Brand, schmand. Who needs brand when we’ve got digital marketing?

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes.

Hi marketing fans!

Today, I’d like to talk about something that is quite the rage — digital marketing.

I’d also like to discuss something that is often talked about, but a bit more fuzzy in nature — brand.

Help wanted.

If you haven’t been out there looking for a job lately, check out job boards like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, or LinkedIn Jobs.

You’ll find a lot of listings with “Digital Marketing” in the title. You’ll also find a lot of listings for “Marketing Manager” or “Director” with emphasis on digital marketing skills in their descriptions. 

Much less common are listings for “Brand Crafter” or “Brand Storyteller” or “Brand Evangelist” or “Brand Affinity Director” or “Director of Brand Love.”

(I especially like that last one.)

Let’s dive into why — and why this is actually quite short-sighted.

There’s comfort in data.

Digital marketing offers us marketers comfort. 

It’s based on data, not guesswork. 

Results come immediately. Run a campaign, see the data in real time, adjust the campaign, then run and test again. 

See how many respondents open emails, click on links in the emails, visit landing pages, fill out forms or click on purchase links, purchase or abandon the cart. And if they abandon, place them in another drip campaign.

The best part: it’s all automated!

Simply fire up your marketing automation platform or email marketing platform (essentially one and the same these days). Create drip marketing workflows based on a series of prospect triggers, if/then conditions, and automated follow-up actions. Create and attach emails, online ads, landing pages, digital downloads, and shopping carts to these workflow elements. 

Push the ON button.

Then just sit back and track clicks and conversions, tweak as necessary, and track some more. 

Your marketing automation platform takes care of the rest, automatically capturing and presenting campaign data to you and responding to every prospect and customer action without you having to lift a finger.

Easy peasy.

Undeniably important. Invariably short-sighted.

Digital marketing has revolutionized the way we market. 

When I was in marketing school, the term didn’t even exist. We focused on print advertising (including outdoor), broadcast advertising, direct mail (the granddaddy of today’s digital marketing), public relations, and events (trade shows).

The measure of effectiveness back then was whether these “got the phone to ring.”

Nowadays, digital marketing, incorporating the latest advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, has enabled us to optimize our marketing at lightning speed and to scale infinitely in real time with marketing automation.

So, there’s no denying how important digital marketing is to our business success these days. But, digital marketing, for the most part, is focused on extremely short term gratification. It’s about “making the phone ring” — i.e. clicks and conversions — RIGHT NOW. 

Sure, we can talk about buyer’s journeys and multi-drip campaign workflows, guiding customers over the long haul to eventual purchase, etc. But at its core, digital marketing is direct response marketing. Just like direct mail was back in the day (and actually still is).

Digital marketing helps us get purchasers in the short term. Yay! But it does practically nothing to help us keep those customers in the long term.

That’s where brand comes in.

Speed Dating vs. Long Term Relationships

Digital marketing is the equivalent of speed dating.

Make a pitch, create urgency, close the deal. On to the next.

Brand, on the other hand, is a long term relationship.

Building a brand, or branding, is the continuous, relentless, consistent declaration of love ❤️ you make and demonstrate to your prospects and customers, with each and every communication and action.

Brand is the love story you not only TELL your customers, but LIVE WITH your customers. It’s an emotionally engaging story, in which you help your customers overcome their pains and achieve their desires. Your customers are the hero of that story.

Short term relationships bring instant gratification. But by definition, they don’t last. You’re constantly on the hunt for the next. 

Long term relationships bring substantially more fulfillment and value.

Getting one sale from a customer is valuable. Getting repeat business from a customer for life is much more valuable. Having that customer joyfully refer you to other customers is more valuable still. In short, there is infinitely more value in a customer you keep than a customer you make a one-time sale to.

I’m stating the obvious. So why don’t we see more emphasis on brand by businesses today?

After all, don’t we all admire those business icons who have created enduring, well-loved brands and seen their valuations soar? Companies like Apple, Coca Cola, Disney, Toyota, Nike, Home Depot, and Starbucks? 

These companies don’t push customers with short-term marketing tactics. They keep customers with long-term love.

They put customers at the center of their stories. They demonstrate that they want to take care of their customers — to provide them with consistent fulfillment and pleasurable experiences — with love.

They stand for values that their customers also value. Customers feel good to have these brands be part of THEIR story.

The challenge is, brands take a lot of effort, insight, and diligence to craft and maintain. They depend on earning and then keeping customer trust, every single day.

Just like any long term relationship.

Those companies that are enjoying ridiculously large and enduring valuations — the Apples and Starbucks of the world — got there by carefully and diligently building valuable brands.

Not easy, but so worth it.

If branding were easy, every company would do it, and do it well.

Many companies don’t yet. 

For those companies, brand is a logo, a typeface, a color scheme, and a tag line.

But these are merely branding elements. On their own, they do nothing to differentiate the companies that use them from their competitors. 

Customers need something to believe in. An experience to take part in. 

They need a story. They crave love.

Brand, therefore, is much more strategic and all-encompassing. 

Building and sustaining a valuable brand isn’t easy, but, it’s not black magic either. Like anything, it just takes understanding what makes a strong brand, then unrelentingly following the clear steps to get there:

  • Know your customers — their lives, their pains, their needs, and their desires.
  • Understand how you can uniquely solve your customers’ pains and fulfill their desires.
  • Craft your unique love story — why these customers are the hero of your story, how you understand their needs and desires, and how you’ll support and love them as nobody else can.
  • Commit internally — in your heart and soul — to consistently loving and helping your customers, at every touch point, for life. Make this the cornerstone of your company culture.
  • Tell your love story to your prospects and customers, over and over, the same way every time, every chance you get (including every email, landing page and shopping cart in your digital marketing campaigns).
  • Live your story by delivering on your promises. Every. Single. Day. 

Brand is hard to measure. It doesn’t provide the rich data and immediate feedback of digital marketing. That’s why many companies focus on digital marketing, with brand as an afterthought.

Succeed at brand, however, and digital marketing becomes a whole lot easier. Because the people you are marketing to already know and love your company.

The genius of the AND.

Marketing is not a matter of digital marketing OR brand. We can do both!

Start with brand. Then infuse your brand into everything you do.

Keep pursuing and measuring clicks and conversions, all the while keeping in mind why you’re in this in the first place — to build lasting, loving, valuable relationships with customers.

Leave the speed dating to your competitors. 

Soon enough, they’ll be distant specks in your rear view mirror.

Ron Marcus is the principal of Grow, a brand and marketing consultancy for small businesses and nonprofits. He’s been helping businesses and nonprofits create and live authentic, successful brands in service of people for thirty years.

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