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Stop sending your emails to spam - strategic brand management

Are we paranoid, or is every brand out to get us?

Well, according to Ford Motor Company’s 2020 Trends Report, this seems to be the consumer consensus, with a growing number becoming increasingly sceptical of the tactics brands are deploying.

Staggeringly, more than three-quarters of respondents from the U.S. (77%), the U.K. (79%) and Spain (79%) report growing mistrust. Worse still, 67% of adults say that once a brand loses its trust, there’s no getting it back.
Some experts have pointed their fingers towards the “content boom”; an overreliance on creating media at all costs.

“The ad-revenue model caused the normalization of content quantity over quality, but it was also the catalyst for consumer distrust,” said Devron Smith in ‘How the content boom created consumer mistrust’ for Ad Age.
The thing is, if nobody trusts the ads, what do we think about the brands that are creating them?

The perils of spam tactics over strategic thinking

Shann Biglione, Head of Strategy at The Drum, believes there’s a growing trend in predicting the death of brands - often because of a decline in advertising creativity and engagement.

But maybe we’re overlooking other important aspects that keep a brand healthy.

You know, like strategy.

“Even if we posited that advertising really is dying, the syllogism clearly has its limits. It first assumes that brands cannot find other ways to market themselves, while we know branding has been doing well since the dawn of civilisation (cults excelled at branding long before Coca-Cola refreshed our spirits),” she argues in ‘People who predict the death of brands don’t understand why they exist’ from Eat Your Greens.

Makes sense that could be the industry’s overused tactics that have become tired to consumers - not the brands themselves.

Take the concept of email marketing for example.

“Many email-sending brands seem to have become so obsessed with the professional gamesmanship of email marketing that they have decoupled it from the customer’s experience,” says Ian Bogost in ‘What Are Stores Even Thinking With All These Emails?’ for The Atlantic.

“When a marketing email is effective, it feels great to receive. But getting it right requires an unlikely alignment of the stars: your shifting desires, the mailbox providers’ changing data and algorithms, the email-sending companies’ ability to cut through that murk on behalf of brands, and the brands’ ability to target you with relevant messages at the optimal moment,” he continues.

As brands, we’re often stuck in a vicious cycle of doing the same thing over and over. But you know what? It doesn’t have to be this way.

Just consider Coca-Cola’s self-fulfilling prophecy from 1959 for a minute:

“If we, in presenting Coca-Cola to our consumers, are content to do ordinary things in an ordinary way, we must of necessity be content to become, and remain, an ordinary product,” said the brand’s advertising director Delony Sledge in a letter to J. Paul Austin, then president of The Coca-Cola Export Company.

“If, on the other hand, we determine to do extraordinary things in an extraordinary way, we are perfectly safe in assuming that we will create, in the minds of our consumers, an image of an extraordinary product,” he continued.

Because if everyone’s doing the same thing, isn’t it high time to try a different strategy? Tom Roach, vice-president of brand planning at Jellyfish, thinks so:

“...anyone who insists there’s only one way to solve your problem isn’t trying to solve your problem, they’re probably trying to sell you their solution,” he said in ‘Do you have a marketing philosophy?’ for Marketing Week.
But all too often we’re creating a new problem whilst trying to solve another; the issue being: we don’t know ourselves - let alone our customers.


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Sound strategists understand their customers (and themselves)

According to Kevin Lane Keller in Strategic Brand Management, “...a brand is not merely a representation of a product: it is an emotional and symbolic perception we develop that influences our thoughts, feeling, and behaviour.”

But to create that emotional connection and have any chance of influencing thoughts and feelings, we’ve got to create the best perception of ourselves.

Difficult without a sound strategy; near impossible when our own perceptions of ourselves are so off.
Because worryingly, research by Stackla revealed 92% of marketers believed that almost all of the content they were sharing was seen as authentic by consumers when, in reality, over 50% thought the opposite.

“That overestimation on the part of marketers isn’t surprising, and reinforces the need for empathy, understanding and testing. Get to know your consumers, their values, their ethics and don’t just view your brand through the eyes of your customer. Check in with them to ensure that perception matches their lived experience,” says Rahil Raj in ‘Why 2021 Should Be The Year Challenger Brands Embrace Trust’ for Entrepreneur Europe.

Hmmm, sounds suspiciously like strategic brand management...

Strategic brand management - what it is and how to nail it

According to Oskar Duberg, Content Director at Frontify, strategic brand management is “...a combination of methods aimed at helping you put into words the uniqueness and identity of your brand – allowing you to increase quality in communication and customer touchpoints, for a stronger brand and (ultimately) enhanced selling power.”

Although there are lots of moving parts to consider, these are the four key stages of strategic brand management:

Aligning your brand positioning statements, character, story and values

Without a doubt, these are the most important pieces of the puzzle. Before you do anything else, you need to take the time to understand your place in the market. What do you have that your competitors don’t and how can you create a sense of distinction from the pack? And if your unique value proposition isn’t so different, this is where your character archetype, brand story and values can do the heavy lifting. So, just ensure your tone of voice and visual identity are unique compared to the competition and you’re guaranteed to find an edge; it’s when brands follow the crowd that they run into trouble. But getting this stuff down doesn’t just make you feel more complete to your customers; it builds a better brand for your employees, too.

This leads us to our next point...

Centralising all of your brand assets

Once you’ve got this information summarised into a handy set of guidelines, you need to ensure that everyone in your organisation knows where to find them and, crucially, is using the right version.

Our own Digital Asset Management (DAM) solutions: Asset Bank & Dash can act as a centralised hub for your brand bible, logos, photos and any other bits of media your team uses. DAM solutions also put a stop to lengthy file transfers and those endless trawls through various drives and desktops - saving that one brand guardian a massive headache. But aside from freeing up space on the desktop and improving file management, it helps portray a consistent vision of your brand.

Essential for those all-important customer perceptions online...

Monitoring your brand reputation online

It’s important to stay true to who you are as a brand and not be too reactionary. However, you don’t want to bury your head in the sand either and watch your competitors evolve with the market without you.

Sentiment analysis and social listening tools like Brandwatch and MonkeyLearn can give you an accurate picture of how people really feel about your brand. Because you may not be able to control the narrative, but you shouldn’t be oblivious to it either.

We’ve detailed some branding tools that can help you click with your audience here.

Measuring and analysing your brand performance

In terms of strategic brand management, this goes way beyond the usual web traffic numbers, social impressions and Google Analytics reports; we need to dig deeper to get the full story. Frontify recommends checking in on your internal branding, e.g. values, positioning and company culture; externally-facing assets, e.g. content marketing, social media and PR and your customer experience, e.g. sales processes and customer support. Then ask yourself: are these in line with your overarching vision?

And to double-check, you can use Virtual Marketing Professor Mark Ritson’s handy brand diagnosis. Take a deep dive into your brand’s origins and look at the following:

  • Location - going back to where your brand was actually born
  • Heritage - study the archives and look at your brand’s heritage
  • Founders - speak to those who created the brand (or read about them)
  • Secondary data - look at all of the supporting evidence you can find
  • Loyalty data - talk to customers and find out why they love (or loved) the brand
  • Survey the wider market - revealing what the drivers and where any gaps are
  • Focus groups - spare some budget to test your position with desired customers, too

Sure, this all takes time. And it’s tricky to prioritise tasks like this when your Trello board are already spiralling out of control. But how can you ever have a clear idea of where you’re going if you don’t understand why you started in the first place?

With so many organisations vying for our attention and losing a little more trust with every underbaked display ad or impersonal email, we need strategic brand management now more than ever.

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