Technology's Impact on Branding

Article excerpt

In a tech-driven customer world, CEOs need to stay on top of brand building. BY YURI RADZIEVSKY

The scene: somewhere in the advertising future, between science fiction and science fact. You look up at the moon and staring back is the Coca-Cola logo. Your daughter smiles and her braces flash the word "Crest." Your rental car is free because you drive one with the Target bull's-eye glistening on the hubcaps.

It's easy to laugh at the possibilities. What's not easy is to laugh at is technology's impact on branding and advertising. Technology is transforming the way brands and customers interact. Wired. Networked. Multiplexed. Call it anything you want. Your customers are more in control of your business and brand. Marketing must adapt, or your brand will wither. How can a CEO formulate an agile approach to branding in a tech-driven customer world? Here are five questions you need to ask-and answer:

What's the single, most important trend I need to be aware of?

Transparency. Thanks to technology, nearly everything you do as an enterprise or brand can be observed and published to the world at large. Dell Computer learned this in a series of incidents. A reporter named Jeff Jarvis became enraged with what he called poor service from Dell and he turned his blog, "Buzz Machine," into a rant against the company. His outrage spread rapidly through the Web and erupted into mainstream media. The result? Dell recently committed $100 million to improve sales and support. Dell was victimized next by photos and videos of exploding laptops whose batteries malfunctioned. These were published on the Web and flashed around the globe.

And if you think this only happens to high-tech companies, go to Google and do a search of terms like "Mercedes sucks." In the past, irate feedback came in the form of letters or phone calls. Not any more. Whether you make cars or dishwashers, flatscreen TVs or powerbars, one dissatisfied customer can-via text, audio or video-let you and the world know their unhappiness in seconds. That's the downside.

On the upside, transparency can be your friend. Engaging positively with customers, friends and critics makes a statement about your openness and the openness of your company and brand. General Motor's Fastlane blog (http://fastlane.gmblogs. com) is a place for CEO Rick Wagoner to write about the company's turnaround, for vice chairman Bob Lutz to write about design and for other GM managers to make announcements. Jonathan Schwartz, CEO and president of Sun Microsystems, uses his blog (http://blogs.sun.com/ Jonathan) to give his views on the state of the industry and what it needs to maintain leadership. Microsoft's blogs (http://blogs.msdn.com) project the firm's brand into the marketplace to explain where it is going and how to use its products better.

Not all of these blogs take feedback, but when they do, blogs open channels to customers to give raw and unadulterated opinions. You are likely to discover insights that can fix, revitalize, advance and deepen connections between brand and customer. In a parity world, transparency is the tiebreaker. Agile brands openly embrace customers. Static brands fear them.

Where does convergence really fit in the branding equation?

As technologies converge, consumers and brand marketers are finding new ways to communicate and interact. For example, the phone-for younger generations, at least-is the all-terrain media vehicle of choice for navigating the digital landscape. It can display your latest TV spot, turn commercial and theme music into ring tones and alert customers to discounts and special deals by text messaging. The phone turns passive customers into engaged brand loyalists. It can involve them in brand-based games, challenge them to create commercials for brands, bring them together for brand-sponsored events, galvanize brand feedback, energize brand sharing and transform your brand into a powerhouse of convergence. …