It wasn’t so long ago that the success of the marketing director was measured by delivering a perfectly controlled product message through a big budget advertising campaign on prime-time TV. Today, marketing directors have to deliver their messages through always-on, disparate channels 24/7, 365 days a year. One-way messaging has become two-way dialogue as brands seek to create hyper-personalised, multi-dimensional experiences for their customers.
So how do marketers have any hope of driving brand consistency? And in a world where consumers want hyper relevant experiences, and brands need to mean different things to different consumers on different channels, is it even necessary?
Well yes, and no. Recent research from Adobe and Econsultancy shows that for 61 percent of European marketers ensuring consistency of message across channels is important for their future digital marketing plans. But increasingly marketers have to hand over some degree of brand control to their consumers. And feel comfortable about doing so.
This can be as simple as equipping consumers with guard-rails to invent their own brand story. Coca-Cola is a great example of this, and in fact, it has tasked itself to be the “consumer-centric beverage brand” of the digital age. Its “name” and “destination” bottle promotion encouraged consumers to develop and share their own brand stories on social media, while using beautifully branded products.
But to do this well marketers should listen to their consumers and respond at pace. They need to distribute their products and services across different platforms and third parties, which will involve loss of control over how a customer experiences their brand, but offers access to many more contexts and channels. Spotify, for example, has embraced this atomization. It's music streaming service is available across multiple digital platforms, including desktop, iOS, Android, Sonos home entertainment, and Samsung Smart TV.
"It fits into your life wherever you are. You can even change the pace of the music according to the pace you run when it's used in conjunction with Runkeeper," says Thomas Müller, Head of Design, Fjord EALA, part of Accenture Interactive. This means when a consumer listens to their music through the Runkeeper app, it's a Runkeeper moment they have, not a Spotify one. The same if they preordered Spotify music for their Uber taxi ride; the music is experienced in an Uber context.
Brands like these will thrive in this new digital era because they're no longer constrained by their own narrow channels; the customer has the power, but the brand has their attention.
But it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater—big set-piece campaigns are still important and relevant to provide top level brand air-cover, and of course, control over brand messaging.
So, the recommendation is to create a two-speed marketing strategy with a responsive, reactive team that listens to consumers and can push out digital tools and messages quickly, and a brand campaign team that drives the top-level brand air-cover. Achieving this dual approach may be hard to navigate, and may even require organisational change. For example, breaking down silos between sales and service and connect employees, machines, customers, and consumers.
What is clear is that with more and more brand narratives being directed by consumer dialogue through social and wider digital platforms brands and marketers need to be in a constant state of re-invention, actively building new platforms to engage with their core audience.
As Thomas Müller says “Successful CMOs are those who will give their consumers the autonomy to play around with their brand assets, but control the starting point, and, to some degree, the arena in which these interactions to occur”.