When did managing a brand become so complicated? Good brand management used to mean crafting the right positioning and going to market using well-understood media channels. Those simple days are over.
Today’s brand managers face a business environment where global issues, emerging technologies and newly empowered consumers make selling a product or service into a complex proposition. They’re contending with a mix of issues and market forces – weak economies, climate change and social media as just a few examples – that makes even five years ago look like a simpler time.
Marketers who want to stay competitive with or even outpace their peers will need to master a set of skills well beyond those on yesterday’s job description.
Here are three areas of expertise that brand managers hoping to become brand leaders should add to their resumes:
A weighty 81% of consumers feel that companies have a responsibility to address social and environmental issues beyond their local communities, as reported by the 2011 Cone/Echo CR Opportunity Study. Performance on these measures influence purchase decisions: a majority of consumers surveyed had purchased a product with an environmental benefit (76%) or associated with a cause (65%) or boycotted a company seen to be behaving irresponsibly (56%).
Brand managers need to become knowledgeable about the issues most relevant to their industry, whether it’s recycling, water conservation, community involvement or the treatment of employees. Those insights can be used to formulate a differentiating strategy and establish an emotional connection with consumers.
It’s no longer enough to acquire customers. Now brands need to convert consumers into advocates, superfans, loyalists, tribes; a community of interest powered by social media and triggering word-of-mouth endorsements.
Unfortunately, the majority of brands are still struggling with the many-to-many model of social media. As found by an A.T. Kearney study, only 5% of the posts by top global brands on Facebook actually engaged consumers in discussions; the rest were one-way transmissions.
Brand managers need to appreciate the need for vibrant communities and understand the role of social channels. This means getting to know the major platforms – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+ and others – as indispensable marketing tools.
When corporate agendas combine with social responsibility issues in the digital space, the mix can be toxic to brand reputations. Missteps, whether they’re real or perceived, can quickly spiral out of control in real time across Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.
Oxford Metrica estimates that most companies will lose more than a fifth of their value every five years as a result of a major crisis. And this doesn’t take into account the damage done to a career by an issue gone awry. The challenge for brand managers is to understand the risk factors, watch for signs of an escalating situation and have a crisis management plan at the ready.
Each new era in marketing comes with new skills to master. In 2012 and beyond, the successful leaders will be those who are able to juggle roles – issues expert, community builder and crisis manager – as the occasion demands.