Developing a moving target


Chris Davenport

Developing a moving target

The integration of on and offline worlds via mobile phones and tablets offers a wonderfully creative future for marketers, says Chris Davenport.

Brands are business assets. They have a value to their owners and should be protected. Like any asset, brands can generate more value if they’re well managed. For most businesses, their brand is actually the most enduring asset but this still surprises people. The brands that endure are the ones which adapt to change, or better still, drive it.

In this sense, a brand in the modern world should be defined as something living—something that can evolve when conditions demand, without losing its sense of identity. This is true even for traditional brands. If they don’t start new conversations with new customers, their days are numbered.

The rise of living, adaptive branding is the product of a highly dynamic environment. Adoption of platforms such as social networks tends to follow a normal distribution: by the time the late majority have settled in, the early adopters are starting to feel as though there might be a better bar round the corner. So the platforms themselves must re-invent or be left behind.

Gone are the days when optimising for mobile platforms was an afterthought. Smartphones dominate developed markets, and improved network connection is making rich media content highly available and shareable on the move. The implications of this are revolutionary.

More than ever, brand owners need people who understand these tides of technology. Three big current trends, all driven by the maturation of mobile platforms, are having a profound influence on how brands are created, managed and protected: the integration of online and offline, rich media on the go and branded content for the people, by the people.

The line is blurred

The integration of the online and offline worlds is one of the most exciting territories for creative thinking in marketing. Experiences where the real and digital worlds augment, rather than fight, one another can be truly transcendental. It’s nice to know that among the pervasive gadgets, the real world still has a fighting chance. There’s hope for email too. So often, the emergence of new channels redefines rather than extinguishes existing ones.

It’s not new, but it’s still one of the best examples of on/offline integration there is. When T-Mobile wanted to advertise its new range of touchscreen phones and data plans in 2011, it set up a live game of Angry Birds in a Barcelona square. Players used a phone as the controller for a physical re-enactment of the game, and witnesses of the spectacle sparked a wave of more than 50,000 shares in the first hour. A video of the event became the most shared video on the global ad charts on day one. To date, more than 18 million people have seen it.

This is social brand-building at its best: it's not brashly trying to sell you something, but it's intuitive and sets and attitude that makes you feel positive towards the brands. 

More recently, Adidas demonstrated that its physical stores can be an open sales channel, even when the doors are locked. Its ‘window shopping’ concept at the NEO store in Nuremberg uses touchscreen technology to enable shoppers to drag and drop products from the window display on to their smartphones for immediate online purchase. With innovations like these, the days when outdoor advertising is a gentle reminder to buy, or when opening hours are an impediment to spending, are surely a thing of the past. When your target market is accustomed to mobile transactions, you don’t make an advert—you make a sale.

Well-connected smartphones enable rich and regular interactions with customers. According to MarketingSherpa, video content is already the most effective tactic for mobile engagement. This isn’t so surprising when you consider that people spend more time and visit more pages per visit on YouTube than any other social network. What is surprising is that brands don’t seem to be making the most of this channel. Many aren’t really treating it like a social network at all, more a repository for movies.

Touchstorm’s analysis of the top 5,000 YouTube channels reveals that only 74 are ‘branded’. There are questions over the study’s qualification of ‘brand’—curiously it doesn’t count celebrities and media companies—but even so, for big companies with big budgets to command, less than 2 percent after seven years of YouTube, is staggering.

Within that, there are some notable successes, eg, Red Bull. You’d expect a video of a man jumping to earth from space to get some attention (35 million views), but the video of street trial bike rider Danny MacAskill bunny-hopping his way from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye has nearly as many hits (29 million).

Content is not king—content is the masses

When the web became social, brands had to shift their marketing mentality from broadcasting content to curating conversations. This is a vital part of managing brands online, and will continue to be so. A recent Twitter love-in involving Tesco Mobile, Yorkshire Tea and Jaffa Cakes went viral, showing the value of social media managers who are empowered to use their initiative and have a little fun. This is social brand-building at its best: it’s not brashly trying to sell you something, but it’s intuitive and sets an attitude that makes you feel positive towards the brands involved.

Social media disasters, on the other hand, tend to involve a breakdown in normal human decency or common sense. A classic fail is when brands exploit sympathy to hoodwink a few extra followers. When a brand asks you to “click ‘like’ to pay your respects” it makes you wish there was a ‘hate’ button. It’s okay to promote. Social media platforms are a good place to do it. Just don’t use tragedy as your vehicle.

We’re now on the brink of another big development, one that will change the way brands create content and engage customers. The billions of smartphones out there are more than just screens waiting for sticky branded content. This misses the point, or at least half the point. Those phones are also cameras—input devices that people are using to capture, express and share their lives in exponentially increasing numbers. And people are surprisingly good at taking a theme, adapting it and making it run and run. This adoption and transfer of cultural memes is one of the key characteristics of viral ‘living’ content, and the brands that harness it will strike gold. They will enlist an army of roving creatives, and embrace and affirm them like never before.

Brands have already started doing this. Burberry’s Art of the Trench campaign encouraged customers to upload Instagram pictures of themselves to create ‘a living document of the trench coat and the people who wear it’. It’s part social brand engagement, part fashion time capsule, and it gives people a chance to stand alongside professionally-snapped models.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The Google Glass Explorer Program is asking people to help them test and develop applications for its super smart specs. When people realise that they can use brands as vehicles to promote themselves or explore their interests, the creation of brands becomes a social thing. This has huge benefits. Relevance becomes hardwired. Having distributed, ad hoc content generation makes it easier to localise and discover. And we’re not just talking about lo-fi content. There’s every reason for brands and social platforms to find ways of monetising this content so people are incentivised to get involved, and rewarded when their content makes an impact. If you mobilise the ‘ad hocracy’ in a culture of directed but flexible co-creation, the possibilities are mind-boggling.

What about protection?

If brands are assets that should be protected, fundamental shifts in the way brands are created and managed presents a changing legal landscape. New interpretation and legislation is often the case with new technology, but it’s never been seen on this scale at this pace.

Protection of digital assets, which are by their nature easy to replicate, is a challenge in itself. A combination of utility and design patents, and copyright and trademark law, gives brand owners a good web of protection, but as always, these are only as good as their enforcement. Unless infringements are detected and the law applied consistently, the measures in place won’t serve their purpose.

There’s also the issue of who owns the assets when content is user-generated but propagated by the brand. Clarity up front and fair remuneration will do a lot to make this side of things work.

One can’t help thinking that the solutions to all these issues lie in the nature of the thing in which they arise. Technology promises untold opportunities for brands, and it should play its part in safeguarding the assets that emerge from it. If brand creation becomes more social, so should brand protection. If content generation becomes more distributed, more people need to be educated about the responsibilities that go with that, including trademark law.

Above all, marketers, brand owners, trademark and technology specialists need to use the new tools available to work together to help brand protection evolve. However exciting it is to sail off into the great unknown, it pays to make sure your boat’s sound.

Chris Davenport is head of verbal identity at Interbrand. He can be contacted at:

This article was first published on 19 December 2013 in World IP Review

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