Developing digital campaign strategies and the role of brand planning in the future

28 Aug

I was asked about a process for developing digital campaign strategies – particularly integrated campaigns – the other day, and I thought I might share some of my thoughts. Anyway, what began as a simple process piece became a series of thoughts about the role of digital strategy and brand planning which is probably on my mind as I embrace my hybrid journey more to the strategy side.

Obviously there is no set way, and every challenge requires a different approach but…

For us developing digital campaign strategy often begins with redeveloping the brief collaboratively with our clients in light of 6 core digital strategy/creative principles:

  • Empathy – Understand and appreciate the people you are talking to on their own terms without shouting. Promote their point of view.
  • Permission – Talk don’t push. We have no right to talk to anyone, it has to be on their terms. They have to give us permission or it is just extra noise.
  • Appropriate Intervention – Do things when it is right not just because we can. Technology lets us target according to time of day, part of a journey or behavioural activity.
  • Relevant Conversation – Talk about what they’re interested in based on what they have been doing and previous conversations.
  • Action/Interaction – Be playful, be useful. React and reward. People define their identities through their digital behaviors and connections and brands can be this glue.
  • Reality – The real world will always trump the virtual. Show and connect, don’t tell. Take interactive into the real world. The internet isn’t computers talking to computers, it’s people.

These principles should help us develop objectives that combine communications with people/technology insight to create a strategy that considers the total experience of consumers — that aims to be useful, useable and delightful. They act as a sense check and stop us marching off and doing something just because that is what the brief says.

The next stage is actually beginning the strategy itself – this means banning words like Twitter or YouSpace/MyTube and thinking about people.

It is about developing consumer insight, and to do this we use several techniques including developing Digital Footprints (what our audience does and does not do digitally), segmentation and  – because we have a UCD practise – Personas.

I think Personas are a key tool in communicating consumer insight. Their narrative and empathy-building aspects are particularly useful but they must be three dimensional enough to move beyond functional/task-based and inform the strategy, design, and communication goals of a campaign.

Using personas in developing a digital strategy enables us to think beyond execution and deliverables. It enables us to authentically play where our target plays, join their conversations and engage them in new ones. Personas are often developed during client and stakeholder workshops where we can also tackle conventional wisdom of a category, explore what motivates consumers and the path to purchase, and develop opportunities that fulfill consumer needs and turn convention on its head. 

The personas again enable us to sense check and think about the people who are going to experience our activity. 

It’s is also around this time that the old challenge I used to mutter as a creative rears its head: “Tell me something new, tell me something I don’t know?” It’s these bits of insight and research – whether about people or culture or the brand – that can give us the hook or spark that make a core thought. And only then do I get to start drawing one of my diagrams

I think the ultimate goal of this process is to develop a digital strategy that combines brand story and utility in a way that seeks to affect change in the real world – strategy that is right for business objectives, brand AND people who experience it. And they are not “end-users” but that is an argument for another day.

Ultimately I think digital strategy should be about developing less of a campaign and more of an idea/insight/experience that can exist as part of digitally enabled culture. 

The way digital strategists can do this properly and have a real business changing effect is to integrate Brand Planning and brand development into the process. They should not be separate. Digital strategy should not be about just about channels and Brand Planning should not have the carte blanche on what brands can and can’t be and do. Digital is the culture now.

I’ve always thought that the best digital creatives and planners are the ones that can instinctively answer the brief but then ask “wouldn’t it be fun if?”. They ask “what if”, have a playful feel for “things that are good enough to share”, and know that people “don’t wake up thinking about our brands” (MobileYouth). 

Indeed while there has always been a debate in interactive circles about Communicaton + Content v. Utility + Context it is  now more about a challenge to show not tell, to focus not so much on awareness but building sustainable grass roots support and “moving from an era of finding customers for our products [brands] to an era of finding products [brands] for our customers” (Seth Godin). It is acknowledging that every brand touchpoint has a social value.

Maybe we can combine this implicitly “iconoclastic” (or realistic) digital approach with traditional brand planning? 

Digital is home of Beta. Instead of treating a brand as a fixed artifact that is handed down with an approach that borders on Platonic Realism I think the more questioning and people-centric approach of digital strategy and creative can help develop brands for real people. Brands should be about getting fans to make more fans by giving them social currency and letting people use and shape the brand itself –whether directly or indirectly through insight feeding back on a continuous brand development process.

Perhaps this idea of the brand as digitally enabled piece of social and cultural currency can free digital strategy from focusing too much on channels/executions and in turn free brand planning from the shackles of 30 second mood films dependency?

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