Branding Strategies Without the E

I switched on my radio on the way to work the other day and heard the most annoying sponsorship message I’d ever heard on NPR.

If you’re a regular listener, you’ve probably heard it, too — that irritating announcement touting a certain company’s ability to do “e-business, e-strategy, e-development, e-commerce, e-yak breeding… ” Arrggghh! OK, I put the yak breeding thing in there, but it’s just as annoying without it.

But something still nagged me — why was I so annoyed? And then it washed up and smacked me in the face like a tidal wave of bricks. We need to stop being about that freakin’ “e” and start being about the brand… forget the medium.

In not-so-distant times and at conferences I’ve attended in the past, there’s been lots of talk about how to integrate interactive into the traditional agency. There’s also been a great divide between the interactive sides of agencies and the traditional sides. This divide has naturally grown out of the differences in managing projects versus long-term relationships, different work styles and cultures, and the steep learning curve of technology.

The result has been a mindset that puts the web (or other interactive stuff) in one box and traditional marketing in another box. The separation has spread beyond organizational structures and into the general consciousness, too — if you’re a client who wants web stuff done, you go to a web company, and if you’re looking for print, TV, PR, etc., you go to a traditional agency.

Therefore (as any of you involved in this split know all too well), there’s a gulf that’s often tough to cross when it comes to the brand. The web is littered with sites that don’t communicate the brand in the same way that more traditional media do, and lots of ads are being produced that don’t match the online business. But if you’re reading this, you probably already know all that; it’s not big news.

Some people are finally starting to pull it off, tossing the “e” out of “e-business” and crafting strategies that work across media, touching customers where it’s most effective and not trying to segregate the brand according to the medium.

Knocking off the “e” can work — really well. We need to know where the customers are and what they’re doing, then interact with them at all touch points.

How can you pull this off when crafting your marketing strategies? Forget about the technology. Really. Wipe the “e” from your mind. The technology tail shouldn’t be wagging the brand dog. Instead, identify your customers, figure out all the places where they come into contact with your brand, determine the situations where you wish they had contact with your brand, identify the media that can best communicate your messages at those points, and then execute a strategy that delivers your messages at these points.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And it is — really. The trick is not to get held up on the tech (if it’s a technology solution that is needed). Instead, start with the best-case ideas and work backwards to what’s possible.

And don’t set budgets until the strategy is in place — it’s crazy to arbitrarily decide ahead of time that you’re gonna put X dollars into interactive, Y dollars into print, and Z dollars into radio. How can you know? It may be that the best place to get in touch with your customers is on the web and that most of the money should go there. It’s just as likely that outdoor advertising might do the trick, and you can forego an expensive web site for an email-based loyalty program. It all depends on knowing your customers and where they touch your brand.

The roadblocks to implementing a broad-based strategy probably have more to do with internal politics than technological possibilities. Thinking this way is something that many of us are not used to, but we’d better start. And the best way to start is by throwing the “e” out the window.

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