On conflicts between online and offline brand management
Many companies today have two primary communications agencies. One handles marketing in the real world and is often designated as the agency of record. The other has lead responsibility in the virtual world of the Internet.
Some companies go with a single agency that purports to have superior capabilities in both worlds. But can a company deliver to a client with equal competence in both worlds?
I’m reminded of someone who once told me that buildings designed by architects sometimes fall down while buildings designed by engineers are ugly. His point was that the culture of an organization almost inevitably projects the values of the founding discipline.
Certainly, over the years I have seen important qualitative differences between integrative agencies and direct response agencies. Integrative agencies tend to have a broader range of expression than direct response agencies. In fact the term “direct response” implies expression limited by qualitative analysis of marketplace response.
I expect that important strategic differences tend to exist between online and offline department within traditional agencies, and certainly between independent offline and online agencies.
One area in which differences may have critical consequences is in brand husbandry – managing the meaning of marketing messages so that the customer seamlessly experiences the brand as she moves back and forth through the invisible membrane dividing the online and offline worlds.
I say invisible membrane because in the deeper levels of the brain, we do not sharply demark a property line between the 3-D world we live in and the world of 0’s and 1’s we now spend a goodly portion of our time in. This is brilliantly illustrated in a 7-year old book whose perspective is as fresh today as it was when I first read it. It’s called The Media Equation by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass. Anyone involved in online marketing is missing out on some pretty big ideas if they have not read this amazingly insightful book.
Back to the brand question – what Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson insightfully call “meaning management.”
Meaning management or brand husbandry is generally a more intimate and more dynamic activity online than it is offline in any other setting except in face-to-face selling. Understanding this begins with Reeves and Nass’s research which shows that viscerally interact with broadcast and online media using many of the same social rules they use in human-to-human exchanges.
For example, Reeves and Nass assembled a group of self-styled tech nerds who denied thinking of their computers as human. “Just tools, they said. They then were each positioned in front of a computer to carry out a learning exercise. Midway through the exercise the computer queried the nerds about how clear its instruction were. They “No problem” they in essence responded. In the second half of the experiment, midway through another learning exercise, the subjects were instructed to take up a position in front of another computer. Then the second computer asked them how well the first computer was doing in getting its instructions across. “Not so well” the essence of the second round of responses.
Think of how you would likely respond to someone how asked you, “How am I doing in getting my instructions across to you?” Most of us would be inclined to give a response similar to the one given by the nerds to the first computer, but just as likely to tell another person who asked how clear the instructions were that they could stand some improvement.
The bilateral communications possible on the Internet have complicated the management of a brand’s meaning. From the marketer’s side of the “media equation” it’s not hard to get off track and frustrate those on the consumer side. Just recall, for example, how often you get a voice recognition avatar when you call a bank or airline or whatever and get angry because the damned thing is not paying attention to what you’re saying. Score meaning management 0
. Such episodes erode customer loyalty. People simply don’t like being in relationships in which other parties don’t appear to be listening to you. While a print ad or television commercial is generating positive feelings about a brand the customers’ online experience can erode all the good will created by the print and broadcast messaging.
NEXT IN THIS SERIES: Avoiding conflict between online and offline expression of the brand.