How the Marketing of Brands Has Changed
Brand marketing used to follow a pretty simple formula. Marketers would identify and (ideally) test how to position a brand in the marketplace for maximum success. Then they would market the brand to its target audience(s) according to that positioning, using all appropriate marketing communications channels. If the communications underperformed, more budget was spent on media or the communications were tweaked. If the brand still underperformed, it might be repositioned, discounted or even sold. Marketers had control over their brand, its positioning and its messaging.
Then a technological change occurred that precipitated a seismic shift in brand marketing.
Just 10 years ago, only 7 percent of American adults used one or more social media sites, according to the Pew Research Center. Today, that figure stands at 65 percent and continues to grow. But beyond keeping up with family and friends, the ramifications of social media’s explosive growth for brand marketing has been nothing short of profound. As people spend more time discussing what matters to them on their favorite social media sites, their experiences with brands are certain to follow. Consider the following statistics:
- 68 percent of consumers trust online reviews from strangers more than a brand’s marketing communications (1).
- 92 percent of consumers worldwide trust earned media over all forms of paid advertising (2).
- Consumers are checking twice as many information resources about brands than they have in the past (3).
- Word-of-mouth brand advocacy generates twice the sales of paid advertising (4).
- Only 4 percent of Americans trust marketers and advertisers to act with integrity (5).
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In the process, brand owners have ceded control over their brands’ image to their customers and prospects. As brand owners, we still seek to position our brands in the marketplace, but we now recognize that how a brand’s image fares has more to do with how it is viewed and reviewed than with how we advertise and market it.
What does this mean for brand marketers?
First and foremost, it means brands must be authentic, now more than ever. Overpromising, putting on airs, or worse, deliberately misleading customers and prospects must be avoided at all costs. In our increasingly social and 24/7 communications environment, retribution comes nearly instantaneously and can spell disaster for a brand. Consider Volkswagen’s recent diesel emissions scandal. It’s hard to imagine Volkswagen’s transgression having had a similar breadth and depth of impact a mere 10 or 20 years ago. The same holds true for Chipotle’s food-borne illness issues.
Brands today must say what they stand for and prove it day in and day out. It is expected. And if millennials are any indication of things to come – and, of course, they are – the need for brands to be authentic will only increase. Millennials reject generic advertising across channels and are looking to align with brands that not only say that they care about the community, society, the environment or giving back, but actually walk the talk. Those that don’t can and will be called out.
But what makes a brand authentic? An authentic brand:
- Has, publicly articulates and stands by a set of morals and values, no matter what.
- Honestly and transparently communicates its policies and its behaviors, and not just the positive ones.
- “Owns” any transgressions or mistakes immediately, completely and publicly.
- Changes its policies and behaviors without hesitation when warranted.
Brand Marketing Through Social Currency
Beyond the need to be authentic, the other major change that brand marketers now must make to be successful is to engage in ongoing conversation with customers and prospects across social media channels. This is arguably a more significant challenge than being authentic. For many brands, this means adding head count or pushing the responsibility for brand conversation duties beyond the cubicles of the marketing department. But in order to maintain a unified voice and attitude, brands need to ensure that everyone who is carrying on conversations with customers and prospects understands the brand’s promise, values and personality to deliver an authentic, coherent and consistent brand experience.
At Six Degrees, we help clients develop a brand platform and brand style guide, then internally cascade the brand so that all who engage with customers and prospects, either in an official or unofficial capacity, are playing from the same sheet of music. Brand communications are becoming ever more decentralized, so more care must be given to ensure that everyone really understands how to be consistently authentic with the brand.
If you are not yet actively building your social currency as a brand owner by engaging with customers and prospects on social media, it is only a matter a time. The brand’s voice is critical to future brand success and brand value. The sooner you engage with your authentic brand, the more likely you are to succeed.