For years there's been a gulf in working style between digital marketers and traditional brand managers. Digital marketers (and arguably all marketers) now work faster, with more flexibility, and with accelerating complexities to deal with -- their currency is response, action, and ultimately sales. Brand managers tend to work to a longer timeline, create carefully researched strategies, and set rules and guidelines -- their currency is insight and brand asset value. Both roles are crucial. Now, with the power of social media and the emergence of agile marketing, there's a golden opportunity for both teams to get closer and achieve much more.
A collaborative relationship between brand managers and digital marketers begins with addressing key questions:
- Where should brand management and digital marketing meet?
- Can marketing activity creation, approval, and implementation get more efficient and effective?
- How can digital marketers see brand management systems as a help and not a hindrance?
- How can brand managers strike the right balance between brand guidance and control and the marketer's freedom to iterate, innovate, and implement more effectively?
- How can brand managers "get" digital?
If we can close the gap and answer these questions, both teams will be more successful, and the organization will be more effective overall.
The answer to all these questions is to evolve brand management with the support of digital marketers. Keep the discipline of the current brand management systems, but add two new crucial elements. First, integrate social media moderation. Second, instill an agile marketing approach and mindset. Taking a closer look at each element in more depth, we can see how they relate and how this serves up a powerful new opportunity.
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.
Integrate social media moderation
There is a clear answer -- to combine social media moderation with a brand management system. Social media moderation is a powerful and rapidly accelerating practice. It has moved on considerably from the early days of reactive moderation of forums by PR interns to spot or react to a crisis. Now, a properly run social media program is a fully staffed or agency-run full-time operation. Operatives on a single brand or product can number in the several dozens and be deployed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Operatives have to be well trained, articulate, and passionate about their subject. They must proactively join conversations across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more on behalf of the brand by providing responses to consumers, multiplying discussion and campaign reach, guiding consumers to relevant resources, listening to opinion, and capturing sentiment.
More and more, the press is starting to take note of exceptionally well run social programs. Almost daily, advertising and business trades point to companies and brands that are a cut above in their efforts. And when a program is so effective that a traditional outlet such as Forbes pens a piece lauding the responsiveness of a video game's Twitter team, the irony is electric.
Social media moderation of this nature should be integrated into the ongoing brand management systems operated by major brands, rather than being a piecemeal or separate activity. It means the brand has a voice and an ear, but both are still on brand. It effectively creates the Holy Grail -- real-time brand management. It's "always on" while still being always on brand. Additionally, it also closes the gap, bringing brand managers and digital marketers together directly. However, the opportunity does not stop there.
Instill an agile marketing approach
Integrating a social media moderation process into a brand management system is a good step forward. But instilling an agile marketing approach will achieve an even more fundamental change. Combine the two, and you have the new, evolved approach to brand management.
My previous article "How to put agile marketing into practice" covered this in more detail. In a nutshell, the agile marketing approach says "big leaps" should be replaced by ongoing mini steps. It asks for a continual journey of "test, learn, commit" (TLC) loops instead of the traditional sequential design and development process known as waterfall in software development. Instead, agile development uses multiple sprints that produce vertical slices of a project making continual adjustments and -- where necessary -- abandoning directions to pursue entirely new iterations of the product slice. As for why an agile approach better positions an endeavor for success, there is no better parallel than Darwinian philosophy, where the most successful species are those are quickest to adapt.
If you instill an agile marketing mindset and way of working, then all marketers, whether brand, campaign, digital, PR, etc., have the freedom and gain the benefits of a continual TLC approach to marketing. The new brand management system, which incorporates social media moderation, finally provides the means for marketers to put the agile marketing theory into successful practice. A great recent example is EA's video game "Battlefield 3," where the social media team captured immediate feedback from the online community that the searchlight in one of the game sequences was distractingly bright. The consumer input was routed back to the product teams, which then rapidly developed a software patch with a new searchlight. Both the new change itself and the brand's speed of response turned active consumers into real appreciative advocates.
Social media moderation integrated into a brand management system -- let's call it an agile brand management system -- provides the entry points, data sources, and cultural catalysts to start putting a more agile marketing approach overall into action. It's an entry point because successful agile marketing depends on having the right tools in place for ongoing monitoring and awareness of the environment. Social media moderation generates valuable real-time data for this. It also provides a very powerful resource for test-bed and prototyping products, services, content, ideas, brand initiatives, and campaign ideas. It encourages more experiments and learning through doing. As such, it's one of the biggest potential catalysts for a change of culture from traditional to agile marketing.
The new brand management
Digital marketers have always been more agile than traditional marketers -- it's inherent in the technique of optimization in all digital marketing. By working more closely with brand managers, they now have the opportunity to reverse engineer their approach into the whole marketing organization, making the company truly more agile.
Brand management has not kept up with the challenges and opportunities of digital and social marketing to date, but it can step up into the new world if it embraces agile marketing in general and a new agile brand management system in particular. This creates a whole new world of possibilities for brand managers and digital marketers. It provides a way for marketers to have more freedom to experiment while still remaining on brand. It brings brand managers closer to real-time insight and engagement with their audiences via open, social, digital channels.
Simon Ward is director of strategic development at Ayzenberg.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
"Synchronized swimmers point" image via Shutterstock.
iMedia Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.