Catalyst Branding

The Changing Role Of Brand In The Digital Economy

January 18, 2017

I spent the holidays pondering how the role of brand is changing in the midst of digital transformation.

As branding grew to prominence, important branding practitioners defined the role of brand as a decision enabler, information source and risk mitigator.  Brand helped guide customers to better purchase decisions.

As we shifted into the experience economy, practitioners evolved their thinking to focus on defining the role of brand as actions that contribute to a more fulfilling experience.  In fact when you look at new brands like Airbnb and Uber, the brand and the experience are one in the same.  The brand simply took shape as the experience gained traction.

Lately, many thinkers postulate that the role of brand is to define the organization’s purpose.  They hold that purpose driven brands are uniquely capable of forging emotional based connections with employees, b2b and b2c customers. This is especially true when building an employer brand strategy,

My sense is that brand plays all of these roles, but no one of these ladders up to the primary role for brand in the digital economy.  A review of practitioner websites yielded no consensus.  In fact, it led to more questions than answers.  It seems that the branding world is at an inflection point with little clarity as to the path forward.

So I spent time during the holiday break speaking with everyday customers – both consumers and professionals.  I wanted to understand their unvarnished views of the role brand plays in their lives.

As I imagined, brand continues to play all of these roles – decision catalyst, experience clarifier and purpose specifier.  However, a new, very important primary role, emerged from these discussions.

Digital transformation gives customers new tools to develop and maintain relationships with the things that are important in their lives.  With these tools, relationships transcend physical limitations of time and proximity.

The biggest shift for brands in the digital economy is the desire by customers of all types to forge real relationships with the brands in their lives. http://catalystbranding.com/blog/relationship-branding-brandings-next-chapter/  Whether it be b2b or b2c, customers are increasingly demanding active dialogues with brands throughout the purchase process and beyond.

Within this quest for active relationships, a new, very important role for brand emerges.  The people I interviewed seek to “personify” the products and services they are engaging with.  The most successful brands do a good job in establishing “who” the brand is in the relationship, so that customers and prospects find them more relatable and desirable.

As with human to human relationships, this is accomplished through a combination of physical attractiveness, magnetic personality and the promise of mutual value exchange.

Physical attractiveness piques and retains attention.  Humans are drawn to what they find physically attractive, but attractiveness alone is not sufficient.  It is simply the gateway to establishing the relationship.

Personality enhances attractiveness.  It’s the magnet that draws individuals together.  It establishes the basis for relatability and, holding attractiveness constant, is the prime source for differentiation.  Just think of your group of friends.  It’s personality that distinguishes one from another and is often the reason you’re drawn more closely to one over the others.

The promise of mutual value exchange distinguishes true relationships from simple acquaintances.  People have room in their lives for few real relationships.  The important ones transcend attractiveness.  The “worth my time” question is ultimately answered through a relatable value proposition that speaks to real needs – both rational and emotional.

Together, these three aspects “personify” the brand to encourage the connections needed to forge relationships.

Well developed, they fulfill the central role of brand in the digital economy – to humanize the brand so that prospects and customers are encouraged to build the relationships they seek with the brands that are important to the ways they live, work and play.

Posted under: Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy, Marketing Strategy

Relationship Brands: Branding’s Next Chapter

October 11, 2016

As millennials become  more influential than boomers,  branders are quickly realizing that current practices need to be rethought to meet the demands of this transformative cohort.

Recent studies reveal that millennials are demanding brands to develop more individualized relationships http://catalystbranding.com/blog/millennials-transforming-branding/, but there’s little consensus around what that actually means for the practice of branding.

Stepping back, it’s clear to me that the answer lies in better understanding the notion of relationships.

Millennial relationships are digital based. These relationships seamlessly flow between virtual and physical worlds.  Interaction is as much through text and social media tools as it is through face-to-face experiences.

In this digital world, the distinctions between people and entities blur.  Millennials expect  the entities they interact with to relate to them in the same fashion as the individuals in their lives.

Relationship mores shape expectations regarding behavior in the digital world as they have through history in the physical world.  Examining these mores closely provides the clues needed to build the type of relationships required to fulfill millennial demand.

Trust & empathy are the foundation

As a starting point, it’s been true through time that trust and empathy provide the foundation for sustained relationships.  Answering the “Can I trust you?” and “Do you get me?” questions help to breed the confidence so critical to building meaningful, long-term relationships.

Role defines strength

The difference between meaningful relationships and mere acquaintances is often determined by the role that relationship plays in our lives. The more meaningful the role, the more important the relationship.  Relationship brands must understand the roles that are needed and be very clear as to the role they wish to play in the lives of their millennial customers.

Personality differentiates

Personality is an underleveraged differentiator.  Think of your circle of friends.  What distinguishes one from another?  Often it’s personality that defines the difference.  Relationship brands need to learn to use their distinctive personality as a means for standing apart.

Interaction behavior must change

Relationship mores are very clear when it comes to acceptable and unacceptable ways of interacting.  Dominating conversations, talking too much, talking only about yourself and constantly interrupting are all unacceptable relationship behaviors.  Yet these characterize most brand behavior in advertising, promotion and social media.  Relationship brands need to transform these interaction styles.

Doing beats saying

In a good relationship, doing is more important than saying.  People who promise and fail to deliver are universally derided.  Relationship brands need to make delivery the priority.

Staying fresh is key

Finally, great relationships evolve through time to stay relevant in the lives of the participants.  Relationship brands need to anticipate how customer needs will transform as the relationship progresses in order to stay fresh and relevant through time.

I find it amazing how often a return to fundamentals can provide the insight needed to navigate major inflection points.  When it comes to my world of branding, a re-examination of the fundamentals of relationship behavior provides real insight as to what brands need to stop doing and what they need to begin doing once again in order to be right for the expectations of a significant new cohort.

Millennials demand relationship brands.  This simple lens can help us discover just how to be the type of brand that will be right for them, both now and into the future.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy

How Millennials Are Transforming Branding

September 21, 2016

Traditional Branding On The Cusp of Disruption

Several studies reveal that traditional marketing and branding disciplines are losing their impact when it comes to serving millennials.  Credibility and differentiation are no longer earned simply through what we say.  Instead, they’re established by what we do and what others say about us.

How Millennials Decide

Millennials make purchase decisions in a manner uniquely theirs:

They learn as much as they can

They share with their trusted network to gather a consensus of opinion

They strive to forge a two way relationship

They demand discussion and responsiveness

They’re drawn to the authentic – those who do what they say and are true to what they promise

They’re motivated by customized “deals”

“Value” is the prime driver

 

The Role of Brand is Different for Millennials

The role of brand is about shaping a narrative that defines who you are in a potential relationship:

What you believe

Why you exist

What you do to deliver on this reason for being

How you do it

Personality is more critical than ever:

Personifies the brand

Humanizes the relationship

Shapes communication style – verbal and visual

Guides behavior – relating, teaching, solving, delivering

 

Selling is bad.  Sharing and teaching are good.

Millennials seek to be better equipped to make the decision themselves.  They don’t want others making the decision for them and telling them what to do.

 

Branding is necessary, but no longer sufficient

Millennials need to be engaged as they live. Interrupting them and forcing them to listen to you turns them off.  This is one of the major reasons so many are turning away from cable to streaming content. Advertising as we know it is no longer the most effective engagement mechanism.

The new challenge is capturing their attention in the context of how they live.  Giving them the information they need to teach themselves and allowing them the freedom to engage with you as they prefer through the channels they choose to use.

If you’re successful in engaging them, they will demand an active dialogue.  They will expect you to shape your offer for them based upon what you’re learning in that process.

They will share intensely.  If they see you as right for them, all of their friends will know about you and will be encouraged to give you a try.  If, however, you turn them off, then rest assured that all in their network will know about it.

Relevance continues to be an important driver.  But the definition of relevance is expanded to include both what you offer and who you are in the context of a potential relationship.

Authenticity makes or breaks a relationship.  “Are you true to who you say you are?” Is the core question millennials constantly ask.  This is the foundation of the new trust.

Responsiveness is also key.  Do you hear me and are you willing to show me how much you’re prepared to shape your offer for me based upon what you know about me?

 

In Conclusion

Branding, engagement and delivery are all one in the same for millennials.  They want to form a relationship with an authentic source of value who will commit to being true to their word in promise and deed, engage with them in an active dialogue, shape their offer to meet their desires, deliver in all the ways promised and reward them for their loyalty to you.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy, Marketing Strategy, Success Driving Briefs

Need to Work On Your Brand? Coaching May Be The Best Way to Go.

September 13, 2016

Enhancing Brand Consulting Effectiveness

Since founding Catalyst five years ago, we’ve been working to hone the effectiveness of traditional brand consulting engagements.   Our clients told us that the big firms take too long and cost too much.  They’re seeking a faster and more cost effective alternative.

We were able to fulfill their requests by delivering a new model that actually increased outcome quality through a streamlined process that was both faster and less expensive.  By giving clients complete access to the best minds in the firm – those capable of working both smarter and faster – we’ve been able to create business enhancing solutions in less than half the time, for a third of the fees the big firms are charging.

Coaching as an Alternative

Along the way, a select number of clients have started to ask for a new type of engagement.  These clients have a strong staff with significant internal capabilities. They’re confronting a new reality where brand alone, while necessary, is no longer sufficient to build attention and engagement needed to spur demand. And they’re being asked increasingly to serve a C-Suite role that integrates marketing and culture to grow revenue and deliver a compelling customer experience.

These clients don’t need an outside firm to come in, do their work and deliver an externally produced branding solution.  Instead, they seek external expertise to coach, guide and teach their internal staff to create their own integrated branding, marketing and customer experience solutions.

The Benefits of Coaching

This approach has many benefits.  Most of all, because the internal team created the solution, they tend to be more committed to doing all it takes to make it successful.  The process of taking ownership breeds the collaboration required to create truly integrated solutions across marketing and customer experience.  Furthermore, the solutions tend to be more organic in that they are actively managed and easily honed  to respond to internal & external catalysts.

Finding the Right Coach

The challenge lies in finding the right coaching partner.  As with all other forms of coaching,  a branding coach that follows a rote process for each and every challenge is the wrong way to go.  Instead, it is important to find a coach who has the expertise to work within models and frameworks that are right for the individual firm.  Most clients already have institutionalized frameworks.  If that isn’t the case, most talented teams have experience with particular frameworks that will ease the developmental process.  If neither is the case, the coach needs to be able to tailor the right framework  to the firm’s needs given the nature of how decisions are made.

The Coach’s Role

First, the coach must guide the team through the process of defining the real business challenge and/or opportunity to be addressed in order to spur demand, ignite growth or neutralize competition.

Second, the coach helps the team to understand market psychology, identify inflection points, map strengths and weaknesses and determine territories for viable long-term positioning based upon relevance and differentiation.

Third, the coach guides the team to chart the customer experience by mapping the path to purchase and the journey to loyalty.  Each touchpoint needs to be identified and evaluated.  From this, the team determines the fit and strengths of the current brand identity system and frames a plan to retain, refine or transform the brand to fulfill the opportunity.

Fourth, the coach helps the leader shape the resourcing plan – coordinating internal resources and identifying best in class external resources to manage the process of creative exploration, refinement and finalization.  The coach also plays a very important role with the C-Suite, reinforcing the leader’s recommendations and providing the context key decision makers need to evaluate proposed solutions.

Fifth, the coach guides the various teams through the process of creating execution plans for marketing and customer experience to optimize the paths to purchase and loyalty.  In the process, the coach identifies key training requirements and works with the leader to develop internal team skills.

Finally, the coach works with the leader to institutionalize a program for success measurement, on-going evaluation, strategy refinement and new opportunity identification.  This ensures a constant state of readiness and enables an organic go to market solution.

The Brand Coach – My Favorite Way to Engage

For me, this is a welcome new development.  My most enjoyable and successful programs resulted from, or evolved into, this type of coaching relationship.  The clients I’ve worked with would testify that this approach yields team buy-in and executional effectiveness more successfully than traditional models.  It’s an approach best suited for the dynamic demands faced by today’s marketing organizations.

Reach out if you’d like to know more – david.martin@catalystbranding.com

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Marketing Strategy

7 Lessons For Marketers From The 2016 Campaign

March 30, 2016

While for many the 2016 presidential campaign has been painful to watch, there’s key learning – both good and bad – for marketers to apply in crafting and executing our marketing plans.

If you want to establish a powerful and unassailable position, connect with core needs.

The reason why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have drawn disproportionately large crowds to their events is that they’ve both tapped into the politically disenfranchised in a powerful way. While going about it with differing messages, these two polarizing candidates have drawn important support by connecting with these target’s core concerns. In the process, they’ve fostered strong convictions that defy logic.

While it’s important to have a strategy, success often depends on tactical opportunism.

The successful candidates in this race are masters at counterpunching. They rule the news cycle by taking advantage of events as they unfold. They thrive by listening carefully and responding quickly to capitalize on opportunities as they arise.

Differentiation and neutralization are equally important.

We all know it’s important to differentiate our offer from competition, but success in this race has been as much about neutralizing competitive advantages as it has been about differentiation. This one is tricky for there’s a fine line between success and alienation. But, it’s becoming increasingly clear that marketers need to bring neutralization messages into our narrative to help distinguish our offer, particularly if we’re challenging the status quo.

Authenticity remains critically important.

It’s important to remain true to who you are if you want to build meaningful connections. One of the most promising candidates going into the campaign is no longer a factor in the race because he morphed his persona three times in the course of the campaign. Targets sniff that out fast and quickly turn away if you fail the genuine test.

Mechanical repetition of key talking points can alienate targets.

Marketing today is about building a dialogue. That same candidate’s waterloo moment came in the midst of a national debate where he mechanically repeated his key talking points over and over in the face of critical onslaught. It turned many interested voters off and cost him valuable ground, which he never recovered. Targets want to be talked with, not at.

Influencers can be effective if they are credible.

We’ve seen a marked dilution of the impact of endorsement in this campaign. Does that mean influencers are no longer valuable? Research tells us that third party endorsement remains one of the most powerful catalysts in the buying decision for both consumer and b2b targets. But, targets must believe the endorser’s message. They just can’t say it. It must be credible.

The impact of traditional marketing media is on the wane.

Fascinatingly, attack ads are not working in this election as they have in prior contests. The most polarizing, yet successful candidate has leveraged free media and relied primarily on Twitter and Instagram as his social media of choice. This has worked gloriously for him. Targets are consuming media as they live today. New channels are reaching people more effectively than traditional channels. It’s time marketers take notice.

These are some of the key lessons I’ve taken away. I’m sure there are many more insights that each of you have gleaned from this process. I’d love to know what they are. Please share.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding