I recently read a great document, Brand Trends for 2010 (PDF), by Brand Keys with sound principles that can be applied to many business. It got me thinking how brand development has really come to the fore in digital marketing, likely because of the rise of social media, after the long obsession with all things direct response. I think this is a good thing and in line with what matters to us, as customers.
So, for my first post on Smart Insights I wanted to explore some of the Brand Keys predictions further, share my thoughts and see if anyone else had things that they wanted to share on this subject given that "€œbranding"€ and "€œbrand development"€ have so often being misunderstood.
First - It"€™s important to recognise that building a strong brand has always been important if differentiation and avoiding having a commoditised product or service matters to you. It"€™s not new, and yet the Internet has significantly changed what it means, and how crucial it is to business growth today.
The broadcast and print media era was about broadcasting a consistent brand image or message, but it"€™s now about fostering trust through authenticity, dialogue and innovation. Creating a name or logo is not creating a brand, a brand is a product or service that is trusted so much by consumers that they will pay more for it, talk about it and see it as different to the competition. To gain a consumer"€™s trust we need to understand them, their buying habits and their online behaviours.
So what should we be thinking about to build our brands online?
I"€™ve paraphrased several of the Brand Keys points here and added my own observations as well:
1) Value is the new black: Customers need the "€œreason to buy at all"€, it"€™s obvious that that any product has to be great value but the point here is the meaning behind the brand, to "€œme"€ as a the consumer. Answering the "€œwhy should I"€ at an emotional level. For digital marketers, that means you need to give your audience an amazing reason to visit, to remain on your site, to return, to refer and to give you their contact details. So "€“ think about your web content, web services or web functionality and if you create lead tools for data capture then ensure that they add value to the intended recipient rather than do the bare minimum. Imagine the impact if you aimed to give 10x the value to visitors, leads and customers at every touch point?
2) Brands are a surrogate for value: The value of goods and services will increasingly be defined by what"€™s wrapped up in the brand and what the brand stands for. Though not new, it"€™s more important when there are potentially thousands of people sharing stories about your brand online. "€œ"€¦true brands provide meaningful differentiation in a world over-run by commodities"€ notes Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president
3) Brand differentiation is brand value: The unique meaning of a brand will increase in importance as generic features continue to plague the brand landscape. Awareness as a meaningful market force has long been obsolete, and differentiation will be critical for success "€“ meaning sales and profitability. Differentiation online could be centred on simple, tangible things such as creating a rich, considered and personal online experience, promising security and adding value at each touch
4) The days of "€œBecause I Said So"€, tugging at consumer emotions and marketing trickery are over: This has been the case for some time, but I feel 2010 is where it will hit home, partly because of the financial debacle we face. There is a huge void of trust that"€™s compounded by boring commoditised markets "€“ consumers face a mass of undifferentiated brands that they don"€™t trust. So, go figure what you can do differently!
5) Smart brands will exceed customer expectations: This is difficult since those expectations are being driven higher by the latest technologies and innovations. How do you identify and capitalise on these unmet expectations and exceed them? Listen, participate and interact with existing and potential customers online "€“ add value where they"€™re searching and researching. In a digital age it"€™s never been easier, or cheaper, to do it
6) They won"€™t need to know you to love you: As the marketing and buying space becomes even more online-driven and international (and uncontrolled by brands and corporations), front-end awareness will become less important. A brand with the right street cred can go viral in days, with awareness following, not leading, the conversation. Think of brands that have done and are doing this "€“ a huge example being Google in the 90"€™s of course, but what about e-retailers Zappos in the US and ASOS in the UK, web services such as Facebook, Twitter, Basecamp and Flickr, and the much referred campaigns of Mentos, Blendtec, Burger King and Compare the Meerkat (admittedly the last 2 were well known anyway!)
7) It"€™s not just "€œbuzz"€: Let the consumer play a part in developing the brand by creating a place for them to do so. Conversation and community is all: ebay thrives based on consumer feedback, as does the newer Dell, Starbucks and IBM. If consumers trust the community, they will extend trust to the brand. Not just word of mouth, but the right word of mouth - and within a relevant context. This means the coming of a new era of customer care, and expectation of what customer care actually is. Check out tools like Uservoice to help you start doing it!
8) Give Back: My personal belief is that forward thinking brands today give something back to communities (digital or local) through sponsorship, donations or time. This creates word of mouth and helps people justify their brand loyalty, re-enforcing that you really are a "€˜different"€™ business, a business "€œfor me"€
9) Foster trust: Trust is the result of the points above, it"€™s fostered through doing these things well and maybe not something that you actually set out to achieve. We all have experiences of trusting some brands over others; they tend to be memorable experiences in their infrequency! There are tangible things that foster trust - security, online experience, even site navigation - and there are the intangible things where brands have made a real effort to understand "€œme"€ and what I value as the consumer. Done well it seeps out in everything a brand does because they"€™re not trying, they"€™re being genuine
10) Measure it!: If we"€™re monitoring, participating in and adding value to markets in a digital age, there really is no excuse for not getting the basics right to measure the result of your efforts online, on-site and around customer satisfaction. What you measure depends on what you"€™re doing "€“ and we"€™ll make that a post for next time