Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's Time To Wake Up and Smell the Digital Revolution

Why is it that some of advertising’s best and brightest still don’t get it when it comes to appreciating the impact that the web is having on the advertising business?

Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP and a man whose impact on the architecture of the modern advertising agency is unparalleled, recently wrote an article for The (London) Times on the digital revolution. In it, he tried to calm the fears of those in the traditional advertising business by comparing the impact of the Internet to that of television in the 1950’s. Here’s the lead paragraph from that issue of The Times:

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, the British advertising giant, believes that the internet will not prove the death knell of traditional advertising channels. Writing exclusively for The Times, the advertising guru says that, despite “constant competition between the old and new”, the emergence of the internet will not “displace” other platforms. He likens the internet advertising threat to that posed by the advent of television in the mid-1950s.

To Mr. Sorrell, the Internet is just another new medium –albeit a very powerful one- and eventually the Internet will settle in along with other media as part of an integrated media buy. Unfortunately, his view on the subject is inflicting a grave injustice on those in the business who are uncertain about what the internet and the digitization of media will mean for them, their work and their jobs. The digital revolution unfolding today is about much more than the introduction of a new medium into the advertising mix. There is no question the internet as a medium is quite powerful and growing rapidly every day. Studies from Forrester, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and many others chronicle this fact on a regular basis. But the advertising business is in for a much bigger storm than most, including Mr. Sorrell, can even imagine.

Consider if you will, the undeniable fact that marketers are continuing to shift monies away from advertising, which favors media, to direct marketing and promotion, which do not. While this has been happening for decades, the digital revolution has helped accelerate the shift. This means less advertising in the future and less money for media -- all media. Consider that all media are going digital and that this will fundamentally change how they operate and are consumed. We all know the impact that TIVO and VOD are having on the world of television. Its effect on the print medium is becoming more apparent everyday. I vividly recall a recent occasion when my daughter and son-in-law were visiting. Each morning I got up early, had my morning coffee, and read the local newspaper. My son-in-law also got up early, but along with this cup of coffee he powered up his laptop to read a digital version of the same paper.

The traditional definitions we use for magazine or newspaper or television or direct mail, will become meaningless to most consumers. To them, it will just be news or information or entertainment or games or great offers. Most folks in traditional media are not prepared for this -- and they are powerless to stop it. Yesterday, the media controlled the time, place and message. Today, with the digitization of media, the consumer does. It’s that simple. This new “consumer-centric” world makes traditional advertising and media very uncomfortable as they are used to talking to, or shouting at, consumers. Now, it's about marketers having a conversation with one consumer at a time. But the consumer determines when and where that conversation will take place.

Here in Seattle, this may not seem like news, because we are the most wired city in the U.S., and everyone is directly, or indirectly, involved with this new digital world. But believe me when I tell you that to the majority of the country this is still a foreign concept. Mr. Sorrell’s attitude and understanding of the digital revolution reminds me of a book I read several years ago by David Halberstam, titled The Reckoning. The author chronicled the rise of Datsun (now Nissan) and the concurrent decline of Ford, and attributed much of the blame to Luddites in Detroit who refused to believe that Americans would buy an ugly little box from Japan over an American made car just to save gas. Automakers in Detroit all drove American cars, lived next door to someone who drove an American car, and simply didn’t realize that the world was changing until it was too late.

I fear that Mr. Sorrell must live in that same sheltered environment if he believes that the Internet is just another medium. Digitization of media and communication means real-time interactivity and two-way conversations. Traditional media and advertising agencies that don't embrace this way of operating will go away. Consumers will leave them behind, and marketers will eventually refuse to fund them.

Sir Martin, it’s time to wake up and smell the digital revolution. The Internet is about much more than a new medium, it’s about the end of advertising and media as we have known it!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Branding 101: Building a Strong Brand Identity

Every marketer accepts the power of branding, but not all know how to do it well. So here some tips on how to build the power of your brand.

1. Building a strong brand identity starts with knowing who you are, who you want to be, and who you can be.
Knowing who you are is the first step, but you must also know who you want to be and who you can be. Your vision for who you want to be must be consistent with what you can deliver to your customers. Promising without delivering is the kiss of death.

2. Building a strong brand identity means aligning your external messaging with internal awareness and action. An important part of “inside-out” branding is to ensure that your internal audiences are in sync with your external communications. Too many marketers fail to nurture an internal awareness and passion for that external promise. One great example of this are banks who want you to believe they are friendly, but don’t deliver. When was the last time you saw a branch manager rush out of his chair to greet you? Or had a teller stop and smile and ask how you are doing today? Now I am sure that there are some friendly tellers and managers out there, but if your brand strategy is “we’re friendly and we care about you”, then your customer interactions must live up to that claim. All day and every day. If the expectations you create aren’t delivered, you may lose a customer for life.

3. A good branding strategy addresses these four elements – it is unique or differentiating; it is believable; it is relevant; and it is true.

• Strong brands offer something unique or differentiating to their customers.
Most business categories have too many choices. Customers need to see you as not merely a good choice, but the best choice to meet their needs. The challenge of a good
branding strategy is to find out what makes you unique, and then communicating that difference to your key target audience.

• Strong brands make claims that are believable to their audiences.
Customers should have permission to believe that your brand promise can be met. Today’s consumer is more knowledgeable . . . and more skeptical, than ever. Make sure you can give them enough logical rationale to justify their brand decision.

• Strong brands highlight their most relevant benefit.
This seems obvious, but this is often missed by marketers who forget to ask these basic questions. Does this really matter to my customers? Is this the most motivating way to present my brand? Our creative strategy for Puget Sound Blood Center is a great example of the power of communicating a more motivating benefit. Most blood centers simply say “please give blood” on the assumption that people will automatically understand the importance of their action. We highlight the benefit of giving blood with our theme “Imagine Saving a Life” and the Blood Center rarely needs to issue a distress call for donors.

• Strong brands make sure that what they promise to deliver is true.
Making an unsupportable claim may get you a onetime sale. But if you don’t live up to that claim, you will probably lose that customer. Plus all of the others they will tell about their bad experience. A Yankelovich study found that, on average, people with a positive experience tell three others, while people who have a bad experience tell eight. With the Internet’s easy access to thousands of potential customers, a bad experience can be devastating.

Whatever you do with your brand, remember this: Brands that thrive reflect their core culture and unique character, solve relevant needs, and provide a consistent experience for their customers.

Good luck with your branding development. I hope these thoughts help you along the way!