Which beliefs about your brand are so important that they ought to be defended against misinformation, neglect and confusion?
Normally, marketers aren’t incentivized to think in terms of fact and falsehood, truth and mistruth, conviction and skepticism. Our profession rewards reach, impressions, engagement, and other metrics that don’t concern the quality of information.
That isn’t good or sustainable. It’s a recipe for losing the ability to shape what the public believes about our brands. That is the challenge I see global brands contending with on a daily basis in my role at Widen. I want to discuss belief in marketing and why it matters.
The Power of Agreement
Increasingly, companies use DAM systems to protect the integrity of their brands because their words, images and videos are being used in ways they never intended. Old, inaccurate and misleading content can make rounds on the web, creating rumors or reviving negative myths.
Normally, when we think about truth or mistruth, we’re talking about big metaphysical questions. Marketers might want to spend more time on the seemingly obvious truths that are based on agreement, a type of belief.
I’ll give you some examples. The US dollar is valuable thanks to an unspoken agreement among the people who use it. One dollar is worth one dollar wherever I go in this country. Dollars would become worthless if enough people stopped believing in their value and stopped agreeing to exchange them (that, effectively, is what happened in Weimar Germany after World War I).
Consider Beyond Meat, which had its NASDAQ IPO on May 2 and a week later saw share prices rise 240%. Unlike prior companies that branded themselves as selling vegetarian or vegan burgers, Beyond Meat positions itself as a provider of plant-based meats. As noted in the SEC filing, Beyond Meat’s burgers are displayed in the meat section of the grocery store. If Beyond Meat can match the sensory experience and nutritional profile of animal meats, perhaps people will agree to a new definition of meat.
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Truth, Trust, Beliefs and Agreements
Some truths are true regardless of agreement. The Earth is round, not flat, even if conspiracy theorists disagree. But when we talk about brands, we often deal with the truth of an agreement, not truth itself.
For example, we probably agree that Toyota makes automobiles. But what does its brand mean? I can’t claim to know Toyota’s intention, but people seem to believe that Toyotas last for more miles than other cars. Thus, someone might pay more for a Toyota with 70,000 miles than for a comparable car with the same mileage.
Why? What Toyota says and what people experience must align to some degree. Toyota salespeople do talk about the longevity of their vehicles. Customers do too. The truth isn’t necessarily that Toyotas last longer. The truth is that people agree that Toyotas last longer.
Establishing agreement is extremely hard, but it’s easy to kill it. Remember in the early 2000s when cheddar Pirate’s Booty was the ultimate snack, advertised as low-fat and healthy? When the truth came out that its nutrition labeling was false, Pirate’s Booty never recovered. Today, few consumers trust health claims about food that isn’t a green vegetable. The food industry as a whole suffers an extreme lack of agreement.
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What Does Your Brand Mean?
The US dollars, Beyond Meat, Toyota, Pirate’s Booty: I discussed all of these to show how agreement — a type of belief in a brand — can form or break down. I think brands have adopted DAM systems, in part, to contend with the misinformation, neglect and confusion that can emerge when a brand is trying to create new agreements or kill off old ones.
Digital marketing needs to be less of an effort to “engage” and more of an effort to establish an agreement about what a brand means. DAM is becoming the tool for that effort because it controls what employees, agencies, partners, retailers, reviewers, distributors and more say.
The point is, in an era when brands are encouraged to be more personalized, niche-focused and segmented, it’s harder to establish agreement. DAM systems, often called a “central source of truth,” are helping brands bridge the personal to the public, the individual to a community.
If marketers focus on quality, consistency and good use of information first, the reach and engagement will come naturally. If not, I wonder if anyone will believe in brands 10 years from now.