Brand Activation Is Great; If One Can Manage It

David Panek, SVP-Marketing, Aprimo

David Panek, SVP-Marketing, Aprimo

Stonemasons building a castle or cathedral in the Middle Ages knew what their finished product would look like, but they didn’t focus on that. Instead, they shaped, positioned, and placed one stone at a time. Then, it was on to the next one. Over time, this singular focus yielded fantastic end results.

“Every marketing dollar should be managed with the objective of doing two essential things - building brand and driving traffic”

It’s much the same with brand activation in our multichannel digital society today. Marketers, no strangers to absolute chaos, need to focus and execute on each individual element in their integrated brand activation program, taking one task at a time, never veering from their company’s brand experience goals. With so many traditional and new channels at our disposal, however, brand activation can become overwhelming to plan, steer, manage, and measure. But there is a way.

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Brand Activation–What Is it, anyway?

I’ve found a variety of definitions for this buzzword. A recent study by ANA and PQ Media defines brand activation marketing as, “the convergence of media platforms and channels to shape the way consumers experience brands by employing actionable marketer insights and strategies to bring a brand to life. What defines strong brand activation is the way [platforms and channels] are used together, and with traditional media, to drive results through consumer behaviors and/or actions.”

Or this from AdAge: “… creating an ardent connection between your brand and customers that motivates them to take desired actions. Brand activation comes in many forms and is delivered through multiple channels. Brand activation that resonates with customers and achieves results calls for strategic planning that starts with ‘why.’   Why will your target audiences care? Why would they engage? Then focus on the ‘how’.”

By any definition, while it is fashionable to talk about brand activation as some kind of “cool, new thing,” its purpose is not all that different from what marketers have been trying to do for years: create an emotional connection that has durability and meaning for customers. Traditional advertising and marketing talked up the “CTA” or Call To Action. Brand activation’s aim is identical–moving consumers to act. Likewise, so-called “loyalty marketing” has much the same objective as what brand activation claims to want: continuous customer engagement.

But even if the aims of brand activation are nothing “new and different,” certainly today’s digital society makes it more challenging to manage toward the end goal. And what IS that goal? Definitions and labels can obscure the goal, which is ultimately about engendering a gut feeling, among consumers. That–the feeling itself is what best defines brand activation’s aim. In building consumer affinity to our brand, we want to achieve in them a gut feeling that says THEY TRUST US! Or, even better, THEY LOVE US!—as with AdAge’s term, “ardent connection.”

Yep, that’s what we want our brand activation programs to do. That ardent connection or gut feeling is our “cathedral” or “castle.” Everything we do through a brand activation program should contribute to nurturing this.

Well, talking about brand activation in the big-picture sense is great, it all sounds brilliant. But precious little has been written about how to actually manage it. Can it be managed? I believe it can, but companies need marketing operations technology to shape their way of doing it and to bring order out of the chaos.

To Castles from Concepts

In my opinion, every marketing dollar should be managed with the objective of doing two essential things - building brand & driving traffic. Brand activation is not about making outright sales; it’s about influencing purchasing and brand engagement through whatever strategic, creative and tactical means possible.

It’s mind-blowing how much is spent on brand activation in total these days.  The ANA / PQ Media study estimated this at $600 billion in 2016 in the U.S. alone, rising to $740 billion in the U.S. by 2020.  That is a considerable sum being directed at making consumers loves us. It would be a pity to see any of it squandered. Yet mismanaged marketing operations can result in precisely that.

Let’s face it. We’re in a digital-first, data-driven, multichannel world. Brand fragmentation is a constant daily, if not moment-to-moment, risk. Plus, even while heartfelt loyalty remains the marketing Holy Grail, consumers today are fast moving, fickle, and trending to abandon any brand that doesn’t meet their immediate expectations. All it takes is one bad move, and the love affair is OVER.

With multiple channels, tight budgets, global audiences, and billions of distracted people using mobile devices to shop, buy and engage with your brand; can you really make brand activation work? Can you make it pay off? And prove ROI?

Yes, and it all starts with smarter upfront marketing operations planning, a better “way” to shape and steer the whole thing. Let’s peel apart the marketing operations function, and isolate its key elements. I see five essentials:

• Plan–know your brand and chart the best path to instilling the gut feeling in every brand customer. Why should they care?
• Spend–know your budgets and define the costs associated with every part of your planned campaign. Not just money, but time costs too.
• Create–stay true to your brand and express your company your way through every campaign element.
• Distribute–use the tools and technologies available today to engage and involve people in your brand. Make it easy for them to love you.
• Perform–Be smart, be prudent, stick to the plan over time and tweak it as necessary. Focus, execution, and persistence over the long term will deliver profitable results.

Big-picture thinking about brand activation can be daunting. Fortunately, the technology platforms are out there to enable you to focus the work, so you can manage your brand activation efforts to foster enduring, relevant engagement. Don’t get so caught up in the buzzwords or labels that you lose sight of what your marketing programs are intending to do.

Be like the stonemason. Know the end result you want, but build your brand one touch at a time. Soon the cathedral will appear.

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