[This post originally appeared on the iMediaConnection Blog on Jan. 26, 2012.]
1. Many channels; one adaptable brand presence.
We see too many brands stretching or splintering their messages as they extend them to more and more channels. This often happens because a brand message wasn’t originally designed for digital and social distribution, or because the brand engagement is managed by separate and disconnected groups. Companies need to craft campaigns that are elastic and adaptable before they activate.
Technology is responding to the need for adaptability. Responsive design, for example, is all the buzz among digital designers. Websites programmed for responsive design adapt to the medium (computer or mobile device), as well as the size of the display (large or small monitor; tablet or smart phone).
Responsive design is just one tactic helping marketers ensure a unified brand expression while maintaining differentiation. It’s as simple as e pluribus unum, but just as hard to achieve.
2. Every voice matters. And they’ll be louder in 2012.
Speaking of our national motto, we’re noticing significantly more democracy in brand endorsements. Interactive, social platforms such as Yelp, Facebook and even open forums on company websites, are empowering the end consumer like never before. In 2012, the strength of a brand will be measured as much by its number of “likes” on Facebook as by the quality and cleverness of its Super Bowl commercial.
While we expect celebrity endorsements to continue, we know marketers will put greater stock in testimonials from the other 99 percent. One challenge for marketers in 2012 will be how to leverage the endless threads of testimonial content generated online and integrate it into their brand marketing. Listening and responding to consumers, and maintaining an interactive, two-way brand will be another.
3. Print isn’t going away.
Digital technology has given us—and continues to produce—more channels and mediums of communication. Many of them represent improvements—or, at the very least, efficiencies—here to save us from the slow and cumbersome world of print.
But, in business communications and beyond, can digital replace print? We at Sullivan highly doubt it. We approach communications holistically. Where others see a separation between digital and print, we see a spectrum. The message carries through as the experience changes.
Ironically, the more digital mediums multiply, the more print can let you stand out. A well executed direct mailing can have greater impact nowadays than an email blast. Its arrival is more dramatic, it’s tactile and it has a more permanent presence than an archived message.
When we talk about interface design, we don’t forget that print has an interface, too. Pen-to-paper annotation forges a personal connection to the printed document. Handwriting defines an identity in a way an email signature can’t. Handwritten notes in business communications may be impractical, but printed letters and invitations remain highly effective.
4. The challenge for sales: be at once tech-forward and personal.
Marketers’ efforts to accelerate their brand further into the digital and social spaces often haven’t translated this momentum to their sales process—especially in B2B. Sales teams are slower, even resistant, to change their approaches, but they are increasingly under pressure to update and digitalize. The technology and collateral salespeople use, after all, speak volumes about their companies, and no business wants to appear behind the times.
The danger in too much technology, though, is in compromising the personal interactions that are essential to making a sale. Your iPad can’t give your presentation for you, and no matter how aesthetic your PowerPoint is, it can’t force a conversation. Sales strategies should consider technological tools and designed materials as subordinate to live, human experiences and the relationships that come of them. In 2012 and beyond, relationships will remain the bottom line in business.
All told, this year poses its fair share of challenges to marketers. But, in the right hands, those challenges become opportunities. Our prediction? The brands that can adapt quickly, build a broad and flexible strategy, listen to their customers and create engaging sales experiences will come out on top.
About the Author
Barbara Apple Sullivan is Managing Partner of Sullivan, a brand engagement firm she founded in 1990.
Barbara holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BS in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Follow Barbara on Twitter @bapplesullivan