Monday, December 10, 2012

Data and the new brand strategy

This is a long read, but there's quite a bit I want to cover. So please bear with me. I’m going to try and break it down, because this is important and I am keen to get feedback.

Last week I had a run in with Virgin Media. But that’s not what this post is about, so read on. Despite going to hell and back trying to rectify the situation, what emerged - phoenix like - from the burning embers of my belief in the Virgin brand, was a light bulb moment with regards to the future of brand strategy.

In short, my belief if this:

We, the branding industry, are ultimately failing our clients by omitting to tie their brand strategy to their data strategy

Business strategy + brand strategy = proof of process 
Good brand strategy is intrinsically linked to a client’s business objectives. They’re generally what drives the brief in the first place, and they act as one of the few measurable proof points for what branding can achieve. This approach still stands. It is important to note, however, that increasingly those business objectives have come to include terms like “user engagement” and “digital leaders in our industry”.

The new brand strategy 
In the past few years, what a brand is, what it stands for, how it is accessed and how it is expected to behave have fundamentally changed. With the rise and rise of social media and technology in general, the number of brand touchpoints has grown limitless. A brand now needs to be consistently recognisable, whether it’s on the homepage of their website or on their regionalised Instagram feed.

In response, agencies have had to learn how to bring in people with new skillsets, usually with the word “digital” in front of their title. For some companies, this has meant recruiting, for others it’s meant buying/merging with digital agencies. As a result, agency offerings now include things like UX/UI, bespoke app creation and social media guidelines. This is a good thing.

Brand strategy - Data strategy = unhappy customers 
Unfortunately, as we’ve become experts in “thinking outside the box” and “pushing boundaries”, and got busy making all the assets that go along with it, we’ve forgotten one crucial thing. We forgot to explain to our clients what to do with all the data these digital touchpoints create. Yes, we may have told them how valuable the data is, and what amazing insights it can give them. But we’re not really helping them go beyond that. It’s like we’ve delivered the big screen tv, and have left them to sort out the wiring. This needs to change fast.

Case study: Virgin Media 
Virgin - one of the world’s largest and best known brands. I trust them. I was more than happy to go with them for my broadband. When I hit a problem, however, it quickly became apparent that their social media team was entirely silo-ed from their customer service team who - in turn - were silo-ed from their technicians on the ground. My conversations with Virgin Media on Twitter were not reflected in my conversations with them on the phone. Meaning, that while they had the Twitter account, and the tone of voice guidelines, and the staff, they were unable to identify me as a customer and pass my concerns on to someone who could actually help. Their information flow was failing to match consumer expectations, or to put it another way, they had the TV and had not plugged it in. 

Lots of information = big data 
The experience I had with Virgin Media was mainly due to one piece of information failing to be passed through to the correct channels. But my issue can’t possibly have been unique to me, Virgin Media must deal with thousands of similar issues on a daily basis. And lots of similar information is known as “data”. If a company as big as Virgin have a data disconnect that's this visible and this damaging to their brand, what others do they have hiding beneath the surface? If they’re not looking at their data, and mixing it up with other data from other departments like, for example, their technical team, then they are running an inefficient business. Business, brand, data - it all works together.

The Solution 
1. As brands increasingly express themselves and come to life through technology, so they generate vast amounts of real-time qualitative and quantitative data that is valuable to every part of the business. 
2. The branding industry need to work with data scientists if they are to offer the most impactful digital solutions for their clients. The two skill sets can no longer thrive in isolation. 
3. It is the responsibility of the branding industry to clearly identify what data each of their recommended touchpoints creates, and how that data should be gathered, managed, processed, interpreted and acted upon by the entire organisation. 
4. Moving forward, a data strategy should act as the glue between the business objectives and the brand strategy.

So there we have it. Thoughts? Is it possible? Is it crazy? Or might it just be the future? Let me know.