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How Marketing Leaders are Managing Brands in the Information Age
Marketing has changed more in the last 15 years than it did in the 50 years before that. New technology has introduced new products, media, and capabilities, changing how companies fundamentally approach their markets and service their customers. The complexity that this technological transformation has introduced is requiring marketers to take a step back and formulate a new approach to their own brand management.
Globally, businesses spend more than a trillion dollars annually on marketing. And CEOs are relying more and more on CMOs to deliver top line growth. Paradoxically, marketers are still struggling to prove that their efforts are moving the needle. McKinsey reported that in a recent survey, 75% of CEOs agreed that marketers “are always asking for more money but can rarely explain how much incremental business this money will generate.”
The complexity of our current Information Age is to blame. “Too often, expanding geographic footprints, product proliferation, and new arrays of channels and digital specialties have led to complex hierarchies, silos, communication gaps, and redundancies,” writes Jonathan Gordon and Jesko Perry in the latest McKinsey Quarterly.
But this moment of transformation will also serve as a launchpad for brands to seize the incredible possibilities now available to them. Think about who some of the fastest growing and most innovative companies are today and what makes them different? Tom Goodwin senior vice president of strategy and innovation at Havas Media sums it up:
“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.”
Besides their until-recently counterintuitive business models, what sets these brands apart? They see brand building as a systems function, not as a marketing activity. They’ve built themselves with technology at their core so that they are capturing value everywhere, whether it’s in their customer transactions, vendor relationships, or supply chain efficiencies.
Ultimately a brand is the sum of every interaction people have with it, no matter what business it’s in. Whether it represents a company, a community or a single individual, what makes a brand isn’t a single campaign, it’s a continuous process that touches vendors, investors, customers, and environment. These globally recognized brand all-stars have structures that make them agile and able to process real time feedback to adjust, improve, and deliver better products and services. And that is why they are not just leading the market, they are setting the expectations of all the stakeholders in the market.
What’s the formula for this kind of excellence?
In Percolate’s own conversations and work with marketing executives across the Fortune 500, we’ve seen the greatest elevation of brand—and revenue—when leaders operate around four strategic pillars:
1. Recruit, train and structure for integrated specialization
The evolving speed and complexity in modern marketing is making it harder or CMOs to staff teams of generalists, or rely on one or two agencies to provide solutions for all their marketing needs. Both internally and with external resources, marketing leaders need to organize for expertise around a new set of both creative and technical competencies.
2. Build agility and “startup thinking”
Today, some of the world’s largest and most iconic brands are actively working to turn themselves back into startups. For Pete Blackshaw, Nestle’s Global Head of Digital and Social Media, that means embracing digital as an operating principle, not just a way to communicate. To do this, Blackshaw and his management team helped set up a Nestle innovation lab that sits above the senior executive level in a Silicon Valley outpost. The lab’s goal is to influence how the entire enterprise learns, thinks through problems, and acts as nimble, entrepreneurial teams. Nestle’s lab operates much differently than the traditional brand “center of excellence” team, and is focused on actively developing products, strategies and disruptive approaches that can be operationalized at Nestle, like a digital product labeling system that communicates the nutritional value, sustainability and social impact of Nestle’s food.
In another example, retailer Under Armour acquired mobile fitness apps MyFitnessPal and Endomondo to assemble the world’s largest digital health community and capture networked awareness for its brand. By integrating these mobile networks with its Innovation Labs’ efforts to produce useful wearables and connected fitness offerings, Under Armour is creating low friction ways for customers to spend more time with the brand.
Why is Under Armour applying software strategies to retail? According to Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank:
Brands that do not evolve and offer the consumer something more than a product will be hard-pressed to compete in 2015 and beyond.
3. Establish a hub-and-spoke decision-making system
Structure needs to follow strategy, and as marketing evolves, departments, teams and responsibilities need to as well. As core brand pillars — your “big idea(s)” — become globalized faster by international, borderless channels like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, top performing marketing organizations are moving to more of a global-to-region model, where regional teams translate global ideas into regional — then ultimately local — action plans, media and campaign positioning.
4. Use Software to support brand consistency and best practices
Marketing leaders are being asked to manage increasing volumes of complexity — complexity across teams, channels, products, data and consumer’s media consumption behavior, to name a few. Humans aren’t always well positioned to handle these levels and layers of complexity, but thankfully (and increasingly), software is. Historically, marketing organizations have used software to track and manage digital traffic flows, e-commerce transactions and customer records, but rarely the brand itself, until now.
Compounding the need for more software throughout the brand management process is the fact that marketing is fundamentally repetitive. A TV campaign always has the same fundamental elements, so does a webinar, Facebook post, or email, and the criteria for what appropriately represents the brand compared to what is off brand remains largely constant over time. Software programs are much better at handling repetition, provided that they’re paired with skilled human decision-making layers on top to guide the brand values, mission, objectives and execution.
Brand Management in the Information Age
We recently published a white paper that compiles essays from Percolate Co-founders James Gross and Noah Brier, Product Manager Nate Stewart, and Director of Marketing Chris Bolman which all explore modern brand management and the relevance of technology in successful marketing strategy. Their essays look at modern brand management in the Information Age from four angles. They look at how the market is changing, how the framework for brand management is changing, how you organize your marketing activities is changing, and finally how you continue to improve is changing.
Brand management hasn’t changed in the 60 years since Procter & Gamble introduced the concept because this system was simple. Between radio, television, print, and physical retail locations, a marketer could reach all the people he or she wanted to reach just through those channels. The world couldn’t be more different now and brand management as we’ve known it doesn’t scale and definitely doesn’t keep up with the speed of technology. We’re excited for this moment of change.
Download our new white paper Brand Management in the Information Age.