Key themes in Digital Branding and Engagement

I recently finished a course on EdX, Digital Branding and Engagement from Australia’s Curtin University, and while it had a lot of information that is commonly known, there were also some tidbits I wanted to share.


You need to engage with, not talk to, your customers

The focus of marketing is now on an engagement model and not a sales model, where you provide actual value to your customer or player. Traditional disruptive one-way advertising messages are being replaced with deeper two-way relationships with consumers. As a business, you have to consistently engage your customers; which requires compelling content that is interesting, creates value, and has opportunities for interaction. A true value exchange is one that creates loyal customers.

A key dynamic driving this engagement model is that consumers are no longer captive. A captive audience is one where a message is created and channeled to consumers who passively receive content. Consumers are now the beneficiaries of a power shift. The power shift is from media companies who used to control what consumers saw, when they saw it, and how they saw it. Now the power shift is with the consumers.

As they pointed out in the course, the notion of captive audiences is one that lives in the past, even in the online environment. There is a growing acknowledgement that marketing has changed more in the past one to two years, than it has in more than half a century before.

To succeed in this environment you need both to communicate interactively and add value. Give them something for interacting. It could be tips, discounts, compelling stories, etc., with the key being it needs to be something they value.

Customers expect communication

Consumers now expect two way communication. When they are dissatisfied, not only will they communicate this to you but they expect a (fast) response. Consumers expect a two-way dialogue with brands and personalized ads relevant to their needs. Even if you are sending a newsletter, it should be personalized based on your customers’ preferences.

Go to the customer, don’t expect them to come to you

An evolving opportunity with social media marketing is participation marketing. With participation marketing, you build a team around an event that is going to happen on social media, then have them talk about it and respond very quickly (Super Bowl, Oscars, World Cup, eSports, etc.). Rather than creating the event, you piggyback on to a topic people are engaged with, connect your product or game with that content, and create a conversation with potential customers.

Once you engage with customers, on their terms, you can then bring them to your assets. Reaching people in areas they are most interested in, engaging them with content that is directly relevant and taking them through to your owned resources.

How to create great content

Unlike the Mad Men era, content is no longer about making the brand look great. Good content is now focused on the customer and not the brand. The key is when creating content you should put people first, with the product in the background. Good content should be focused on the customer, not the brand.

At a high level, there are four keys to creating compelling marketing content:

  1. A brand should start with a clear vision, focus or story
  2. The vision should be set at senior or strategic levels
  3. The vision must permeate all levels of the business and there should be a long term commitment to the strategy with clear objectives
  4. The vision must be aligned with and support a brand’s DNA

Overall, a successful content strategy is clear and aligned internally not only in the marketing department but with all decision makers.

Key takeaways

  • Marketing has evolved to an engagement model, where rather than talking to to your customers you provide them value and engage in two-way communications.
  • Rather than expecting your customers to see your content or visit your owned media sites, you need to reach out to them where they are, for example when they are online discussing a sporting event.
  • The key to creating effecitve content is putting people first, with the product in the background

The principle of paramount product quality

While everyone discusses the importance of growth and companies continue to spend millions on marketing, they are often neglecting the biggest shift in product success in the past one hundred years, quality. Most understand the benefit of good online product reviews and its impact on sales, but this understanding usually generates efforts to game the review system. In truth, the underlying quality of the product is now the key driver of success and growth.

Fifty years ago, it was the gurus of Madison Avenue, glamorized in Mad Men, that meant the difference between failure and success. Pan Am became a leading airline through great marketing rather than a differentiated product, General Motors dominated the global automotive market through great promotions and ads, Crest became the top toothpaste through fantastic branding, etc.

Now, regardless of how brilliants your growth team is and how often they post on, your success will largely come down to the quality of your product. More accurately, you will not be successful without a great product (you can still fail with a great product and poor growth/marketing).


Why product quality has become paramount

The need for a great product is the result of virtually unlimited online product and service reviews. When people are considering a purchase, not only do they see the messaging from the vendor but they cannot avoid feedback from other users. If you are considering buying a new razor, the cool new features and catch jingle are likely to get you interested, but if the razor has 1.5 stars with a glut of negative reviews saying the product is worse than a razor half the price, you most likely will not try the razor. This effect is not only present with a consumer good but any product. Why buy a book that everyone says is filled with plot holes or a car that most people say they would not buy again. Again, the marketing message is less powerful than the actual experience of users.

Not only physical products

Not only does the principle of paramount product quality apply to physical goods but it is even more important with digital goods. While growth marketing for apps has become an art and science, if the underlying app has two or three stars even Chamath Palihapitiya (the brains behind Facebook’s growth team) would not be able to gain traction. All the great virals and cool apps may drive people to the app page, but then when they see the rating and reviews they are unlikely to download.

Even the retail environment has been rocked by this change to having a great product. Years ago, restaurants could survive by having a terrific location or being in a central tourist area. If they were in the right place, they could always attract new customers even if they had poor food and were over-priced. They would not get return customers but there would always be new ones. Hence the term tourist trap.

Now, if a restaurant aims to take advantage of customers, it will be punished by poor reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor. Thus, the naïve new customers they have counted on will not materialize. Anecdotally, whenever I see a restaurant with three or less stars, I assume they will not survive. When I check back, most of them are gone within six months.

Changes who is important

The principle of paramount product quality also changes who your key partners are. In the past, many companies succeeded by focusing on the distribution layer. Having salesman in retailers promote your product over competitors was one of the strongest “growth” strategies. Carmakers spent more on their dealerships than on their product development. Even video game companies devoted the same resources to creating a great box as they did to create a good game.

Those strategies no longer work. A salesperson trying to drive a customer to the big new game that is actually not very good will have no credibility, as the customer is likely to check online and see the awful reviews. The car salesman who tries to sell the pre-owned Yugo will get laughed at when the little old man pulls out his phone and sees that the car should have been junked ten years ago. Even the retailer who charges for an end-cap display will not be able to convince retailers of bad products to invest in the marketing when people scan the bar code of the product and learn it is over-priced and does not work well.

Only the good shall survive

If you look at the companies that are thriving and growing, it is the ones that customers love. Tesla cars have universally great reviews, compare them with the reviews for Jaguars. Clash Royale from Supercell, the newest billion dollar game, has over 89,000 reviews averaging 4.5 stars. Airbnb, which has changed the hotel industry and is worth well in excess of $1 billion, also rates at 4 stars. The challenge is finding a successful product or service that does not enjoy great reviews.

Build a great product

While most acknowledge the importance of building a strong product, the necessity of having a great product to success is not yet understood universally. Building a great product should no longer be one slide on your Powerpoint or a nice to have element of your strategy, it needs to be the central focus. You need to devote the same or more time and resources to your product, not just at launch but continually keeping it great, if the other elements of your strategy are to succeed.

Key takeaways

  1. The plethora of user reviews of all products and services has the formula for success, no longer can you rely on great marketing, distribution or branding.
  2. The fastest growing and best performing products now are also best of breed, whether Clash Royale in the game category or Tesla in the car category.
  3. From the start, you need to dedicate sufficient resources to product development, rather than just ensuring you have enough for marketing or distribution.