The Smartest Brands Embrace Paradox
Debunking some long-held marketing myths.
The Connected Age has arrived. A world connected through ubiquitous, real-time and social computing, with soon close to 100 billion devices on the Internet of Things. Products and services are increasingly multifunctional, multilayered and linked to ecosystems of surrounding products, applications and services. Everything is getting smarter by becoming highly connected and instantly adaptable. What does this mean for branding, which has traditionally sought to create a carefully crafted, durable image? How can brands become more connected and flexible? What are the attributes of a smart brand?
To answer that requires debunking some of marketing’s most cherished beliefs. First: the need for a tightly controlled overarching strategy. It is fine to have a strategy, as long as you can modify it — even give it up. The smart brand develops superflexible strategies. Changing its marketing mix every day, it operates like a modern software organisation that has replaced linear, static planning with agile, decentralised methods that can be readily upgraded. Zara, the Spanish clothing chain, uses in-store customer feedback to adapt instantly its line of clothes.
The smart brand is open and adept at managing the loss of control. Instead of trying to do everything in-house, it works with others (including other brands), identifying and activating connections that are mutually valuable. Case in point: Lady Gaga, who straddles multiple industries (fashion, tech, music), partnered with other connectors such as Google, Facebook, Zynga and Starbucks for her latest album release. Or take conference network TED, which open-sourced its exclusive brand by launching the TEDx franchise. The more control it gave up, the more influence it gained. The value of a smart brand is not measured by how much uncertainty it can eliminate, but how much uncertainty it can tolerate.
This challenges the second cornerstone of marketers: consistency. Marketers assert that consumer trust is earned by predictable behaviour. But they are confusing substance with form. Yes, brands need principles — but rather than always exhibiting the same look and feel, the smart brand looks and feels different all the time, while staying true to its underlying values. The smart brand is skilled at detecting behavioural cues. It can identify and easily join conversations, and, through its behaviour, recognise, activate and move networks. The smart brand is multipolar, with several centres of gravity. Guerrilla-like, it stays unpredictable and intersperses its public persona with seemingly random acts that make it human: Interflora, for instance, monitored Twitter to identify users who needed cheering up and then sent them a surprise bouquet of flowers.
The third big marketing myth is that data leads to knowledge, which leads to power. Paradoxically, the Connected Age pits Big Intuition against Big Data. With markets as conversations and social media as the über-conversation, the smart brand pursues what Sherry Turkle calls “distributed presence”: using a multichannel, always-on strategy to be in the right place at the right time. In the connected world, with its rapidly growing complexity, power comes from knowledge that is situational.
The smart brand remains ephemeral because it understands that, despite the deluge of aggregated and personal data at its disposal, it is more about sensing than hard knowledge, more art than science. Hyper-connected, hyper-social, distributed and omnipresent, the smart brand anticipates desires, senses mood shifts, preempts knowledge, and quickly directs attention to significant market events and conversations — because whenever something happens or is being talked about, the smart brand is already there.
This post was first published by Wired UK.