Digital Marketing Trends with BrandDigital

On September 21, 2009, in Book Reviews, Branding, by Mike D. Merrill (@mikedmerrill)

Brand DigitalI had some time to kill this past Saturday as my 14 year old daughter was “cruisin” the mall with her friends. As I continue to seek out great books on social media, digital marketing and branding, there is no shortage of great reads hitting bookstores. While at Barnes & Noble,  I came upon a bright yellow book titled “BrandDigital: Simple Ways Top Brands Succeed In a Digital World.” Allen Adamson published this follow-on to BrandSimple (2006) last year. I quickly started engaging with the content and I was so into reading the book, that we ended up staying there for five and a half hours. Not that my daughter minded or anything.

For anyone in marketing this is a must read. First, he points out the challenges of conveying a company’s brand online. How do you take a historical brand promise and represent their tone of voice online? Just like a 30 second ad spot represents a brand promise or brand differentiation, how do you do all of that today above the fold? It’s much more complex than just the look, navigation, and copy. He refers to this as strategic alignment. While this isn’t new or anything for big consumer brands, I think for many others it is still an area under invested in. Websites evolved from online brochures to transactional engines. Now the challenge is how do you build relationships with your target customers. Whether you are targeting consumers or businesses with your products and solutions, this is the promise of social media marketing and digital investments.

One solid example he discusses has to do with customer service. If a brand is known for fast customer service, how do you represent that same brand promise online. Instead of just pushing self-service FAQ to save on customer service costs, why not display the customer support number prominently online for those that are in desperate need of an immediate solution. Therefore, having it displaying prominently vs. three clicks in helps maintain that brand congruence.However, research shows that most folks prefer to try to find a solution themselves than call a dreaded customer support line.  Furthermore, if you are known for speed of service or superior service, you better make sure you website downloads lightning fast.

A second example he highlights around conveying one’s brand promise online is social responsibility. If a company has built a brand tenet around social responsibility and made it a key part of it’s messaging, then it needs to be prominently displayed as one click away from the home page. Think about the brand image of Whole Foods as a community based store. They have created Twitter accounts for many of their various cities vs. just one account so that locals can connect directly to the local teams and share local events and promotions. Whole Foods prides itself on regionally grown produce and meat and representing that online is critical.

Interactive and Digital Teams Have Been Marginalized in the Past

Allen discusses how in the past, branding and marketing teams often thought of digital and interactive as an after thought. Advertising and print teams always seem to get the glamour and the lion share of the budget. Even a few years ago when I ran direct marketing for higher education at Dell, it was like going against the grain to build a complete integrated campaign. The organization and marcom teams just weren’t aligned to execute integrated campaigns. While our team had stellar success with our Intelligent Classroom campaigns, the digital assets came after the print piece by months. It was very frustrating. However, we were able to get the email marketing in sync. What’s reassuring is that when you do understand your target market’s needs you can truly impact the bottom line. Our campaign has generated well over $170 million in attributable solutions sales. The book does spend a good deal of time discussing researching your target market online via social media and online monitoring. The ability to use online assets and social media to truly understand the customer’s journey, as he refers to it, is unparalled.

Another example discussed is SEO/SEM. Often times, brand ideas don’t consider the search terms that would enable the brand to win online traffic. By understandiing what people are searching for, you can then answer the brand promise in their words and their terms. Now Allen spends some time stating that it’s not about the channel but the brand idea that will win in the long run. However, instead of flushing out the brand idea and then handing over to digital or interactive to execute, bring those teams in up front. Now, I know this isn’t ground breaking discussion here, but with the economy shifting ad dollars to digital and social media demonstrating it can command a positive ROI on the business, you may see digital and interactive agencies potentially becoming the lead AOR. What’s more likely though is that agencies will stop relegating their digital practices and integrate them as part of the branding discussion up front.

PR and Advertising agencies are getting closer and closer in terms of where they are headed. There will always be crisis PR and strategic PR teams in place, but online PR and interactive Ad agencies are coming together to compete for the same customers’ business. So don’t think that just because they are  PR shop they aren’t up to speed. In many cases, PR agencies are running the social media execution and strategy for some of the largest companies out there. In Dallas, American Airlines and AT&T leverage top 10 PR firms to run their social media initiatives and outreach.

The book goes on to review numerous case studies and how digital strategies were aligned to the brand promise. Notable examples were GE, Dove, and HP. The discussion behind the strategy and the key learnings from the execution provided some valuable insight.


Allen Adamson created this great Digital Mad Men YouTube Series highlighting some of the digital discussions taking place today. Click on the image below. Unfortunately, the embed code was disabled so you’ll have to click on the link below.

Mad Men Digital

Let me know your thoughts on this topic and the book.