Where do we Start? A View of Technology's Role in Building Brands

Douwe E. Bergsma, CMO-Consumer Business, Georgia-Pacific
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Today’s technology-empowered world has not changed the age-old question for brand builders: Where do we start? The growing array of new technology-driven capabilities such as analytics, research and communication alternatives that can support brand building leads marketers to ask this question more frequently. In some cases, however, the question is not posed at all, and organizations allow technology to be the driver rather than focusing on how technology can enable or enhance brand building strategies.

  As we address the requirements for humans to act, we realize technology can be a significant enabler to help us reach a better state 

At Georgia-Pacific, we believe the role of business is to help people improve their lives by providing products and services they value more highly than the alternatives. Brand building is an essential strategy through which we aim to influence consumers, retail customers, employees, and suppliers so they act in a way that helps meet our objectives. Even with today’s rapidly changing technology, modern brand building is well served by relying on the three requirements for humans to take action, as laid out in the 1940s by Austrian economist and philosopher Ludwig von Mises:

1. Dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs.
2. A vision of a better state.
3. Belief that we can reach a better state.

Dissatisfaction with the Present State

When facing business pressures, it’s tempting to start with our dissatisfaction with technology – or the lack thereof – and constantly consider the latest and greatest platforms, devices, tools and vendors. Instead, we should focus on truly understanding the state of current affairs that matter the most and first develop points of view on the market, industry, competitors, retail customers and consumers, while also understanding internal capabilities. It’s from this position of better understanding that we can holistically consider improvement alternatives.

For example, Georgia-Pacific was admittedly slow to recognize the shift in consumers’ media consumption and shopping habits. As recently as 2011, our brands were spending less than two percent of marketing dollars in the digital space. After gaining a broad understanding of how we were viewed by customers, consumers and competitors, these insights helped us recognize the need to invest more in digital marketing. Before simply investing in marketing technology solutions however, we engaged internal and external subject matter experts to evaluate the broad spectrum of tools that were available to deliver on our key business objectives.

Vision of a Better State

Once we understood the dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, we needed to develop a vision of a better state. This captures where and how to create the most long-term value and an understanding of existing or required capabilities. It includes brand building objectives and strategies, definitions of our target consumer and how to best reach them, and what brands should stand for in their minds and hearts. Once vision and strategies are defined, enabling technology gaps can then be identified.

This is easier said than done. For example, across the industry we initially considered “digital marketing” as a separate strategy and developed distinct digital capabilities, processes, tools and partnerships. It felt like the technology became the strategy rather than an enabler. Today, many of us focus on the larger opportunity to build brands first. Instead of driving “digital marketing,” we are building brands in a “digital world.” This helps brands to connect with the right consumer, delivering the right message at the right time and place and with the right brand building tool  all in a much more precise and personal way.

Reach a Better State

When dissatisfaction is clear and a vision of a better state is determined, there should be a belief that we can reach that better state. At Georgia-Pacific, one example of this is a brand building plan that enables us to reach our objectives and is driven by our capabilities.

How an organization uses technology as part of these plans can be a significant challenge especially given the wide variety of technology-enabled capabilities and the rapid pace of tool proliferation. So while we can never predict with certainty which investments, plans and technologies will be valuable, we should develop disciplined experiments to help identify solutions that could drive the greatest business value.

To align our organization on a path to reach a better state, we started with the development of a technology roadmap that outlined a broad spectrum of tools needed to deliver on our business objectives. From there, we conducted large and small experiments in the digital space to identify ways to engage differently with our consumer segments. We sought to advance brand analytics through machine learning, launched media experiments to improve our buying efficiency and effectiveness, and technology-driven crowd sourcing to complement our content, just to name a few of our tests.

We believe that marketers should behave more like entrepreneurs and include experiments as an essential part of their brand building plans. Because this includes testing and often assessing different technologies, it requires significant collaboration, not only between IT and brand building capabilities, but also the CIO and CMO. The challenge going forward is how best to approach this effort, which leads back to the question “where do we start?”

So, Where do We Start?

As we address the requirements for humans to act, we realize technology can be a significant enabler to help us reach a better state. However, we must first start by challenging the status-quo, identifying new or improved business opportunities and laying out a path to pursue these opportunities. Then, the task is discovering the technology, from the many options available, most likely to enable brands and businesses to be successful.

In our experience, embracing an entrepreneurial mindset and learning from well-founded experiments has been at the root of our success. We think it is a good place to start!

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