Brand Management in the Unpredictable Digital Economy

It’s time to think really long and hard about how we’ll be using the global brand as a mechanism for growth and ensuring to think that way even when starting out from day one or even years down the business cycle to allow avenues to add products, expand markets all of which have serious implications when deciding the positioning of the brand. After the internet era, with a new flat world, CMOs need to think about how messages are interpreted across different markets to account for differences in geography, culture, language and especially variances in distribution. An easy concept but hard to implement.

If you look back 100 years ago, brands were very product focused, then they become customer focused so communication & promotion strategies talked about what it meant to the customers. In the world of social media, its customers talking to other customers about the brand and thus you risk losing control of the message unless there is a very strong brand community such that customers are transferring the message in the way that the CMO wants. Unless the CMO positions the brand in a very strong way and understands its DNA, you run the risk of detrimental or vague things being said.

Sustaining an Advantage
The ideal approach is to plan the DNA for the long term but its hard to predict what the world will look like even a day later, how competitors and suppliers respond and so the brand is constantly evolving in its space. The way around that is to

  • constantly monitor positioning,
  • listen in on the customer voice,
  • keeping the brand fresh,
  • analyze what the competition is doingdigitaleconomy

To do all this with flair is to be market aware; there’s a lot of metrics in brand valuation and marketing professionals need to defend budgets with finance counterparts and to do that understanding the brand value is key and what the customers are saying underlying exposed statements. Allowing customers to use metaphors and pictures (non verbal communication) to express their feelings about the brand and what it represents is also a new outcome attainable from social media. The key components in achieving the consistent voice is the brand positioning so figuring out

  • frame of reference
  • competitive set
  • point of difference
  • emotional and personal characteristics

The last point is critical. If you have a target user in mind, it helps hone in on one communication strategy and sharper focus so while everyone may own an Apple, the target user is someone who codes or designs for a living. This in no way limits who might buy the brand but provides a clearer vision of what that brand is. There can be no better guide than a very clear positioning and image for the brand. Research from Stanford’s Jennifer Aaker identified five brand traits: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness. If you have a brand voice within Facebook, is it a consistent voice that’s going and that’s another way of thinking about the personality of the brand.

Brand Building Challenges & Solutions
The first challenge is that its expensive and justifying the expense. Another challenge is change; the competition, market and finding a way to stay relevant within that change and so one of the mistakes my clients make is not thinking of themselves as a global brand leaving them limited in their vision & message. Keeping the brand modern, relevant and responsive (customer needs, market forces). Social media can be a great advantage in overcoming these challenges, with inexpensive community management measures for instance. There’s no stronger recommendation for a brand than one customer to another and an authentic message. On the other hand, brands have little control over the online communities.

Brand management principles that companies need to adopt is having customer focus, understanding them & how they think about the brand on the path to purchase. The second component to think about is your brand relative to the competition (positioning – simple, quick & compelling). The third principle is measurement and having a brand report with metrics identifying brand health and the outcomes communication or paid initiatives have in steering the conversation in a positive direction. Finally its important to think about how the brand can be used to launch more products and into different markets so instill a consistent communication mechanism – how to use logos, color, advertising, tactics for staying fresh.

A strong global brand that follows these guidelines enjoys instant recognition, has the ability to launch line products under itself, has high awareness, has high recall for a specific utility (Search=Google, Photocopy=Xerox), so a strong brand with a long term and global approach gifts itself an enormous advantage.

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