Why it’s so hard to get digital brand architecture right

In part two of my series, I listed 4 negative consequences of a chaotic brand architecture in digital:

  1. Confusion
  2. Inconsistency
  3. Ineffectiveness/Inefficiency
  4. Cost

Since we don’t live in an ideal world and can not start from scratch to avoid these top down, we need to go the opposite direction and tackle them bottom up.

This means we need 4 countermeasures:

4. Invest in rebuilding your brand architecture. This is a must and can not be avoided. Better do it now.

3. Make digital a key priority of your management. You need to become more agile and decisive in your work to make it more effective and impactful, as well as more efficient in the things you do.

2. Create a strong digital governance framework by servicing all stakeholders. This is a tight ship you’re running. Design clear rules.

1. Make your team part of the brand teams, or the other way round. Have one voice to the customer, and make this your top priority.

A simple plan, but many fail in executing it.

Why is it so hard?

  • First of all, it is a problem not many people see. Local targeting, individual usage, search algorithms, etc. They all make this an almost “invisible” problem to solve.
  • Second, the “soft” issues are hard to measure. What is confusion? Is this really an issue? Align with branding to measure this.
  • Why is inconsistency a problem? Our products sell well today, so why change this? Invest in the long term standing of your brands. This is not a day-to-day business. The effects are measured in years. Prepare your reasoning with this horizon.
  • Inefficiency and cost are issues easier so measure and track, so that won’t be a problem. But with the foundation built, you can justify the investment of a 5 year plan.

One thing you will notice is time. Not just that it’s a scarce resource; you will also have two timings running in parallel. One tidying up the past, and one laying the foundation for the future. If you don’t wnat the past to catch up with you, make sure you’re working on both.

General Motors currently does this.

(Disclaimer: My agency works for GM in Europe.)

As Carolin Probst-Iyer of GM’s Global Social Media Center of Expertise puts it:

  • With several brands under GM currently reshaping their brand architecture, communication strategy and go to market approach, the notion of Customer Experience is more relevant than ever. While each brand is aiming to define a unique approach that sets them apart in their respective competitive sets and speaks to their individual target audience, they all put the customer at the center and emphasize the importance of Digital and Social Media.
  • Centers of Expertise (COEs) have been formed at GM working across all brands and global regions for Digital and Social Media to address the need for more cross-functional and global alignment around strategies, operational standards of excellence and platforms as well as need for faster-paced innovation and agility in those critical area. The Social COE specifically is embedded in GM’s Global Connected Customer Experience (GCCX) group driving strategy and governance and implementing key enablers such as process guidelines, IT systems and measurement consistently across the enterprise and on global level. The team governs and help coordinate Social Media practice across key functions such as Marketing, PR Communications, IT, Legal, HR, Customer Care / Service etc. The Social COE team is led by a small group of SME’s at the headquarters in Detroit, USA and supported by regional Social COE leads in each region (North America, South America, Europe, GM International representing largely the African / Asia region as well as China).
  • It is worth noting that Social Media is looked at as a key priority by GM’s most senior leadership and the COE team’s work is widely recognized and supported by management. Driving education management on Social best practice, innovation, new trends and capabilities and thought-leadership directed both to Social practitioners and mi and upper management is another key role the Social COE team plays.
  • A well-defined and executed governance with clear roles and responsibilities and rules of engagement is critical for the success of the Social COE team’s work. By establishing spokes in each region that work closely with the central COE team in Detroit it is ensured that regional requirements are reflected in the global strategy and architecture and that there is a close connection to the teams executing the strategy and plans on an individual country level.
  • Of all the GM regions and brands, Opel in Europe had the the most widespread brand channel architecture with over 200 channels on the list. Of those there were quite a few who did not follow the GM Media Policy and guidelines and best practice set forth by GM’s Global Social Media Center of Expertise (COE) and/or they were not aligned with the Opel brand strategy and CI. In one year, the Opel team cut this number by half and strengthened their Opel brand with a more focused and more strategically aligned channel architecture putting more emphasis on overarching brand strategy, measureable business objectives, target audience and effective use of resources vs. defragmented solutions driven by internal organizational set-up and individual markets / languages.

You see it’s possible. But in the long run it only works with the 4 steps described above, and a combination of both organisational innovation and changes in communication concepts.

Where do you face confusion, inconsistency, ineffectiveness or inefficiency in your digital brand architecture?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter.