This framework is so pervasive, so robust, and so fundamental that no one ever questions it. It has worked for a long time. You might ask, if it’s so great, why is brand advertising having so much trouble?
There are a lot of theories attempting to answer that question: attention dilution, retail dominance, failure to innovate, etc.
Here’s another. The underlying enablers for brand communications are obsolete. Our society has evolved the most thoroughgoing message filters in the history of humanity.
Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman characterized modern brand messaging as “hypodermic marketing” — as in, injecting messages into people’s brains. The needle, apparently, can’t penetrate our thick skulls any more.
Imagine that the Internet has, as predicted for so long, finally turned the tables. Consumers are in control for real. Predation is pointless. The Clue train finally got to the station. Viewers can eliminate their scent with cookie deletion, or become invisible with ad blocking. But where’s the new model?
We are all pretty tired of hearing this complaint with no offered solution. So here’s one, a twisted sister of the traditional brand-building framework. Take it or leave it.
Flipping the Framework
You just flip the entire brand-building framework 180 degrees. Invert it. Walk through the looking glass and look back. The structure of the old way and the new way are identical, except for this: In the new way, it’s from the consumer’s point of view.
The underlying tenet is that each consumer has a process that she uses to discover, learn, and carry out her life. Another tenet is: You can’t know what that is, per consumer, but you must heed her unwritten process requirements, as follows.
Consumers will assess the landscape. They will look at the category, and determine a consideration set. They will find out, via Web, word-of-mouth, or whatever. You can support their process through content — or not, at your own peril. You win if you create the preconditions required so when the landscape is surveyed, you are on it, and looking good.
Next, consumers will figure out their “who.” That is: who are you? This includes your intentions, value prop, and values as a brand. This is easy for them. They can sniff out hypocrisy in a heartbeat.
As a company or brand, what do you look like on the Web? A privacy statement and a fake hero shot (with an Asian, a black person, and a natural-looking white woman, all holding hands and looking joyful, wearing white … ugh)? Or maybe you look like a friend. Who are you? Great advertising online anticipates the mindset of the quest.
Then comes the consumer’s “what.” That is, what they want to hear. We still control the message, but we might not be sending the message they need right now. It mandates we have many content or ad variations.
Finally, the consumer will determine his or her own “how”: how they get the message. The viewer determines the time, device, and context, all of which advertisers don’t control. However, we can respect their attention, and seek the right moment instead of going hell-bent for reach.
So that’s it. Call it the brand service framework. It may have some flaws, but this much is true: Intrusion becomes service when the intruder has the right touch, trusted motivations, and something to offer. The brand service framework causes us to focus on what we know is right.
As a consumer, here’s what I want: When I am solicited, the knock on the door turns out to be what I was wishing for. When I select a place to visit, my needs get met. It’s that simple.