The digital landscape is sounding a wake-up call for brands who are struggling to adapt their proposition and identity.
Most of us can point out a high-profile brand that has fallen victim to disruption by not adapting to, or not recognising, new entrants to their market who are redefining ways to build presence, market share and leaving slow to move brands redundant; take Blockbuster being taken out of the game by Netflix or the emergence of Uber and Airbnb which have reshaped their respective sectors.
The innovators and startups are making ground to such an extent that if you can’t adapt, the answer seems to be to simply buy up the disruptors – eg Unilever and the purchase of Dollar Shave Club.
Digital leadership academy L2 suggests the way brands are being built is being re-shaped, in part due to consumers’ digital habits bypassing brands completely and opting for the likes of Amazon, Google or Tripadvisor to satisfy their needs and requirements as the tools of discovery.
So what can brands do when their market may be ripe for disruption?
Start with why you exist and think how you can migrate your offering, through digital transformation, to become a brand of authority and trust.
Authority and trust are two key assets upon which brands can build a unique selling point.
An organisation’s history and background are valuable assets. They are an opportunity to create a point of difference for a brand operating in a competitive marketplace and can be used as to become a knowledge centre for your industry sector and to be seen as 'human'.
Brands as knowledge centres
So what is a knowledge centre?
It’s about turning your digital brand into the go-to destination for information, content and advice built through trusted, authoritative information that existing customers and prospects would be delighted by.
We are being pushed content by anyone and everyone, culminating in consumption overdrive with brands struggling to cut through the noise and make tangible connections with their audience whilst retaining a share of voice of authority and trust.
To transform your brand proposition into a digital knowledge centre, take a step back from the digital tactics being deployed and start with your purpose and reason for your brand existing.
Mind the gap
The above diagram details the need for brands to stop rushing into the tactical elements of their digital activities, and consider if their brand, its purpose, and why it exists are really understood.
There is an obsession among digital marketers to dive straight into new channels – jumping head first into a tactical plan. This can be a huge distraction when there is not a clearly defined strategy in place and without first asking the question of how you brand is aligned and if indeed your brand is being used as a valuable asset when building your tactical plans. For example, will this channel support our brand, does it connect to our purpose and can we create a point of difference from our competitors to offer value to new audiences?
Take a step back and ask: why do you exist and what do you offer? If the brand's purpose is not clearly understood and integrated within the journey through digital transformation, brands may be finding themselves lost.
Brands should consider answering the six steps as highlighted in the above diagram and stress test how their reason for existing and brand values are incorporated within future tactical elements of the strategy.
Audit your platforms
You should look to audit the digital platforms used by your brand which users interact with. A deep audit should be considered for each platform (eg mobile, desktop, app) such as 'channel' health and the tactics used to enhance the brand through the digital marketing mix: search, social media, syndication, email marketing, influencer marketing for example. Uncover your current position as well as opportunities to further enhance your channels.
As well as auditing your brand's own platforms, assess your competitor’s channels – the platforms being used, how they interact with their own customers and prospects and what your competitor’s motivations are – through the use of a SWOT analysis and benchmarking report.
Emerging channels such as virtual assistance and voice search should also be taken into account when conducting the audit and how your brand is equipped for future disruption.
Know your audience
Understand and build awareness of your audience, your customers and focus on building engagement and collaboration with your audience through persona creation. Persona creation also helps to get buy-in across your organisation in helping to paint a picture and bring to life your customer profiles. By understanding your audience, it helps brands to align their proposition to what their customers really want, through which platform and which digital channel.
A good example of a global brand that has done just that is the National Geographic, and its innovative use of social media, through Instagram, is a great example of a traditional brand playing to its strengths. It is a trusted brand appealing to a global, environmental audience, collaborating and working with its loyal followers by helping wannabe journalists and photographers promote great content through its branded social channels.
Define your USP
Do you have a unique selling point at the heart of your digital strategy? What is your point of difference? What do you provide your audience, your market sector that is different from other brands operating in the same sector?
Columbia Sportswear operates in the highly competitive outdoor clothing market. It wanted to identify an opportunity to build relevancy with its audience and attract new audiences to its brand proposition through a mobile app.
After completing qualitative research to understand what its audience's needs were, an app was developed called 'What knot to do', providing useful information to support its audience's outdoor activities centred around instructions on how to tie knots.
Building authority and trust
Are you delivering your brand's voice of authority? Are you informing and delighting your audience by telling a great brand narrative through the content you’re delivering and have you embraced digital tactics for users to find and consume your information (eg search, social, influencer, syndication)? A brand needs active and engaging social channels and good customer support through the customer channel of choice.
A 2015 Searchmetrics report which assesses search ranking factors suggests there is an opportunity for brands to drive their content marketing efforts around expanding their domain authority and reputation for associated content within their industry sector.
Building a narrative
Have you crafted a consistent narrative that can be communicated through your online channels? Are you engaging in conversations through social media channels with your audience? And are you building direct relationships with your customers and audience to give your brand a personality and a human element to your proposition and online reputation?
The music industry was once driven by a small number of record companies who dictated the product placement, price and promotion that should be given to an artist. The record companies held the keys to launching the artist or your record to a global audience, as it was through the record company the artist’s work would be produced, promoted and price set.
CDbaby was created to provide a solution to the thousands of independent musicians who were at the mercy of the large music distribution labels if they wanted to get their music into large chain record stores.
By providing a platform for independent musicians, CDBaby took to social media to provide an industry leading example of how to create and build an engaging platform that provides musicians useful 'how to' tips on building their network, and promoting their music. It’s a classic example of not using social media as yet another sales channel but using it as a channel to help followers.
Help and support
Are you providing your audience with true value and utility? Are you striving to ensure your brand is creating a need or want that your audience would want to use every day and there is a reason to return to you as a brand every day? Are you creating something that stands out in a media saturated world by building an emotional connection with the customer?
Brands are clambering on the digital bandwagon but using the same techniques they used in a bygone era of broadcasting their message through buying up media space (radio, TV, ad impressions) but it is no longer working: appealing to the masses means appealing to no one.
Brands need to spend more time getting to know their audience and what motivates them, engaging not just their audience but prospects and the general online traffic through channels such as social media. Look to support the needs and answer the questions being posed by social traffic as well as considering your content marketing efforts to answers popular questions associated with your industry.
Eric Schmidt in 2008 famously said “Brands are the solution, not the problem” – and it’s true. But brands are facing ever more disruption to their sector as well as the challenge of engaging with their audience and retaining relevancy.
Learn to take a step back from the digital tactics and begin to assess how the tactics your brand is deploying is connected with your brand purpose, the reason why you exist. Creating and defining your brand as a knowledge centre helps to reconnect your brand, its purpose, its point of difference, and your reason for existence in offering true value and connection.
Simon Swan is head of digital marketing at the Met Office and is writing in a personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter @swanny_s