The power of branding and brand management
We all accept the power of branding. If you have a strong brand, you'll gain more customer preference, or command a price premium, or garner more loyalty, or a combination of all three. Leading brand consultancy Interbrand publishes the annual "Best Global Brands" report every year, showing a detailed and highly respected analysis describing and calculating the brand value of major organizations. Its most recent report defines the brand as "a living business asset." As opposed to a one-off logo or piece of design, a brand needs to be actively nurtured. As an asset, it needs constant management.
The need for ongoing brand management led to the rise of brand management systems about 12 years ago. Also known as "digital asset management systems," these are now highly sophisticated internal online portals that hold all the brand assets of a company. Leading brands such as Mercedes develop these sites so all marketers can access, modify, and deploy brand material -- including customizing ads -- and even develop new material using online approval workflows in an efficient manner.
People, processes, and systems such as these for managing brands are important and well established for most major brands. They ensure ongoing brand consistency, which is one of three foundations along with leadership and clarity of successful branding. They do this by keeping a company's actions "on brand." However, they have their limitations, and in the new world, they are struggling to cope.
Where brand management is failing
Brand management in general is still unclear about its role in the social world. Consultancies and their clients are addressing this in several ways, but it is clear that social channels have changed the fundamental relationship between brands and their audiences. In turn, this impacts every aspect of brand strategy and development. Any good opportunity for improving consumer input into an organization -- and therefore improving the brand's communication output to the world -- should be welcomed by any brand manager today. The recent McKinsey Quarterly article "Demystifying social media" showed one model for how consumers interact with social media. The article gives a clear pointer to where brand development and management should invest to influence what it calls "steps in the consumer decision journey." Within the journey, brand monitoring impacts every stage of customer decision-making. Social media acts as a driver for referrals and recommendations in the earlier stages, then again in monitoring and influencing customer input as its adoption of the brand evolves into advocacy and affinity.
Within branding overall, the brand management systems described earlier are particularly in danger of breaking down altogether. The reason is that they have been created to cater for static or big campaign media such as print, outdoor, TV, or direct, and they struggle to accommodate the more organic and dynamic nature of ongoing digital marketing. The usual reasons are that it becomes difficult to house, organize, and enable manipulation of every infinite digital campaign element compared to flat print. The systems struggle even more with social media communication, as you cannot pre-plan and pre-populate every conversation, given the less tangible "real people" and real-time nature of social communications. Good brand management systems are supposed to enable latitude within limits for marketers, staff, and other users to develop and use marketing materials. The problem is that current systems are good on the limits but cannot sufficiently provide the latitude for much digital and social marketing.