If you've been raised in the era of marketing that started post 2001's recession, you've had a good run. Digital has been king. The mantra has been "create, test, optimize."
You've been raised in a content bull market. But, the time for digital decadence has passed, and its passing is long overdue. If you're the marketer I described above, you're likely going to resent the hell out of it.
Here's what you need to know....
How did we get here?
Our education system fails us at many things. We're brainwashed into writing essays in 5-paragraphs. We've learned to hate (or haven't learned the term) guestimating. But, we're also all ingrained with a positive formula for success, the scientific method.
Here's a quick refresher on the steps that make up the method:
- Make an (interesting) observation
- Ask questions
- Form hypothesis
- Develop measurable predictions
- Gather data
- Refine and/or repeat
Sound familiar? Sound like something you've used at least part of recently? It should. Why? Marketing has long been based on the exact same principals, until recently when digital gave us a shortcut. In the years leading up to and passing Big Data the method has been quickened:
- Come up with an idea (make shift hypothesis).
- Use systems to measure data.
It's a three-step, method. An abbreviated cousin to the scientific method and a process we got comfortable with and really, really good at fast. Proclaimed benefits?
- React quickly
- Keep pace with the market
- Publish more than the other guy
and a dozen or so more detailed statements whose sum equates to the broader notion of "getting smarter through testing and learning."
Sound like what you're used to doing? If you answered yes, you've got a big problem.
The problem with publish, learn, react?
It's motive. The abbreviated method wasn't really motivated by getting smarter. The truth is it was established to save time. Why? We were under a crunch.
15 years back, the economy imploded and the goal was "do more with less." Digital came to the rescue. It impacted a lot of industries. Marketing, Media, everyone lived by, "publish, learn, react." This got further reinforced with each budget cut. The new "method" wasn't truly a "method" in so much as a highly iiterative process.
But that process is riddled with problems. Why? Take a look at any recent marketing faux pas...
- Dove and their ethnically insensitive commercial
- Pepsi and their culturally insensitive commercial
- WellsFargo and their total lack of self-awareness
In each instance, each company did what it could with what it had. It came up with an idea, waited for data, and got its ass handed to it. It lost customers, money, and favor. Why?
Simple. Each company lacked an understanding of one or more of three things:
- Its market
- Its people
The companies listed above temporarily misjudged their purpose in the eyes of the larger community. More simply put, they misjudged the roll and value of their brand.
They likely had lots of data, but lacked the ability to make it useful. Sound familiar? And now, they can't take back what's already published. Marketers don't get to redact.
Where we're headed.
Before you get totally turned off by the term "brand," let us explain. When we talk about branding we're not talking about voodoo or astrology. We're talking about favor.
Branding is the sentiment one has towards this thing we've invented. It's how our product, service, company is perceived. Its equity is established over every customer interaction, every business card handed out, every letterhead printed, every website designed, every commercial run, and yes every piece of contentever published.
A brand is shorthand for the company equivalent of "who you are and what you stand for." Its value is both incalculable and priceless. And while likes and shares are one indicator they can't tell us what lies beneath the engagement.
What does tell us? Not much. That's not to say that there aren't brand sentiment studies, focus groups, and other measurable/testable indicators of brand perception or brand favor. But, the findings they unearth tend to come after the fact.
Thus, when we "publish, learn, react" we're gambling with our reputation. Each roll of the proverbial dice could result in a win or loss and either can be major.
What can we do?
We got here by cutting corners. We can start by recalling the full plan. Let's examine the original first three steps of the full method.
1. Make an interesting observation
2. Ask questions
3. Form hypothesis.
Yuck. More work? Yes.
What does this extra work solve for? It prevents us from the conditioned, knee-jerk, urge to take our brilliance and post it liberally and without consideration of consequence. (See above statement on redaction).
It's no longer enough to think up something, throw it out there, and wait and see what happens. Truthfully it never was.
What do we need?
Instead we need a filter. Ever heard "we'll know it when we see it?" Ever thought "wouldn't it be nice if they could convey what the hell they were looking for in the first place?"
Sound good? It's called a brand plan. A brand plan is the glue that links sentiment to strategy and ensures that strategy exists in every execution. It's the thing that your boss, client, agency is asking for that guides the content, video, or even an event you're about to create.
A brand plan is simply an agreed-upon guideline that helps us stay the course. One that inspires interesting observations, guides us in asking questions and holds us accountable for defining and carefully pursuing a hypothesis. Emphasis on carefully. It helps us uphold those first three steps and its the foundation of any good marketing, content, or communication plan.
Brand planning is simple once you're good at it, and it's a skill that can be taught. The era of digital decadence is over, but a return to brand brings with it real clarity... providing you're willing to work for it.
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