What do you see as the biggest communication challenges facing brands today? How can they overcome them?
Two top challenges from where I sit: proliferating channels and lack of historic control––and they’re related.
There is an ever-widening array of channels that brands need to communicate through. The challenge is that each demands a slightly (or more than slightly) different approach. Much as marketers and brand managers realized as the Internet gained currency that they couldn’t (or shouldn’t) treat digital and print communications the same, now digital channels have a great many slices (Facebook ≠ Instagram ≠ Twitter, etc).
Understanding and then optimizing communication for all these channels takes different skill sets, people and dollars. And whereas organizations could, in the past, “push” messages and materials out to the market, now they have to listen and interact. Two-way communication, while a huge boon, is harder to manage.
That same proliferation of channels, and the democratization of access through websites, blogs, tweets, etc., means that organizations have lost the tight control over their brands they used to have. While one could never control what a newspaper might say about you, you knew the newspaper.
Now, comments and criticism come from everywhere. My take: focus on controlling the aspects of communication you can control––with the goal of setting positive context for those communications you can’t control, but can maybe influence.
What are some of the essential components of a successful brand communication strategy?
First, be clear on who you are, for whom and why anyone should care. Communication is “with” constituents, not “at” or “to” them––so it’s important that you understand who your constituents are, what they care about and how you and your offerings can fit into their lives and organizations. Also, clarify what you want different constituent groups to “think” and “feel” and “do”––so that your communication has a known goal.
Being clear on who you are means understanding (so you can then articulate) your brand promise, your value and values and the position you fill in your market(s).
Nail the attributes you want associated with your organization––and those you’re currently known for. Brand attributes, far from an academic exercise, inform how you write, design, speak and tweet.
Develop a messaging framework (yes, an elevator speech is not enough). Interacting with a long-term customer is not the same as talking with someone who doesn’t know you at all: while your top-line message might be the same, pretty quickly different constituents need “tilted” messages if you’re to move them closer to you.
Lastly, evolve a system for visual expression. In today’s multi-channel, noisy world, it’s important that your communications, in whatever media, are easily recognized and remembered.
Having a visual system––shared approaches to type, color, imagery and design that can be deployed across all your communications in conjunction with your identifier/logo––will help to ensure that each communication builds on every other one.
How can brands ensure their communication strategies remain current?
Stay in touch with what your competitors are up to, best practices in your field and the expectations of your prospects and customers. Don’t get new-shiny-object syndrome and bounce from initiative to initiative, or technology to technology because you think that will keep you “au courant.”
That said, while brand meaning and image can, and should, endure, specific campaigns will be needed to take advantage of new opportunities, reflect or anticipate changing market and customer needs, and show you’re not sitting on the sidelines.
But if campaigns are to deliver maximum impact and contribute long-term, they need to be doing their tactical jobs well and working hard to build your brand. Having a messaging framework and a systemic approach to visual expression will enable you to mount creative campaigns with the assurance you’re also reinforcing your brand.
Digital has transformed the way we communicate. What are the benefits of digital communication? Is there a downside?
Depending on the channel, it can be immediate and up-to-the-minute, highly responsive, interactive with your audiences and agile/nimble. There are also new opportunities that come with things like video, podcasts, etc. From a market research perspective, it’s both a treasure trove and a firehose of information.
Digital downside? The noise, probably. That, and you’ve never been so subject to public criticism that you can’t control…so respond intelligently and thoughtfully.
Digital has also been a great leveler: people in their garages can compete with multinationals. (Think Dollar Shave Club and Gillette.) Because access to markets is more open than it’s ever been, it’s even more important that your messages, visual expression, behavior––and of course, offerings––be all they can be.
How can brands better connect with their audiences in today’s digitally-focused world?
First, figure out where your audiences are spending time (digitally), and focus on providing them with the information they want, in the format they want, in the place they want to find it. Be consistent in your visual branding and messaging so they recognize you anywhere they find you.
Don’t spread yourself too thin — being everywhere can be like being nowhere if you can’t marshal the resources to keep up with the demand. Choose a few channels and succeed.
Also understand that in “today’s digitally-focused world” design is content––and technology is content. How your digital properties look and behave can send a strong message (positive or negative)––and can either invite people in or turn them off.
If a digital property doesn’t look like how people see themselves, a prospect may never get to your words or offerings. Similarly, if your website behaves badly, your truly useful offering may never have a chance.
How has brand communication changed over the years? What are brands doing differently now that they didn’t do in the past? What has stayed the same?
As mentioned above, the changing landscape has demanded changed behavior: two-way interaction, responding to criticism rather than hoping it will just go away, inviting people in to co-own your brand.
But that said, a lot hasn’t changed. Most organizations have the need to make connections and start and nurture relationships. How that is done (papyrus scrolls, handshake, lunch, wood-type broadsides, direct marketing or personalized digital ads) will continue to evolve to take advantage of new technologies. But the goals of using new avenues haven’t changed all that much.
What is your number one piece of advice for brands looking to improve their communication strategies?
Think systemically and holistically. Knowing who you are, your value, your promise, and your story––and having a verbal and visual system to connect with prospects and customers––with built-in room to tilt and pivot as needed––will go a long way. Don’t embark on any tactical foray that doesn’t also accrue strategic, brand value. You don’t have the time or money.
Rapid Fire Round
- My favorite social media platform is…We’re @instasametz on Instagram. Our team shares the account across departments, and I enjoy seeing what they put up.
- If I was stuck on a desert island, I’d…hope I had a bike to explore with!—and orange juice (or, better, oranges and some collection of rocks and sticks to make fresh juice).
- My hobbies outside of work include…building houses in remote-ish places in very definite styles; adding to and curating two poster collections––one focused on 1930s-40s deco, one 1950s-60s Swiss; taking in the theatre, music and art our city is known for.
- My biggest pet peeve is…clients who aren’t as deeply invested in their organizations as our team is.
- The thing that gets me up in the morning is…dogs; the solution to a problem that can seemingly only happen at 5 a.m. (so I wake up and write it down); the call of the gym; and getting to work with staff and clients who continue to provide energy, inspiration and challenge. Helping to make a difference for organizations doesn’t get old.
- One thing most people don’t know about me is…They probably do know: I can really survive without brownies (and not the overly cake-y kind).