CLP Beacon - Business Issues and Solutions

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Managing Brand Relevance in an Interactive Digital World

It was fun watching the SuperBowl the other week and watching the many ads which have become almost as interesting as the game itself.  So I was thinking about the ads, the brands and how it has changed over time.

Historical Perspective

To grasp the evolution and purpose of today's style of branding, you need to get a glimpse of how it came about. Often, what comes to mind when someone says 'branding' is the old cowboy way of marking cattle with a hot iron to let everyone know which steers belonged to whom. In fact, the word brand actually comes from the Norse word brandr, meaning 'to burn.' The concept of branding goes back much further than that, even if branding wasn't known by that particular word. Before spoken and written language were commonplace, people used images to correlate with specific thoughts or actions.

Later on, as the world became more civilized, merchants from Egypt, India, China, Rome, and Greece used pictures and symbols in place of words on their signs so that those who could not read (most people then) would know what was being sold in a shop or market. Technological innovations like the Gutenberg printing press, in 1448, allowed books and other printed materials to be read by a mass audience. In 1625 in England, the first ad appeared in a newspaper – a first modern mass media. By the 1700s, trademarks and stamps were becoming standard practice.

According to Robin Landa , a branding and creative strategist,  "trademark(s) became crucial to governments, producers, and consumers. Governments saw the need to institute patent, trademark, and copyright laws as incentives to encourage development and progress in science, technology, and the arts."

Yet, branding (as we know it) didn't come into its own until the late 1700's and early 1800's when the economic boom meant people had more discretionary income to spend on wants and whims, instead of just basic survival needs. With the increasing level of income, more products and services were being offered, and the market was soon flooded with so many choices and competitors that businesses and entertainers were forced to find new ways to differentiate themselves and stand out. Instead of using images and names to identify what was inside or where it came from, merchants began using brands to create stories, elicit desire, and create a sense of exclusivity and expertise. Beyond the snake oil salesmen of that time, many of today’s common brands came into being.   Think of clothes (Levi’s), tobacco (Marlboro), soft drinks (Coca Cola), tires (Michelin), and beer (Budweiser) leading the charge in the early days of branding.  Here is an example of a Levi Strauss Ad from 1873.  At that time, the promise of the Levi’s brand to the miners to whom they sold was that the pants would never rip apart.  The brand started its evolution from just visual imagery to a deeper promise to the buyer.  And over time, the brand imagery evolved as well.

To see what this looks like in a broader context, take a look at this great Brand Evolution Timeline :

The Promise of Today

Branding continues to evolve.  Just 30 years ago, Apple was a computer company with a promise of a new easier to use personal computer.  Today, Apple’s logo and image is cleaner, more industrial, and the promise is one of simplicity, user friendly, sleek, and empowerment.    From its world changing iconic ad at the 1984 SuperBowl, Apple promised us, the common man, a new emotional experience of using their computer vs the performance characteristics of a computer which appealed to corporate America.    Those promises continue today even as Apple has become more common in the business world.   

Branding has gone even beyond just an image or way of standing out. It's so much more now. We've become so interconnected, mobile, and social, so outspoken and sensitive to hype, that we demand more from our companies and public figures. We demand transparency, engagement, and authenticity. We demand expertise and authority. We demand stellar service, outstanding performance, and a deeper connection and rapport with those we choose to buy from. Most of all, we demand outrageously unique experiences, the kind that leave us breathless from wonder and excitement—something we can write home about, brag to our family and friends and use as part of our own identities.

That's what real branding is about – creating unique experiences that anchor positive and powerful emotions in the minds and hearts of your market and link them to using your products or services, or even just being around you. But before you can start creating your brand or rethinking your existing brand’s promise, you need to identify and demonstrate your expertise, give customers a reason to trust you, listen to what they have to say, and then connect the dots. 

What You Can Do Now

As you think about your brand, I believe that a periodic brand audit makes sense.   Here’s a short 14 point checklist of areas you need to investigate to ensure your brand is relevant in today’s market.

1. Understand the rational and emotional reasons why your customers buy your product or service and why they buy from you.
2. Determine who precisely is your customer- what is the visual image and persona of that buyer(s)
3. Do competitive analysis to ensure you understand your brand’s strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities so you can position your brand correctly
4. Reinforce the promise of the brand at each touchpoint- online, offline, in retail stores, on the phone with customer service.
5. Study your value proposition to ensure your brand is differentiated vs. other direct and near-competitors.
6. Determine if your associations and partnerships are still relevant in today’s world.
7. Determine if your partners and channels are supporting the brand, its position, and the messaging as you intended.
8. Define what is important to your customer and how well you perform on those attributes
9. Does your visual identity need rejuvenation? Ensure your visual identity - logos, typefaces, imagery, and collateral are consistent and current.
10. Review your website, upgrade and update it to enable interactive communication and adaptable to mobile devices.
11. Determine if your customers are loyal; understand how and why they may be abandoning your brand. 
12. Review your brand metrics to determine brand success and return on marketing investment (ROMI).
13. Evaluate your brand names and the naming architecture to make sure it makes sense to your target markets and reflects your promise.
14. Is your branding truly communicating the core brand essence? Does your brand have the right attributes, personality, identity, vision, and mission to be successful in the future?

No doubt marketing technology, mobile pay, smartphones, and changing demographics will continue to morph and shape brands for the foreseeable future. In the future, I believe brands will continue to evolve in the areas of engagement and experience. I expect to see new technologies like virtual reality, gaming, and video everywhere exert tail winds that will require marketers to innovate and evolve their brands in new ways over the next 5 to 10 years; the pace of technology and customer engagement is moving quickly. For additional insights into the history of branding, I suggest you read this article by Robin Landa. You can get it here.  To learn more about branding and see over 3000 curated pins please check out my Pinterest board located here.

In the meantime, let me know your favorite brand and why.  Let’s continue the dialog.  And if you need help with developing your brand or making it more relevant in this new interactive digital world, feel free to call me at 949-445-1080 x-501 or email me at  My partners and I will be glad to help you.

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