Why brand is still king in the programmatic era

Dan GibsonIn this guest post, Dan Gibson argues why the role of brand and creativity in the age of programmatic are more important than ever.

Our old friend, the purchase funnel, looks somewhat different to of old.

Non-linear? Pretzel-shaped? Possibly not even a funnel at all.

Whatever your preferred configuration, what’s clear is that digitisation has radically changed buying behaviours and narrowed the gap between consideration and conversion.

Within this context of this truncation, programmatic media has created the ability for brands to target multiple individuals with multiple different messages. Messages that may be constantly tuned and optimised for better performance.

So is marketing nirvana truly upon us? Perhaps.

Although we haven’t cracked the model for operating it yet.

Like Neo before he’s achieved mastery in The Matrix: we’re becoming aware of burgeoning greatness, but we’re still frustrated by our fumblings.

We can foresee two significant outcomes from this rise of programmatic.

1. Micro-proliferation around production.

We are seeing the proliferation of content production, fragmented and dissected to realise the potential of message customisation. Content canapés, if you like. Serving an increasingly immediate conversion objective, because consideration and conversion are now so breathlessly contiguous. With YouTube as the second biggest search engine in the world, the potential for programmatically-served brand content is huge indeed. ‘Buy now’ expressed in a myriad of ways to a myriad of digital sub-audiences.

Cracking the best delivery model for this proliferated production remains elusive for agencies. It’s tough.

Unfortunately the appetite for canapés tends to come with a McBudget.

Regardless, it’s clear that those businesses that are best at driving collaboration between media and creative stand the best chance of flourishing in the programmatic era. The single client P&L across media and creative may not be as far off as we imagine.

2. Macro-consolidation around brands.

The second outcome of this ultra customised programmatic world may at first glance appear counter-intuitive. After all, how much of a role does the brand really play when you can conjugate a selling message differently for each of its recipients?

As Nick Kendall puts it [in his book What is a 21st Century Brand? New Thinking from the Next Generation of Agency Leaders), “The rise of interactivity… has inevitably drawn our focus onto the final part of the consumer journey into purchase: the final click, and the fulfilment of demand versus the creation of it.”

Yet the role of brand does remain more critical than ever. Enabled by digital, we are facing an increasing barrage of new products, services and sectors unparalleled at any other point in commercial history.

It’s confusing as hell.

Engaging ‘System 2’ thinking to figure it out takes time and energy we don’t have. In this environment, brands new and old have a growing role, reassuring lighthouses for the drowning consumer to navigate around.

Kendall again: “I believe we need brands and brand ideas even more, not less. I don’t know about you but, in a volatile world, my answer is to look for things that can create clarity, that can create meaning… rather than add to the noise”. *

This is brand as heuristic, as decision-making shortcut.

Those handling it best are those who have always understood the value of brand. Look at how the likes of Cadburys, Audi and P&G have reinvested in brand. Increasingly in fact, a central, parent brand as a ziplock for their respective product brands. Here the parent brand provides a structure that can then house and deliver product launches in a distinctive and coherent way. Because as Martin Weigel (author of Marketing Crack: Kicking the Habit) reminds us, a brand helps “activity to aggregate its effects”.

Programmatic is seductive in its possibilities, and currently enormously under-exploited.

But today brand matters more than ever, by providing an architecture, a point of view, around which the content of programmatic communications can navigate.

If we do our job right, the bugle of brand comes simultaneous with the programmatic cavalry of conversion. To divorce the two, or even to exclude brand altogether, is to render your conversion efforts all the more disposable for consumers.

Doesn’t it show how fast things have changed when a singular brand-driven comms narrative can feel like a throwback?

So whatever the form of your preferred purchase funnel, and however much it has been foreshortened, there should be a vacuum attached to its left end – the brand.

Dan Gibson is group managing director of the Havas Creative Group Singapore


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