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Technology is changing how we live our lives and the rules for brand-building.  Here are eight ideas the agile brand marketer should consider.

Own something other than a feature

What does your brand own? Not just “stand for”, but “own”?  Is there something consumers associate with your brand and with NO OTHER brand?  In this era when store brand quality is really good, the long-standing model of trying to differentiate based on product quality or unique features is not a sustainable strategy.

What you can own is your brand story, a personality, a community, a personage that brings the brand to life (like the “Dirty Jobs” guy and Ford), or most recently, the social media marketing success story that was launched with a superbowl commercial, the Old Spice guy.  Zappos’ brand is its culture and its culture makes it a unique entity in the marketplace.

If you do NOT own something you are at risk of being de-listed by retailers…and if they don’t carry you, shoppers can’t buy you.

Bring your brand to life at retail

For many products, over half of purchase decisions down to the brand level are made in-store. Clever packaging, mobile apps, solutions-based shopper marketing all give you the opportunity to give your brand differentiated meaning at retail.

Listen to all the signals and then engage

People are talking about your brand.  What are they saying?  This will help you to align your vocabulary to consumers for marketing and marketing research purposes, and know what search terms to buy. Where are they saying it?  A great case is Hennessy Cognac.  They discovered high levels of traffic between their site and  They found that people on blackplanet were interacting with and using the brand differently (e.g. more mixing).  Ultimately, Hennessy took the brand in a completely different direction, “the global art of mixing” (full case in The ARF Listening Playbook)

Spend as much as possible on virtual audiences

A virtual audience is not an audience for a given media property; it is the collection of impressions and communications across properties and vehicles that can be delivered (or pulled) via digital media at exactly the right time, right place, right message, to the right person.  For virtual audiences, the concepts of reach and frequency become less important as every “touch” has the potential for impact.

Some examples:

  • Shopping apps like stickybits for smart phones allow you to bring a persuasive offer or message right to the point of purchase with sight, sound, and motion.  Apps like Shopkick are location aware and can tell if you are in the store, triggering offers
  • Screens at gas stations that advertise convenience store items
  • Anything you can do in conjunction with search
  • Re-targeting

Encourage people to interact with your brand beyond functional purpose

This will build attachment that differentiates your brand.  Microsites (including Facebook pages) allow you to create gaming elements that can be turned into sharable assets. They allow customers to be heard, like “My Starbucks Idea”. Rich media allows for interaction. Interactive TV is starting to emerge.  Smart phone apps, owned media sites all give the opportunity for interaction and play.

Find a way to build a service component into your brand experience

This also builds attachment. Apple’s genius bar is genius.  On-star by GM/Cadillac was perhaps the first significant breakthrough of taking a product (a car) and finding a way to give it a service dimension.  You don’t just buy a Gevalia coffee maker, you join a club that offers shipments of coffee to your home. Adding service to your product builds constant involvement and also gives you additional monetization opportunities.

Simplify people’s lives

We live in a world that is potentially overwhelming.  There are 40,000 SKUs in a typical supermarket.  We have hundreds of TV channels to choose from, and that is a tiny percentage of the number of websites we might be interested in visiting.  We are bombarded with thousands of brand messages every day.  Consumers use rituals and heuristics to simplify their life (think of how the first 30 minutes of your day is probably on auto-pilot).

For example, manufacturers partner with retailers to improve store shoppability, that is, making it as easy as possible for shoppers to find what they are looking for, to find solutions, and to navigate the store as efficiently as possible.

Monitor all signals of what brand success looks like in a digital age

The sensing of brand success has gotten much more complex as signals exist in many more places.  Your insights team needs to collate all of these signals into a cohesive picture.  Brand sales and tracking data are still important, but what are people saying about you in social media?  What are you hearing from customer care? How many fans do you have to your Facebook page?

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5 Responses to “Eight Brand-Building Ideas in a Digital Age”

  1. Need to react to “Listen to all the signals and then engage”.

    Engaging is not enough, the people at the company must solve the customer’s problem or the engagement actually can cause more harm than good. I’m a former customer of several companies because I was engaged by junior people that weren’t empowered to solve a problem.

  2. “Own something other than a feature”

    This one resonates with me. I was just the lucky recipient of netbook present and the unlucky recipient of having to pick it out myself. Every last one in my price point had the exact same features. Exact same length, width, weight, chip, screen, memory, battery. In the end, what resulted in the final decision? Not the features that were being paid for.

  3. […] Joel Rubinson has some good ideas in his post on brand building for the digital age […]