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The end of ‘command and control’ branding in technology

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For years, brand strategy has been about creating a single message that tells all your constituents—investors, employees, senior management and customers—about who you are and what value your company provides.

Brand managers will write up the strategy, paste it on every wall and train every new recruit in it. It's a classic approach to "command and control" brand messaging, which then gets deployed via all the traditional media and used in every communications channel.

But these days you hear a lot of discussion about the explosion of new media types and such formats as RSS feeds, blogs, podcasts, video, communities, "microblogging" and other emerging forms of social media. Much concern is arising that this disruption of media is eroding traditional command and control branding that has become commonplace for marketers.

Well, I say hallelujah and good riddance!

I believe there is a compelling argument that media don't have to be fragmented, while at the same time the message no longer needs to be command and control.

One of the first instances of this to hit the marketplace was Ogilvy & Mather's "The Campaign for Real Beauty" for Dove products. (OK, it is b-to-c; but sometimes we b-to-b marketers can take inspiration from our b-to-c brethren.)

The campaign won the 2006 Grand Effie Award, and for good reason. Dove and O&M did a great job of finding a powerful brand attribute and then creating a highly inviting campaign around it that engaged their key audiences in a conversation. Evidence of this is the nearly 3,000 blog entries about the campaign on Technorati and the 2 million viewers of their video on YouTube.

What can we learn from this as technology marketers? Take a look at my next example.

The "Greg the Architect" campaign from TIBCO is a b-to-b example that took a very different approach to making the company's technology humorous and engaging. TIBCO tells its story through a series of episodic vignettes that allow the viral component to kick in. Viewers are certain to have an opinion on these videos, and so is the blogosphere. Also, the company has given the audience something to react to, for better or worse, instead of saying, "We do SOA [service-oriented architecture] better than the next guy." And don't forget about the reaction internally to these videos and how they help give everyone in the organization a conversation-starter for the next meeting.

So why is this new branding approach good news for technology companies? For the first time ever, technology companies, specifically in b-to-b, can lead the way in using technology tools to get their message out to their audience for very little money. Just one tactic, like using a video on YouTube, can reach 325,000 viewers and engage them with your brand. More important, it's branding of a message that they sought out.

How do you take something so tactical as a video and make it part of an overall approach to your brand? Here's the secret:

First, the brand manager needs to architect a single theme that can be used across all media, traditional or otherwise. Notice that I didn't say command and control at all—just create a theme that is broad enough to use across every aspect of your media plan and "invite" customers and prospects to "engage" with it.

Next, give your customers and prospects the digital tools to comment, interact and add to the conversation. Then add in more traditional elements of a media plan that all point to the online conversation, and you will end up supercharging your media plan.

The bottom line for technology firms is that your customers and prospects are perhaps the most savvy and engaged technology users of any buyers in any industry. You can't expect to reach them with traditional media only any longer.

So why not get out there where they're talking about your product or service? Give them a conversation-starter along with the permission to start a dialog with your brand.

Paul Dunay is global director- integrated marketing at BearingPoint. He can be reached at paul.dunay@bearingpoint.com.

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