My friend Nigel Hollis, Chief Global Analyst at Millward Brown, invited friends to submit branding and research questions, and receive personal replies and insights. This was in anticipation of his forthcoming book, The Global Brand: How to Create and Develop Lasting Brand Value in the World Market, based on Millward Brown’s annual BrandZ study of 10,000 brands in 31 countries.
My question: In an increasingly dynamic real-time marketplace, driven by search and transparency, where what a company does immediately informs and creates perception of what it is, don’t companies need to think more about their values, operations and execution — and less on advertising and outward marketing communications? Will we see company values and deeds undergo greater scrutiny in brand formation versus traditional Madison Avenue image-making?
Nigel’s response: When it comes to brand building actions have always spoken louder than words. The technology transformation does not change that but it does amplify the effect, potentially extending the reach of those actions beyond the brand’s existing customers and consumers. But will the new people be listening or care about what they learn? It depends.
To my mind the key question is will actions speak loud enough to be heard unaided in future or will companies still need to publicize their good deeds?
You refer to a “dynamic real-time marketplace, driven by search and transparency.” Is it really transparent? With information readily available on thousands of companies, with breaking news every minute and recommendations posted on millions of web sites it looks pretty opaque to me.
To make it transparent people have to be interested enough to find their way through the dross and conflicting opinions to make their own decisions about brands. The trouble is most people don’t care enough about brands to do so. If it is a high involvement category or you are putting down some serious money that’s one thing, but buying soap, insurance or fast food is another thing entirely. Most brand purchase decisions are not the end result of a carefully researched and thought out decision but result from a series of apparently random encounters and events. Even when people are engaged enought to search for information that search still needs to be directed to be successful, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that broadcast media are one of the strongest influences on what people search for.
I think there will still be an important role for marketing to inform, create interest and focus people’s attention and to orchestrate the touch points to best effect.
Your use of the words “image-making” seem to imply a view of marketing that originates from past decades, although I suspect you were using it as a shorthand. The most powerful communication is that which focuses on a brand truth in a compelling fashion and does not just present an image. That is one reason we see marketing migrating to more experiential touch points, it gets people to experience the brand first hand. But as the engagement of these touch points increases the reach decreases. Again, the need is to call out what is happening so people become interested and get involved.
So I believe that brand building will continue to rely on the careful orchestration of touch points to ensure that a brand is presented in the best light possible. That said, I also believe that companies will be held more accountable for their actions by the small minority of motivated people who do care about the brand, a cause or an injustice. But that’s not the same as brand building, that’s basic corporate hygene. In future companies better keep their noses clean or they will end up catching a cold!