| March 06, 2013
In this Ad Age article, Sarah Hofstetter asserts that marketers are fascinated with real-time marketing and suggests that it actually may not be right for every brand. I am sure she is right. Just because you can do something, it does not mean you should do it, and that principle encompasses far more than just real-time marketing in social media.
Even for brands that have the strategy and structures in place to warrant it, not every major cultural moment deserves a real-time response.
She proposes that brands need to invest time and resources ahead of an event in order to take advantage of opportunities and avoid potential missteps. Critically, Hofstetter suggests that brands need to “carefully choose moments that align with your brand and community.” But in the heat of the moment, it is all too easy to ignore what the brand stands for and try to seize the moment irrespective of whether or not it makes sense for the brand and its audience.
Essentially, real-time marketing exacerbates a problem that brands already face. Unless everyone involved – marketing and sales teams, ad, media and PR agencies – really understand what makes the brand meaningfully different, then it is all too easy to go off script.
Social media missteps are just the tip of the iceberg. What about brand extensions that make little sense in the light of the brand’s history and purpose? Dove for Men? How does that fit with the “Campaign for Real Beauty”? I have little doubt the launch made good financial sense, but does it make good branding sense? I may be wrong, but I suspect that in the long-term, Dove is going to find its male range a step too far in the pursuit of additional revenue.
In the big scheme of things, diluting what a brand stands for might seem a trivial matter in comparison to the upside potential in terms of generating some additional revenue. The problem, however, is that brands cannot simply extend their appeal to a new target audience, and assume that the existing target market will think well of the change. Even if the brand does not change the way it positions itself, the shift in the target audience will not go unnoticed. A few months ago, I was in a meeting when a man announced he used Dove. It was hard to miss the response from the women present: "Huh? But that’s our brand!"
The only way to ensure that a brand stays true to what makes it meaningfully different to its target audience, is to make sure that all the stakeholders know exactly what it stands for. Not with some long-winded explanation or complex diagram, but a short, succinct statement of what makes the brand meaningfully different. That statement then becomes the compass by which a brand can steer its actions - whether they are tweets or line extensions - because knowing what a brand should not do is as important as knowing what it should do.
Is Dove for Men a step too far? Are there other examples of brands that diluted their equity by stretching too far? Please share your thoughts.