The answer to today’s fragmentation in brand message must be greater integration, not less. The proliferation of media environments and platforms is inevitable, but in building brand strategies and programs and measuring their effectiveness, we must try to narrow the divide between digital and traditional. Integration is key, so that brand strategies make the brand coherent for its audiences.
Consumers live in a world of “and” not “or.” Their experiences with, and expectations of, brands transcend the divides between .com and brick and mortar, phone call and text or tweet, and spaces physical, virtual, private or public. Yet leading brands conceive of, and create, brand experiences that seem all too discrete; too specific to their media environments and platforms, and less-aligned to their core brand positioning or value proposition.
Often the conceptual ideas behind social, mobile or experiential implementations seem more a function of “Let’s delight, engage, get noticed or use this new digital capability,” rather than being tied to the brand’s value proposition or character traits.
Agencies and clients alike then point to the thousands of views or likes garnered, as if these were ends unto themselves. And while audiences might well be delighted or engaged, what longer-term brand-specific objectives — be they attitudinal or behavioral shifts or actual business results — could we likely tie the engagement to?
TD bank, with its #MakeTodayMatter campaign, gave away $30,000 each to 24 customers to do good community deeds of their choosing. In an earlier effort, TD turned its ATMs into “Automated Thanking Machines” to delight its customers with free gifts, avowedly to say thanks.
In its most recent iteration of expressing gratitude, TD invited 14 customers to its branches, surprised them with a live festooning of the walls with pictures (contributed by family members, also invited) of significant life moments in yesteryears, reminding them (and the rest of us via social media) of how the bank had been a part of those major life milestones.
All three campaigns were filmed, posted to social media, and have generated millions of views. However, it’s hard to escape the whiff of a cynical use here of both social media and a tenuous link, at best, to TD’s long-standing brand promise of making banking comfortable (“Banking can be this comfortable.”)
Traditional campaigns aren’t immune, either, to the susceptibility of a seeming ad hoc-ness or indirection. Major brands continue to develop either campaigns around ideas that seem to circumnavigate the core barriers being faced by the brand. While these may well result in outstanding campaign-awareness metrics, they do little to dispel the nagging doubts harbored by their core audiences, keeping them from making that perception and behavior shift we would like from them.
When UPS would rather turn into “United Problem Solvers … We’re in the problem solving business,” or Reebok stand for “Be More Human,” or BMO (Bank of Montreal) promise “We’re here to help” — they appear to have stretched their brands to such generic proportions that it begins to question their very purpose, their reason to be.
A more holistic and clinical approach would help. Stewards of the brand must dig for the core issues and fundamental barriers to achieving the brand’s purpose and its business goals. To get at these, in part, requires access to all facets of the brand, including its performance across channels, platforms and media environments, with facts and data that are meaningful to the brand’s progression.
It would require an exercise in greater integration than is often the reality. As clients increasingly resort to multiple agency partners, and at a time when many describe the AOR model as being pushed aside (or worse), the need for the integration of data, information and systems is pressing.
Clients can take the lead with stronger efforts at breaking their internal information silos between marketing, sales, finance and IT. Even more fundamentally, are the brand marketing goals closely aligned with addressing the business’ true marketplace challenges? Or, are they the reductive goals of building brand awareness and meeting sales targets?
AOR’s should engender confidence by demonstrating more integrated brand-level insights across channels, platforms and media. Clients should engage the agency early in the process of marketing program development and at the table of business-level conversations.
Crucially, it is a matter of whether the tough questions about the brand are being asked, both client-side and agency-side, and of each other. Which are the tough questions, anyhow? Partly, these must tie campaign relevance to brand purpose and the fundamental shifts we seek in audience perception and behavior.
A more integrated marketing approach would lead to outcomes that can only be a win for customers and prospects, as they would begin to perceive consistencies within and between brand voice and brand behavior, no matter where or how they experience the brand or choose to engage — by click, call, in-store or anywhere.