How to Maintain Brand Consistency in Digital Marketing
Marketing is very different now from it was in 2005. The impact of creative disruption and the challenges of channel multiplication and of increased fragmentation of ad placements requires advertisers to rethink the way they build their brand assets and communication channels.
They should put a stronger focus on stories than on static covers, emphasize the values of the brand ahead of its logos and, finally, empower the people who carry the communication, rather than trying to control the outcome. If all these ingredients are available, the outcome will be consistent.
Digital marketing platforms are becoming increasingly complex, but are also actively engaging in the space of digital asset management. It seems essential to be able to share digital assets across an entire organization although that in itself is not enough, as organizational structures also need to adapt to the new reality.
When Content Had No Context
Sometimes an ad can be such an epic fail that it becomes funny.
I think that was the way it turned out for eBay in the early days of digital marketing when their ads turned up for just about anything. These examples of ad titles are from 2005: “Dirty Thoughts for Sale,” “Athletic Sweat,” “Vampire blood for sale,” or “Used tampons” and I think this one is my favourite:
Ads would show up dynamically, incorporating whatever keyword the user just typed as a search query in Google. The advertiser would have little to no control over what words were put next to their brand name. A big thanks to Vaughn Aubuchon for making these priceless moments eternal for us on this page.
There were more advertisers doing the same thing, allowing users to be met with interesting ads for “Free Dead Cats” or inciting them to “Meet Dead Singles,” as shown in the illustration.
The logic behind this approach was infallible. On one hand pretty much anything that people would search for could be found on eBay (and under normal circumstances, people don’t go around looking for dead pets) and on the other hand, a personalized ad, carrying the exact keyword the user had just typed in as a search query, more easily attracts the user’s attention and, therefore, generates a higher level of engagement. This, in turn, drives the cost of advertising down because of the way the search and social media advertising algorithms converts into engagement and relevancy.
It all makes perfect sense — except to the end user.
Today, one would imagine that these early failed experiments had taught digital marketers to avoid those kind of pitfalls. However, the rate of change is so high in the industry, that the sheer number of points where you can take a wrong turn are countless. More importantly, however, there are no safeguards against generating inconsistent brand stories or worse, undermining the very foundation of brands and the value they represent.
The Explosion of Channels and Stakeholders
The digital age has brought us a multiplication of the number of channels through which we communicate: SEO, paid search, paid social, native advertising, organic social, programmatic ads, emailing, and push notifications. In organizations, managing these channels is challenging and, more often than not, organizations use external partners: agencies, consultants, and freelancers — to manage individual parts of their channel-specific digital marketing campaigns. And I don’t suppose I am the only one who repeatedly sees job adverts like this one: “Communication internship: Be our voice on social media.” Is it a good idea to have put the lowest paid person in the company — and the one who is on a limited contract — in charge of the way one’s brand interacts with users?
In most organizations today, communication sits in many different places and, at best, has some kind of original brief or brand book to rely on. A means to try to control how the brand is expressed.
Are Organizations Using the Right Metrics?
“How on Earth am I going to succeed in making my agencies work together?”
This is the question a friend asked me. He was working at a large advertiser — when I was on the other side, working in a large media agency group. He had numerous challenges of aligning agencies and sharing their work between them. Each agency working for a division or in a specific channel was defending its part of the equation. And the sum of it all was not consistent.
In smaller organizations, the same question arises; simply at a smaller scale. How do you get departments to be on the same page? How do you get subject matter experts from various specialties to speak the same language? Although they are part of the same organizations, they don’t work to the same objectives and, although they may respect the brand book, it can hardly cover all instances of communication in all channels.
For most organizations, the common answer has been to align them all to financial objectives. That is to no surprise, as companies are enterprises with the goal of generating a financial return on capital. Results are the universal language of the company, and this often interprets into something we call “performance” in digital marketing. Performance is a measurable indicator, which you can connect to financial results — in one way or another. Brand values, on the other hand, can be very difficult to quantify, to measure, and to connect to financial results.
They are, however, considered as crucial, as one can understand from this quote from the economist:
“Brands are the most valuable assets many companies possess. But no one agrees on how much they are worth or why.”
Hence an approach of relative comparison by McKinsey, which resulted in the conclusion that:
“Strong brands are consistently outperforming the market.”
And Ads Are Decomposing
Additionally, the ad formats have multiplied and morphed and have almost decomposed for the purpose of becoming “native.” That is, native ads integrate into the context and surrounding elements in a natural manner, so that users will take it for content rather than advertising.
As Dennis Yu from Blitzmetrics so plainly put it:
“What works best is what doesn’t look like advertising.”
He was referring to Facebook. But in reality, this appears as a general rule in digital advertising today.
— Anders Hjorth (@soanders) March 14, 2019
The beginning of ad decomposition started with the multiplication of communication channels. But I believe the biggest leap into decomposition arrived with Facebooks Ads. Facebook had set out to make it easy to use all of its ad placements, both on desktop and mobile. And for that purpose, it needed to decompose the elements that constituted the ad and, in parallel, allow for marketers to have a view of the way the final ad would appear.
As illustrated, the creative process is composed of four elements:
- Identity (brand),
- Image (or video) and
Once the four elements have been provided, the ad composer allows the digital marketer to view what the composed ad will look like in each of its placements.
Individual elements can be controlled, but the final composition can only be simulated and the context in which the ad will be set is almost impossible to imagine. It is difficult to picture what the end product will look like.
Ads Are No Longer Static
As one can imagine, this decomposition of ads and virtualization of the final product has an impact on process. Advertisers no longer have control. Historically, in advertising, once the campaign went live, a reporting document will be produced in which the CxO (CEO or CMO) will get to see the final rendering of the ad.
It used to be a deliverable of media agencies. But you can’t really do that anymore.
Today, if a campaign is done right and the marketer is not in the target group, he or she will never get a chance to see the campaign. If they are lucky, they will be able to do a couple of screenshots. So the old ways are no longer functional.
Reinforcing Your Brand Consistency Within Ad Disruption
In the digital marketing industry, things sometimes move too fast. Digital agencies must adapt to their providers — platforms like Google and Facebook — and also to advertisers. They work like a buffer between them, and they will do their best to bridge the gap between old habits and new requirements.
In our research for the “Search Strategies Report," we did a survey of leading paid search teams (who, in reality, cover a much larger scope of digital marketing than just search) and we asked the participants what “Brand consistency” represented to them. The responses were rather encouraging, as most of them were actively building this with their clients or stakeholders.
But there was also a fair proportion of them considering that this was not their responsibility and that they would rely on other departments or their clients to ensure brand consistency.