Focus On Customers And Brand-Building, Not Tech And Headlines

While everyone is currently, and understandably, tuning in to what is coming out of SXSW I have to say two pieces of advice delivered in London by experts from very different backgrounds caught my eye last week. One punch line, delivered by RBS's CMO, David Whledon, painted a particularly strong picture. Marketers, he suggested, should avoid being "the dog that barks at every passing car". 

Now I actually have a crazy cocker spaniel called Teddy, who fits that persona perfectly. But even if you don't own a dog or yours is better trained that ours, it's easy to immediately conjure up the picture Wheldon is painting. There will always be a new snazzy platform or a latest tool that allows you to do something incredibly insightful with your marketing budget. Typically, customers will be understood more thoroughly, tracked across different platforms or perhaps the results of their interactions with your brand can be probed more deeply. Whatever it is, smart marketers know that this is just the way it is. From the moment they invest in one tool, there will always be another further down the line that claims to do the job better. 

Wheldon's advice, then, is to accept that the fundamentals of marketing have not changed. Sure, there are more tools and digital complicates the media landscape, but ultimately marketing is all about understanding customers and building a distinct brand they can understand and associate with. The tools will come and go, as will the marketing buzzwords, but as long as you are building something that is distinct from rivals and offers what customers want, then you're on the right path, regardless of whether your analytics package isn't the latest, shiniest "must have" tool.

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former press aide, offered similar insight for brands wondering how to deal with the media as last week's Rising Stars event in London. He summed up perfectly how the press loves to think it's at the centre of everything yet operates in a hugely fragmented media landscape where the papers simply do not hold the power they once did. There literally is now no agenda for brands to try to shape as the likes of Campbell would have done in the '90s. Competing interests and stories are all vying for attention in papers whose circulations are suffering and in the digital sphere where household names are rubbing shoulders with digital startups.

The resulting advice for brands, then, was very similar to Wheldon's advice on marketing tech. There is no agenda to set, so the key is to have a long-term strategy that you need to not only deliver but communicate. Each brand needs to know how it wants people to see it and to work away at spreading that perception. However, if a story ridicules their attempts or could potentially cause them to be distracted, strong brands will plough on regardless and know that it is just a story for that day that won't shape the week's news agenda -- because there is no agenda. 

So if you're a brand, you want to be known as the brand that, say, always delivers next day or offers customers an excellent experience, will never be "knowingly undersold." Whatever it is, stick to the main message, the advice suggests, and don't be waylaid by temporary blips -- and definitely do not beat yourself up for not shaping an agenda that only lasts until the next day.

The insights are worth sharing because they both point to long-term thinking that is easily lost when digital data means results can be so instant. As marketing moves into the real-time, the sage advice of experts at the top of their game is to keep on working to a longer-term, simple strategy. Get to know your customers, devise a product or service that is different and keep communicating these benefits, regardless of any negative press or a better tool coming along.

This is not to say that you should never listen to the data and adjust, of course. It's just a very simple reminder, which may not have been needed, that brands need a long term objective and need to have a consistent message that demonstrates the different proposition they offer compared to rivals. Regardless of all the latest tech is the world or a raft of positive or negative press coverage, this should not be changed.

2 comments about "Focus On Customers And Brand-Building, Not Tech And Headlines ".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, March 14, 2016 at 10:21 a.m.

    Once again, a very sensible piece, Sean. Thanks.

  2. Bradley Daves from BDaves, March 14, 2016 at 6:47 p.m.

    Great piece. Contrary to mom's advice, what you say is more important than how you say it. To be distracted by every new shiny piece of digital technology does a marketer no good. Find the technology that works with your brand, and use it with some savvy. 

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