Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Online Marketing Pyramid

I work with a lot of different brands. One of the first things I ask a client when creating an online marketing plan is to see any branding documents, and it's amazing the amount of companies who have nothing in place at all. No written guidelines to say who or what they are. Nothing to document their core brand traits. No written statement that details their key values.

Without this we can't create a brand personality. We have no clear rules to begin creating even the most basic voice for them on the world wide web, nor anything to reflect in design work or creating copy. I've even heard a client say "Well the logo is red..." thinking this was what I meant. This isn't a bad thing usually, and most small (one-man) brands have values so clear and personal they never reply need to be carved in stone - but for many this a great help in highlighting their core foundations and what their brand represents. That is, after all, the core of branding - identifying what differentiates you from others in your field and what your business or service represents to your customers. Online, a brand isn't something you can measure with quality control like you can with a physical product. Plus, logos and packaging can come and go, but the essence of a brand stays the same. Where's your frame of reference?

When this happens I run through a very simple exercise with them, and I'm going to document that here. I'm going to go back to a very basic technique, The Brand Pyramid, shown to me in a hotel room in Monterey by my good friend Monique Elwell some 4 or 5 years ago. This is an invaluable first step and one of the classic and core principals of branding - ta Monique. Added to this is the nuancing for digital marketing that I've learned from practice and added over the years.

stay on brand

The Traditional Brand Pyramid has 4 steps, and so does ours. There's a lot of different version and books on this, but this is the basic skinny without all the complicated fluff.

First, at the base, you identify your Brand Essence. This is the foundation of what's going to be your companies long-term positioning. A reason for doing. A mantra for success. This is the root of the evolution of a product and how you'll communicate with the world and how you'll support your customers. For Crayola, their brand essence is to strive to 'free the “What If?” questions in kids’ minds'. For Hallmark Cards they use the memorable words 'Enriching Lives'. The BBC has an ongoing remit to 'enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.'

Next step up the pyramid is your core Values. These are verbs, not nouns, and should never change. They should represent your intrinsic culture, your belief, and your companies spirit. There are 1000's of potentials, from 'respect' to 'competency', from 'harmony' to 'humility' and from 'spontaneity' to 'wonder'. There's a great list here if you need some options to get you thinking - there's no point me replicating other peoples hard work. Pick 4 or 5, no more. Keep referring back to them, this IS who you are.

The next layer up is your Attributes. They can be viewed as adjectives that describe your brand both to other company members and to the wider world. I wrote a post on this over on the Just Search blog, and (once again) there's no point me duplicating another list. Again, choose just 4 or 5 (it's easyer to start with 8 or so, then trim them back). Take a look here, you'll see what I mean.

Finally we get to your Brand Personality. In most cases these are seen as a list of human characteristics which you assign to your brand, however, in social and content marketing we take a step further and craft these into an actual character. I do this a lot. 3 or 4 of them a month. It's one of the few benefits of being a table-top role-player since the age of 8 (except for maths and mapping skills). This is an invaluable 'hat' a client can wear when talking in social (and and content creation) that has the voice they need to represent them online. A wrote another article on this, as part of the general process, over on the work blog - see: Finding Your Voice in Social Media Pt.3: Strategic Character Creation. This is a 'character sheet' and those important standards that can be passed on to whoever's doing the brand messaging and communicating in the social channels, plus acts as a voice for blogging, newsletters, everything external really, and as commonality across all ares of communication. Every element of this should reflect your brand attributes. It also helps to find an image to represent this too, a person or individual (human or otherwise) that sums up the brand personality - and this can often be the hardest part of the exercise.

This process is simple, and more useful than you might think. Even the images you use should reflect the key elements of your brand. Your logo, your voice, your video content, your blog posts, the way you speak to customers, your drives, your motivations. It should be a constant point of referral for everyone and the very foundation of your marketing.

Give it a go. It's invaluable, trust me, and if you find it useful give this a plug somewhere and spread the good practices. Just because we work in digital, doesn't mean we should be cutting corners.