The Intersection of Digital and Brand

One of the side effects of the rate of change every brand team experiences is that looking back can seem, well, foolish. "Forward" is the brand team mantra, repeated silently, sometimes unconsciously, as time takes on a very contemporary shape – something akin to a New York City tunnel on a Friday at 5pm ­–, each idea of how to “engage” consumers vying to get through. However, there can be some good to reflecting on life a short ten years ago.

Ten years ago the Winter Olympics was going on in Salt Lake City. United Airlines declared bankruptcy. Bill Blass left us. And something called "infrastructure" was the main topic of one of the biggest advertisers in the world. So, why was IBM conducting a media assault about infrastructure, and winning an Ogilvy Award in the process? Because its customers – Chief information Officers – were coming up against a serious problem as they tried to integrate computing systems that were never built to work together, and make it function in the then new e-business culture.

Why that matters is today’s CMOs find themselves where CIOs were back in the day. Now, CMOs, and their brand teams, are taking measurement systems built to keep the brand on track and trying to fit those with measurement systems built to track consumers in the digital space. And, using these clumsy connections, attempt to sharpen the brand's response time while they are at it, responding to the ever-evolving digital landscape as web listening brings a flood of new information continually.

Feeling it for those folks yet?

This state of e-affairs calls for the same paradigm shift as information systems teams had to make: moving connectivity of systems to the short list of absolute essentials when it comes to running a healthy, relevant brand.

The expiration date on brand strategy may very well have changed, the sell-by date shifting due to the consumer feedback loop digital provides, but having a strategy still matters. A lot, it turns out, as consumer expectations have not eased up one byte. Thus, the imperative is now to locate the cross hairs of engagement with brand and engagement with digital communication platforms, where brands and consumers can connect.

Engagement is Product / Service Category Specific

It turns out from our national research that measuring engagement is a category-specific business. In looking at some 80+ categories and surveying over 49,000 consumers, it's clear that consumers do not engage with digital communication in one category in the same way they do in another. Consumers engage with digital channels differently, dependent on how they engage in the category space. Many brands already understand this, but continue to lack that pesky integration feature mentioned earlier. Many brand teams understand what is happening digitally, but are not sure what that means strategically (or categorically), thus missing that key intersection point.

When we look at that intersection of technology and brand – what we call the Digital Platform GPS – we see remarkable stories of how technology and strategy connect. And those stories get even more interesting as we look through the lens of those in categories which swim at the deep end of the technology pool. Those with high digital usage, who we named ‘Higitals,’ more often than not sees both category and digital engagement very differently from the general population.

Tablets Tell the Tale of Engagement

One of the most compelling stories is the Tablet category. This rapidly exploding category demonstrates a wide divide between Higitals and Gen Pop. And, most fascinating is the role that brand plays in this very modern story. For Gen Pop, the brand shall lead, and is the most important driver of engagement and loyalty. Being unsure of their footing in this new terrain, Gen Pops seek guidance from brands they trust.

For Higitals, however, brand gets a vote only after product aspects like advanced design and features are delivered, by whatever brand happens to do that best. Exhibiting the confidence they possess when it comes to technology, they will be the ones to call it when it comes to what brands make it to their short list. Consistent with that, Customer Service and Warranty are twice as important to the General Population as to Higitals, occupying the importance that Innovation has to the Higital tablet buyer – demonstrating this difference in stark relief.

Critically, the intersection of digital engagement and category engagement demonstrates that same pattern. While Gen Pop turns to paid media, like shopping portals, Higitals are all about earned media. If the brand isn't being talked about in the blogosphere –highest in importance when it comes to brand engagement –  Higital engagement drops like a Palm Pilot thrown off an office building.

This story, and others like it, demonstrates that a new kind of marketing infrastructure solution is not only possible, but is here today. And, the power of the findings makes the point better than we ever could. Orson Wells once said, "If you want a happy ending, of course, that depends on where you stop your story." Or, in the case of brands today, where you take it next.

Amy Shea is an executive vice president at Brand Keys, a New York based research consultancy that specializes in customer loyalty. You can read more about Amy and Brand Keys here.

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