Selling You: Branding in the Age of Technology

How is branding evolving with today’s technological advances and innovation?
by RaeAnne Marsh

The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

That old truism is never more on-the-money than in reference to technology and branding.

Leading practitioners in our community of the art and craft of public relations share insights into what makes branding work and how technology can provide tools in that effort. While they discuss opportunities that have opened up thanks to state-of-the-art technology, a recurrent theme goes to the heart of branding as a power that transcends today’s advances.

There is powerful information for businesses in their response to our question: As branding evolves with technological advances and innovation, what are some new and effective ways companies are — or should be — branding themselves now?

Catherine Alonzo

Chief Executive Officer
Javelina

The irony of branding today is that as complex technologies and tools are as widespread and available as ever before, audiences are the most responsive to authentic, raw, stripped-back stories. Perhaps this is because of the advent of technology. In an age when technological bells and whistles abound, consumers are craving what is real. Companies like Google and Apple have not succeeded because of their technological prowess, but in spite of it. Their success lies, instead, with their brands being a reflection of who they truly are as people and as companies — as well as what they care about. In other words, they deeply understand and powerfully communicate their “why.”

Knowing the “why” was the key to the election of our current President, as well as the success of companies like Cards Against Humanity and Lyft, which say to their customer, “We are who we are, and this is what we believe in.”

Against that backdrop, companies should take this four-step approach to branding today:

  1. Understand your “why.” Why is it that you do what you do? What is the change you want to see in the world and why does it matter? Figuring this out is no easy thing to do. It takes time, reflection and collaboration. But you’ll know when you’ve found the true answer — it feels like ice cream to a sensitive tooth.
  2. Find the right words to explain your “why.” Start telling other people about your Why and see what they respond to, what feels good to you, and what is easy to say. By practicing and workshopping like this, you’ll figure out how to put your Why into words that others can understand.
  3. Incorporate your “why” into your brand position and marketing statement. The way you talk about your company should start with the “why,” but it has to include the “how” and the “what,” too. Write a descriptive message of your company that incorporates all three, and then update all your materials (website, social media, printed collateral, etc.) to reflect your new Why-driven message.
  4. Test it out. Use the wide range of modern technologies available today to track, measure, tweak and test how audiences respond to and engage with your message and brand. Technology is no replacement for an authentic brand, but it is a remarkable driver of one. Examples include social media platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn, content creation tools like Canva and Grammarly, project management assisters like Asana and Workflowy, and tools for coordination and tracking like Google Analytics and Sprout Social.

There are countless more tools out there that can help take your brand to the next level. But it starts with the “why.” Until you have that thoughtfully woven through your brand and marketing materials, technology is a mere distraction.

Scott Harkey

President
OH Partner

Progressing alongside technology is crucial for any brand to be successful, but that’s not the only method to be effective. By utilizing the endless technology advancements over the past 10 years, brands have been fixated on measuring online conversions, tracking direct sales and more. Although these are significant statistics to measure, they shouldn’t be the main focus for a company’s brand. It’s about reverting to the basics

The art and science behind successfully branding any company is to win the hearts and minds of consumers, yet with the constant technological innovation in recent years this approach seems to have taken a diminished role. I am excited because, over the last year, our clients and partners have focused their attention on meaningful branding rather than conversion rates and sales tracking, which has proven to be incredibly successful.

It all starts with the basics and truly understanding your brand. I suggest completing an exercise to deeply evaluate your current brand and answer these two questions: How do your consumers currently view your brand? What do you aspire to accomplish as a brand? Once you fully understand this internally, you will be able to successfully and authentically communicate to your audience who you really are, not who you are trying to be. A majority of companies fall flat by sharing messages that don’t genuinely represent their brand. Even though there is an abundance of technology at your disposal, if you aren’t looking inside your brand first, you are going to fail in the execution.

Although this tactic could potentially take longer to see results, it will help companies acquire more brand advocates and create larger returns. Brands will see their ROI go up, resulting in a bigger impact over a longer period of time. With the growth of social media and influencer marketing, branding and marketing isn’t a one-way megaphone. It is a two-way conversation. Through effective branding, companies can leverage the power of discussion. Consumers who enjoy a brand generally suggest the product to friends, family, co-workers and more. The best advertising has always been and will always be word-of-mouth advertising, so successful branding is exponentially important in today’s connected world.

An average American consumer is exposed to about 5,000 promotional advertisements a day, so it is crucial to stand out in the digital clutter. Companies need to create a brand that really stands for something and connects emotionally with its consumers. It’s important for consumers to have a voice and let them know they’ve been heard. If your company isn’t passionate about something other than money, it likely won’t be successful.

Brands will constantly have access to the latest in technology innovation, but if they don’t truly and deeply understand themselves, it won’t make a difference. Be true to your brand, create a positive network of brand advocates, cultivate an emotional connection and let technology be a supplemental resource.

Park Howell

Founder
Business of Story

As a kid, I loved the Flintstones and the Jetsons. Two great families with outstanding brands. The Flintstones are the (sing it with me) “modern stone-age family.” The Jetsons, on the other hand, are the space-age family unit illustrated by George jettisoning “his boy Elroy, daughter Judy, and Jane, his wife,” from his Prius-like spaceship down to their respective destinations.

The Internet has brought us Jetson-like communications advancement. But don’t get all starry-eyed over technology. Your brand story starts and ends with the primal foundations found in Fred and Wilma. Story, after all, is what has evolved us from cavemen to consumers. It’s what makes us human.

Today’s technology is simply the transmitter of those stories.

For example, outdoor equipment retailer REI’s brand ethos — it’s primal story — to get people outdoors has around for decades before it started a movement with its #OptOutside campaign. REI simply used technology to encourage people to not shop on Black Friday and, instead, spend that day outdoors with family and friends.

You can hear the creator of REI’s #OptOutside campaign, Lee Einhorn, describe how they developed the story first and then created a powerful brand movement by connecting through technology, on the Business of Story podcast at businessofstory.com.

AirBnB’s brand story is about helping people “Belong Anywhere.” It uses tech to connect travelers with homeowners to make that happen. Charles Schwab exists to help people achieve better financial outcomes for themselves and their families. The company uses its mobile app and online trading as an expression of its brand story of making it easier to manage your wealth.

But like George’s spaceship, technology is shiny. That’s why brands are quick to jump on the latest communication trends. In their haste, they often lose their humanity in the virtual world. They bombard you with fleeting infographics. Listicles. Micro documentaries. Pins. Polls. Quizzes. Surveys. Memes. Gifs. Tweets. Snapchats. Instagrams. These brand blips whiz over long-form blogs, vlogs, videos, podcasts, eNewsletters, eBooks and emails in a meteor shower of competing messages.

Facebook, for instance, had an original mission “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” But it’s become what many consider an over-reaching advertising platform that invades your privacy. Users are turning away in droves for more authentic platforms like Instagram and SnapChat.

What brands forget in their universal fight to be heard is what makes them tick in the first place: people. We strive to connect and grow our communities online, but we miss actual human interaction. Without it, our brand essence skips off the atmosphere and into deep, dark space.

What brings us home are true stories well told about the actual human impact your brand makes on this planet. Consider purpose-driven brands like CharityWater.org, Tesla’s launch of its more affordable Model 3 vehicle and Heineken’s #OpenYourWorld campaign. These are core brand stories shared through technology, not created by it.

“Marketing is about values,” said Apple founder Steve Jobs. “It’s a complicated and noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. So, we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us.”

How will Apple’s own technological missteps — including admitting to throttling back the performance of older iPhones to spur users to purchase its latest model, and the “dongleocalypse” it created by releasing its new Macbook Pro with all new connection terminals that make it difficult to connect — impact its brand credibility?

So, while your technology and communications channel options rocket ahead at an attention-numbing pace, stop and ask yourself: What does my brand stand for? Why do we exist? How do we actually help people accomplish something?

Capture those narratives to clarify your brand position, define your promise and declare your purpose. Craft them into meaningful stories that resonate with your people, your customers and your stakeholders. Then deploy the wizardry of the Web, with care, to share your brand stories with the world.

You see, the most innovative and effective way to brand yourself is not found in our latest technology. The branding advantage you want to take advantage of has been native to the human condition since the beginning of mankind: Just tell a better story.

Yabadabadoo!

Alexis Krisay

Partner and President of Marketing
Serendipit Consulting

As technology advances, digital and assistive technology are changing the way consumers behave. Brands must become more integrated into consumers lives by putting them at the core of everything. Therefore, marketers have their work cut out for themselves, yet they also have a huge amount of opportunity. Consumers today are more connected, informed and empowered than ever. Their behaviors are reshaping the paths to purchase every day. They are demanding, impatient and expect brands to deliver content, solutions and opportunities to them in an instant. Ultimately, there is an app for just about everything, making consumers connected to an on-demand economy that delivers services, experiences and validation in the moment.

Brands must know their customers inside and out, and focus their marketing by putting the customers at the center of everything. Consumers today have high expectations and tend to gravitate toward brands that deliver utility and value to them. Brands must now refrain from shouting their message from the rooftops and, instead, be a bit more introspective and think about what their users are saying and how they can best approach them with a personalized message. Brands that engage with customers and show how they care and understand the customer’s needs will, ultimately, rise to the top above competitors.

In 2018, brands will need to be aware of how augmented reality, assistive technology and location-based marketing play into their overall strategy. This on-demand culture now expects brands to be thinking about the latest in all these areas.

Augmented Reality

Consumers enjoy altering their persona and environment and seeing it come to life. Brands that can incorporate AR into their consumer interactions will be extremely successful. AR cameras have allowed users to alter their image and share socially; if brands can incorporate AR tools for consumers to try or preview products or services, the viability of these opportunities is huge.

Assistive Technology

Siri, Alexa and Google Echo are changing the ways people search, demand and purchase. Consumers today rely on these micro recommendations to make purchases. They don’t want to spend hours researching; they want to ask a question, obtain quick information and make the purchase guided by these technology assistants. Brands that optimize their content for quick searches and utility-based content will catapult to the top

Location-Based Marketing

Geolocation is the next buzzword in marketing. Brands now have the opportunity to target consumers via GPS technology in their environment. Predictive analytics algorithms currently can be used to forecast a user’s location, sending an offer before a user leaves the house, or during the week based on their routine. However, brands must be hyper-targeted with their content to consumers via location-based marketing.

Consumers expect customized offers and information, and will reject brands if they sense mass marketing. Brands also can leverage influencers through location-based marketing. With the ability to identify local influencers via social media and other location platforms, brands can empower authentic messaging and reap the word-of-mouth benefit of influencers.

Ryan Town

Managing Director
Pyxl

Today, it is cheaper and faster than ever to connect with customers and track engagements. A marketer can stalk research consumer browsing and buying habits across a multitude of devices, and implement platforms to capture specific metrics on how people are engaging with their brand online. However, it’s easy to get overloaded with all this data without the right technology. Data by itself can be dangerous, which is why we have seen a major shift toward platforms that use this data to produce meaningful and actionable insights. These calculations are invaluable to the branding process because they indicate what messaging and content a customer will or will not engage with.

When it comes to building a brand, technology serves as a tool for agencies and in-house teams to build a strong foundation to base their assumptions on. Brands have to ask the right questions to get to the root of solving their customers’ problems. Surveys, interviews, content, and competitive audits and site analytics analyses are all tech-based research media that identify where problems lie and, ultimately, what your customers want from your brand. Through these efforts, successful modern brands emerge that are grounded in facts.

Another way recent technology has changed the game for brands is empowering them to customize content on the fly for their customers and have conversations with them one to one. By having the ability to segment their audience — in real time — and serve personalized content, brands today are able to be multifaceted and create a deeper connection with a variety of customers.

Building a brand is only the start; technology is also critical when it comes to maintaining that brand. Unfortunately, the Internet has loosened the grip brands have on consistency and reputation. Anyone with a little tech savviness can do a Google image search for your logo (and add their own creative spin!), or start a negative conversation about your brand online. These are challenges clients frequently mention.

We’ve been able to help those clients give technology a dose of its own medicine with solutions like online social monitoring and digital brand warehouses, where employees, vendors and even the media can access approved logos, images and taglines. These tools help brands establish and maintain consistency across all marketing channels, so their customers have a seamless and connected experience.

While technology can create some hassle when it comes to maintaining a brand and controlling that brand’s message online, it has, overall, included some major innovations that improve the way we connect and communicate with consumers around the world.

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  1. […] (This post originally appeared in the February 2018 edition of Phoenix In Business Magazine) […]

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