Calling all advocates!

October 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

I am waiting for a new report from Forrester Research that Ad Age says is due out this week that will offer insights on how brand marketers should behave in the digital world. According to the Ad Age story, the guts of the report will focus on familiar themes about the need to be faster and more nimble, and the need to be open to new sorts of partnerships, especially with the media, that are less reflective of the long-term ad agency associations that are industry legend. A summary observation in the report is that “Brand Managers” should be re-christened, “Brand Advocates,” which is an interesting point, and the one that most caught my attention.

I remember Stu Upson, the CEO of Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, the ad agency in New York where I first worked after graduating from college, addressing the New York office in a rare all Company meeting to talk about the loss of a major client. I don’t remember all the things he said about the client loss, but I remember what he said about the business of advertising. He said advertising is not about giving consumers the information they need to make an informed decision about products they buy – and he used the word “bunk!” to underscore his objection to that notion. We are advocates, he said, along with our clients, of their brands. We are advocates.

There’s a bit of the “so-what-else-is-new” to me, then, in Forrester’s recommendation that marketers re-brand “Managers” as “Advocates”, but fine; Perhaps what Forrester is sensing about the current state of brand marketing is an urgent need for advocacy given the amount of change that has occurred over the past thirty years, and given that in the violent tumble of new media brands are losing track of their audience and audiences are losing track of brands.

Online we are doing a lot to push the value of brands – media brands, that is – away. We seem to imagine that we can distinguish between the value of media brand relationships and consumer brand relationships. We think competing for brand advertising is desirable, but dependence on media brand relations in order to do so is not. That’s a significant disconnect. It implies that the context of things – and all brands are contextual – matters only part-time. Bunk! If the relationships that consumers have with particular media brands are irrelevant then the relationships they have with all brands are irrelevant. Also bunk, of course. Brand relationships matter. Context matters.

Context has simply improved and multiplied. Call it fragmentation. (Everyone else does.) The media world has fragmented. So what? The consumer products world has fragmented, too. I stood in line at Starbucks this morning. Fortunately, by the time I got to the register I was chatting with my wife on the mobile telephone and had her to walk me through the choices. The coffee business is fragmented. Who would have thought it could happen?

All of which is to say that Forrester may sense the urgent need for Brand Advocates in order to weave back together the fragmented pieces of their brands and brand relations. Happily, the media world is configured to help. It can segment reach against the normal Joes that just want coffee and the other Joes that want Grande Cappuccinos. And, it can do it in the context of those relationships.

A few more media brand advocates to join the consumer brand advocates and we should be good to go.

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