What role does brand play in our hyper-connected world and how is that evolving alongside socio-cultural, business and technology trends?
The importance and exposure of the brand today is vast. An already hyper-connected world were, at mass scale, forced in-doors in a period of relative instability, upending decades of social norms and business rules that we have not yet shed—and may not ever. It’s been therefore an incredible learning experience for marketers as they navigate their brands around rampant social media use, evolving social needs, emerging talent and much more. What are the key take-aways from a year unlike any other?
Aparna Jairam, CMO, Hexaware Technologies and Sarah Whipp, CMO, Callsign, both recipients of HotTopics.ht’s Top 100 B2B CMO 100, 2021, came together for a debate on brand, marketing and the future, as Shallu Behar-Sheehan, CMO of Truata, moderated.
The long game
“Brand is what prepares your business for the next two, three-five years,” said Sarah, “ahead of the work lead generation activates. Brand marketing reaches out and educates clients of tomorrow whilst reassuring the clients of today, stretching the strategy from product to go-to-market.
“It’s the medium to long play that supports near term plays to promote satisfaction.”
“It’s important to note of course we’ve just spent the last 18 months in a pandemic, which has influenced B2B norms,” said Shallu.
For one, she continued, more buyers are dictating they want to be digitally self-served, according to the latest McKinsey research, which makes for a change in how brands show up for the customers.
Aparna took a more abstract approach.
“For me, brand is there to create a lasting impression. But it’s not about experience, it’s about memory, which are far harder to create.
“The pandemic pushed many transformations and accelerated digital adoption, and although people haven’t been able to meet as often physically to engage with the brand, we have been able to create memories with their families and build that long lasting impression to more people around the world, too.”
It is an ironic twist that collectively being forced in doors also meant we were far more amenable to meeting people digitally and also globally. That widening of our personal and professional networks have been capitalised by brands seeking a wider pool of, for example, thought leadership, whilst others have sought to understand an individual's circumstances since they have been allowed into the very personal space of someone’s home, albeit via Zoom.
The trust epidemic
But it’s not all roses and there comes a heavy price for a brand who abuses its position: mistrust.
“I have three T’s to work by: trust, transparency and transformation,” noted Shallu. “Those are emotive triggers that are now mainly virtual, and especially with trust we’re very aware of what it takes to breach that in our world.”
Callsign is in the identity space and conducted research into how trust is maintained after a business is hacked, reported Sarah. It found that when a brand is attacked by fraudsters around half of customers blame the brand, not the attackers. It is an example, Sarah says, on the ever complicating relationship between marketing, brand and customer trust.
“Today one’s reputation can be damaged far beyond your control. We need more touch points to mitigate that.”
Another example Sarah shared was the recent European Super League in football that generated much press—and resentment within fans across the continent. Trustpilot notes that sponsors of those football clubs who initially backed the League almost immediately received negative reviews, despite not being in control of Clubs’ decisions to back the new competition.
“It was remarkable; I’m still learning about how brands can be impacted today,” Sarah shared.
Marketers can fight back, however. The debate covered how Voice of the Customer can be critical to help shape customer sentiment in real-time, with more mar-tech tools on the shelf today to help make your relationship with the customer more sophisticated. AI and machine learning algorithms work with huge amounts of data on customers in order to accurately predict their next move, purchase or experience.
Scary, was the word the roundtable used to describe that, but some would say necessary.
Accenture found that 7000 breaches in business led to a cumulative, direct loss of income of $180 billion, read Shallu.
Social media influence
Added to this already complex soup is social media, rampantly sharing thoughts and exposing people and businesses on an almost hourly basis. Socio-cultural trends, particularly in the West, have been challenging brands to be better—at least on the surface—sometimes at direct loggerheads with other, similarly influential players, like other countries.
For Aparna, however, the oddest thing is that individual social media accounts and its views are cleanly extrapolated and understood to be part of the brand they work for views’ too. It’s another uncontrollable element of brand management.
Authenticity of brand helps mitigate damages. If customers truly know what your brand stands for and is consistent with that ethos, loyal customers will dismiss flash-in-the-pan stories. But who dictates authenticity in business? Increasingly, its new starters.
“Businesses have to prove profitability and how they’re benefiting society,” said Shallu, “and new talent are watching; they are coming and wanting to dictate purpose by their own standards and they will walk away if it doesn’t align with their needs. It’s a form of reverse-engineering.”
If there is one take-away from this far-reaching debate it’s that brand marketing is more important than ever. When it can be picked apart over so many digital platforms, so many mediums and impact much of our daily lives, marketers should know it’s worth working hard for. Technology can help prepare marketers for explosive growth of data, but to really nail the brand so that the company itself can understand its purpose, it needs to be honest about the work it does and continually authentic in how it showcases that to the wider world.
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