April 17th, 2012

Approaching Digital Strategy: Know Thy Brand and Stay True to It

This week, I am at the sixth annual AdAge Digital Conference in New York City. This is my first time to attend this conference, I am here with approximately 650 other ad agency-type folks and day one is complete.

The themes that are being discussed here are the same as the themes I heard at SXSW this year. Because the audience is made up mostly of agency people, the twist is a little different, the stories are a little more relevant and the audience has questions more like the ones that I have, too, as compared to SXSW that had a broader swath of attendees.

By far, the best presentations of the day were given by two major brands: GAP and Gatorade. And though the two stories were different, the lesson was the same:

{Approach digital communications looking through the lens of the brand position.}

While this seems so obvious, it appears that most brands are not doing this. Rather, brands and agencies are reacting to the need to be in digital channels and coming up with reasons to be there that aren’t true to the brand. They are throwing out ideas that might work for the digital space but don’t make sense for the brand. Or that don’t relate to any of the other communications strategies being executed for the brand. Stand alone executions aren’t getting the brands anywhere. The overall communications strategy must work together, be integrated and be true to the brand.

The GAP Story

Seth Farbman, Global CMO of Gap, presented the Gap digital story. Farbman hadn’t been at Gap long before he made the big proclamations that they had to do two things: (1) return to the roots/heritage of the brand and (2) go digital. He said that it turned out, these two were not independent actions.

Farbman’s thesis for his presentation:

{Stop thinking about the technology and instead think about the purpose.}

Farbman told the origin story of the Gap brand. It stood for optimism, democracy and individualism. It was founded during a generation gap and the founders were filling a fundamental need for basic customer satisfaction and delivering a reliable product at a reasonable price.

So, how does the 42-year-old company remain relevant today? They realized that the company values and what people want now are still the same as they were when the company was founded. (I loved the visual example that he gave to help make his point: a Woodstock photo from 1969 taken with Kodak film and one from Coachella last week taken with Instagram were almost identical: the technology is different, but experience is the same.)

The idea of the individual when they started was important. Individuality is about how you express yourself and the GAP brand simply accessorizes you. But, people seek other like-minded people to reinforce their sense of individuality. In another word, they are seeking “communities.” This is how GAP decided to use digital channels: to use the connected web to do more together.

Farbman went so far as to say that today at Gap, digital is dead. If a strategy or execution wouldn’t have met the filters of the founders 42 years ago, then it is just technology for technology’s sake. Everything they do at Gap has to tie back to the brand purpose.

How is Gap doing this in practice? They are finding partner companies like Styld.by and Refinery29, where users can create outfits and share them with them friends. They are giving customers control of their experience, those customers are spending four minutes with the brand, they are sharing their created looks and they are buying the clothes. Gap is creating and allowing for community. They are not pushing the message.

They are also working with Threadless, a tshirt company with a designer community. Gap sends a challenge to the the Threadless community and the designer community submits designs for the community to vote on. The selected shirts are sold on the Threadless site and in Gap stores.

Farbman’s parting advice:

  • Go back to your startup mentality. What was it that excited you (or your founders)? Don’t think about digital is something you do to stay relevant. Think instead about how to communicate your message.

The Gatorade Story

Randall Brown, Global Director of Digital Strategy for Gatorade, presented the Gatorade story. Gatorade had made a brand shift from a hydration product to a more holistic approach of partnership with athletes. In 2010, the brand had 500,000 people across its networks, but the posts were not from their core target audience. Instead they were from 30-something’s reliving their heydays, talking about hangover cures. Today, Gatorade has five million people in its networks and those people are their core target audience: athletes.

Brown outlined the Gatorade approach to digital communications:

  1. Define social purpose and brand behaviors. With this, you have to go back to the brand essence and core brand behavior before thinking about the social channels. Brown says that once you have this defined, it becomes really easy to show, demonstrate and define those behaviors. Remember: brand purpose = social purpose.
  2. Live your ethos daily. This is about planning and executing a systematic approach to engagement. Additionally, you should understand and accept the consumer antes with social: they want you to answer questions and to deal with complaints. Most companies have the infrastructure to deal with these types of customer requests, and just because you are not ready to respond to those through social channels does not mean that you can’t enter the social channels (you can still refer them to the traditional response channels).
  3. Purposeful experimentation and measurement. Here, you should use the scientific method. State a hypothesis. Define your variables. Test and experiment often. Then you start seeing key levers you can pull to drive consumer behavior. This should happen at least monthly.

Brown’s parting advice:

{Don’t reduce the whole world of social networks to two or three social networks.}

{Social media is a new place, but people haven’t evolved. Social is a new place for old human needs, wants and behaviors.}

While the approaches by Gap and Gatorade were slightly different, they were each telling us the same thing:

{Approach digital communications looking through the lens of the brand position.}

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Link to book on Amazon