Five tips to build a brand in 2015
For the past seventy years, business branding has been largely guided by principles developed in the 1950s and 1960s, when there were only three television networks, messaging through advertising was easy to control, and information flowed from a few “trusted” news sources to millions of people.
This one-to-many model of information flow has been upended since the advent of the Internet and social media. Now, information flows in millions of different directions at once—to, from, and by people all over the globe—in an all-to-all free-for-all for eyeballs and market share. Some of the well-established rules of branding still apply in this new, hyper-connected environment. But that doesn’t change the fact that building and differentiating a brand is harder than ever and will only prove even tougher in 2015.
In the coming year, the technological connectedness of everyone on Earth will reach a level never before experienced by humanity. The old rules don’t apply in this world. New rules must be developed.
Here are a few to start with:
BE WORTHY OF YOUR CUSTOMER’S TRUST
At its core, effective branding is about a consistent connection between a company, its products, and its promise to customers. No matter what physical product or service you sell, your true product is trust. On the Internet, trust in a brand can be destroyed in an instant, so safeguarding it is of paramount importance. The good news for serious brands is that, because the Internet is so full of scams, half-truths, and outright lies, people will continue to look to brands as a trusted resource. Earn their trust—then work every day, as hard as you can, to keep it.
DON’T JUST AVOID EVIL—DO GOOD
Google’s infamous tag line, “Don’t be evil” is not the same thing as “Do be good”—and the latter is a much better motto to live by. Young people, particularly Millennials and the generation after them, Digital Natives, like their consumption to reflect their values. More often than not, they make buying decisions based on what certain brands stand for, whether it’s environmental friendliness (Prius), fair-wage pay (Costco), LGBT equality (Kellogg), sustainable energy (3M), or whatever. Spin will only get you so far, though—at some point it has to be backed up by honest, well-intentioned action. The world is full of cheaters and liars. Don’t be one of them.
FEWER MEMES, MORE ME
Because messaging can no longer be controlled by the messenger, brands have had to figure out how to get customers themselves to spread the word. One of the most effective ways to do this is through a “meme” that grabs people’s imagination—such as the Ice Bucket Challenge—and goes viral. Modern marketers spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how to create successful memes. Some work, but most don’t, because the nature of memes is that they are spontaneous and unpredictable.
So-called meme-marketing is still in its infancy, but it is already giving way to a more me-oriented form of messaging: the sort of super-targeted, hyper-personalized messaging that is becoming possible with the convergence of Big Data, artificial intelligence, and ubiquitous mobile and personal devices of all kinds. There will always be a place on the Internet for absurd humor, but Big Data allows companies to understand and connect with each individual customer in ever more intimate ways. In turn, each of those customers has unprecedented control over the messages they receive. Memes may work for a long time to come, but more “me” is what people really want. Learn how to give it to them.
COMFORT THE AFFLICTED
The speed of technological and cultural change people are experiencing today isn’t just mind-boggling—it’s disorienting and, for some people, quite scary. The world they used to know is disappearing, and the world that is replacing it isn’t always reassuring. Time-tested brands can often serve as psychological anchors in turbulent times. People are creatures of habit, and they seek out comfort, particularly when they are uncomfortable. Brands that can provide that comfort (Campbell’s, L.L. Bean), or serve as signposts to a better future (Charles Schwab, Apple) will continue to attract loyal customers even as the retail marketplace continues to fragment and choices multiply. Sometimes, the tried and true is the only thing people will try.
SHARE, DON’T SELL
All social-media platforms in existence today rely upon one basic principle: people like to share. Brands, too, can benefit from sharing—but many are still too focused on selling. Sharing, for brands, means connecting customers with information, ideas, and resources that can help customers improve their lives. The “selling” is done by associating the brand with related networks of information that may or may not have much to do with the brand’s products. The term of art for this approach is “curated content,” but it’s really about offering help to people in ways that don’t feel like a direct sales pitch—because they aren’t. They’re just useful pieces of information that you gave them, with no strings attached—and for that, they will remember you, all the way into 2016.
Owen Shapiro is the author of Brand Shift: The Future of Brands and Marketing. Shapiro is a market researcher, strategist and speaker and spent more than 30 years in customer insights and market strategy. He has a career-long interest in helping launch innovative start-up companies, several of which have become well-known brands, including Staples, PetSmart, Sports Authority, Ulta and Five Below. For more information, please visit, www.brandshiftbook.com.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”