Challenging Marketing Orthodoxy: “How Brands Grow” Book Review

November 1, 2011

Pop quiz !!   Please answer the following questions True or False:

 

True    False

_____  _____   Differentiating our brand is a vital marketing task

_____  _____   Who we compete with depends on the positioning

of our brand image

_____  _____   Mass marketing is dead and is no longer competitive

Seeking Marketing Truth

How did you do? If you answered true to most of these statements, you would be like most Marketers — and be wrong. At least that’s the provocative point of view taken by Professor Byron Sharp, Director of the Ehrenberg–Bass Institute of Marketing Science at The University of South Australia.

Challenging Marketing Orthodoxy

Sometimes a book comes along which challenges many of our most fundamental beliefs about a topic. Such a book is “How Brands Grow” by Dr. Sharp. If you’re familiar with Ehrenberg-Bass, then you know that they’re heavily focused on research and proving with data and analytics how marketing actually works–or doesn’t.  That’s why they have “Science” in their name.

How Brands Grow: Challenging Marketing Orthodoxy

In this new book, Dr. Sharp takes aim at how brands grow–and tries to debunk some of the most cherished beliefs in marketing. These challenges to Marketing Orthodoxy should be taken seriously because they’re based on facts and data—not opinion.

Marketing Truths (or Not)

Let’s examine the above statements in more depth:

1. Differentiating our brand is a vital Marketing task – Dr. Sharp argues that differentiation is much less important than most Marketers think. Why?

  • User Bases — First, Dr. Sharp argues that the data shows, fairly convincingly, that user bases are usually not very different. That is, users of one brand are generally similar to users of another brand across most dimensions. If users are similar, then why segment or differentiate?
  • Attitudinal Formation — Second, consumer attitudes toward brands are more reflective of buyer behavior and loyalty than position driven Marketing. Brand usage drives consumer attitudes and not vice versa. His analogy: everyone loves mothers, but you love your mother more than others.

2.  Who we compete with depends on the positioning of our brand – Not so, according to Dr. Sharp and his colleagues. Beyond the fact that brands user bases are generally very similar, purchase panel data demonstrates that a brand’s customer base overlaps with competitors in direct proportion to market share.

Dr. Byron Sharp -- Professor of Marketing Science

That is, for any given brand, more of its consumers will come from big brands than small ones. For example, if Brand A competes with Brands B and C, and Brand B has a market leading 50% share while Brand C has only 25% share, chances are high that Brand A will share more buyers with Brand B than C, simply because Brand B is bigger and there are more chances that it’s buyers will also buy Brand A.

This proportional distribution of a brands buyer overlap strongly suggests that consumers are not buying competitive brands because they are similar. Rather, it says that your brand is more likely to source buyers from big brands than small brands, simply because big brands have many more buyers to draw from who have many more chances to buy your brand.

Now, before you jump out of your seat and disagree, Dr. Sharp acknowledges that market partitions are real–e.g. soda drinkers vs. fruit juice drinkers, etc. It is these natural market partitions and not similar brand images, which drive consumers to switch among a given set of brands. Within any given market partition, switching behavior is driven more by brand size than brand image.

3.  Mass Marketing is Dead and No Longer Competitive – One of my favorites. Big brands have big shares because they have more people buying them and the people that buy them are also buying more of them. This fact based observation is usually called “double jeopardy” for obvious reasons.

However, what it also suggests is that, with few exceptions, there is no such thing as small “niche” brands with highly loyal consumers. Small share brands are small because they not only have fewer buyers, but these buyers are less loyal.

An important point here is that big brands tend to have a larger proportion of light category buyers. These light category buyers buy the category less frequently, but when they buy, they are more likely to buy big brands. Why? Because big brands tend to be more available (better distribution) and have higher awareness (often driven by larger advertising).

Mental and Physical Availability – The Holy Grail for Marketers?

So, if some of our most basic beliefs may not be true, how do brands really grow? Dr. Sharp argues that it all boils down to two simple truths. The biggest brands tend to have greater mental and physical availability.

  • Physical Availability – In Marketing terms, this means distribution. Big brands tend to have big distribution. Marketers sometimes forget that if the product isn’t present, the consumer can’t buy it. Distribution–physical or digital—is key to growing your brand.
  • Mental Availability – This means having brand salience and top of mind awareness. When consumers are in a buying situation, brands that have high mental availability tend to win out. This is not just awareness. It’s creating brand salience by linking your product to relevant strategic and executional equities that make it easy for consumers to think of your brand in buying situations.

What Next ?

Does all this mean that we should throw out all that we’ve learned about consumer understanding, segmentation, differentiating our brand, etc. ? Far from it. Rather, it simply underscores the fact that the most important drivers of brand growth are the simple notions of mental and physical availability.

So, whenever your boss or someone in the organization asks the question: “what do we have to do to grow volume and share next year?” you now know the answer. And it’s a lot simpler than most people think. At least that’s what Dr. Sharp and the data say.

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Brand InEquity – Making Brand Equity Work

August 3, 2010

I recently came across an interesting Q&A with Professor Byron Sharp from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. Byron was commenting on the validity, or lack thereof, of various brand equity measurement approaches: 

Professor Byron Sharp Talks Brand Equity

Interviewer:
But you don’t like these brand tracking services ? 

Byron:
There is an industry that provides special scores on brands, based on surveying customers.  These services mostly claim to be measures of things like brand loyalty or brand equity.  They usually have exotic names like commitment model, brand esteem, brand voltage, brand asset evaluator….Essentially they claim to be able to predict whether the brand is about to gain or lose market share. 

I think any claims made for these proprietary products should be subject to independent examination.  It’s the job of academics to do this testing. Some of the claims are so extraordinary, and so important that they deserve to be checked out.  If they turn out to be true that would be fabulous. 

Interviewer:
And do these proprietary brand health surveys, these metrics, work? 

Byron:
Well that’s just the thing.  No-one knows… 

This is pretty strong stuff. It’s an article of faith for almost all well-trained Marketers that building your brand’s equity is one of the most important things that you can do. But, the question is: is brand equity really important and if so, how are we doing at measuring it? 

How Are Marketers Measuring Brand Equity?

Brand Equity — Important or Not ?

I have to admit, it’s hard to summon any kind of rational argument that Marketers shouldn’t care about brand equity. Fundamentally, Marketing is about understanding consumer needs–articulated or not–and then delivering and communicating products and services that meet these needs better than competitors. 

If this is the core of Marketing, then it’s self-evident that brands will want to stand for the equities associated with the consumer need and how their brand addresses it better than competition. Can anyone seriously argue this point? I think not. Rather, I think Professor Sharpe’s point is not that brand equity is unimportant, but that people are just not very good at measuring it. 

Brand Measurement: Linking Equity & Consumer Need

What’s Wrong With Equity Measurement

As Professor Sharp points out, there are many different approaches to measuring brand equity or brand health. But, I have two fundamental issues with virtually all of them: 

  1. How Advertising & Media Exposure Impacts Brand Equity — On the front end, Marketers develop advertising and other communications programs to convince consumers that their brand is better than competitors. Hence, they need to understand whether and how these programs are working. Only by understanding this can they optimize advertising and media plans to improve equity impact. Currently, equity surveys generally tell us whether equity scores went up, down or were flat. But, as for what caused the changes, who knows? There’s no easy way today to see the cause and effect relationship between advertising and media exposure and changes in brand equity.
  2. How Brand Equity Impacts Business Results — On the back end, wouldn’t it be great to know that there’s  actually a relationship between brand equity and business results? It’s just assumed by most CMO’s that higher equity scores are better. I too assume they are, but then where’s the evidence? What’s needed is a more direct cause and effect quantification of how changes in brand equity actually cause changes in sales or market share. This would go a long way toward helping inform the debate that CMO’s often have with their CEO’s and CFO’s as to the value of “brand” marketing. And today, this is sorely lacking.

Brand Equity & Market Share

What’s Needed: An End-to-End System

In talking to many senior level Marketers, I hear over and over again that people are looking for an end-to-end system that links key communication and business metrics together. They want to: 

  • Link copy testing scores to real-time in-market tracking of advertising and media effectiveness
  • Connect in-market tracking results to brand equity scores
  • Have brand equity metrics that connect to revenue and share outcomes

CMO's: Chartering The Path From Brand Equity to Business Results

End-to-End Communications — Just a Dream ?

Is this kind of system possible ? Time will tell, but I think it’s within sight. The advent of single source panels which connect what people watch and what people buy at the household level offer tantalizing possibilities.

Until then, Marketers should continue to focus on building brand equity, but keep in mind that higher equity scores are not an end in and of themselves. They ultimately need to drive better business results–otherwise who really cares about brand building? 

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Understanding, Identifying and Building Distinctive Brand Assets

March 15, 2010

This post is part of a continuing series of guest posts. Jenni Romaniuk is an Associate Research Professor of Brand Equity, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, University of South Australia.

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This post is a summary of an Ehrenberg-Bass Institute corporate member report written in conjunction with Nicole Hartnett, Research Associate at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

Distinctive assets are non brand-name elements that are able to evoke the brand in the memory of consumers.   Some of the most famous examples include the Nike ‘swoosh’, the Aflac duck and Mastercard’s priceless advertising.  All of these elements are able to represent their brand name without needing any other prompting.

Aflac Duck - Distinctive Brand Asset

Many creative elements have the potential to become distinctive assets including: logos, slogans, colors, shapes, typefaces or fonts, characters, celebrities, jingles and/or music, sounds, advertising style, tastes, textures and scents.

However merely using one of the elements described above as part of your brand identity does not necessarily mean it is an ‘asset’ for your brand. For an element to be an asset, it needs to meet two criteria:

Uniqueness To what degree is your brand only linked to the element? When consumers link multiple brands to an element, brand confusion ensues. Ideally, marketers want to develop brand assets that are unique in their category.

PrevalenceHow many consumers link your brand to the distinctive element? The more consumers that are able to identify your brand based on the asset, the stronger and more valuable the distinctive asset becomes.

The Nike Swoosh Is Prevalent and Unique

Simply put, distinctive assets are more creative alternatives to directly showing a brand name, and they help create a larger brand footprint when elements are used in conjunction with the brand. Marketers can use non-word elements such as color, visual images, and sound to provide a multi-layered process for entry into consumer memory. On the consumer end, brand assets simplify brand identification outside of the advertising context, for example on-shelf or as a retail outlet.

How does an element become a distinctive asset?

To develop a distinctive asset, marketers need to make a commitment to consistent co-presentation of the element and the brand name across all consumer touch-points. Then, consumers must learn to associate the element with the brand.

Whether a brand has already developed distinctive assets or is embarking on creating elements, the main question marketers need to answer is: “Do consumers recognize my brand?” Throughout this process, keep in mind that for an element to be a distinctive asset it must evoke the brand, without prompting, for close to 100% of consumers. Only then can the distinctive asset be considered strong enough as a unique brand identifier. Ultimately, distinctive assets can replace the brand name in marketing initiatives.

I have created the Distinctive Asset Grid to enable marketers to classify their brand’s distinctive elements.  The grid is divided into four broad quadrants, which each represent the current state and future potential of a distinctive element.

If an element falls in the quadrant labeled …

Use: It is a strong distinctive element that evokes the brand from memory for the vast majority of consumers. Distinctive assets that fall in the “Use” quadrant are highly differentiated from those of competitive brands. Therefore, assets in this quadrant can be used to replace the brand name in advertising.

Invest: The element has unharnessed potential: it meets the most important criteria and it is highly unique to the brand.  However, not many people are aware of the asset (low prevalence) which restricts its ability to be used in place of the brand name. To further cement the element, it should be co-presented with the brand name.

Avoid: If the asset falls in the “Avoid” quadrant, marketers should be wary of using the element as an alternative to the brand name. Otherwise, the element may bring competitors to mind for consumers.

Ignore: An element in this quadrant is best unused in its present state. The exceptions are elements that are at the beginning of their development, as the majority of new elements have low prevalence and uniqueness. However, if an element’s uniqueness and prevalence have not developed after receiving proper marketing support, then the asset should be reconsidered.

Finally, some FAQ:

1.  Are there any drawbacks in using distinctive assets for brand identification?

While distinctive assets represent some opportunities, they also present some risks.  If you use the brand name to identify the brand in advertising, all who notice the brand name will know that it is that brand that is advertising.  However, if you only use a distinctive asset to identify the brand, and it is not 100% unique and prevalent, there will be some people who see the distinctive asset but don’t think of the brand name.  These are wasted exposures.

2. Do distinctive assets have to have a meaning for consumers beyond the brand name? (or is it better if they do?)

There is good reason to be cautious about selecting elements with strong meaning to develop as distinctive assets.  Firstly, the strong meaning will hamper the brand’s ability to attach the brand name to the distinctive asset.  This meaning will be evoked in consumer memory when the element is presented, which will then dominate and interfere with the development of links to the brand name.  Secondly, you can’t control the consistency of this past meaning.  Finally, what if the core meaning of the brand changes over time in response to consumer or market trends?  The distinctive asset will also need to change, negating the value of past investments.

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For more information on this research, contact Jenni: Jenni@MarketingScience.info

Jenni Romaniuk’s research interests are Brand Equity Metrics, Brand Salience, Distinctive Brand Assets, Brand Name Execution, Advertising Effectiveness and the influence of Word of Mouth on consumer behaviour, particularly in Television program viewing.  Her work has been published in European Journal of Marketing, Journal of Advertising Research, Journal of Business Research and Journal of Marketing Management.  Jenni is also past editor of Journal of Empirical Generalisations in Marketing Science (JEMS): www.empgens.com

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute is a world-class research institute that delivers real scientific knowledge and dramatic discoveries to corporations all over the word including Coca-Cola, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Turner Broadcasting. To learn more about the Institute visit www.MarketingScience.info

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Guest Post: 3 Things Marketers Need To Do Now

August 20, 2009

This is the 2nd in a series of periodic guest posts. Susan Kanefield Lauinger is a senior marketing executive, strategist and brand consultant with L’Oreal, Philip Morris and American Express.

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August, 2008:   Do you remember what you were doing this time last year?  You may remember gas prices going up, you may have heard of a friend of a friend who had been laid off from his job, but overall, things in the U.S. were pretty good. 

September, 2008:   Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy.  AIG requires a bailout.  Stocks plummet.

Flash forward to August, 2009:   The fallout from the economic crisis has touched every corner of the U.S., causing a significant shift in consumer confidence and a sea-level change in the way consumers think about their spending and consumption habits.  

Marketers -- What Do I Do Now ?

Marketers -- What Do I Do Now ?

What Should Marketers be Doing Now to Rebuild Consumer Confidence?

1.  Keep the Conversation Going — As the economy suffers and budgets shrink, it is tempting to look to marketing dollars for quick cuts.  However, brands that go dark risk playing into the fear and uncertainty that consumers are feeling.  In fact, Harvard Business School professor John Quelch stresses that a recession is the time to maintain, not cut, marketing spending.  He writes:

“It is well documented that brands that increase advertising during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at lower cost than during good economic times. Uncertain consumers need the reassurance of known brands…”  (Read a summary of John’s article here).

2.  Remember the Basics:  In these tough economic times, there is a driving consumer need to get back to the fundamentals.  Consumers are hunkering down to weather the financial storm and are looking to their brands to reflect that new focus on things like price, value, family and stability.  

Kraft Foods, for example, has added a “Budget Wi$e” section to its website, highlighting tips for feeding your family while watching your spending.  One tab of this section called  “Why Snackrifice?”  highlights snacks you can feed your family “for about a dollar.” 

Kraft -- Focusing on Value with Snackrifice

Kraft -- Focusing on Value with Snackrifice

Kraft has also focused its product advertising on value messages.  For example, their advertising shows the difference between the cost of a DiGiorno frozen pizza and a restaurant pizza, or the lower cost of Kool-Aid vs. soft drinks. 

Allstate is another brand that has done a good job of reflecting this shift in consumer focus with its “Back To Basics” campaign.  The Allstate advertising talks about the brand’s experience managing through recessions and their understanding of what consumers need “after the fear subsides.” You can read more about this campaign here.

Allstate -- Focusing on the Basics in a Crisis

Allstate -- Focusing on the Basics in a Crisis

 3.  Think About the Future —  Although the pressure is on brands to cut spending, raise prices and retrench in these tough times, the smartest brands will be looking to the future and laying the groundwork for the next 6, 12 and 18 months.  Brands that have held fast during the recession and who are actively planning for the future will have a distinct advantage over brands who will be trying to reboot their consumer relationships in the coming months.

Keep the conversation going, remember the basics, think about the future — these are good maxims for success in any environment. But in the current hyper-charged environment where fear, uncertainty and budget conscious actions dominate, they are especially important lessons for Marketers in any business.

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Susan Kanefield Lauinger  is a senior marketing executive, strategist and brand consultant with deep experience in health & beauty, tobacco, and financial services with companies including Helene Curtis, L’Oreal, Philip Morris and American Express.  Susan holds an M.B.A. from Kellogg and a dual B.S./B.A. in Economics and Communications from Wharton/The University of Pennsylvania.


6 Steps for Turning Digital Chaos into Brand Equity

July 23, 2009

From my July 21 guest post on Branding Strategy Insider:

The marketing landscape is increasingly chaotic and getting more so. The old world of command and control marketing messaging is dead. And marketers are woefully unprepared to deal with this new reality. In a recent survey, over 70% of CMO’s surveyed said they feel ill-equipped to manage their brands in this new digital environment.

The explosion in new media channels, and the increasing ease with which consumers can react to, create content about, and generally discuss brands is challenging even the best marketers. How do you manage your brand in such a chaotic consumer empowered world ? How do you ensure that consumers understand your brand equity and that you drive a single minded understanding of your brand promise ?

Explosion of Media Channels

Media channels — paid and otherwise — are increasing exponentially. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, webinars, forums, reviews, etc. are only the beginning. Everyday brings new options. Who had ever heard of Stumble Upon a year ago ? Consumers ability to access these new channels, engage with other consumers, and talk back to companies has radically changed how Marketing organizations need to behave. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The Social Map below by Brian Solis shows how many different options there are–and the pace of change is fast.

The Increasingly Chaotic Digital Landscape (courtesy of Brian Solis)

The Increasingly Chaotic Digital Landscape (courtesy of Brian Solis)

6 Steps for Turning Digital Chaos into Brand Equity

Here are 6 steps you can take to ensure your brand effectively engages consumers with your brand promise in this increasingly complex and chaotic environment:

  1. Be Different, Special and Better — Let’s start with a basic truth. Your brand equity is what consumers think it is–not what you think it is. Unfortunately, too many brands have brand equities that are identical to competitors. So, the starting point is to have a brand promise, and delivery of it, that is truly differentiated–a basic truth too often ignored in today’s frenzied world of media and digital innovation.
  2. Know Your Target’s Media Habits — Consumers consume media content differently. Know your targets media habits–traditional and new, and don’t be seduced by the latest media innovation if your target isn’t participating. Map their usage. Then, listen to the communities that are conversing about your brand, understand their priorities and beliefs, and identify respected opinion leaders.
  3. Measure Marketing Contact Point Impact — Understand not just what your target is doing, but the impact of different contact points.  Quantifying the relative impact of contact points provides a data-based framework for deciding where to focus your limited resources. Word of mouth has always been important, and digital is making it even more so. Thus, it’s critical to identify your categories “amplifiers” who drive it.
  4. Equip Your Organization to Deliver the Brand Promise — Knowing your brands key contact points, you can then map organizational ownership to each of these. Many “old line” functions are being impacted by new media–e.g. PR, Customer Service, etc. Ensure that they — not just Marketing — really understand your brand promise, what it means, and how to deliver it.
  5. Organize your Team to Engage Key Media Channels / Amplifiers — Establish teams to engage with consumers across your most important digital channels. Equip them with the talent and skills to publish, respond, and engage–whatever is required to focus the discussion on your key brand equities.
  6. Create Value-Added Content — Consumers want more from brands than just a restatement of the brand promise. They want relevant and creative content that surrounds and supports it. Sometimes, they even want to create it. Do your homework to understand what kind of content your consumer wants, whether and how they can contribute, and how it can support and reinforce your brand promise.

Reactive, Proactive or Engaging ?

It’s natural to feel that some of your Marketing communications are reactive and some are proactive. But engaging your target audience over time in an intelligent dialogue that drives your brand promise is key:

  • Lead with your brand promise in new and creative ways. Engage with consumers to interpret it based on their values and needs.
  • Give consumers a voice about your brand and brand promise by enabling feedback, comments and user generated content.
  • Guide consumers back to your brand promise, even when they have a negative experience or point of view. Ask “how could we do better?”
  • Use value-added content that surrounds and supports your brand promise to make it easier to engage consumers.

The key point is this: focus your limited resources. Focus on the most impactful, highest consumption media channels. Focus on building relevant, value-added content to surround and support your brand promise. And then focus your organization on engaging with your consumers across the key media channels in a conversation that continues to reinforce, develop and deepen your brand promise. Why ? So that when consumers think of your brand, they think of one thing — how you’re different, better and more special than the other guys.

What is your brand doing to turn digital chaos into brand equity ?

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How Authentic Is Your Brand ?

June 23, 2009

Authenticity is a term we hear bandied about a lot these days, but it’s one that you need to pay particular attention to. In a recent post “What Marketers Can Learn From The Obama Campaign — Part 2,” I talked about the importance of authenticity in the Obama campaign. Authentic means honest, real and not manufactured–adhering to facts and supported by experience. And it’s increasing in importance because of several key factors.

What’s Driving The Need for Authenticity ?

  1. Crisis — The economic crisis revealed that things aren’t exactly what they seemed. Or, as Warren Buffet puts it: “when the tide goes out, you find out who’s wearing bathing suits.”
  2. Digital — The web has democratized information and consumer sharing. Brands are increasingly unable to hide as consumers uncover facts, inconvenient truths and rapidly share information. Advergirl.com has an excellent post on this at: “Social Media Demands Authentic Brands.
  3. Marketing Excess — An awful lot of Marketing feels like used car sales. Companies exaggerate their product benefits and often avoid the reality of their product experience. Marketers are partly responsible for consumers becoming jaded and less trustworthy of their messages.

Financial services marketing is a case in point. Battered by the economic crisis, subject to negative sentiment across the web, and Marketing that tells people to trust and be confident. In the land of happy, content, retired people walking on the beach and playing with grandchildren, few brands stand out as being different — and authentic.

Charles Schwab — An Authentic Brand

One brand that does is Charles Schwab. No doubt you’ve seen the unusual looking Schwab ads:

The Charles Schwab Brand -- An Authentic Marketing Message

The Charles Schwab Brand -- An Authentic Marketing Message

The ads have the air of authenticity. Why ? Because the Schwab brand:

  • Is irreverent– willing to say what other brands would rather not have you hear.
  • Shows real people saying what they think– and connecting with consumers real world experience.
  • Encourages a conversation: “talk to Chuck.” How can a brand be authentic without conversation ?

Becky Saeger, Head of Marketing at Charles Schwab notes:

“One of the most important and challenging things financial services companies are faced with today is rebuilding the trust of consumers. This principle of authenticity is central to rebuilding trust and conveying that you are trustworthy: You cannot TELL people to trust you, or even convince them to by telling them why they should. Every manifestation of your brand–from communications to products to human or web interactions–needs to be true to the promises of the brand, and deliver the actions that are proof of those promises and collectively signal trustworthiness. The only way I know to do that is for your brand and your marketing, and therefore all of the above, to be grounded in the authentic purpose and values of your company. Yes, this is a huge and potentially lofty goal, maybe even more an aspiration. But how else can you trust that your brand–buffeted about in the wild and crazy, social, digital, consumer-in-control world we live in–will rise above the fray and earn the trust of those very savvy and often disappointed consumers?”

Authenticity and Creativity

A final point. Authentic doesn’t equal boring. The Schwab campaign is very differentiated in the financial services space. The use of rotoscope animation enables the campaign to both feel authentic and look differentiated at the same time. A real creative hat trick and one that other Marketers could learn from.

So how does your brand rate on the authenticity scale ?

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Publishing — The Future of Marketing ?

June 16, 2009
There’s a move afoot that suggests Marketing is morphing into Publishing. In a recent webinar by Joe Pulizzi, a thought leader for content marketing, and founder of  Junta42, Pulizzi advocates the creation of a “publications” function as a central part of any web 2.0 marketing organization. By publishing, I don’t mean just a magazine or newsletter, on-line or off, but rather a full-fledged ability to engage customers in content which surrounds and supports a core value proposition. Is this the future of Marketing ?
Is Marketing Becoming More Like Publishing ?

Is Marketing Becoming More Like Publishing ?

White papers have been around forever and are a staple of B2B marketing. Magazine and newsletters are nothing new either. But, the role of publishing and content in the marketing mix came into tighter focus in 2001 with the publication of “The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual,” a sometimes over-the-top, but provocative treatise on how the web will (and has) enabled “conversational” marketing and the end of the “command and control” marketing hierarchy which reigned supreme for decades. The idea, fairly original at the time, logically suggests that marketing communications will become more complex, organic and conversational going forward.

This means that content will become more important–whether created internally or by users. Wikipedia defines publishing as “the process of production and dissemination of literature or information – the activity of making information available for public view.”  So, is Marketing becoming more like publishing ? Well, yes and no. By the traditional definition above, Marketing already is publishing. But the explosion of new media channels, information, user generated content, etc. all of which are being enabled by web 2.0, are taking content marketing to another level entirely. And this has major implications for the Marketing mix and organization.

4 Basic Content Questions

  1. Customer Needs — It’s so basic, it should hardly need stating. Content Marketing starts with your customers needs and your value proposition. There’s a tendency to rush out and begin development of content without asking basic questions like: what, if any, kind of content does my customer want ? How does content support my core value proposition ? How will it engage my customers and better meet their needs ? How will it differentiate my brand versus competition ? Answering these questions is key to deciding if a content strategy is right for your brand.
  2. Build vs. Buy — Content can be sourced internally or externally. Huge amounts of content already exist and the CMO needs to ask the tough questions: do we have any business getting into the business of creating content ? Can we really do this better than what’s out there today ? Are we better off simply buying or partnering to acquire the needed content ? What’s the role of user generated content ? Let’s face it–we’re an invention culture and need to be open to the idea that perhaps there really are others–even our customers–who could do this better.
  3. Channels — What are the most impactful Marketing contact points in our category ? Which channels–RSS feeds, blogs, news release, e-newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, etc. should we be using to communicate our content ? Are different channels required for different content ? How will they be integrated ?
  4. Organizational Structure and Processes — A new organization structure is needed for content marketing. Who creates new content ? Is it the old publishing group, or some new expanded function ? Content marketing demands new processes as well. Who approves ? When content drives organic exchanges between customers and the company, what legal and regulatory processes need to be in place to safeguard the company?

There is no doubt that Marketing IS becoming more like publishing. There are greater opportunities than ever before to develop content which envelops your core value proposition and enhances and differentiates your product or service versus competition. There are more channels to disseminate this content. And, new organizational structures and processes are required to manage this content in an integrated and impactful manner. If this is the future of Marketing, it’s one that offers Marketers greater degrees of freedom to win in the marketplace than ever before.