The tremendous changes we have experienced in the digital era have no doubt transformed marketing as we knew it. Twenty-first-century branding techniques, which are completely based on digitization processes, are beyond what marketers imagined when they initiated. Today, the golden age of digital platforms has utilized rapid innovation in technology to enhance the change in branding. The rate of change is now becoming unpredictable, as new technologies emerge to bring further dynamics never anticipated or expected. The best part about the universal digitization process in branding is that opportunities are availed to young creative minds who are the entrepreneurs in small and medium-sized enterprises. However, there are many challenges that have come with this rapid transformation. For example, the management of huge companies is not certain about relevant material that defines branded content or changes to expect in the near future. Therefore, it is difficult to make long-term plans and investments, especially in digital marketing. What is more, is that the benefits of branding have been highlighted while ignoring the consequences thereof. Although social media provides companies with a platform to interact directly with customers instantly without borders, the companies are vulnerable to jeopardizing their reputation, especially when negative information is conveyed. After investing billions in social media, there is little to reap from this approach.
An Overview on Branding and the Puzzle in Use of Digital Forms
Branding has evolved over the years to accommodate the latest technological advancements. Today, companies seeking to design their identity and need to adjust their approaches in accordance with the current needs and demands. For example, besides the logo and promotional merchandise, the new priorities while considering establishing a brand include; the role of customer service and the reputation of the company, which are mostly determined by online activity. After the end of monopolies early in the twentieth century, companies have intensified competitiveness, as they strive to win customer attention.
Although social media provides unlimited space to interact with customers across cultural and international borders, many huge brands seem to be compromising their significance. Moreover, any negative information spreads faster than all efforts towards positivity and goodwill. As a result, it is highly likely that companies’ reputations will succumb to the least possible negativity generated online, whether verifiable or false. Companies are now at the mercies of fate, depending on the trending news and their alignment with current events. With malicious online users and dissatisfied customers possessing the powers to bring down the reputation of these companies, huge investments in digitization have become a huge risk, as well.
Several academicians have sought to tackle the puzzle and expose the problem with digitization, yet the debate rages on. In his article titled Branding in the Age of Social Media, Douglas Holt acknowledges that there is a problem in the results of investing in social media. He founded the Cultural Strategy Group after working as a professor at Oxford and Harvard Business School. First, Holt notes that digital marketing has not turned out, as expected in general. The current situation has exceeded expectations and rendered companies helpless in their decision-making processes. The writer enhances the need to consider the diversity in cultures, as an approach towards providing appropriate brand content for target customers. He explains that crowd-culture has transformed the norms of the business environment and the rules used traditionally in branding. By understanding how crowd-culture works, it is possible to identify the indicators for success or failure in online branding.
David Edelman’s article titled, branding in the Digital Age: You’re Spending Your Money in the Wrong Places, highlights the current trend of investing in modern ways of marketing. Edelman worked as the Chief Marketing Officer at Aetna, which deals with consumer-directed health care insurance and now, as a global leader in digital marketing and sales at McKinsey. The author highlights the differences between the traditional systems of marketing and the modern and popular forms. The article exposes the problems associated with blindly adopting modern ways of marketing and the long-term consequences associated with them. Traditional marketing techniques and budgets have adjusted to focus on customer interests, which is on social media and other online platforms.
Traditional versus Modern Methods of Marketing
In both articles, Holt and Edelman prefer traditional marketing strategies to the popular and renowned digitization processes. Both authors highlight why branding based on improving awareness through opening wallets at points of purchase was a more viable solution to marketing. According to Edelman, traditional forms of marketing compelled prospective buyers to research the available choices before making a decision that suited their needs. However, modern consumers are not loyal or patient in their bid to identify proper brands. Instead, they shift brands regularly and connect with diverse options available on their online media channels, which are rarely in control or reach of the manufacturer or retailer responsible. They also participate in brand development by actively participating in promoting them on their online media outlets. These actions lead to further changes to the brand and how it is perceived by other potential customers.
In Holt’s view, branded content is a misconception of digitization and not a relevant option that deserves investments worth billions of dollars. In his view, older approaches such as cinematic tricks common in the entertainment industry alongside songs, stories, and empathetic characters were the ideal approach towards attracting the attention of the target consumers. According to Holt, the success of this old approach utilized mainstream entertainment media hence minimizing cultural competitions. Since television channels were few, movies were only screened in theatres, and magazines were limited, consumer marketing was systematic, measurable, and in control of the culture. Today, audiences are not focused on advertisements on mainstream media. As a result, companies cannot guarantee to increase their fame through purchasing airtime. The chaos surrounding modern marketing is beyond control, even though it was not anticipated.
Sub Cultural Trends
In Holt’s view, any trending topic has a virtual following around the globe from coffee to hobbies, home-schooling, the latest 3-D printing techniques, novels, arts, and other diverse topics. Initially, sub-cultures were limited to groups that met physically without a means to communicate easily. All they had at their disposal were limited magazine space and radio airtime, which was costly hence utilized only by huge companies. Today, Holt observes that social media has extended the activities of subcultures and their ability to grow further through unlimited democratization. As a result, he shows how easy it is to bypass prevailing cultural boundaries to push new ideas, practices, and products. These platforms are unmanageable and out of control.
On the other hand, Edelman shows the importance of considering the consumer journey in practice, which has profound implications on marketing. Therefore, marketers should investigate the stages involved in the decision-making process instead of rushing to invest in available media outlets. He notes that between 70% and 90% of investments are dedicated to advertising and promotions. However, these approaches only focus on the consideration stages of the customers. Instead, the companies’ marketers should consider the fact that consumers proceed to a further stage, which is to evaluate and advocate their options. While marketers spend a fortune on advertising, advocacy plays a bigger role in influencing the purchasing decisions of the buyers. According to Edelman, many products get the biggest, colorful, and coolest banners or the hottest viral videos to win the attraction and compel the customers to consider them. However, societal influence in the subculture, which is evident in reviews, bears more weight. Online discussions and reviews are critical determinants of winning customers.
Impractical and Outdated Strategies
Both articles warn against the use of traditional approaches to win the current generation of customers. For example, Edelman mentions that most marketer’s budgets are designed to address the requirements of strategies that are outdated. These approaches were used when communications were one-way, and the channels were few and reliable. Moreover, the interaction with customers had variable cost, unlike the creative fixed costs used currently. This way, it was easy to ascertain the results and progress of the marketing process. However, Edelman shows, the strategy is no longer applicable. Today, marketers also need to consider the roles of owned and earned media. Most importantly, a huge portion of the budget is spent on non-working activities such as the technology necessary to develop, manage, and monitor the content. He noted that at least 60% of customers of facial skincare products conducted online research before making a decision to purchase hence the need to consider third-party sources of information.
According to Douglas Holt, an art world is a necessary environment for companies seeking to produce innovative and popular messages. This mode of organization helps to trigger collaborative competition, as various participants work together, learn from one another, and influence one another.
Branding and Icon Development
It is common to associate brands with icons. Both articles show the essence of relevant branding towards uniqueness in identity. In Holt’s view, iconic brands are cultural innovators because they leapfrog conventions to foster new ideologies, which are sensible and meaningful to customers. He explains that cultural branding enables the attainment of customer loyalty, which translates into higher sales and profitability. Most importantly, it gathers excess media coverage and control of available space. With a proper branding model, marketers can build iconic brands, which is the most prized achievement in a business outside of profitability.
Holt uses Whiskeys to show how they are depicted as upscale and masculine since the mid-twentieth century. All whiskeys aligned themselves with this male ideal and maintained the trend to date. According to Holt, some of the companies target the rich and others the middle class to help achieve uniqueness and consequently survive the competition. Since the ideals metamorphose over time, various events in history contribute to major changes in the brands, as well, the industry needed to adjust to the changing male ideals. For example, during the Cold War, the ideal was not favorable, as the nation was faced with the threat of a nuclear attack. Instead, the companies adopted popular movie stars until the audience adjusted to the new norms.
Edelman insists on ensuring the customer’s experience is coherent through research over the decision journey. Extending the boundaries of the brand, he explains, is the ultimate goal of every business. Although each company has unique products, target segments, strategies, organizational culture, and media mix, they all rely on social media discussions and interactions that determine the ultimate sales. He uses Apple as one of the iconic brands that eliminated jargon and focused on aligning the product descriptions to foster consistency and accuracy of all touchpoints. The company built a rich library of videos to explain its position and introduced off-line genius bars designed to enhance its consistency. In contrast, he uses Nike to show the little distinction achieved, especially online.
The Differences in the Articles
While Douglas Holt if focused entirely on the role of culture and its related dynamics, David Edelman, as a diverse perspective that accommodates a variety of findings. Therefore, Holt offers an in-depth study on why companies need to align their marketing strategies on the cultural definitions of their target audiences. Although the approach is explicit and comprehensive, it is limited because it does not consider other contributing factors, unlike in Edelman’s article. On the other hand, Edelman explores various aspects of a proper and practical modern solution to the problem in digital marketing. For example, he shows the need to shift, the process required, customer characteristics and expectations, and how to address their needs.
Although they agree on the need for a modern solution to the problem and share common themes emerging from the consequences of digital branding, each author has unique proposals. Since there are increasing variations and rapid changes often emerging in technology, there are varying suggestions among experienced marketers towards addressing these issues. Edelman has a systematic approach to modern branding without spending more than managers should, as is the case today. He begins by re-defining the metaphor that guides modern marketers, incorporates his experience in the industry, and explains the four stages needed for less reductive and cost-effective marketing plans. They include a consideration, evaluation, purchase, and advocating. Company marketing plans, he explains, should be aligned with these consumer processes to help achieve a reliable and practical solution.
On the other hand, Holt provides five principles to help marketers address a culturally-based strategy. They include; mapping the cultural orthodoxy, locating the cultural opportunity, targeting the crow-culture, diffusing the new ideology, and consistent innovation via cultural flashpoints. This approach has been proven by implantation in various cases with success. In the approach, Holt maintains that marketers should introduce and promote an innovative ideology to break with category conventions. To do this, first, the management should identify the specific conventions to leapfrog hence the cultural orthodoxy. This way, the brand will be seen as relevant across various sub-cultural groups.
Crowd Culture versus Decision Journey
Douglas Holt concludes by enhancing the need for targeting novel ideologies to help brands stand out against their competition. He explains that competing for crowd cultures will not only help make them distinct and unique but also deal effectively with social media platforms. Instead of focusing on chasing trends to retain relevance, the companies should identify and uphold their unique characteristics. The pursuit of relevance does not distinguish brands, as hundreds of their competition are involved in the same race hence irritating the target population. Asserting a point of view that is unique and timely in accordance with the crowd culture would help brands to stand out in the already crowded media environment.
David Edelman concludes his article by insisting on the role of starting the journey with the consumers. He explains that marketers should understand the consumer decision journey before investing in advertisements. The marketing strategy should instead be aligned with this decision journey. Since there are challenges that cannot be addressed at their local level, they need to adopt social media programs that suit specific narratives amongst their target market. Most importantly, it is imperative that the companies identify the processes, successes, and failures associated with a pilot study.
Douglas Holt notes that companies are still caught up with seeking appropriate models that will work in the internet-based business environment. For example, he shows how the biggest social media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, call the shots and determine how billions of money are spent on online advertisements. He warns that companies should divert their focus from these platforms and address the real problem. Instead of depending on the social media platforms, Holt insists that they should develop a reliable strategy that will thrive on these platforms. This way, companies can restore the traditional form of battling for cultural relevance and gain the loyalty and power of the mass following.
Edelman maintains that the metamorphoses in branding should not be viewed as incremental but as fundamental. The consumers’ perception of a brand, especially during the decision journey, remains critical to the marketer. Most importantly, he explains that the speed, widespread, and interactivity that comes with digital branding depends on brand experience. Hence the need for adjusting the management accordingly. Just like the way the company depends on decisions of a founder its early stages of expanding its customer base, established and huge companies should also utilize this approach, as they shift towards a more viable solution.
This study investigated two articles that sought to address branding in the digital age. Both authors highlighted the challenges brought by the increased use of digital branding, especially on social media. They warned that the consequences are beyond control, and new measures are necessary to help address the arising issues. Both Douglas Holt and David Edelman have varying approaches on how to deal with the problem. They compare the old approaches to marketing with the modern and rapidly changing structures. This twenty-first-century branding techniques are completely based on digitization processes and beyond what marketers imagined when they first started. There is a need for new solutions, as the rate of changes is now becoming unpredictable, as new technologies emerge to bring excess dynamics. The highlight of the universal digitization process in branding is that opportunities are availed to young creative minds who are the entrepreneurs in small and medium-sized enterprises. However, there are many challenges that have come with this rapid transformation. Holt offers a solution based on focusing on sub-cultural target groups, while Edelman insists that aligning marketing strategies to the customer decision journey is the best approach to the modern online problem.
David C. Edelman (2010). Branding in the Digital Age: You’re spending your money in all the wrong places. Customers. Harvard Business Review- Analytic Services.
Douglas Holt, (2016). Branding in the Age of Social Media. Branding. Harvard Business Review.
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