Charting A Shift from Communications to Engagements

brands definition
The nature of advertising and branding is changing.

The dictionary definition of advertising, “the act or practice of calling public attention to one’s product, service, need, etc.” is starting to feel pretty quaint.  In fact, even the term “advertising” is starting to feel off the mark.

In all honesty, marketing is starting look a lot less like marketing communications and a lot more like service design.  So to put a stake in the ground, I propose that a more accurate description of modern advertising is “engagement design.”  My definition, (heavily based off Live | Work’s definition of service design) is “the design of [branded] experiences that add value through many different touch-points over time.”  The culmination of these experiences creates a “brand,” the general impression left with a consumer.

engagement design_rev

What does that mean?  The old advertising model, the one predicated on message dissemination, was designed to use multiple touchpoints to convey an idea about a brand.  In that model, a brand positioning is planned and communicated through repetition, creativity and ubiquity. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

The new marketing is about creating 360⁰ brand experiences, not messaging.  Consumers should buy into to your brand’s ideas, not just your product.  Instead of defining “Reason’s To Believe”, you need to define “Reasons To Be.”  Why shouldn’t your product be a commodity? Why does it deserve a brand (and the pricing premium that goes along with)?

The Starbucks Brand cerca 2006

The Starbucks Brand circa 2006 (click to enlarge)

The figure above from John Grant’s 2006 book, “Brand Innovation Manifesto,” looks at the totality of the Starbucks brand as a series of built up, connected touchpoints and experiences.  Its age fails to represent and credit the brand’s digital touch points as part of the Starbucks molecule.

Regardless, its insight is right on point — the Starbucks brand isn’t contained in any communication or campaign, but rather is understood through its many touchpoints.  This means that the Pizza Hut ordering app is just as much a part of their brand as the TV spots.  A Mercedes Benz financing tool as much as the print ad.  Gmail as much as those cute Google Chrome adverts.  Of course, the difference is… some of those are advertising, the others add real consumer value.  That’s not to say advertising doesn’t have a role to play, just that it should play a small part in the larger picture of brand planning.

In 2009, brands are finally warming to the digital age of branding.  It’s challenging, because the communications age of branding is coming to a close – but it’s also loaded with opportunity.