Is Media Killing The Concept of Brand?

Sanjay Nazerali, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Carat

Cannes is one of the few industry festivals where you will find truly future gazing content, or where the industry will turn a spotlight on itself and question its practices and beliefs. It may seem a strange choice for the industry to choose the largest and most influential festival in the calendar to do this, however it is remarkably refreshing and it is only by doing this that the industry can continue to successfully evolve as the world around us changes.

I hosted a panel where we did just this, we questioned the impact of short-termism on brand and if maybe we as a marketing industry have the wrong perception of “short-term” and the wrong approach.

The discussion had a panel of major global brand leaders including: Lenze Boonstra — Global Head of Brand, Philips; Megan Stooke — CMO, Maven; Ben Jankowski — Senior VP, Global Media, Mastercard; and Felix Bullinger — Global Client Lead, Carat.

In our industry, over the last ten years the number of campaigns that last less than six months has trebled. Also, increasingly, even within traditional television formats, the number of campaigns that are designed to drive short-term impact has gone up 3.5 times. So the question is does this represent a supremacy of short-term returns over longer-term brand building and why is it happening?

The answer to the latter part of this question, “why is it happening?” was neatly answered by Megan Stooke, who stated “data and technology” which “are transforming every industry and the expectations around the service experience continue to be elevated, and we’re all so impatient.” She believes that the whole notion of long-term brand building needs to be challenged, because if you’re not building your brand today, then you’re not building it at all. This view challenges the traditional industry notion that short-term campaigns equal performance marketing / direct response and brand building requires a long-term approach.

As an industry therefore, are we guilty of compartmentalising short-term and long-term? Not just from a marketing approach point of view, but also from a structure point of view; separating brand from sales, housing them in separate buildings and giving them separate KPIs. Ben Jankowski believes we should treat “brand and short-term sales as yin and yang” and not separate entities. To which Felix Bullinger added a third element to include, that of post purchase customer care, often also viewed as a separate entity run by a dedicated client team or agency. This should be brought into the consumer journey, as more and more brand experience is how brands are built.

For Lenze Boonstra, trust is a critical element and you can “only build a brand long-term with trust”; he pointed out that a “brand is only trusted until the last brand experience”. So short-term also matters in this equation, as well as long-term, and as Megan said “service marketing is brand building”.

PR also has to be viewed as part of the holistic approach and for building trust. It is no longer possible to separate this from other elements of the marketing mix, both from a brand, but also corporate identity perspective. All now combine in the consumer experience with social as the connector. There is the soundbite that with corporate reputation you are only two tweets away from the truth, and with social as our news medium, corporate identity can no longer be a contained entity, but runs alongside brand and brand trust. So how do you ensure all elements of the organisation work harmoniously? Lenze believes it is about the entire organisation uniting behind a single minded vision and purpose, driving full integration between corporate communication, reputation, what the brand stands for. This is happening at Philips, creating “a dialogue in the organisation about how you build a brand and the business together”.

So in this short-term world, a brand is judged on its last experience. However, are the KPIs and measurement methodologies the majority of market is measured by the right ones to truly capture brand health and success? As Megan pointed out, when we talk about trust now the measures are different, and therefore the old scorecards by which brands measure themselves are not agile enough for a “last brand experience world” — brand tracking studies, purchase cycles etc. Felix commented that in terms of measurement, we as an industry are guilty of “trying to separate things we are planning together”. We aim for holistic, ecosystem planning, but then look at results and measurement through micro filters, be that through attribution modelling, ecosystem modelling, long-term or short-term modelling, breaking it down to assess which element is responsible for what percentage of ROI — whatever the return goal you have set for the campaign. Felix believes we need to get back to the questions of how do these elements work together to have a stronger result, and then look to also measure from that standpoint.

This then brought us back to questioning structures; are organisations set-up internally to look at success/ROI holistically? For a company like Maven, it is essentially a start-up within GM, an established company; but unlike its parent company, Maven has been created with a start-up mentality and all the functions of the business co-located and sitting side by side which “breaks down those silos”. For more established brands, breaking down those organisational silos is more complicated. Take Mastercard for example, as Ben pointed out, they have 15,000 people all over the world so trying to integrate functions is a “bit more of a challenge”, nevertheless it is a journey they are on, connecting up marketing, product and data teams. Lenze also explained Philips’ journey as they transform from a tech to a health-tech company, changing the organisational structure in the process, aligning and focusing around putting the consumer and the consumer experience at the heart of what they do — the entire organisation, not just the marketing department.

So if we have the consumer at the centre and your brand is only as good as your last brand experience, then surely, rather than any of the individual parts, it is a true understanding of your consumer that will have the greatest impact on your business? This question was raised with the panel and asked if perhaps another element that also needs to shift is the area of focus being placed on brands’ media agencies. Is enough focus put on insight mining and strategy? But how can that best be delivered and whose role is it to make that change? Certainly there was an agreement that agencies should also consider organisational change and to have greater integration between functions, client centred teams; something which Megan pointed out Dentsu Aegis Network had already inputted on the Maven account, where they are “literally one team” driving towards the same goal, sitting together not only within the agency’s office, but also within the Maven office. However, Ben felt that clients also have to bear some of the responsibility here, and to be responsible for pushing their agency and driving a greater culture of integration within their agency partners.

Structure, the geography of where the individual team members sit, is only one part of the pie in generating holistic campaigns centred around the consumer. Insight and strategy are the elements which will fuel the success of these campaigns, though as Lenze put his hands up to say, clients sometimes “underestimate the value of strategy”. There is a tendency to want to rush into the brief and into creative development, but, without emphasis placed on the insight and strategy element the work will fail to live up to expectations. However, with businesses still judging marketing success on quick sales at minimum cost to the business, the emphasis in most commercial constructs that brands have with their agencies places the focus on the back end of the process — so for media agencies this would be on savings and performance — and not on the front end of insight, strategy and planning. The tension between delivering on the business KPIs and marketing KPIs is clearly present, yet the radical idea of agencies putting “skin in the game” was discussed, driving a change in fee based models where essentially agencies will be paid to do better strategic work. This is clearly a complicated journey at this stage, as Ben pointed out, he would love to look at cost per awareness or engagement point rather than GRP, but conversations need to move into data and tech to pinpoint that attribution. However, this is the right conversation to be having, as Megan stated, it is “about how you change the currency, how you change the dialogue around what those key drivers are.”

So, is media killing the concept of brand? In short, no. Clearly regardless of short-term data, brand still matters enormously. If nothing else because of trust, and because of the trust that sits over and above product parity; and because of the purposefulness that millennials are starting to require from the brands they engage with. What’s interesting, is that it’s not just the data that we need to look at, it is also our own organisations where we need to consider pulling down some of the internal barriers that we are faced with.

You can watch this session on our YouTube channel here.

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