How 'always-on” can dissolve brand value – and how campaigns can build it.
Marketing is increasingly becoming a fight against last year’s model. Many seem to believe that the whole discipline needs to be redefined and reinvented annually – often at the expense of common business sense. So perhaps it’s time to revisit one of marketing’s oldest tenets – the campaign?
Nils Koch Jensen, Partner
Over the last decade the media landscape has fragmented and customers have gained access to endless information over a comparatively short time. Digital channels are in many ways empowering customers and increasing transparency.
It’s hard to argue with this fact, but what can be challenged is the way we choose to react. Some pundits state that you are not the one in control of your own brand any more – consumers are! They claim you cannot plan ahead, that having a vision for your brand is futile and that you constantly need to change direction to tap into current events, themes and conversations. They also suggest you need a large quantity of small content bites delivered across a high number of fragmented channels. You must be always-on before anything else.
The real-world implications of the always-on mind-set
Yes, brands need a constant market connection, but believing that a steady stream of content and social media posting will do the job is at best naive and at worst damaging. Always-on will quickly be always-wrong. So what are the real world implications for brands that have adopted a black-and–white approach to marketing where always-on is the sole guiding principle?
- Reduced brand strength and focus
Even with a stringent attempt to maintain focus, an always-on approach will inevitably fragment and scatter a brand’s presence across a broad range of agendas, events and themes. Communication is, and has always been, a battle for mind space.
20 years ago we claimed that a brand could only win consumers’ attention on two to three core themes that feed into its position and brand story. And the battle for mind space has never been more intense than in today’s digital era. So why do we keep trying to convince ourselves that a brand can talk into a plethora of themes and events with no immediate connection to your brand?
- Lack of internal direction
The stories you tell are part of building your brand. Nothing new in that. What is new is that an always-on approach demands a constant flow of content to maintain that push. The high demands for content stretches the organisation’s capacity to the maximum, and often results in high quantity, low quality and no shared direction.
- Lower marketing effectiveness
Even with the best of intentions there is a clear risk of investing in and focusing on content without having a strong digital infrastructure for efficient distribution to your target group – it is no different than the 80/20 rule in the print days. Back then massive investments were made to develop material that never saw the light of day as the majority of budget was gone before anything reached the market.
Are you ignoring the passive part of the market?
A market is often characterised with an active part that considers and searches for solutions and a passive part that is not in consideration mode. The implications of a sole focus on “always-on” is that brands often end up ignoring the passive market and spend all their resources on content that caters to the active market or existing client base.
It is too early to put the campaign in the grave
What we usually see is that the “always-on” concept leads marketeers running around trying to catch the latest fad, platform or technology – often at the expense of the bigger picture and business relevance. As an example we see brands, where the hundreds of millions Euro used to develop and launch the latest product range can not be supported by social media, as this doesn't fit the channel owners conversational calendar or show up in the buzz-graph.
In this fluid approach some core questions every marketeer should be able to answer are usually lost:
- Who are our core customers?
- What are the core pillars of our positioning?
- What markets and products are key priorities for our company?
- How are we supporting the company strategy?
- What themes drive the market and demand?
Thus, we believe that campaigns – or at least campaign thinking – can still be highly beneficial in the digital era and help marketeers address and prioritise these questions.
Also, many companies operate with indirect and direct customers, as well as internal customers in the shape of employees and sales people. Creating impact and enthusiasm across this hurdle race requires spearhead initiatives such as campaigns that cut through the clutter and give direction.
Building campaigns that are gimmick-driven, short-lived and based on campaign sites are not optimal either. Instead, companies should use campaigns to expand the current digital infrastructure and empower the brand. Too many campaigns are still executed as independent and short-sighted attempts to garner attention without aligning with the business strategy and the brand behind it.
Finally, rightly orchestrated campaigns take the nature of the channels and the customer journey into consideration. Campaigns have often been built around product launches, but they don't have to be. Smart marketeers also know how to tap into themes and messaging that is connected to earlier stages of the customer journey. It all depends on the specific challenges and opportunities your company faces. Do you need to educate your target group about a completely new approach within your industry? Or are you operating in a much more mature industry in which you need to convince the target group to use solution X instead of Y?
We are not objecting to assets, content and tools that improve the customer experience and meet customer demand– on the contrary. But we have experienced that “always-on” has mutated into something else. It is very often synonymous with uncontrolled content and channel proliferation, quickly becoming the antithesis to strategic rigor and business relevance. So when pundits state that “the campaign is dead”, companies should think carefully before following such advice.