Brand Strategy, Trends, and Best Practices Studied in Branding Forward Project

Many of us who work in the branding and marketing fields feel very fortunate to be in this industry during a time when opportunities abound as technology, the social web, companies, and consumers change faster than ever before. It’s an exciting time with much to do and even more to learn. Fortunately, the Branding Forward Project is here to help us navigate through these fast-moving times in the world of marketing and brand strategy.

branding signsTogether, Mechanica and Fast Company have created the Branding Forward Project with a goal to collect insights from branding and marketing professionals and influencers to better understand the issues, tools, approaches, and challenges people on the frontlines of branding face today.

The Branding Forward Project will be used to develop a tool to identify branding best practices and benchmarking metrics that branding and marketing professionals on the agency side as well as employees on the client side can leverage and monitor over time.

The Survey Results

The first Branding Forward Project survey received 623 qualified responses with 41% of respondents coming from the agency side and 59% coming from the client side. The cross-section of responses highlights the commonalities as well as the differences between how the two sides or marketing and branding feel about the opportunities and challenges they face today. Ten of those differences in thinking follow:

  1. Clients are far more likely than agencies to believe it’s critical to control branded messaging as much as possible.
  2. Clients prefer to work with a team of brand development partners while agencies believe that an integrated agency is the best team for brand development projects.
  3. Clients are far less likely than agencies to believe that social media and media fragmentation will have a significant effect on their businesses.
  4. Clients are more likely than agencies to believe that consumer-generated marketing is more relevant and more effective than agency-generated creative ideas.
  5. Clients are more likely to believe improving internal collaboration is a key long-term strategic priority while agencies rank staying on top of the latest marketing innovations as a much higher priority.
  6. Clients are more likely to list developing and maintaining ongoing customer relationships as a top priority while agencies are more likely to identify thinking and acting on branding issues more holistically and creating integrated programs as a top priority.
  7. Clients are far less likely than agencies to be familiar with emerging marketing opportunities such as location-based mobile services, branded apps, crowdsourcing, and pop-up retail.
  8. Clients are far less likely than agencies to prioritize additional budget dollars to online marketing content development.
  9. Clients are far less likely than agencies to claim they have tried and experienced proven effectiveness for almost all new marketing concepts presented in the survey, including behavioral targeting, search engine optimization, and content marketing.
  10. Clients are far more skeptical than agencies of the effectiveness of new marketing concepts and opportunities.

The 10 differences listed above make it very obvious that agencies and clients bring different mindsets and skills to the table. Too often, clients get caught in the trap of working with blinders on and trying to please executives (and keep their jobs) rather than pursuing the best marketing and branding initiatives to meet consumers’ needs and build long-term, sustainable brand and business growth. That’s where an agency’s unbiased opinion and expertise can help a business move from short-term, band-aid marketing tactics to long-term, integrated marketing strategies.

When asked to rank the factors that the ideal agency partner offers to help clients with their marketing and branding efforts today, respondents listed the following (in this order): being strategically driven, being creatively driven, being cost-effective, being idea-driven, being accountable, and being collaborative.

What Matters to Brand Agencies and Clients Today

agency client brandingThe Branding Forward Project also identified areas of importance in its survey results report to show what matters to agencies and clients today. For example, respondents identified brands like Apple, Virgin, Google, and Facebook as some of the leading brands today based on their constant innovation and efforts to stay ahead of consumer needs, which gives them the ability to create and fulfill needs before consumers know they those needs exist!

Agencies and clients listed a number of strategies, tactics, and marketing approaches that were particularly important these days and would get additional budget dollars in the near future. But what forces are driving these strategies, tactics, and budget realignments to rise to the top of the priority list? Survey respondents identified the leading factors as:

  • Social media: 70%
  • Demand for personalized experiences: 48%
  • Need for provable ROI: 44%
  • Increasing competition: 42%
  • Media fragmentation: 41%

Based on these forces (which we’re still only just beginning to really feel the effects from), survey respondents plan to shift budget dollars to online content development (#1), online marketing (#2), and social media (#3) as the top three investment areas.

Interestingly, the survey responses also highlighted new marketing and branding approaches that have yet to be fully-leveraged and represent significant opportunities. Specifically, the following opportunities have either only been tested minimally by survey respondents or have yet to be tried at all:

  • Branded apps
  • Location-based mobile services
  • Social monitoring
  • QR Codes or other customer bar codes
  • Group buying and shopping
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Mobile commerce
  • Online ad exchanges
  • Online retargeting
  • Pop-up retail

Clearly, agencies and clients that responded to this survey are behind when it comes to trying or successfully using the above marketing and brand building opportunities. Most of these concepts and approaches are still very new, so this isn’t very surprising. I suspect as new survey results are released from the Branding Forward Project in the future, we’ll see these responses change significantly. As I said at the beginning of this article, it’s an exciting time to work in marketing and branding, and what you read in this article today is likely to be completely different a few months from now!

Images: enimal, biewoef

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Gunelius
Susan Gunelius, MBA is a 25-year marketing and branding expert and President and CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She is the author of 10 books about marketing, branding and social media, and her marketing-related articles appear on top media websites such as Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com. She is also the Founder and Editor in Chief of WomenOnBusiness.com, an award-winning blog for business women.