Tech: The Great Smokescreen for Marketers?

Remember the children’s folktale, the Emperor’s New Clothes? It was only the little boy who was willing to voice the fact that the vain emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes at all. I think something similar is happening in marketing at the moment – and brand decision makers have provided the data to prove it.

General consensus says that every marketer must devote him or herself to mastering digital challenges and opportunities in order to build a successful brand in today’s world. Whether it’s tussling with the intricacies of programmatic media buying or struggling with social media mentions of the brand, it’s generally accepted that everything online is potentially both the saviour and the destroyer of a brand.

But actually, it turns out that marketers are most concerned with issues that are much more basic and far less glamorous – and which could be labelled as ‘old marketing’: how their organisation can be ‘Rigorous & Disciplined’ enough to consistently deliver on their brand promise; how core ‘Value’ can be created from their brand; how to motivate and mobilise ‘People’ in their organisation well enough, so that they embody the value proposition and positive tone of the brand?

Counter-intuitive back-to-basics priorities for brands

The evidence for the urgency of these back-to-basics goals comes from the contribution from over 300 brand decision makers (CEO’s, CMO’s) in the past four months. The structure of the study was provided by the usage of our Strategic Brand Assessment Tool – you can get your own brand report on: http://thestrategicbrand.net/brand-system/assess-your-brand/.

The tool is derived from the experience that most efforts to build an Enduring Strategic Brand can be divided into 14 dimensions – we call them the 14 brand Imperatives, which we must master to succeed. From ‘Crisis Resilient’ to ‘Customer Centric’ or ‘Connected’, these elements are all essential but individual brands will differ in the extent to which they perform at each. In my book ‘THE Enduring Strategic Brand’ published in 2017 – http://thestrategicbrand.net/who-we-are/our-book/, I look in detail at each imperative and analyse how well 20 ‘Exemplary’ brands perform at them and why.

The brand assessment tool asked the brand decision makers to analyse the relative strength of their brands on each of the 14 imperatives – and you can see their consolidated self-assessment for these ‘Participating’ brands as the filled shape in the diagram below.

This is illuminating on a number of fronts, notably showing these senior business people comfortable with their brands on the more tech-related elements of ‘Future Embracing’ or ‘Connected’. In contrast, they are most worried and feeling the need to put much bigger efforts for their brand on the more traditional imperatives, for example being ‘Rigorous & Disciplined’ or ‘High Value & Driving Value’.

Further interesting results come up when we cross-reference the scorings of the ‘Participating’ brands (as a valid representation of all brands) versus ‘Exemplary’ brands (as the benchmark for brands). This can help brand builders re-learn important lessons – and notably to avoid focusing almost excessively on their digital mastery to the detriment of other vital imperatives.

The true priorities for brands

In the matrix below, you can see the performance of the ‘Participating’ brands on the X-axis and this of the ‘Exemplary’ brands on the Y-axis. These are world-class brands like Unilever, Toyota or Airbnb, so no surprises that they rank highly on most imperatives, such as ‘Clarity of Purpose’ and ‘High Value & Driving Value’. But no brand of course is perfect, and they tend to score lower on drivers like creating ‘Joy’ and being ‘Crisis Resilient’.

So, what does each of the four boxes tells us in practice:

Your brand ‘Anchors’ – Top right blue quadrant. When ‘Exemplary’ and ‘Participating’ brands are both relatively strong, these imperatives are what define the brand positively. As you can see, brand decision makers believe their brand is indeed ‘Future Embracing’ – the ability to anticipate and even create the future in the 4th industrial revolution context. They also believe their brands have ‘Clarity of Purpose’ and are ‘Trusted’. So how come that brands seem to never stop chasing the future and feeling challenged by their stakeholders… and shouldn’t they somewhat rebalance the emphasis?

Your brand ‘Sentence of Death’ – Top left red quadrant. Having ‘Exemplary’ brands strong and ‘Participating’ brands (i.e. most brands) weak represents a deeply meaningful negative gap and high vulnerability. The leaders of ‘Participating’ brands put in this category: ‘Rigorous & Disciplined’ – the ability to execute the brand promise consistently; ‘Value Creation’ – the ability of a brand to drive value and carry value itself; ‘Customer Centric’ – the cultural, strategic and operational ability to focus on customers; and ‘Partnering’ – the practice of collaboration for mutual gain. There is urgency to act here!

Your brand ‘Massive Opportunity’ – Lower left amber quadrant. When ‘Exemplary’ brands are relatively weaker, strengthening the imperatives in this quadrant for your own brand can create a true strategic advantage. Imbuing ‘Joy’ is distinctively a brand driver that many of the best brands fail on – and so represents a huge opportunity for marketers who can develop this. In the ‘Enduring Strategic Brand’ book, we explore the ‘science of joy’ and the best practicing brands.

Your brand ‘Strategic Advantage’ – Lower right green quadrant.  Here, you find relatively strong ‘Participating’ and weaker ‘Exemplary’ brands. This is a place of relative advantage for Participating (i.e. most) brands. Unfortunately, brand decision makers hardly position any brand imperative in this most desirable position… where we need to push more brands.

Three focused actions for brands

From this analysis let’s conclude three important actions for brands:

Firstly, somewhat recalibrate the obsessive brand focus and efforts on digital and tech matters, to avoid getting lost in the noise of the latest digital flash and focus on what is truly strategic.

Secondly, bring the basics of ‘Rigor & Discipline’, ‘Value Creation’, ‘Customer Centricity’ and ‘Partnering’ to become anchors for your brand in our brave new world – as old-fashioned as this might sound.

Thirdly, bring ‘Joy’ to your brand, as this could become a major differentiator given that so few are doing this well.

This is all about strengthening the foundations of your brand – irrespective of the digital techniques that might be employed to promote or operate it. Leaders of the ‘Participating’ brands are not saying those aren’t important of course, but they are also claiming that “forget the basics and your house won’t last long”.