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I was recently on a panel discussing the future of brands and the overwhelming consensus was that brand custodians have to ensure their strategies are robust for their brands to remain relevant. How to go about doing that while operating in the online and social space is a little more complex.
The panel identified immediacy as the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge. Brands must engage and communicate with their stakeholders. In the past, when a brand issue came up, a simple ‘no comment’ was sufficient to dampen down the story. Now brands are challenged — or praised — in real-time by an extremely assertive global audience. Brands must therefore be ready to respond. Anything else would be brand suicide, because in the absence of a response, consumers make up their own stories which may be detrimental to the brand.
The components of a responsive brand
One of the questions raised by the panel was whether, given this requirement for agile responsiveness, a brand management plan is still relevant.
The answer to that was a resounding yes. A brand must always remain true to itself, and its values must be encapsulated in the plan. The online or social media space is merely a platform for a conversation with customers. The only difference is the speed at which it’s happening.
This requires that brands have the right people in place – both at their own offices and at their agencies — and that those people have the correct expertise and training to champion the brand in an immediate and challenging environment.
This first line of brand defense needs to be on the ball and available 24/7 to oversee what’s happening in that space. Both the agency and the client need to be fully on board with the brand strategy and how it’s expressed to deal with these requirements.
Old brand values, new tricks
It’s not just young brands that excelling at this though. Take Coca-Cola for example: it’s an age-old brand that has stayed relevant across two centuries. One area where the company has especially excelled is in embracing the social space through activations — so elegantly expressed in the past year in the “Share a Coke” campaign. This campaign saw people’s names printed on coke cans and bottles, creating a social media frenzy as people found their own names and those of friends.
It’s this kind of thinking – expressing the same value that a brand has always held in new ways to take advantage of the social platforms – that will yield success.
Even new brands must reinvent
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Google, a brand that topped the scores in the BrandZ 100 Most Valuable Global Brands because of its innovative and strategic approach to marketing. Google is an online company, but even so, it has kept itself current and “future proof” by constantly reinventing itself and staying customer centric – even so far as branching out into physical products.
Google has perfected the art of listening to the crowd. They respond to consumer needs in a speed of light. As a company that has only been in existence for 16 years, they have become as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola in that time. They’ve gone from being a search engine to becoming a brand presence in most of our everyday lives. This kind of success happens at the nexus of innovation and marketing.
For this reason, it is vital for companies to identify agencies that will understand and support their strategies and will carry their brand communications through from creation to execution, based on a deep understanding of the basics of branding and all the ways in which these can be expressed.
Image: David Grant via Flickr.