Disruption. The mere mention of it can send chills up the spines of even the heartiest marketers everywhere. But what if we looked at disruption as opportunity rather than albatross? It’s in the disrupted space that some of the best thinking and doing actually happens.
In this disrupted landscape, marketers from across Georgia gathered together on February 15 to share ideas and learn some of the best practices to connect, create and elevate. The Georgia Marketing Summit is a one day educational confab that brings some of the best Georgia-based brands in conversation, camaraderie, and yes, coffee. While the stated goal of the conference is to focus on “growing business, leveraging community and understanding disruptive marketing trends,” we found the themes and thoughts ran much deeper.
Brands Today Are Co-Created
In days past, brands labored over catchy messages to influence consumers to be curious about a product or service, driving them to become customers, then avid users, and finally advocates. The power to define a brand sat squarely in the hands of the company to create its own meaning and messages. Its channels were its own to control and messaging went one way from the company to the consumer. Today, the customer to advocate trajectory is no longer a straight road – it has other drivers, potholes, pit-stops, highways and byways, along the way. Early adopters, fans, friends and foes alike all have a place in creating brand meaning today. That’s what we mean by co-creation.
Take a look at the iPhone as an example of a co-created brand. Sure, the iPhone touts the best bells and whistles in the smartphone category, but that alone is not why people love it. People use their iPhone as an extension of themselves to create a customized, curated experience specifically for their their personal preferences. It’s personalization on turbo-charge – your pictures, your apps, everything you want, nothing you don’t – all at your fingertips. You take time and care to create an iPhone experience that is reflective of what you want – connection, information, convenience, and personalized entertainment all in one place. That’s why you freak out when you lose your phone – it’s like losing an appendage.
The same can be said for Starbucks. Your Half-Caf Triple Grande Non-Fat White Mocha is yours and it’s perfect, just the way you want it. It even has your name on the cup, monogrammed just for you, and your barista knows you and your drink the moment you walk in the door. Yes, it’s a transactional relationship, but it’s so much more. Through customization, the brand actually becomes a reflection of you, so your Starbucks order is – in at least some small way – a part of your identity, your story. Everything from the retail experience to the company culture to its online channels conveys that customized, curated feel; a particular feat, given that Starbucks is on every corner all around the globe.
Whether it’s Starbucks, iPhone or any other brand, you become an advocate through your own experience with that brand in your life. In essence, that brand becomes part of your story, and you have a story with it. That give-and-take, the relationship that develops between consumer and brand is co-creation. But just like people’s relationships with each other, brand relationships are ongoing; they need to be nurtured just as we do with our significant others. Brands need to communicate, listen and pay attention to consumers every day, in every way. As consumers change, brands need to respond, to be sensitive to the consumer’s needs and transform according to customer perceptions and preferences. The feeding and care of the consumer-brand relationship is at the heart of the co-created brand.
As everyone knows, the opportunities to communicate with consumers today are endless and growing. Social channels bring brands and consumers into direct contact with each other. Digital disruption has created the opportunity for consumers to tell brands what they want and what they think, directly to them. These communications, however, don’t exist in a vacuum. Every brand touch point has to be synchronized, coordinated and calibrated, so that wherever a consumer comes in contact with a brand, they experience the same authentic brandness. Brands today essentially have to behave as people. Whether it’s an ad, a tweet or a customer service rep on the phone, the brand has to feel the same. While this it’s not always easy to achieve, this channel alignment is indispensable for brands.
A vital element of brand communications is developing messages that represent brand meaning. Part of this process is creating central and supporting messages that speak to the larger whole. We like to use an example that illuminates this concept. Take a look at Beyoncé – she is the star of her own show, but she has backup singers that support her. Her presence communicates her very Beyness – fabulous, forceful, fierce, and female – and her backup singers communicate the same message. But imagine a Beyoncé concert without her posse? It would just feel off. Yes, she is the star, so if you only get a glimpse, you’ll know exactly what she is communicating, but the backup singers serve a very specific strategic purpose – they literally and figuratively have her back – to reaffirm everything that Beyoncé represents.
There is no doubt that digital disruption has blown up the brand machine of old and spit out parts and pieces all over the brand landscape. But brands today should not go and gather up all of those pieces to remake the same old machine. Products, services, experiences, personality, communication, culture – it all matters and must be cohesively assembled and calibrated. What is needed today – and what we’re seeing with hundreds of successful brands at this conference – is a reconceptualization, a holistic remaking of brand meaning. That means being able to see the entire engine, not just the individual parts. This is strategic approach to brand creation that will ensure brands are built to last.