Thursday, 14 December 2017

Brand Strategy: Whoever Has The Best Data Wins.

We've all heard by now that companies are using artificial intelligence to streamline the way they do business, but an influx of more intimately personal data has opened doors to even greater brand benefits.

This year, a number of companies made use of impossibly detailed personal information. Not just age, name or location, but details gathered from saliva samples and body tracking sensors.

Biometric information, for example, like your genomic profile, has become more easily accessible.  This due to the increased efficiency and falling costs of the technology involved in obtaining it. This has given brands in various categories, from luxury fashion to fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG,) the opportunity to use biometric information to both add value to their product and strengthen their marketing messages.

Today’s savvy consumers only consider brands that demonstrate that they understand and care about “me”.’ And what better way to do that than build bespoke products and campaigns for each customer?

In September, Nike launched its Advanced Apparel Exploration 1.0 capsule collection, a line of clothing based on the personal data of several athletes. The sportswear brand used sensors to track how the athletes’ bodies reacted to different environments, measuring heat, sweat and airflow in various urban settings – from the subway to the office to a club – and converted the data into body maps.

The entire collection was formed around these data insights – so every item was constructed to provide extra ventilation or coverage in the areas it was needed. Using biometric data, the brand aims to design clothing with extra value for the wearer.

Other companies have taken it a step further, personalising their products to each customer’s genetic makeup. Fitness platform Lose It! partnered with startup Helix to use genomic information to create diet plans tailored to people’s genetic profiles. And wine delivery platform Vinome followed a similar system to offer personalised wine selections.

As well as using personal data to aid product development, companies are also using genetic testing to ramp up their marketing. These campaigns and product developments could not have happened without significant technological advances. And as startups continue to innovate, even more meaningful data will become available.

New York’s Loomia, for example, is developing technology that will allow people to track the way they wear their clothes and sell that data to brands. To this end, Loomia has created a smart clothing ecosystem that can track when clothes are being worn, what setting they’re being worn in and what other clothes they’re being paired with.

Loomia’s smart fabrics collect and store environmental data specific to individual pieces of clothing, like what temperature it was outside when someone wore it. When it comes to market, people will be able to trade this data with brands for rewards – giving apparel brands a unique opportunity to track how their products are used. As startups like Loomia continue to develop new forms of data, brands will be able to strengthen their creative offering with insights that were unheard of until now.

Though these are early examples, they point to a future where companies infuse their offerings with intricate data gathered from both products and customers. For brands and marketers, customer data is like oxygen — nobody survives very long without it. Used intelligently, this data will help shape campaigns, inspire new products, build loyalty, and drive business strategy.

Welcome to the future.

Brand Strategy: Politics And Purpose

Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner advert was a car wreck, but its social conscience insight was sound. That insight is that lifestyles are the central focus of brands today.  Ergo, politics and lifestyles can no longer be treated separately. 

So, what’s a brand to do in an increasingly polarising world?  Stay neutral and risk becoming irrelevant or wade into the debate and risk a backlash? 

Nowhere is this division more evident than in the US, under Donald Trump’s presidency. Just a sniff of partisanship could rouse pitch-fork-wielding masses, as numerous brands have discovered. Also, any brand hoping to lay low until better times arrive will be waiting a long time for three reasons. The first is social media, which is amplifying people’s fears and entrenching their beliefs. The second is the lack of accountability among those in power and the third is rising inequality across the world.

The fact that brands are more comfortable getting active politically today is an extension of a larger trend to use morality as marketing. Brands today are taking that to another level, tapping into our sense of what’s right and wrong.

By advocating for causes and incorporating them into their business models, brands allow consumers to vote with their wallets on the kind of world they want to support. These feel-good purchases of self-expression have earned a catchy name: cause-sumption.

These are admittedly heavy subjects for a soap brand or sportswear label to contend with. But those that have spent the past decade differentiating themselves through purpose and cultural relevance can’t go back to saying: ‘It’s all about the product.’ So, what can they do?

Increasingly there is a responsibility to make a social stand on the things that your consumer base cares about. The brands that got to grips with the new political lifestyle vocabulary most successfully were those that picked specific social issues – as opposed to overtly political ones – tied to their stated purpose.

None of this guarantees an easy ride, but an honest position that reinforces a brand’s purpose can be very profitable. In the first ten years of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, from 2004-2014, sales reportedly grew from $2.5 billion to $4 billion, and the award-winning “Evolution” ad spot earned an estimated $150 million worth of media time.

Ultimately, the pros of cause-sumption marketing often outweigh the cons, making for memorable brand messages that connect well with consumers. And the revenue speaks for itself.

Without a doubt, a brand that takes a political stance risks irritating consumers who disagree. But it’s also an opportunity to stand up for values that are consistent with the brand’s messaging, earning further respect from consumers who are increasingly looking to vote with their wallets.

Just remember - if you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing. Brands should, therefore, be politically active to the extent that doing so is consistent with their values, messaging, and worldview. The key is knowing when to speak up and when to stay silent - and there is a fine line between political activism that feels meaningful versus selfish.

Once you determine why consumers and employees feel an affinity for your brand, it will become clear whether or not that affinity is relevant to the political issue at hand.

Brand Strategy: Radical Transparency

Consumers are more suspicious of companies than ever. Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer found that faith in the big four institutions – government, the media, business and NGOs – is at an all-time low. And to make matters worse for brands, a slew of startups are embracing transparency and creating new expectation levels that companies of all sizes will soon have to match – or risk their relevance.

Setting expectations

Online apparel retailer Everlane is the poster child for the radical transparency movement. Since launching in 2010, the brand has displayed a breakdown of costs for each item on its website. This includes things like materials, hardware, labour, duties and transport. It is an approach that has earned the fashion brand an army of socially conscious and style-savvy followers.

But over the past year, this transparent way of working has spread to just about every sector imaginable. Cosmetics startup Beauty Pie, for example, gives people a price breakdown of the factory costs for each product it sells. Insurance startup Lemonade publishes statistics on the revenue it’s generating, the number of policies sold and the average monthly charges.

Emerging companies in the financial industry – one of the sectors most distrusted by consumers – are also putting transparency at the heart of their operations. New US bank Aspiration gives customers an insight into the impact of their purchases by scoring companies based on how they treat their staff and the planet. The bank also rates companies against their closest competitors so customers can easily see which brands best reflect their own personal values. 

Similarly, Clarity Money is an app that analyses users’ spending to recommend better deals and even negotiate lower subscription fees for them – forcing companies to be clear and upfront about their pricing strategies.

Who do you trust?

With startups redefining what it means to be honest and open, brands will soon face increased pressure to meet these new expectation benchmarks and highlight their own transparency credentials. For example, research conducted by J. Walter Thompson, London, found that transparency is one of the key ingredients in earning people’s trust (along with honesty, integrity and reliability). And according to research by Label Insight, 39% of people would switch to a new brand if it offered complete transparency and 73% would pay more for such products.

The message is clear: transparency is moving from a ‘nice-to-have’ option that helps startups create differentiation and into a need-to-have asset that all companies must consider. Today, being open and honest is an effective way of building trust. Tomorrow, it will be an essential means of boosting your bottom line.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017


The power of controversy is unquestionable. Controversy attracts attention. Even those with opposing views will share a controversial position. Since the beginning of time, controversies have had a subtle appeal to them.

Benford’s law of controversy states that “passion is inversely proportional to the amount of true information available.” In other words, the fewer facts known and agreed on, the more controversy there is.  Conversely, the more facts that are known, the less controversy there is.

Humans crave controversy for three reasons. First, controversy makes our lives seem more interesting. Life would be pretty boring if everyone shared the same opinion, so a little polarization activates and stimulates our interest. 

Controversy also polarizes and separates us into communities based on our position.  Psychologically, ‘sense of community’ is one of the major tenants of self-definition. To be part of the group gives meaning and association with a larger group and provides emotional safety and a sense of belonging and identification.  

Controversy disrupts and grabs our attention.  In a modern world where it’s so easy to get lost in the noise, controversy breaks through. Challenging someone’s belief or faith causes them naturally to either seek to confirm or disprove the position. But they cannot ignore it. 

While strong opinions do polarize, they also make for strong brands and loyal followers. This largely because taking sides against the “other” is a potent uniting force psychologically.  Even more so if there is an identifiable enemy, as it gives us the chance to not only showcase and articulate our faith but also to unite ourselves with our fellow believers. A community united by a common enemy.

We would certainly not suggest a controversial strategy for all brands. Many brands would not benefit from any controversy.  On the other hand, there are many other brands where we may suggest, what have you got to lose? 

Executed intelligently, contrarian messaging can drive awareness and attention. It just needs to be thoughtfully investigated, well conceived and perfectly positioned. It’s not for the risk-averse. However, when executed properly can drive far more organic engagement.

P. T. Barnum, the 19th-century American showman and circus owner once said, 'There's no such thing as bad publicity.'  Barnum was a self-promoter of the highest order and never missed an opportunity to get people talking.  While things may have changed significantly since the days of P. T. Barnum, word of mouth marketing still requires people talking about your brand.

Alan Sorensen, an economics professor at Stanford, looked at book reviews featured in The New York Times. He determined that even when reviews were negative, previously unknown authors saw a one-third bump in sales. We believe his findings can be applied beyond authors to all “small” challenger brands fighting to make names for themselves.

We say “small” because these brands have little to no brand equity to lose. One reason is that, for lesser-known brands, negative perceptions fade more quickly in consumers’ minds than their general awareness of the product," The Economist writes. "With established brands, on the other hand, the whiff of bad publicity lingers longer."

To be clear, there is such thing as bad publicity. Just ask BP, Toyota, Volkswagen or Chinese company Sanlu. When Sanlu was revealed to be selling poisonous milk, it went bankrupt, and its top executives were put in jail. But, if your brands starting point is obscurity, even bad publicity may be helpful.

Today, more then ever, brands need to break through the noise, and one of the most effective ways is by playing the role of an agent provocateur.  By creating intelligent controversy, they can guarantee that, while they may be reviled, they’ll not be ignored.

What better example of this than the current President of the United States, Donald Trump? His entire presidency is a (P. T. Barnum’esque) theatrical production designed to keep the nation glued to the media. 

The entire spectacle is filled with controversy, conspiracy, collusion and drama all designed for one thing - to keep us watching.  It’s all a carefully contrived illusion to keep us focused, and it works. Controversy works, and without risk, there is no reward. 

Need some help creating your brand’s controversy strategy?  We can help. Contact us today to get started.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Real Value Of Google Plus For Your Business

Google today process over 40,000 search queries every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.  Moreover, over 80% of all those trying to find something online utilize a search engine and 80% of these users use Google.

Google Plus has more than 2.5 billion users, which would make it by far the largest social network in the world, with almost twice as many members as Facebook. Ultimately, Google Plus presents an excellent opportunity for businesses for many reasons - not the least of which is search engine optimization and marketing (SEO/SEM.)

What is the biggest benefit of Google Plus for your business? The fact that Google owns it of course. Therefore, much like YouTube, Blogger, and Google Places for Business, Google Plus profiles are indexed quicker and rank higher in Google’s organic search results.

The ABOUT section of your Google Plus profile also is what is used by Google Search as your page’s meta description when it shows up in the search results. You can even create links within that ABOUT introduction content that links back to different pages of your website.  Using your top (anchor text) keywords also will add greater relevance and influence when indexed.

You can also add links to Google Plus to all your other social media profiles.  This even adds more relevance and authority to your profile. In the traditional hub and spoke model digital ecosystem, this allows Google Plus to be the hub and center of your activities (from a SEO/SEM standpoint.) Adding people and businesses to your page is also easily done.  Just like Twitter, aligning with partners and your community greatly increases your exposure and influence.

If you, for example, searched for a “Pizza” on a Friday night you would likely not want the top organic search result if there were not a geographical filter applied to it.  This because you may live in Toronto and the highest ranking Pizza listing may be in Chicago (for any number of reasons.) Therefore, Google’s algorithm employs a geographical filter. Employing a Google Plus profile increases local relevance, which is instrumental for small and medium sized businesses.

The Google Maps function, formerly known as Google Places, is now part of the Google My Business dashboard – Google’s dashboard for managing and tracking your online presence across Google’s various platforms including Google Local (Google Maps), Google+, Google Analytics and Adwords. Note: If you already have a local page (formerly a Google Places page,) you can create a Google Plus business page and merge the two for even more features to help your business.

Google Plus is the perfect place to publish and claim your original (keyword rich) content – and every article that you share creates a back link to your website.  Because you’re publishing and tagging your content on Google Plus your content is indexed almost immediately.  Moreover, now that semantic markup has been adopted by the major search engines, Google’s authorship and publisher markup employed also increases your reach on search engines. Therefore, any content marketing strategy must also extend to Google Plus to optimize and amplify reach and return on investment (ROI.)

Google+ Pages and personal profiles can be connected with a website to generate even greater reach on search engines using Publisher and Authorship markup, respectively. As a result, your headshot and Google+ profile stats can show in the search engine results page (SERP) when content you’ve authored ranks.

Google+ Authorship connects a Google+ personal profile to an individual webpage, blog post or article. It’s great for gaining exposure and building a personal brand, especially if you’re in an industry that makes you the face of your business. You should consider creating a Google+ Profile for yourself and connecting it to quality content author or distribute online, especially if you are a thought leader in your respective field (i.e. Doctor, Lawyer, Professional etc.)

People searching Google for your business name or other brand signals will be greeted with a “Knowledge Graph” of information pulled from Google+ about your business.  When implemented correctly, branded searches also show your visual branding, the number of Google+ followers you have, recent Google+ posts and even reviews. Note: If a page does not actively post content to their page, you may see competitors listed at the bottom of the knowledge graph (all the more reason to keep posting and gain competitive advantage.)

Taking the time and energy to set up and integrate Google Plus for Business improves search visibility and ranking - especially for a small to medium-sized business.  So what are you waiting for?   

We're here to help. Goodbuzz offer competitively priced Google Plus optimization bundles (as well as a full range of Google services.)  Contact us today for a quote.

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This article was written by Andrew B. Giles. Andrew is the head of digital innovation and strategy at Goodbuzz Inc. You can follow him @Goodbuzz and on FacebookGoodbuzz is a full-service digital agency based in Toronto, Canada. We help brands create and capture value from emerging trends in technology, society and the workplace. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter or if you have any questions contact us directly.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Media 2025 | The Connected Society

Today, the term “media” can mean different things to different people.  Ultimately, however, media is mass communication regarded collectively. Media today can be the message, the medium, or the messenger; and to complicate things, the lines between them are becoming very blurry. 

Social Media is participatory and connected media.  One might argue that once all media is participatory and connected that the term ‘social’ is redundant.  Media is simply media.  The future of social media, therefore, is a discussion on the future of media itself. To that end, social will just be folded into the broader marketing discipline.

Social Media today is focused on driving real-time engagement, (unedited and unfiltered) live streaming video, Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Internet of Things (IoT), social commerce, mobile wallets, metadata, search/visibility, data-driven decisions, content marketing and mobile devices.

Moving into 2018, more and more users are using messenger apps (e.g. Facebook Messenger, Slack, and WhatsApp) but there’s still a lot of growth happening in social networks. Social platforms, social customs, and communication standards are all in a constant process of evolution.

Transparency is the new black, and there is a clear shift from talking at the world to making the world talk. To wit, most branded content in the next years will come from consumers, and user-generated content will far exceed branded content.  The next wave of media apps will help filter the clutter.

Ultimately, everything that can be connected to the Internet will be by 2025 (i.e. homes, humans/ wearable tech, TVs, cars, jet engines, locomotives, lights, appliances, etc.) That said, people will care increasingly more about culture than products.  

The future of media is inextricably linked to technology. The promise of technology was always to improve the way people live and to make our lives simpler and easier.  Around the world, people are utilising technology to create new communities, engage across boundaries, make the world more inclusive, and change the way we interact.  This transformation is happening everywhere and in every culture, country, and industry. 

Integrated mobile devices like Google Glass and the Apple Watch are already taking major steps to eliminate the gap between “technology” and “life.”  What is clear is that we have quickly evolved from the age of industrialisation to the connected society.

The connected society transforms everything. Information and communications technology (ICT) and big data are also fueling the rise of a new economy in which new market actors – commercial, "indiepreneurial," and crowd-sourced – are empowered with new models of production and exchange, as well as automated, frictionless and highly personalised consumption. 

In this new economy, consumers become curators rather than receivers, products give way to services, and consumers adopt more and more complex roles as citizens, users, co-creators, specialists, and actors.  Collaboration, crowd funding, crafting and sharing are just some of the hallmarks of the modern, involved consumer. 

The connected society encourages a rise of meritocracy and the formation of a creative elite.  Within this order, merit is increasingly defined by a new set of emerging values, such as knowledge, transparency, fairness, quality of experience, authenticity, sociality, healthiness, and simplicity.  The ability to make informed choices, to a very large extent, will drive the consumers of the connected society.

Fast-forward to the future, and we should see global media usage continue on its upward trajectory.  By 2020, eMarketer projects that 2.44 billion of the world's population will be on connected networks. Media usage will be ubiquitous, seamless, and integrated into our daily lives in a multitude of ways.

The ways we both input and observe media will also shift. Holographic displays will be shifting into the mainstream and keyboards on desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones will become increasingly irrelevant, as interactions on what was once called social media will largely be voice-controlled.

Driven by continued advancements in technology and rapid rollouts of commercial products, the future will be shaped by an information ecosystem that’s increasingly more intuitive, anticipatory, transparent and personalised. Some very fundamental human activities like learning, thinking, working, and being “present” with others will be transformed by these changes.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies such as machine learning and natural language processing will also play an integral role in shaping the future. Over time, the computer itself - whatever its form factor - will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day. Your phone, for example, will proactively bring up the right documents, schedule and map your meetings, let people know if you are late, suggest responses to messages, handle your payments and expenses. Technology won’t just serve as tools for you, but they’ll even serve as your stand-in in some cases.

Even today, Google’s new messaging app, Allo, scans your texts; understand the context and supplies readymade human-like responses for you (“Cute dog!” and “That’s good!”). Not just when you were sent words, but even when you were sent pictures.  Just imagine how much more dynamic and robust these technologies will become.

As a result, Social Media will become far more specialised and personalised to the actual needs and interests of each audience member. By 2025, social media sites will have adapted their platform for each user so that it would appear by today’s standards that people live in their own universe.

Social Media platforms will compete to maintain their share of the audience.  Users of social media will gradually only expose themselves to the news that affects them. Future platforms will be even more equipped to predict exactly what users will need to keep them engaged.

Social media platforms will connect advertisers with potential customers by using multiple regression analysis and correlation analysis.  When a consumer behaves differently than the formula predicted, the formula will automatically adjust.  The connected society will know when you are tired, hungry, thirsty, stressed, or even low on Vitamin C. 

In the connected society envisioned in 2025 people will increasingly seek out a sense of belonging and social media platforms will provide “fireplaces” for people to gather around and topics for interaction, conversation and relationship building.  Products, services and brands will be instilled with meaning more through the crowd than through branding and marketing efforts.

Products and services infused with a social component of some kind can more easily move from product/service status to an experience. For the 2025 consumer, an experience will always be more original than the actual product or service. This means that consumers will be looking for original experiences delivered by humans and which are embedded in a social context, rather than searching for specific products and services. Subsequently, a value will be grafted onto products and services by how a network of users – or a network of peers – decides to use them.

Human beings are inherently social animals, and we are ultimately at the centre of our own universes. On average, people spend 60 percent of conversations talking about themselves—and this figure jumps to 80 percent when communicating via social media platforms.  As a result, our social media platforms will increasingly place us at the centre of our unique, personalised ecosystem. Parents in 2025 won’t be complaining about their children spending too much time texting.  They'll be complaining that their son or daughter seldom step out of their own self-made virtual-world.

Social Media in 2025 will be a ubiquitous enabler, producer and facilitator that shift the consumer from receiver to curator.  This is a natural evolution of a sharing economy and change in values, preferring services and access to function, rather than ownership. This means that businesses will have to engage and collaborate with users in different roles rather than as passive consumers.

Social Media will continue to create and connect new communities, engage across boundaries, make the world more inclusive and fundamentally change the way we live. As William Gibson espoused, (Neuromancer, 1984) this brave new world will be “a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation.”

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Written by Andrew B. Giles. Andrew is the head of digital innovation and strategy at Goodbuzz Inc. You can follow him @Goodbuzz and on Facebook
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Goodbuzz is a digital agency based in Toronto, Canada. We help brands create and capture value from emerging trends in technology, society and the workplace. We prototype the future - and believe the best way to predict it - is to create it.  Follow us on Facebook or Twitter or if you have any questions contact us directly.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

What is Digital Strategy?

Our use of terminology forms the currency of communication and understanding, particularly in times of rapid transformation. Therefore the first task is to define what we mean by Digital Strategy. More than 50% of business executives say they have a digital strategy; a Gartner survey has found. What exactly do they mean?

Let’s start with the term digital.  Companies today are rushing headlong to become more digital. But what does digital mean?  For some, it’s about technology. For others, digital is a new way of engaging with customers. And for others still, it represents an entirely new way of doing business. None of these definitions is necessarily incorrect.

However, such diverse perspectives often lack alignment and shared a vision about where the business needs to go. This often results in piecemeal initiatives or misguided efforts that lead to missed opportunities, sluggish performance, and false starts. There must be a clear and common understanding of exactly what digital means to develop meaningful digital strategies that drive business performance.

It’s tempting even for us to look for simple definitions, but to be meaningful and sustainable, digital should be seen less as a thing and more a way of doing things. To help make this definition more concrete, we’ve broken it down into three attributes:

  • Creating value at the new frontiers of the business world,
  • Creating value in the processes that execute a vision of customer experiences, and
  • Building foundational capabilities that support the entire structure.

Strategy is, of course, a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.  It’s the art of planning and directing overall operations and movements. At its core, the essence of strategy is choosing a unique and valuable position rooted in the specific activities a company performs.

Repeating the past is no guarantee of success, therefore understanding the direction digital strategy is headed is paramount.  At the highest level, there are two options available. The first calls for extending digitization by repeating the current digital playbook to cover new functions and processes.  Transforming activity, and therefore the business, is the second option for digital strategy.

Experience changes our understanding. Digital is more than a set of technologies you buy. It is the abilities those technologies create.  Digital Strategy is therefore about transformation, and human performance is at its core. This enhanced human performance creates value that leads to revenue.

Thinking of digital as a set of technologies (analytics, big data, mobile, cloud, social, etc.) limits the digital potential of the instrument rather than the application. A smartphone, for example, has information intensity and connectedness, but it requires applications to transform value and disrupt industries. 

Every business is a digital business in the sense that digital transformation represents the next frontier of high performance. Everything is possible with digital technology, but a digital business and digital leadership must know how to separate what is possible from what is profitable. That difference extends a premium to the business – a digital premium. And finding this digital premium is the job of the Digital Strategist.

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Written by Andrew B. Giles. Andrew is the head of digital innovation and strategy at Goodbuzz Inc. You can follow him @Goodbuzz and on Facebook
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Goodbuzz is a digital agency based in Toronto, Canada. We help brands create and capture value from emerging trends in technology, society and the workplace. We prototype the future - and believe the best way to predict it - is to create it.  Follow us on Facebook or Twitter or if you have any questions contact us directly.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Evolution of Digital Strategy

The business of marketing has become an ever-expanding sprawl of options and complexity. There are multiple partners with niche expertise rather than truly broad- based integrated offerings.  Moreover, the traditional Advertising and Public Relations agency model’s are dead and competitors from unexpected quarters are moving in, forcing us all to work harder: whatever it takes to stay relevant – and valuable – to our clients.

To succeed today clients need broad-based, integrated offerings – not one individual agency’s niche area of expertise.  Therefore the role of the Brand Strategist has never been more valuable.  Today’s Brand Strategist must be a polymath. Their expertise must span a significant number of different subject areas and draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.  Today’s Brand Strategist must also have a solid understanding of all media past and present: specialists and authorities in any number of disciplines.

We would further argue that if everything is digital, then nothing is.  And now that our "old media" as well as our modern channels are digital, the very term has perhaps outlived its usefulness. "Like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence," as technology guru Nicholas Negroponte put it. So, by definition, today’s Digital Brand Strategist is simply a Brand Strategist.

The task may appear Herculean, but the goal has not changed.  Today’s Brand Strategist must understand the complex world we have come from, the world we are in, and also be forward-thinking to anticipate future trends and create a path that ensures the success of a product or service. 

Being an on-trend, relevant, inspiring, purposeful, innovative and community-centric brand are the things that will make people pause, listen and pay attention.  Customers want to identify with a brand they can grow with, that earns their trust and makes them feel valued.   People want to evolve with a brand whose products and services help give their business or life meaning and significance.  End to end, a brand must become a consumer’s best friend.

After well over a decade of constructing digital strategies on behalf of clients, one thing has become abundantly clear: most are often confused about what digital strategy is and how to develop one.  When defining and developing any strategy, it’s imperative that clients understand that strategy follows structure, people and an idea.  Second, clients must understand that profit and return-on-investment (ROI) are outcomes, not the strategy itself.

There are numerous approaches to conducting digital strategy, but at their core, all go through similar steps:
  • Identifying the opportunities and challenges,
  • Developing a vision around how the online assets will fulfill those business and external stakeholder needs, goals, and  
  • Prioritizing a set of initiatives/tactics that can deliver on this vision.
It goes without saying that within each of those stages, a number of techniques and analyses may be employed. 

First, you have to define what you’re hoping to achieve for the brand, product, or service. Start by analyzing the following five factors:
  • Presence: Measure of the brand’s digital footprint,
  • Influence: Branded message adoption,
  • Perception: Emotional reaction to the brand,
  • Engagement: People organically participating in conversations,
  • Resonance: Reaction to the overall conversation about the brand.
You need to define your business’ overall mission/objective first – your digital marketing mission must fit into your grand plan.  Therefore it’s imperative that you ask the right questions and that you understand the brand objectives that most closely align with those key business opportunities and challenges.  You also need a very clear understanding of your brand truth. You should also answer this question: what is the overriding objective you want your digital marketing efforts to achieve? 

Once you’ve benchmarked the brand’s current equity and position, you must segment your target customers. Customer segmentation allows marketers to connect all customer touch points and identify what motivates a brand’s core consumers in a multi-channel environment.  

Once you have a clear understanding of the target, their path to purchase, goals, opportunities and challenges, it’s time to formulate your message and positioning. Positioning is a marketing strategy that aims to make a brand occupy a distinct position (relative to competing brands,) in the mind of the customer. 

The idea is to identify and attempt to “own” a marketing niche for a brand, product, or service using various strategies including pricing, promotions, distribution, packaging, and competition.  Ultimately, as we have previously explained, this power resides in the marketers' ability to cloak their product in the universal dreams, fantasies, and values of the masses.  We are therefore creating and selling modern myths that leverage the collective pool of cultural, psychological and mythical elements to create a "brand mythology."

Now look at your brand's story/positioning and ask yourself:
  • What is the story/positioning telling my target customer?
  • Why does my target customer care about this story/positioning?
  • What sort of emotions does my story/positioning evoke?
  • How does my story/positioning connect to the emotional needs of my target customer?
  • How will that story/positioning incite action on behalf of my brand, product, and service?
  • What is the source of competitive advantage for your digital business model?
  • How can you manage business complexity in the global digital economy?
  • How do you create digitized platforms that enable new and evolving digital opportunities?
  • How can you simplify your customer experiences without creating burdensome organizational complexity?
  • How can you create new information offerings that generate bottom-line value?
The resulting narrative enables the use of social channels, for example, as a means to convey a product, service, or brand’s benefits.  Brand stories are what drive interactions with customers.  If you need further assistance in refining your brand's positioning and subsequent messaging, we would suggest reading through the wealth of information provided by Beloved Brands.

You now should ideally have an intimate understanding of your brand’s current positioning, goals, objectives competitors and challenges. From here you should be able to ascertain where a winning brand message and position can be found in the future. 

You also now should have a clear understanding of your target consumers demographics, psychographics, and technographic profile keeping in mind that you may have multiple target segments within any target group.  Note:  At any number of agencies we have worked at (or with) in the past, many have also employed the use of detailed Buyer Personas, which can be a helpful exercise – as the better understanding you have of your target(s), the easier it is to engage them.

As your target consumer base varies, the technologies and social networks you utilize to reach them will naturally vary, too.  Imagine you’re a retailer and based on your research and planning you’ve discovered that YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and a variety of social retail oriented platforms such as Pinterest or Fancy are best suited to help reach your brand’s target audience.

Let’s say that you’ve also discovered that more than one-third (33%+) of the activity surrounding your brand is based on your target consumer’s mobile behavior. You’d naturally want to define the experience that consumers will have with your brand’s products by channel, across multiple platforms, based on their behavior patterns. This exercise is also known as User Experience (UX) Mapping but the most important things you must ask yourself prior to creating any map are:
  • How do customers search and find information about my product, service, or brand?
  • What social platforms do they favour (Technographic Segmentation)?
  • What’s the purpose of the specific social platforms and technologies we’ve chosen to utilize?
  • How do these mediums play into our mobile strategy?
  • What is going to differentiate me from my competition?
As the world has shifted to digital and social media specifically, consumers look to fellow consumers to inform any purchasing decision.  Influencers are therefore a critical part of the digital market success as we move towards the new marketing models that make up social commerce and consumer experience.

Another helpful exercise at this stage is to create a Marketing Calendar that shows your brand’s marketing efforts across the channels you are leveraging in your marketing programs. Use it for benchmarks related to your digital strategy.  What are important dates for your brand's success?  This could be based, for example, around a Holiday, trade show, product release or any other points in the year that align best with sales. A social media content calendar can also be developed to support your Marketing Calendar.  Always keep in mind that when it comes to engaging prospects or customers that quality is far, far more relevant than quantity.

Creating benchmarks and key performance indicators (KPIs) by channel and platforms is also extremely important during this phase.  This is imperative in order to estimate your brand’s expected return per channel — and whether this return is measured based on awareness, engagement, online sales, or any number of other components.  From an agency standpoint this stage is also imperative to setting realistic expectations with clients.

The ultimate goal of engagement is to create a feedback loop that allows you to meet the goals you set forth in the strategy development phase. In order to be successful, you must continually evaluate and alter your digital strategy based on the information that you gain from your campaigns and digital initiatives. As marketers, it’s important that we measure everything.

Throughout every campaign, you must also utilize social listening tools to get insights into campaign performance, variances in brand health, and language cues that are indicative of purchase intent and overall brand performance.

Extending consistent on-brand, on-message content and collateral across all selected channels is imperative and the cornerstone of brand building.  Approach your constituents with the goal to engage their personal lives and experiences. Be authentic, honest and try not to increase friction or decrease participation. Execution is what brings the strategic plan to fruition. Sounds simple, right?

With a clear understanding of the elements above you’re in a strong position to frame and articulate a winning digital strategy for your brand.  Keep in mind we’re discussing digital strategy versus tactics. The terms tactic and strategy are often confused: tactics are the actual means used to gain an objective, while strategy is the overall campaign plan, which may involve complex operational patterns, activity, and decision-making that lead to tactical execution.

This framework/overview is based on our experience (and is a work in progress) however, what would you adjust based on your experience?  What do you think about it? Is there something irrelevant? Is something missing?  Looking at the sector you are working in, would you approach this differently?

Written by Andrew B. Giles. Andrew is the head of digital innovation and strategy at Goodbuzz Inc. You can follow him @Goodbuzz and on Facebook.

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Goodbuzz is a digital agency based in Toronto, Canada. We help brands create and capture value from emerging trends in technology, society and the workplace. We prototype the future - and believe the best way to predict it - is to create it.  Follow us on Facebook or Twitter or if you have any questions contact us directly.