Back To The Basics: A Strong Brand Foundation

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the fundamental need to approach work differently. But even more specific, how we can shift from this digital vs marketing mindset and get back to the basics of doing strong brand work.

It wasn’t that long ago I was pumping out decks that screamed from the mountaintop the need to be “digital first”. As I’ve written about before here, that extreme notion became a mantra because companies needed a radical shift in resources. Digital needed its due. Now, I cringe at the thought of promoting that within an organization.

Social in its early days was the thing you gave to interns. But as we like to say in this industry, we aren’t d@mn interns anymore. Digital is the front door to brands today. Tools have matured and evolved to a place where we can track true ROI. These channels are about our brands, building relationships and driving revenue and business. And for the most part, organizations don’t question the value of the channels.

In the quest to become digital-first though, so many organizations have created (unintentional) silos. Sometimes these silos manifest through an actual structure and sometimes in how we approach the work.

Digital often lives on an island with free reign to do whatever it wants from a voice, tone and creative perspective. A level of autonomy is critical and valuable, but operating in the total wild, wild west doesn’t do a brand justice.

As a result, we’ve lost sight of what matters most: A strong brand foundation. We start with the tactics instead of the big picture. We’re too focused on the day-to-day and not enough on the long-term vision. This results in an inconsistent experience and our brands end up showing up differently across channels.

It’s time to get rid of these silos and mend what we’ve broken. We have to start treating digital as marketing and marketing as digital. We have to start with our brand strategy. Taking this holistic approach matters in sport for a lot of reasons.

It’s your “it” factor.
First, a strong brand strategy will set your team apart from the rest. It becomes your North Star for how your brand should come to life through voice, tone, aesthetics and the stories you tell. When you have defined what your brand is and isn’t, long gone will be the days of pop culture memes and gimmicks. You have your own, unique thing to focus on.

Gets buy-in & gives guidance.
Additionally, when you work as a team to put things to paper, people understand the vision and rally around it. A strong brand strategy gives everyone alignment on the focus and what they should be executing on. It eliminates the guessing game. Additionally, it helps you push back when things don’t make sense because you have a reason for being.

Moves us beyond scores.
Finally, when we focus on our team as a brand, it pivots us away from just the scores. It’s easy to get caught up in the on-the-field performance with the tactical nature of social. Teams have the ability to connect with consumers in an emotional way though. It’s our job to bring to life the DNA and value of our team to life way beyond the scores. We have to build the emotional connection with fans. This work takes focus and a strong understanding of our actual brand DNA and what it stands for.

So, how do we start approaching our work more holistically? A few tips at a high level (aside from blowing up the org chart):

Put your brand strategy to paper.
Every team, league and brand should put to paper their brand strategy. This could be a blog post all its own, but the exercise can include and is not limited to: Defining your values, stating your goals, understanding what makes you unique, writing a mission statement, knowing your consumer, tapping into a persona, etc.

All work, whether it’s social or a more traditional marketing channel, should ladder back up to the overall brand strategy.

Approach seasons like a campaign
Because sports are cyclical it can be easy to get caught up in the same routine each season. As marketers, we have to fight the urge to fall into the same ‘ole trap. One way to ensure you are mixing things up is to think about every new season as a brand campaign. That doesn’t mean every season comes with a new tagline (although that could be a component). It means creating a compelling narrative through which content and creative filters across all channels

Good ads are an art. They don’t sell; they move people to stop, pay attention, share and (hopefully) convert. Good ads entertain and connect on more than a superficial level. New campaigns each season helps us to share a strong message and a rallying cry for fans that’s consistent across all channels. More on brand campaigns here.

Begin with a brief.
Any seasonal campaign or a content series (actually any creative) must start with a brief. I’m a big believer in creative briefs and getting teams to buy into it. Good briefs start with your why. This includes your brand strategy and then your specific goal for the project. Briefs ensure that creative has a reason and gives the team a solid box to play in.

Start with the idea not the channel.
Understanding what you want to get across to the consumer is a key component to taking a holistic approach. This means a couple different things.

First, it’s about understanding what as a brand you want to communicate to your fans. What are the key things you want them to takeaway? Start with the priorities.

Second, it’s about defining your content strategy that cascades off brand priorities. This ensures your channels focus on pushing messaging that brings to life the DNA of the brand. It also helps ensure a quality vs quantity approach instead of throwing things at a wall. In essence, it gives the content you produce a reason for being.

Finally, when it comes to seasonal campaigns or a big content series, concepts presented back from a brief during the first round should be high level. It’s not about tactics; it’s about nailing the one thing you want to get across. Getting the message right is critical. And, it should be simple enough to communicate in 90 seconds or less.

Adopt an IMC model.
Adopting an IMC model helps to bring all the channels together. Even if digital, creative and marketing are technically in silos through organizational structure, an IMC model can help bring every channel together. Weekly editorial meetings and collaboration documents (like Google Docs) are a great way to start the process.

Mold the message to the channels.
Once you’ve defined your content strategy or nailed your big concept for a campaign then you can focus on the tactics. This is where you define a platform approach and mold the message to each channel. Essentially, it’s the nuances of what works and what doesn’t. It’s imperative as marketers that we play to each channel’s strength. There should be a synergy to your, yes, but the way the message comes to life might be a bit different. The tactics matter here, at this point.

Define the lanes.
I promised I would not get into org charts, but I have one thing to say: It’s important everyone understands their lanes and where’s the final say. When organizations treat digital and marketing separate, the lines of responsibility get blurry. For example, does the Marketing Director have final say over the digital creative or does the Digital Director? It can cause tension if people feel like they are stepping on each other’s territories. There should be a clear line of delineation of where responsibilities start and end to remove any guessing game. It’s important that everyone’s responsibilities are clearing outline and they know their part in the IMC model (if you’ve adopted).

This blog post barely scratches the surface of what we need to do to break down silos and start treating our channels more holistically, but it’s at least a start. What tips do you have for getting back to the basics of a strong brand foundation?

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