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Branding, innovation and the ‘age of disruption’: the challenge of change

By / / In Insight /
Digital innovation has led to countless changes in our modern world but, sometimes, accepting the challenge of change can be difficult. Authors Alison and Scott Stratten warn entrepreneurs and marketers not to be over-enthusiastic when it comes to harnessing the latest technology, because not everyone is quite ready to wholeheartedly embrace this ‘age of disruption’. The Strattens’ message is to look before you leap: analyse your data carefully, focus on loyalty and know your market first.
challenge of change

Change is all around us. New markets, new technologies and new tools to grow our businesses seem to arrive on the scene every day. All this innovation has allowed us as marketers access to data we never could have dreamed of before. The thing is, data can also be dangerous. Used in the wrong way, or focused on in the name of innovation rather than in the name of good business, data can lead us down the wrong marketing path.

To be in business today, means one interaction at a local restaurant can change the face of a global brand. Customer service, once an exercise done one-on-one, now happens in public. The online world has blurred with real life, making them one in the same. Today, we learn the truth about non-ethical businesses practices with ease, while at the same time those seeking to deceive continually have new tools to do so.

It’s enough to make your head spin.

Over the years we’ve read hundreds, if not thousands, of brand stories. We do this so you don’t have to, fine reader, because it’s our job and because we absolutely love them. We’re fascinated by what makes businesses thrive, grow and sometimes self-destruct. From all these stories we’ve found that to success in disruptive times, marketing needs to focus on building loyalty, by creating and supporting cost (value), comfort, convenience and convergence.

When we think about branding and marketing, rather than focusing on loyalty, we often default to the logo. Businesses invest their dollars and their time creating them, all in the name of pushing out the image of their brand they want people to see. If you’ve ever spent time designing, or redesigning a logo for your company, you know what we mean. Remember the long meetings, going over and over the tiniest details. Deciding which blue better represents your mission statement. Choosing a font, or two.

You’re never going to get that time in your life back.

We’re here to let you in on a little secret. Logos don’t matter. And they certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all of branding and marketing. We spend so much time and money on logos, but our brands aren’t in our business hands – they belong to our market. Your brand changes with each interaction – a living, breathing relationship between you and the world.

When people see your logo, they think of two things – the most recent experience they’ve had with your brand (or one they’ve heard about) and the most extreme experience they’ve had with your brand (or one they’ve heard about). If you change the colour, adjust the font, or change the image, the experiences remain the same. A logo needs to be clear and concise, it shouldn’t offend. Designers – not a group of people who can’t even get an appropriate outfit together, should design it. A logo should be consistent, so it reminds people of the good business you’re investing your time and money into providing. Once the logo is done, the marketing energy should be focused on creating positive experiences to go with them.

Analysing data for niche targeting

Using data as a starting point in marketing, we understand that a logo alone does not a loyal customer make. In UnBranding, we wrote a lot about the value of collecting and using data properly. One of our favourite examples was from Target, who back in 2012 took an innovative approach to data collection a little too far. One of their statisticians, Andrew Pole, had figured out a way to use collected data based on purchase history, to figure out if a customer was pregnant. Target targeting pregnant women was good for business – they could send out coupons and promotions for baby projects, and help to build brand loyalty during a time when customers tend to be buying a lot of new products and breaking old purchase habits. New parents ‘are exhausted and overwhelmed and their shopping patterns and brand loyalties are up for grabs’. Companies know this and target new parents from the moment a baby is born. If Target were able to reach them during pregnancy, they’d have a jump on the competition.

Mr Pole developed a program that was able to take shopping data from customers and identify about 25 products that, when analysed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a ‘pregnancy prediction’ score. More important, he could also estimate her due date to within a small window, so Target could send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy. Seems harmless enough, right? Except there’s one tiny detail missing – whether or not the woman in question has told her family that she’s pregnant – as was the case when an angry father walked into a Target with a set of pregnancy-focused coupons that had been sent to his teenage daughter.  He demanded to speak to the manager and accused the store of encouraging his child to get pregnant. After a heated exchange, the father spoke to his daughter, who was indeed pregnant and later apologised to the manager for his anger.

Taking up the challenge of change

Digital innovations have led to countless changes in all our lives, and sometimes adapting to these changes can be challenging. We accept that Facebook and other platforms will know what sites we’ve been looking at, and target relative ads. We expect people to have phones in their pockets, and demand attention accordingly. We go to parties and events knowing photos may end up online. These are all things we’ve become used to and now expect, but it didn’t happen overnight. It took time. While we may not be ready to hear ads through our Google Home speakers, we do embrace asking questions into an inanimate object and then having the object talk back. Our lesson here is that as times change, make sure you aren’t getting ahead of your market with technology they aren’t ready for.

Scott and Alison Stratten’s latest book is UnBranding – 100 Lessons for the Age of Disruption.

Have an opinion on this article? Please join in the discussion: the GMA is a community of data driven marketers and YOUR opinion counts.

Scott Stratten
Author: Scott Stratten

Scott and Alison Stratten are the authors of ‘UnBranding – 100 Lessons for the Age of Disruption’ (published by Wiley, December 2017). This is their fifth bestselling book together, which represent their thoughts on the changing world of business through their experiences of entrepreneurship. They say they were “put on this earth to remind the world that not all Canadians are passively polite”. And they add that businesses such as Walmart, 3M, Microsoft, PepsiCo and others “have been brave enough to want their advice”.

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