The evolution of branding and advertising

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By Rob Woyzbun

Marketers and their agencies need to shift from “cool tools” and “campaigns” towards an integrated design-thinking approach to products and services — it’s not about social media anymore, it’s about social business. And marketing basics!

I recently attended ICA Canada’s (Institute of Communication Agencies) annual Future Flash conference. Future Flash is a members-only event featuring some of the most innovative minds and companies in the global advertising, brand and communications industry. ICA members include most of the global ad giants as well as many independent Canadian companies, ranging from media planning companies, digital agencies and PR companies to full-service ad agencies.

The title of this year’s conference was Innovation, Brands and the Human Experience with speakers representing Canada, U.K., South Africa and the U.S.

The underlying theme for the conference was nicely captured by this snippet from the promo materials: “Too much technology, not enough value or relevance for consumers…”

The message throughout the proceedings was that it is time for marketers and technology companies to collaborate on turning “cool tools” into something more valuable. There was a sense that while apps and campaigns have created opportunities for engagement with consumers, much of this “engagement” has actually been more about the opportunity for marketers to broadcast, harvest consumer data and drive specific purchase behaviours than to reflect the changed relationship between brands and consumers.

While there were a dozen great presentations, two highly related themes caught my attention and each of them presents opportunities for the continued evolution of brand and marketing strategy and for smart technology developers.

  1. The evolution of marketing service design.
  2. The evolution of social business (very different from social media).

Marketing service design

This theme was spearheaded by the folks from Contagious Magazine, a U.K.-based trends consultancy and a great source for insight on how brands and ideas become “contagious.”

Marketing service design speaks to the idea that a brand that actually provides a service (or utility beyond its fundamental benefit) is more valuable to consumers than a brand that is simply a product. This idea of consumer centric “brand utility” is based on the realization that a consumer’s journey from zero brand awareness through to actual purchase and consumption is complex with many possible touch points and inconveniences, and therefore many opportunities for a marketer to provide value.

The most cited example was Nike’s FuelBand — demonstrating the shift in that brand from purveyor of athletic gear to a service provider (and the claim that Nike is now a technology company). FuelBand is a Bluetooth-enabled wristband and app that measures general physical activity and provides the wearer with a score designed to motivate and incent even more activity. FuelBand is an excellent example of a service that actually integrates and reinforces Nike’s perennial theme of “Just Do It.” In other words, a win-win for consumers and the brand and an example of data with powerful human value!

Social business

This was another Contagious Magazine theme and the topic of several presentations.

The concept of social business refers to companies that are working to break down the traditional barriers between themselves and consumers. A social business is one that genuinely takes into account consumer needs and opinions in product design, operations and service delivery. A social business recognizes the power of a networked and socially enabled consumer and brings that power to bear on all aspects of the brand, even marketing and promotion.

A compelling example of a social business was discussed at length — that of giffgaff, a customer-run mobile phone service in the U.K. owned by Telefonica. The more giffgaff customers got involved in the service (by voting on business decisions, developing promotion campaigns and even answering customer service inquiries), the more rewards they could receive. Rewards could include service credits, cash or donations to a favourite charity. While this level of engagement might not be something that all consumers would relish, it spoke to Telefonica’s recognition that there was a customer segment interested in “more involvement, stewardship and ownership” of their mobile service provider. giffgaff benefited from lower operating and marketing costs and real customer engagement.

For more on social business, check out IBM’s White Paper: The Social Business: Advent of a New Age

Now what?

How does one explore these two important trends? With greater emphasis on customer insight and sound marketing basics.

To consider developing a brand as a “service” or to explore social business evolution, marketers need to adopt a greater level of “design thinking.” This means gaining a greater level of insight into their customers’ purchase, ownership and brand usage journeys. What are the customer’s basic needs?  Since many brands can deliver the same basic needs / benefit, it’s no longer about a better product but more about a better experience. What else do you know about the customer? Do you have insights into how they buy? Where they buy? Can you make that process easier? More fun? Faster?

Sound familiar? It is. The foundation for any successful product or service is a deep understanding of consumer needs, wants and the nature of the relationship between the brand and its customers.

The trends shaping our industry are a constant reminder of the importance of learning these basics.


Rob Woyzbun is the director of media research and strategy integration for Vector Media Canada, and also a partner and founder of the firm. In its 20th year of business, Vector Media provides paid, owned and earned media planning and consulting services for B2B and B2C clients. Rob is also a professor at the Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, Ontario. Rob’s mantra is to challenge patterned thinking for better marketing and communication results.

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