Brand Marketing Due for a Makeover

As corporate marketers dive headlong into the annual ordeal known as the annual budgeting cycle, Forrester Research has released an interesting new report that challenges some assumptions about brand management. It costs $499, so see if you can borrow a copy from a friend. This summary will give you the high points.

The October 9 report is entitled “Adaptive Brand Marketing,” but that’s really a fancy term for “turn on a dime marketing.” Author Lisa Bradner attacks several traditional assumptions about brand marketing. They include the notion that any individual can orchestrate all of the channels needed to deliver a message, the primacy of channels over customers and the belief that just a few core messages are sufficient  to communicate value.

Those simple concepts are becoming almost quaint today as channels of communication are fragmenting, customers are self-organizing into affinity groups and the cost of switching continues to decline. Customers increasingly want direct contact with and influence upon the products they use. They are no longer satisfied to be spoken to as a mass; they want messages that address their individual needs. If they don’t get that, Bradner explains, they’re quick to take their business elsewhere. She quotes Forrester research showing that more than 80% of consumers now indicate a willingness to switch from their regular brand of product to a private-label alternative. The recession is no doubt pushing that trend along.

Start With the Customer

“Adaptive Brand marketing starts with the environment — customers and a deep understanding of their needs and behaviors — and then designs the most appropriate channel mix for engagement,” she writes in a sentence that nicely sums up the thrust of this research. “Spending and planning decisions are daily — not annual — events.”

As a longtime media professional, I found that last comment particularly meaningful. The end of the year is typically a time when media salespeople go into overdrive trying to get their events, supplements and special projects on their clients’ advertising schedules. This sometimes means trying to convince somebody in November that they should spend money on a marketing program that won’t run until the following September. The idea that anyone can predict their needs that far in advance was always a little silly. Today it’s downright ludicrous.

The Forrester report proposes a new model for brand marketing that embodies an iterative approach to planning. Frequent testing guides message development and the best ideas are funded almost instantly. It also suggests that analytics based upon the massive amount of data we can now collect about customers’ online behavior should guide tactics, not hunches and experience. In fact, the report is critical of the whole idea that past experience counts for much of anything. Rapid shifts in behavior driven by constant customer conversation have created an environment that changes too quickly.

Bradner concludes that the four Ps of brand management — product, price, promotion, place — will be replaced by four new Ps: permission, proximity, perception and participation. In a nutshell, this means that brand marketers will need to request permission to speak to their customers, listen and respond with customized messages and invite customers to collaborate on product evolution. She also suggests that the term “brand manager” is outmoded because no individual can coordinate all the necessary market conversations. She argues instead for brand advocates who live close to their markets and constantly experiment with new messages.

The timing of the research is a bit ironic coming, coming the week after a PRWeek and MS&L survey reported that 70% of marketers say they have never made a change to their products or marketing campaigns based on consumer feedback on social media sites. Perhaps this is because we’re still early in the evolution of these new media, but with blogging now well into its fifth year of hyper growth, it seems odd that marketing pros should be taking so long to get the message.

I came upon this research in the course of an ongoing discussion with a household-name consumer goods company with which I work. The marketers there were quite taken with its conclusions, and this is the type of company that leads entire markets in new directions. We shouldn’t underestimate the scope of change that Adaptive Brand Marketing would require. On the plus side, we wouldn’t spend each November frantically assembling annual marketing budgets. But we would have to learn to live in a world of nearly constant change in plans and priorities. Welcome to the new reality of 21st century business.

Come to Boston, Hear from the Best

Regular readers know that I’m a passionate supporter of the Society for New Communications Research, a nonprofit organization that includes some of the smartest new media people I’ve met and that produces a constant stream of education and research on developments in this area. If you’re in the New England area, or plan to be here late next week, please sign up for the annual 2009 Symposium and Awards Gala November 5-6 at the Harvard Faculty Club.

The event kicks off Thursday with a four-hour workshop on “Social Media Metrics and Measurement” led by SNCR Senior Fellows Katie Paine & Charlotte Ziems. Metrics is the top issue marketers ask about these days, so how can you go wrong spending an afternoon with Katie, who literally wrote the book on the subject? Friday evening we’ll be presenting awards to more than 20 organizations that have excelled in their application of social media to all kinds of objectives. I’ve had a chance to review all the winning case studies, and it’s fantastic stuff. The early bird pricing deadline has expired, but if you note on your application that I invited you, they’ll extend the discount.

Tip of the Week: Online Coupons

If you’re in the habit of just clicking that “submit” button when your online order is completed, then this tip is for you. I never make a purchase online anymore without first checking to see if coupons are available for that merchant. It’s amazing at how many retailers and service providers offer discounts that you can find on sites like RetailMeNot, Coupon Cabin, CouponMom, CoolSavings and Coupon Mountain. Usually, all you need to do to take advantage of the savings is copy and paste the code from the coupon site into the checkout window.

Just for Fun: Hands as Art

Most of us work with our hands, whether that means typing on a keyboard or holding tools or waving at airplanes on a runway. But how many of us can say our hands are works of art? Sure, they are miraculous feats of biological engineering and the nails can be painted to dress things up, but I’m talking about art, here, people (don’t say I never delivered culture in this newsletter)! So use your hands to click your way over to this photo gallery of hand-painting. The pity, of course, is that these are real people’s hands and these complicated dye jobs had to come off after the picture was shot. Like a beautiful bloom, the intricate beauty comes from the intrinsically ephemeral quality of the artwork itself. Or so I read in a magazine once… Enjoy!