Five ways to become a braver brand

In an exclusive excerpt from a new book, SapientNitro's Kim Douglas shares five tips for creating brave brands.

Kim Douglas: vice-president and managing director of SapientNitro Singapore and Hong Kong
Kim Douglas: vice-president and managing director of SapientNitro Singapore and Hong Kong

What do Robin Williams, the World Cup, and Ebola all have in common? They were Google’s three most searched terms in 2014. Not a single for-profit brand found itself in the top 10 because of its marketing campaigns.

Wondering why? Well, it might surprise some marketers to discover that consumers are not likely to go to the internet for advertising.

Brands and agencies that are committed to finding ways to enter their consumers’ always-on worlds have a special sort of bravery. They see in new technologies and media a call to step away from the familiarity of "trusted" messaging and media strategies, and to start experimenting with new, non-traditional marketing initiatives that thrive in the digital environment.

Responding to that challenge means that they must welcome digital’s unique opportunities versus simply repurposing existing assets from traditional channels.

Five points for creating a brave brand

Brands and their agencies should approach the internet holistically. The process of creating an effective online presence shouldn’t be seen merely as a list of tasks or channels that have to be checked off.

1. Understand consumers' needs

Most paramount is to genuinely understand the needs of the consumer. Over the past decade, we’ve seen the refinement and application of many new methods of consumer research.

The first step for a brave brand is to develop a rich understanding of its consumers’ met and unmet needs, attitudes, and behaviours.

For this, brave brands use a mix of online and offline methods, including instrumented intelligence (directly measured activity on smartphones and in physical spaces), ethnography techniques, instant online surveys and focus groups, and many other methods.

2. Rethink your brand's offerings

Your brand’s products and/or services should acknowledge consumer needs. If those are not being met, rethink your brand’s strategy – the centre should be around the consumer. A great brand will build a world around the consumer, ensuring that all touchpoints are interconnected to create a seamless experience. At SapientNitro, we call this our Storyscaping approach.

3. Think platforms, not ads

Investing in new digital platforms requires a different timeline than traditional media spend. It took Nike five years to build the different elements of the Nike+ digital platform – connecting wristbands, an owned online platform, social network functionality, and third-party hardware and sensors.

These types of opportunities in digital require a multi-year vision and ongoing investment. Digital platforms typically live on for months or years, making it no trivial thing to shut down the products, services, and communities that people love.

Successful Storyscapes have long-term visions that deliver on a wider brand purpose, and their business case.

4. Do something significantly different 

Do not be satisfied with a 2 per cent increment here or a 3 per cent growth spurt there. Creating a great brand via the Internet is not solely about technology, platforms, or software. Instead, commit to a different relationship with your consumers online and beyond.

Brave brands combine consumer insight with strategy to rethink how and where the firm can best compete – and then support that positioning with investment not only in traditional media, but also in technology, new product development, and digital modernisation.

5. Test, learn and adapt

The greatest lesson of successful online branding is to be immensely agile. Test, learn, and build organisational changes around this "new way" of behaving.

Use every step and misstep to guide your company forward, and consistently strive to be ahead of your brand’s sector.

Otherwise, despite the transformations, your brand will find itself struggling to keep up.

Kim Douglas is vice-president and managing director of SapientNitro Singapore and Hong Kong. The above is an excerpt from SapientNitro's Insights, a book that the agency says will help marketers keep their finger on the pulse of emerging trends and help them plan ahead for a rapidly changing marketing landscape. You can request a copy by email.

This article first appeared on


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