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This thought piece was published by the Guardian Media Network
Whether we really want to admit it or not; advertising (post digital) just doesn't work as well as it did and brands and their business models still rely too heavily on it and its metrics. Thanks to always-better tools and the ‘g’ word; everyday consumers have honed their search skills almost exponentially and developed near divine expectations about the ability to find, purchase & receive whatever, whenever and from wherever they want, and increasingly too, on precisely their terms (through a lens of heightened scrutiny over the relevance, shared values, honesty, provenance and impact of the overall business on their world).
Welcome to the customer-centric digital world where ‘the people’ (no longer the brands) have ultimate control. Moreover mobile ubiquity and optimal connectivity will only ever accentuate this.
To be taken seriously, the brands we interact with everyday must learn not to present themselves, unnecessarily, as the hero of their own stories. In fact, if possible, they must attempt to remove themselves from any main focus in the story altogether. If this is an impossible task then they should, at the very least, make their customers the hero instead.
I appreciate that this presents a massive headache for most brand marketers and seems commonsensically to go utterly against the grain but how does a brand go about removing itself from being the main focus of its communications?
Perhaps the answer lies in going back to the roots of your brand and reinstating its real use, virtues and raison d’etre as a product or service. Since the dark ages market traders have pedalled goods at face value; not based on brand but on the sweet & juiciness of apples or the plumpness of their chickens (things that momentarily actually matter to the purchaser). The evolved digital-native consumer still wants to buy performance-enhancing sportswear, tasty food & drink, time-saving technology on smarter devices and global experiences, its just that they want to seek out and make individual choices, because they can, and are no longer prepared to be bowled over by ‘ad-hype’.
Significant amounts of industry noise in the last 18 months, about the need for brands to become publishers, is perhaps mainly down to the fact there is an enormous amount to be learnt from the lessons and behaviour of broadcasters and publishers who have built strong identities and loyal audiences through a focus on the content itself (ahead of their brand) as the primary way to grow a meaningful following and build their individual businesses.
So too their ‘editorial ‘ approach that plays a broader, something for everyone, volume game with content as opposed to a one-size-fits-all campaign one, benefits from the lack of necessity to shoehorn a brand message (that also risks appearing disingenuous) into anything and everything that it produces. The often-strong brand credentials of these channels manifest themselves alternatively through the voice and tone of the selected stories and narrative, and the overall curation often based on an overt empathy with the desires, sensibilities, social persuasions and/or sense of humour of the community.
Applying such principles often implies acting almost in polar opposition to advertising but can be compelling for consumers tired of a dictatorial approach to brand storytelling. Good editorial is often designed to show both sides of an argument even if it reaches a specific conclusion and to present all the options to its audience and let them make the ultimate choice.
Having the confidence to stand for a clear purpose, to present the whole story, to commit to a greater volume of less fine-tuned yet always-on content, and to be generous in your approach to endlessly improving and enhancing the real lives of your customer base will take considered effort, fresh measurement, news skills, structures and resources, but could just reap great rewards for you …and after all; if your products and services don't stand up to public scrutiny then perhaps it isn’t your ‘brand’ that needs the focus in the first place!!