Time to commit

Fergus Hay argues that we should view digital as a brand asset with appreciable value rather than as campaign element.

An apology to Paul Isakson: we have failed you.

Paul, I’m sorry. Truly, madly, deeply. We haven’t responded to your visionary rallying cry in 2009 to stop campaigning and start committing. Apart from a few stellar performers (of which more later), both clients and agencies fall into a trap. At best, they look for the next digital innovation, at worst, just ‘doing some digital’: using 2% of the budget, with a short-term campaign mind-set and no meaningful purpose. Too often brands and agencies default to campaign-based marketing. They focus on awareness metrics, rather than focusing on the real purpose of delivering genuine brand value: by building a brand that drives business performance.

Digital is still seen as a novelty. It’s built up as the savior of modern brands and, when it doesn’t perform to expectations, usually set in a six-week media burst, it’s considered expensive and immeasurable.

This completes the cycle of short-term, innovation-based campaign approaches that are resting peacefully in the graveyard. It may work for Cannes submissions, but is it really driving business?

While the music, gaming, entertainment, online retail and customer service sectors have all embraced digital as a means of building business, why does the majority of the marketing industry (agencies and clients alike) apply campaign-based approaches to something that’s so much more than simply a media? If we’re to fulfil Paul Isakson’s vision, we must re-evaluate our expectations of digital and its role in our communications models and commit to it as the driver of brand value.

It’s time we stop treating digital as a media. It’s the ever-present platform that glues integrated marketing campaigns and consumers together under a brand purpose. It’s the dinner table around which great conversations and relationships grow, gathering a comprehensive picture of who your consumer is and what they’re interested in. It allows individual campaigns to build on each other’s momentum, enabling consumers to see a brand’s wider and deeper purpose.

So, are we making progress? In reviewing the 2012 industry award winners, there appear to be four segments:

Breakthrough individual creative showcases

Stunning initiatives built on a universal truth executed with a disruptive idea, such as TNT’s Push to Add Drama, Mercedes’ Invisible Car and Bodyform’s The Truth. Although these campaigns are creatively world-class, they’re in danger of being like sparklers at a fireworks party: capturing the imagination for the short time they’re alive, but soon forgotten by an audience which has already moved on to the next short-term explosive delight. For such initiatives to sustain, they need to be part of a larger, enduring commitment to the brand’s purpose in digital.

Commitment to content

Brands that constantly produce content, socialized through digital, building up to an enduring brand purpose. Red Bull’s Stratos is just another in their long line of original branded content. Coca-cola has made an energetic and focused leap into this space through both their Liquid and Linked content strategy and the recent Share a Coke campaign, building on the innovative Happiness Machine vending project. These singular creative initiatives are part of a larger content strategy.

Commitment to an agenda

McDonald’s is a good example of a brand committing to a digital agenda: Your Questions follows the Twelpforce model of using social media to address consumer questions and concerns in real time, openly and honestly. At the time of writing, they’re still responding to questions.

Commitment to building a long-term asset

Brands committed to non-campaign based initiatives build consumer relationship value over time. Through its much-heralded Fuel Band, Nike is the stand-out example of a company seeing digital as an asset to invest in, rather than a marketing campaign to promote. An in-depth, always-on CRM program, Nike+ enables consumers to connect, engage and purchase new products, and brag on their social networks.

In various guises, Red Bull, Coca-cola, McDonald’s and, most of all, Nike view digital as an asset with a long-term value that appreciates with investment. In shedding the campaign mentality and committing to their assets — be it a content platform, customer service agenda or product — they’re building genuine brand and commercial value.

Traditionally we ‘invest’ time and media budget in campaigns that have a shelf-life; they rarely appreciate in value over time, and actually depreciate dramatically once the campaign is over.

If we stop categorizing digital as a campaign tool, and commit to investing in it as an asset, that asset will appreciate in value more measurably and meaningfully than traditional media metrics. Why’s this not happened across the board? Because the very best digital brand assets haven’t germinated from marketing teams or agencies who take a campaign view of the world, but from new product development teams who build enduring assets with a lifetime value and growing consumer base.

If we want to make the most of this digitally-enabled world, then we must reframe our perception: digital is not a media, a short term ‘test’ or simply a campaign element. To fully realize its potential we must view digital as an asset with appreciating long-term value that builds your brand and business. If we do that, then we can look Mr Isakson in the eye guilt free.

Published in 2013

Link to original piece: https://hallandpartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/CONNECT20Issue202.pdf