibility, but it’s usually only possible to create a small number of creative pieces.
- Your brand on Instagram is a mix of photo and video, authentic, personal, behind the scenes, need a constant flow of new creative, at least 250 pieces a year and hashtags are very important.
- Your brand on AdWords is often text-only since text ads work best, and often less than 90 characters or only about 15 words sometimes with only 25 character headlines, categorized by major keyword themes, which at least 10 variations for each.
- Your brand at the mall is about retail store presentation, banners, traditional and digital signage.
- Your brand through a celebrity influencer may be a mix of their natural voice, product placement and FTC-compliance.
And those are just a few examples of all the channels.
Many companies’s brand guides are vague and open to interpretation. The more vague it is, the more open you are to internal arguments (and confusion with your marketing vendors), or tyranny from one person.
That’s why it’s important to spend time making sure there is enough specificity about brand voice for every channel, and enough room for testing.
Imagine the Supreme Court trying to rule in a life or death case without the Constitution being as specific as it is… trying to judge based on a brand guide only 4-5 sentences long. It’s an impossible task.
Specificity is your friend- take the time to create it.
Some of the channels you may be on- each has a different mood, character and limits- they have different vocabularies and palettes in addition to the personas you go after on them:
- Facebook: very social and casual, mainstream, everyone is there including young people (91% of millennials use it even though Snapchat and Instagram are more popular with teens- and you can use Facebook ads to reach people on Instagram).
- Instagram: skews female (68%).
- Snapchat: skews young (71% under 34 years old), very video-oriented.
- Google AdWords: very limited text for text ads- 90 or less characters.
- Twitter: limited amount of text, more intellectual.
- LinkedIn: more business-oriented and skews male (57%).
- Pinterest: extremely visual, more image than video, skews female (81%).
- YouTube: depends on your targeting, 62% male.
- TV: depends on the TV channel and time slot.
- Magazines: depends on the magazine and its readership.
If different people read different magazines or watch different TV shows or use different websites or different social networks, then we can’t communicate or appear exactly the same in every place.
You need a brand essence clear enough to be consistent on all of them, and a chillax-factor loose enough to let your brand manifest differently on all of them, or you won’t be able to maximize all platforms.
The Old Spice YouTube responses are a great example of a brand remaining consistent and customizing at the same time. You probably saw the TV ads, and may have seen them online as well, but they also took to Twitter and used YouTube to respond to tweets with customized videos in the style of the commercials. They created an unbelievable 185 customized responses to everyone from the super famous (Ellen) to the Internet business famous (Kevin Rose) to the regular consumer… and these videos received from 80,000 to 1.8 million views apiece. It’s important to note that their overall campaign, including all channels, doubled their sales when they started the campaign in 2010.
But ultimately they became the #1 body wash for men, and their CEO claimed it was through engaging customers online.
That kind of engagement and sales success can’t happen when your view of brand consistency is narrow.
It’s tempting to throw up the exact same picture, font and slogan everywhere in the name of consistency, but this is a missed opportunity. There are more ways to be consistent, and much bigger opportunities on each platform.
It’s a shame to have to go back to a campaign from 2010-2011 to find such a stellar example. It just demonstrates how few brands are willing to evolve older practices. Is it possible that since Old Spice had lost so much ground that they really had nothing to lose? And that more successful brands are just too risk averse to reproduce edgier outlier case studies? Probably 🙂
Brian Carter is a popular digital marketer and keynote speaker with Fortune 500 clients like NBC, Microsoft and Humana as well as small businesses who delivers motivational keynotes with practical takeaways based his ad agency’s 15 years of daily cutting-edge work driving awareness, leads and sales for their business clients. His agency, The Brian Carter Group, creates marketing that excites customers and increases brand visibility, sales and loyalty. Brian is a bestselling author you’ve probably seen on Bloomberg TV or in Inc, Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. He has over 250,000 online fans and reaches over 3 million people per year.