Brand Essence Must Win Over Endlessly Changing Metrics and Aimless Marketing Optimization
Who are you? What do you stand for? Can your customers summarize it? That’s your brand. Your brand essence. Your competitors can’t take it away from you. Your changing marketing mix shouldn’t, either. In the never-ending quest to keep up with the times, what keeps your customers loyal is knowing who you are and how that works for them.
I bring this up because I just saw yet another headline about the newest change in marketing — adding creative to tech consultancies. This is akin to adding creative back in as a heavy “must-have” in the marketing mix. For a while there, it was data, data, data. Or taking marketing in-house. Or going to one-stop shops, even using data brokers as ad agencies. Many of these practices continue in some form, with trends shaping the shifting wave of marketing budget allocations.
Okay, so the marketing pendulum is swinging back from data, data, data to the creative roots of ad agencies. At least a little. And while the best brands know to always have a healthy, data-driven marketing mix, how many organizations are so lopsided toward the latest marketing trend that they can’t answer: Who are you? What’s your brand essence? Do your customers know? Do you even know?
The Brand Essence Problem
Does your brand voice stay constant in the jumble of marketing efficiencies and optimization; KPIs; keeping marketing in-house vs. contracting with an agency; moving budget from creative to data; and on and on?
Does your branding stay coherent? Do customers understand the essence of your brand?
If you outsource your creative, does the brand voice change? If you allocate more money for data-driven initiatives, do you know what business goal you’re trying to achieve and if it reflects what customers think of you?
If your brand essence changes enough, do you rebrand? Or do you rebrand before making the changes? Or do you just expect your customers to keep up?
Perhaps nowhere is this more relevant than in mergers.
In “Mergers and Acquisitions: A Challenge to Brand Loyalty,” Carolyn Goodman — a senior director of customer experience, insight and analytics at California Closets — put it this way for us when she wrote about the maelstrom of corporate mergers five years ago:
“But take this as a marketing lesson ... When one company gobbles up another, customers feel a sense of loss, and the new management doesn't always successfully replicate the brand essence.
“This was overwhelmingly apparent when I was part of the acquisition team at 1st Nationwide Bank (FNB), back in the 1980s. We purchased many failing thrifts and changed their names to FNB — literally overnight.
“At the time, I didn't appreciate the stressfulness that action would have on its customers. Now that I've experienced the pain for myself, I'm hopeful it will make me a more sensitive marketer. Brands do build personas and customers feel a connection to them. Personally, I'm still pining for my old ShareBuilder and ING relationships, but it looks like that ship has long sailed.”
Not all changes marketers make at an organization rise to the level of rebranding, but the trend that’s been going on for years now of changing marketing mixes with what seems like no real business outcome in mind is creating customer stress rather than great customer experiences.
A lot of that is due to the stress on the brand’s marketing teams themselves.
As the CNBC article about a tech consultancy buying a creative agency points out, the move toward CMOs needing tech consultancies and moving a bit away from creative agencies was due to needing to be accountable. Marketing metrics meant CMOs could prove ROMI.
It seems as though the latest shift, seconded by Forrester’s take that the pendulum is swinging back to creative, is once again putting brand at the forefront. The other elements — tactics and channels — matter, too. But they must be guided by the CMOs who are keeping brand essence and customer experience front-of-mind.
As CNBC’s Megan Graham writes on Friday in “Accenture Just Bought an Indie Ad Agency, as Boardrooms Get Serious About Creative Marketing”:
“CEO Brian Whipple has said Accenture Interactive was formed 10 years ago because CMOs had become more responsible for business goals instead of solely brand goals. In the years since, the company has acquired digital design agency Fjord, London-based creative agency Karmarama and a slew of other companies — giving it chops in areas like programmatic ad buying, tech, data and experience design.”
Because of it, many brands had started to fall into the trap of competing against each other on marketing tactics. But because each could imitate the other’s tactics, that blew up brand differentiation.
Jay Pattisall, Principal Analyst at Forrester, writes on April 3 that creative will help CMOs regain their brand voices and, thereby, brand differentiation and great customer experiences. He writes:
“CMOs found growth through technology investments to improve customer experiences and loyalty (while also insourcing and slashing agency fees). That playbook provided CMOs the growth their firms demand, yet this force multiplier no longer works now that we’re in a CX rut. The new growth will come from creativity guiding brands, experiences and communication.”
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.
Related story: Mergers and Acquisitions: A Challenge to Brand Loyalty