Building Breakthrough Brands in the Digital Age

In today’s digital-centric world, it’s crucial that brands learn how to adapt and adjust quickly while staying true to their values and DNA. With new channels for reaching and engaging consumers shifting as rapidly as customers’ expectations, brands have the ability to launch products, reach new audiences, and build awareness with unprecedented speed and efficiency. While technological advancements are constantly shaping brand goals and redefining the consumer experience, Breakthrough Brands leverage technology, instead of letting technology define them.  

In this new paradigm, the way brands measure brand strength, build brand equity, and optimize their marketing efforts are transforming on an almost daily basis. When working with our partners at Interbrand, Facebook, and the NYSE to define Breakthrough Brands, two key patterns emerged from truly breakthrough brands: they were all customer-centric and comprehensive in approaching their touch points. While yesterday’s Lean and MVP (minimally viable product) models might have allowed brands and products to get to market faster, for newly-emerging Breakthrough Brands, time-to-market is just one of the components. When it hits the market, the entire customer experience should be a requirement, not an afterthought.

At Ready Set Rocket, we obsess over the balance between agility and thoughtfulness. Neither should be compromised in building a Breakthrough Brand. This starts with assessing areas that are truly critical to growing the brand, and with having a measurement strategy in place that is both insightful and actionable. Everything else is a distraction.

Leveraging this approach, we observed that transformative Breakthrough Brands excel in understanding and focusing their effort on these four areas: brand, audience, communications, and technology optimization.

Brand

With an increasingly saturated and diverse competitive landscape, more-discerning consumers, and dwindling attention spans, brands must truly stand out in order to break through. To do this, the core values and mission of the brand should run through all aspects of its on and offline existence, from customer experience and brand messaging to the overall aesthetic.

Breakthrough brands excel in three core areas: brand promise and differentiators, visual design and aesthetic, and brand marketing and awareness.

Brand promise and differentiators: The brand promise and differentiators should be consistent, clear, and fully integrated into all content and messaging throughout a digital ecosystem. Websites, applications, blogs, and emails must align with this promise, and the experience at every single touch point should deliver on it. For Breakthrough Brands, this extends beyond purchase to include the entirety of the customer service experience.

Visual design and aesthetic: Establishing a unique and distinguishable aesthetic across all online and offline channels is vital, and allows for enough flexibility to support today’s multi-channel landscape without becoming diluted or incoherent. Marrying design with brand values is crucial in our highly visual world, and when executed correctly, strengthens the consumer’s desire to interact and associate with the brand.

Brand marketing and awareness: Consistency, consistency, consistency. True Breakthrough Brands understand that every touch point a consumer has with their brand shapes perception and future purchase intent. Leaders establish an ongoing platform for brand marketing that integrates all touch points with separate KPIs, budgets, and objectives—all ultimately connecting back to a single set of overarching brand goals. Structures like these ensure that awareness and marketing efforts combine with an amplifying effect, resulting in a consumer draw stronger than simply the sum of its parts.

Audience

Strong brands go far beyond knowing their target; they establish and maintain a high-level understanding of their customer and how they behave across a range of channels. With today’s consumers existing in numerous digital spaces at once, understanding the customer journey and every relevant touch point with your brand is the new Breakthrough Brand requirement.

When evaluating the status of a brand’s audience efforts, there are three key areas to address: customer journey and segmentation, loyalty and lifetime value optimization, and CRM and messaging.

Customer journey mapping and segmentation: For a brand to maintain an intimate understanding of its consumer, customer journey mapping and customer segmentation must go hand-in-hand. Once the entirety of the experience between a brand and its consumer across all touch points is established and understood (customer journey mapping), the overall customer base must be divided into specific and relevant targets (customer segmentation). These efforts are crucial to understanding the purchase process and post-purchase behavior, which ultimately allows breakthrough brands to anticipate and plan for future consumer decisions and turn customers into advocates.

Loyalty and lifetime value optimization: Customer loyalty is critical. The strongest brands develop programs and campaigns early on that move a high number of prospects to purchasers, and then to loyalists and brand advocates, in a short period of time. Successfully doing so is dependent on marrying the emotional connection a consumer has with a brand with customer journey mapping and timely messaging across all touch points.

CRM and messaging: Modern brands should be able to leverage their customer and prospect data with ease, allowing for a complete understanding of individuals and segments. Doing so not only informs targeted and timely messaging, but allows personalized and optimized interactions with prospects and consumers that become incredibly relevant. Modern consumers crave authentic experiences, and one-to-one messaging and experiences ensure brands can close the gap between themselves and the consumer.

Communications

A strong communications strategy not only drives brand visibility and sales, but also strategically connects the brand with its target audience and segments. Great products and services can only reach scale with a properly defined and executed communications strategy. There are no shortcuts in reaching customers at scale. Paid, earned, and owned media need to be working together and firing on all cylinders to help outstanding brands break through.

Paid: While tactically, paid media consists of efforts like paid search, display, retargeting, and paid social efforts to promote content and drive traffic to owned properties, it is the way these various efforts work together that ensure brands break through and maximize ROI. While paid media tactics are typically optimized against conversion events, Breakthrough Brands leverage them to impact every part of the customer journey and track success against the part of the journey they optimize.

Earned: Breakthrough brands can earn word-of-mouth through quality, innovation, and relevancy. A distinctly high-quality product and experience that disrupts the marketplace is bound to generate word of mouth with consumers eventually. To expedite this effort, Breakthrough Brands leverage technology in innovative ways to solicit customer advocacy and drive exposure through press efforts. Lastly, being agile enough to participate in key cultural moments in real time is a strong way to differentiate and gain attention, particularly in today’s extensive social ecosystems.

Owned: The key to a successful channel strategy is ensuring that you are accounting for how your content will come to life across all of your owned properties: website, social channels, app, newsletter, etc. It’s difficult to strike a balance between wanting to get the most out of a piece of content and ensuring that you’re optimizing the content for the channel you’re delivering it on. Breakthrough brands have a deep understanding of the nuances of leveraging their various owned channels for maximum engagement and exposure.

Technology

The means of analyzing the customer journey, measuring insights, and connecting with consumers are constantly in flux. With the emergence of new platforms and shifts in customer behavior comes the need for brands to leverage technology to adapt to ever-shifting priorities, instead of  letting technology define the constraints of how brands engage with their customers.

Analytics: Breakthrough Brands truly know their customers across devices and channels. They can not only measure touch points across their ecosystem, but can derive insights and make actionable decisions with ease. This is not about leveraging complex and expensive analytics platforms, but about defining and focusing on relevant KPIs across the entire customer journey. Everything else is noise.

Adaptability: The customer should be at the forefront of every technology decision made in the organization. Technology serves as a competitive differentiator in providing a superior experience and empowering the brand to better connect with the consumer. As brand needs adapt, building entrenched and enterprise platforms is quickly becoming a barrier to growth for breakthrough brands. Breakthrough brands understand that rapid iteration is only possible when your commitment to a solution is not entrenched. For most brands, this is impacting both the build vs buy and enterprise vs open source decisions in their technology stack. When it is easy to shift technology decisions based on market and customer needs, brands can truly iterate to better serve their customer.

User experience: No brand can thrive without prioritizing their user experience across devices. As mobile has overtaken desktop usage, it’s not enough to create mobile-centric experiences, they also need to be fast and made for the on-the-go consumer. Complex transactions from purchasing to banking to product research need to be streamlined and anticipated, leveraging technology to anticipate and enable the multi-channel customer-first experience. Today’s customer expects a seamless and thoughtful experience throughout their entire interaction with a brand from research to purchase to customer service—Breakthrough Brands deliver on that promise in any medium.

Conclusion

Digital has forever transformed the traditional strategies, structures, and economics of marketing. The touch points with which brands reached consumers even a few years ago have been turned on their head. Incumbent brands that could once just put money behind brand awareness and conversion efforts at a few reliable points along the purchase funnel and expect sales and lifetime loyalty are facing significant competition and general customer apathy. This new competition is coming from both the innovations of age-old competitors, as well as from upstarts that can more-effectively capture new customer preferences.

Modern consumers armed with ample choices expect to interact with brands as easily as they can hail an Uber. They also don’t just expect customer service to treat them well, they expect the brand to be a customer service organization. Anything falling short in meeting customer expectations and evolving trends presents opportunities for Breakthrough Brands to capture market share and, in some cases, create and upend markets. Building a better mouse trap is not enough to be a Breakthrough Brand—it requires authenticity, optimizing every touch point, and putting the customer first consistently.

What sets Breakthrough Brands apart from other promising up-and-coming brands is their ability to leverage current technology, prepare for change, and balance innovation with core values. In a time when thousands of brands are doing a variety of things well, Breakthrough Brands excel in the areas that matter, and understand the specific balance their brand requires to accelerate and maximize growth.

Where things are headed is hard to say. Technology is growing at an exponential rate, meaning the norms of today are soon to be outmoded. Augmented and virtual reality are on the cusp of going mainstream. AI-powered messaging is being refined, enhanced, and used more and more frequently to better connect brands with consumers. 3D printers, on-demand products, and the entire shared economy is transforming not just the customer journey but what’s at the end of it. Change is the new constant, and brands that can capitalize on new developments, adapt to them, and learn to get ahead of what’s coming next while staying true to their DNA are the brands that will breakthrough. We hope you are building one of those brands, and are excited to see you on the other side.

Co-founder and Chief Strategist, Alex Lirtsman, wrote this article for the Breakthrough Brands Report, created by Ready Set Rocket, Interbrand, Facebook, and the New York Stock Exchange in celebration of the next generation of innovative brands. 

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