The Brand Story: More Valuable to Employees than Consumers

Have you ever been to a social gathering, standing in a circle of 5-6 people, when two people launch into two different stories at once?  They both pause and exchange social cues to insist the other continue.  Finally, one person takes the floor, and starts their story from the top.  

Yada, yada, yada

Yada, yada, yada

What if we lived in a world without social cues, and both of those people just continued talking over one another?  I actually have had this experience with intoxicated people, and I usually walk away because I can't hear either story.  That volume of interruption (times 10) is where we're at when it comes to telling Brand Stories to consumers.  

Traditional Advertising and Marketing relies on the notion that every person is comprised of both their current self and the self they wish to become.  These industries cater to the latter -- the aspirational self.  

From college seminar to company conference room, Marketing 101 teaches that the most effective way to tap into that aspirational self is through storytelling and therefore, that the telling of the Brand Story is the most effective way to reach consumers.  As Digital opened up a plethora of new channels through which brands could tell their stories they began to flood fresh infowaves.

ad block level ninja

The Branded Content universe has become saturated so quickly, we're now in the age of the disconnected consumer.  Not physically disconnected, but emotionally disconnected.  We're becoming hyper-focused on utility and convenience and we really don't care so much about a brand's story when it comes to connecting with them.  We'll toss a smiley emoticon or a "Like" at it, but it has no value in our daily living.  

Susie Sallypants doesn't have enough hours in a day to watch and read stories about her favorite soda, granola bar, clothing company, bra manufacturer, restaurant, gym, and car.  She also won't make the time to do so when the information available doesn't directly pertain to or enhance the moment in which she is.

Hence, our reality is one of conflicting needs -- brands who have been sold the idea they should use new channels to tell their Brand Story and consumers that care about brand messages only when they offer utility.

jesus you're doing it wrong

The true legacy of Steve Jobs as a business visionary is that he knew how to keep his employees engaged and aligned around the vision and mission of Apple.  It was the way he lived Apple's Brand Story through command, design, innovation, and persistence, that inspired his employees.  

His example plus the current market climate, teaches us that the ones in real need of falling in love with a Brand Story are the people that work for it.  

It's unanimous, alright.

Why does everyone hate their job? It's because they are the ones emotionally disconnected from the brand, and therefore, their purpose within a larger picture.  They aren't focusing on answers to questions such as:  What is my company accomplishing on planet earth?  Who started the company and why?  What value is my company providing to our customers (whether B2B or B2C) and how does this value impact and change lives?  

5 day weekend employee engagement

There is real emotion and meaning within those answers.  There's inspiration and love in that telling of the Brand Story.  

So, should companies continue to tell their Brand Story?  Yes, but they need to redirect its attention to a new audience and as a result, create new Brand Storytellers.  It must be told, refined, and used where it can make the most profound impact -- in the workplace.  It is only when an employee understands, connects with, and lives this story, that they will innovate to push it further.  That's the heart of sustainable growth and it's the first step in becoming a Digital Business that adapts to the law of Customer Experience.  The ripple effect resonates from that point.

Forget the investment in Influencer campaigns (starting at $8k/month).  What about repurposing that investment internally towards workshops, technology, or process improvement to make your employees experience purveyors who in turn will naturally influence others?  The sentiment of holiday parties, company retreats, and Summer Fridays for flip-flop lovers is good, but how can we inspire employees to love their company 365 days a year?  The Brand Story is how. 

Image credits: Reddit, Google, & other fine humans

C-Suite Tasked with Creating 'Digital Culture'

KIMBA defines the 5 core dynamics of any business as: Vision, People, Culture, Process, and Technology.  All operations and scenarios fall somewhere under or between a configuration of those elements.  

We look at Culture as a result, or byproduct, of how a company's Vision lives and breathes through its People.  The very nature of Culture as a concept is less predictable and containable than the other 4 elements classified.  Therefore, creating a 'Digital Culture,' a buzztask with which nearly every CEO/COO/CMO has been challenged over the last 5-10 years, must start with an examination of both a company's Vision and its People.  

Tasked with redefining their corporate Culture, most organizations' impulses have not been to look inward at their own Visions and People, but instead, look elsewhere for new "Digital Talent" to recruit.

The hunger for Digital Talent has swelled over the past 5 years.  It used to be that anyone who had an entry-level position servicing ads on DART ended up fighting off recruiters with a stick just 2-3 years into their careers.  At KIMBA, we are always asked to refer the best "Digital Talent" to mature businesses, agencies, and startups alike.  As the demand mounts, the reality becomes more clear -- not only is Digital Talent hard to come by, but due to demand, people who qualify as Digital Talent are incredibly difficult to retain.  In some cases, the existence of and need for Digital Talent as a remedy is entirely mythological -- like hunting for Digital Unicorns.  

Thanks, Google Image for this "Digital Unicorn!"

McKinsey recently published an article on the difficulties of holding down solid Marketing Analysts.  In it, they stated only 3.4% of Senior Marketers feel they have the right Digital Talent!  Just a month prior, ADWEEK published a similar study, citing interviews with 750 Fortune 500 Ad Execs and did an elementary infographic to help showcase the grim findings.  The title of the piece was "There is a Digital Talent Gap."  

So, here we are, after all the effort and momentum put into the deep sea scour to acquire Digital Talent, and still NO ONE is satisfied!  In fact, the scarcity of talent has become even more bleak and troublesome!  Why is this?

Adobe Research recently conducted interviews with 1,004 U.S. Marketers.  Their findings boiled down to two key concepts:

1) All Marketers know they need to adapt and change

2) These same Marketers don't believe they know how to change.  They don't have the resources or training to meet the challenges that await them

The Adobe findings speak to the missteps made in addressing the Digital Talent shortage.  They speak to the reality that KIMBA has examined for some time now.  

What most people fail to recognize is the skills they are hiring for have not existed until now. The training for the positions they are trying to fill isn't linear and prescribed as it is in most traditional industries.  The training often takes place amidst new business challenges, born from new technologies, and treated with new solutions -- all of which have yet to be traditionally defined or analyzed.  This means recruiters need a deep understanding of the business functions for which they are filling roles.  That way, they can identify hybrid and cross pollinated talent with a breadth of experience primed for refinement within their organization.   

Those fortunate enough to have worked exclusively on forward-thinking, cutting edge Digital projects and products, throughout the past 10 years that such opportunities have even existed, are in a unique class.  And within that class, those who live to innovate may never be satisfied working for a traditional organization.

We believe, and have so developed services against the idea, that most companies actually have more "Digital" resource and Talent than they are aware.  With the right training, attention, alignment and process implementation against current employees (People), the hunt for Big Foot Digital Talent may not be as necessary.

Realignment of and investment in personnel is an integral part of any Digital Transformation process.  Adaptation to the reality of rapidly shifting consumer culture must start on the inside, with an organization's Vision and People.

There's No Digital Special Sauce

...and please stop listening to ANYONE who says there is.

Whenever we start working with a new client, there is a period of discovery in which we need to dispel the myth of quick fix, digital special sauce.

It doesn't exist.  It's like when VC's talk about building a business so it will be a "cash generator." It's like, dude, if there was a plan to building a "cash generator," don't you think more folks would have used it by now? 

At the mercy of con artist "digital" salesmen, most of our clients have at one point or another sunk epic budgets into chasing this alleged special sauce.  It's been called many things over the past few years: Search Engine Optimization, Keywords, SEM, Social Media, Viral Videos, etc.  But make no mistake, they're all peddling the same thing in different disguises -- Digital Special Sauce.  They are preying on desperation and not addressing core business problems. They offer deep specialties that may result in a quick fix, but leave clients helpless once the agency engagement is complete.

Please note that lots of these digital tactics can be very effective if used properly.  KIMBA builds them into content strategies and execution plans where they fit.  But, they are part of a larger picture, not standalone answers.

Buzzwords and buzzservices render buzzresults (a common synonym for buzz is "fizzle"). Buzzresults blow away with the next strong breeze of innovation.  

We want to empower our potential current client partners to separate the ice cream from the bullshit when it comes to Digital operations and Digital solutions.  That empowerment is the very backbone of our in-house Content Studio framework and approach.  If we can empower you to discern between lasting, longterm investments in your business's health, and quick fix bandaids that will sooner or later need to be ripped off, we can eliminate a lot of the noise and clutter that's pervaded our industry since the early 2000's.  We can get you that much closer to addressing root problems that have been causing Digital symptoms all along.  We can hit your KPI's and then some.

Weaning OFF the Bolt-ON

Do you see "Digital" in the above value chain? Neh.

The vast majority of Fortune 500s scaled to success without any help from Digital.  Sure, they invested in IT overhauls every 5 years, but those were tedious, required employee adoption (often unsuccessful) and were usually avoided like the plague.  So, when new technology began altering market landscapes, from consumer behavior on down, they just continued operating in their historically successful fashions.  To speak to the hot topic of "Digital," they decided to focus any enhancements on the sore thumb -- Marketing, where the shifts were too loud to be ignored.

This meant that agencies (Marketing, Advertising, Promotions, etc.) were immediately hit with urgent requests to become overnight experts in disciplines they'd yet to study, work in, or test.  Reactively, rather than responsively, they had to become Low Hanging Fruit Wizards, just to keep their own businesses healthy.

Outside of the traditional agencies, countless opportunists seized the pandaemonium and opened their own boutique firms in SEO/SEM, Social Media Management, Display Advertising, Affiliate Ad Sales, Email Marketing, App Production, and Mobile App Production.  Since the demand was so high and the need so dire, the overwhelming influx of services made sense.  Pretty soon, everyone on LinkedIn who worked anywhere near Media began referring to themselves as a "Digital Strategist." 

The fundamental error was that the services they developed and sold only treated symptoms identified in the Marketing process.  Now, new companies, and companies born within the last 5-7 years, have a radical advantage of being Digitally Native, and are using their holistically Digital structures, and innovative systems to literally take down industries, one at a time.  

In short, the first departments to be tasked with the burden of digital, were the ones least capable of handling true Transformation.

For KIMBA, this time is so exciting because as a collective conscience (businesses and agencies) we can no longer deny the need for drastic revision.  We can no longer deny the need for Digital Transformation.

For CEOs, CFOs, COOs, and CMOs, the areas in need of immediate evaluation are the areas in which you've invested in "Digital" or in the illusion of "Digital."  And what all C-levels should mind, is that the CMOs and their departments are not to blame.  They have been in reaction mode throughout the market changes and have been backed into a heat sandwich, between consumers and their companies who are looking to build efficiency on ancient (and broken) foundations.

We love Forrester.  We love them most because once they say something, it's branded as fact.  They embark on tireless research to prove our observations and intuitions.  So now, in their latest (March 2014) reports, they've said what people like Bud Caddell, Faris Yakob, and ourselves have been saying for quite some time in regards to the need for deep rooted business transformation.

A few weeks ago, Forrester published a handy "Six Steps to Become a Digital Business." 

In this report, Forrester isolates, as promised, 6 business areas in need of drastic revision.  They offer concepts for change and a synopsis against each business area identified.  However, what the article doesn't indicate is that each of the 6 areas is its own Pandora's box.   It's like saying to companies, 'hey companies, there's only 1 thing you need to change: Everything.'

KIMBA works with clients in the weeds of these areas because we know each needs its own set of objective attention and expert guidance.  We know this work takes time and our methods make use of that time in a way that no previous consulting method could.  We know this because the proper insights, lessons, and tools have not been available until now.

March Bloody March: Disney's Massive Digital Layoffs

There was a time when all I wanted was a Disney business card.  Really.  So legit.  Right?

This month’s massacre of a quarter of Disney Interactive’s heads – the division in which I would have most likely been placed – is another beat in the Dubstep anthem for Digital Transformation.

Disney Interactive, Disney’s media arm, was an answer for Disney for as long as it could be.  When the founding vision and dollars didn’t align, it was only a matter of time before Disney leadership dropped the hatchet of reconsideration.  Why?  Bolt-on vs. core business solutions.  Bolt-ons add bloat and adding additional weight to an already slow organization kills forward momentum.

How can we be sure?  The formula is industry agnostic.  When Digital as a discipline isn’t holistically weaved throughout the fabric of an organization, it has no shot at working effectively.  When organizations treat it like "Digital" is always somebody else’s job or just a quick hit generator, instead of a path to better operations, we eventually see things grind to a halt.

The bird’s eye view makes things simple.  In the late 90s, Disney reacted to a market need for “web presence,” then “digital ad sales,” and finally, the most ambiguous of all for traditional organizations: “digital products.”  Their reaction was Disney Interactive.

Disney Interactive’s admission of cluelessness and defeat came in the form of various acquisitions over the years: Infoseek (1998, Internet Portal), Living Mobile (2005, EU Mobile Game Developer), Kaboose (2009, Website Properties), Playdom (2010, Social Network Game Developer), Tapulous (2010, Software Developer), Togetherville (2011, Pre-teen Social Network).

Now, with yet another purchase, Maker Studios for $500M, it seems Disney hasn’t learned their lesson after 17 years of sheer insanity.  If all you do is hunt trends and fads, your solutions will be trending solutions, not longstanding ones.  As creators and owners of arguably the greatest “content” in history, they should know better.  But again, the cycle of bolt-on surface fixes is insidious.  Disney's become addicted to chasing shiny objects and quick solutions.

But there might be hope.  Disney is making a smarter business decision by having Maker Studios report directly to James A. Rasulo, Disney's CFO, as an independent business unit to serve all other business units.  This means they know that technology, data, programming capabilities, and online brand building is crucial to more than just the web and games divisions.  Investors should be happy even if there is a slight dip while Maker becomes profitable.

It is for this reason that Disney makes a comeback as a candidate with whom KIMBA would like to partner. They are making smarter business moves with their acquisitions and this might just end up working out.  We’ll certainly find out over the next 12-24 months.

Lastly, big shout out to Ynon Kreiz!  Yo Ynon, what’s next?  Lots of DIS money to be spent.

Calling All Marketers: Behavior over Branding

KIMBA hearts Red Bull.  They are the Branded Content North Star.  They've raised the bar of possibility by offering a whole new set of aspirations for brands trying to compete in the "digital ecosystem."  We've used their work as examples and case studies in many a deck.  But Red Bull was not an overnight success.  From the start, Red Bull knew they wanted to and needed to be content creators, and carve out a presence in all the lifestyle arenas in which their product is used.  To make their goals real, they invested astronomical budgets in personnel, content partnerships, technology, analytics, systems, and production.

When it comes to branded content, however, sometimes it's gotta be 'go big, or go home.'  Meaning, Branded Content isn't a quick fix.  Like Red Bull has shown us, it is an investment.  It's probably half the investment most Fortune 500 companies make in production & media costs towards Outdoor, Broadcast, and Print Advertisement, but it's still a significant chunk of money and time and it requires patience.  Just because Dollar Shave Club's Mike Dubin (who had a history in improv comedy performing with the best and brightest) produced a sharply comedic piece of video content for $4k doesn't mean that's what your organization is capable of accomplishing.  

KIMBA suggests a shift in focus for Marketing Departments, who, as we've established, were hit first and hardest with the need for Digital Transformation.  

The shift: Let's go from Branded focus to Behavioral focus.

KIMBA works with clients on something we call Consumer Experience Mapping (CXM).  Think of this as the modern day, agile purchase funnel, that is more an ecosystem ('always on') than a traditional linear purchase path.  Thinking through these maps and defining each possible phase of the consumer experience, shows us what type of information and content we need to provide in order to help our consumers make the next best decisions.

This refocus is necessary for 2 key reasons:

1. Purchase influence has shifted from brand to convenience, entertainment, consumer ratings & reviews, and price.

2. Your organization is likely not built to support a true investment (time or budget) in Branded Content.  And that's okay.

For the time being, you can continue to task your social media agencies with cool memes and gifs, but realize that a deep analysis of consumer needs, followed by a plan of action to address them, is the only futureproof endeavor upon which you can embark as a department.