As consumer shopping habits shift and digital transformation matures across brands and retailers – advanced rapidly by the global pandemic – the marketing processes and advertising operating practices we employed for decades need to adapt. Reaching the consumer in 2021 requires a different approach. At SCS, we call this new approach to marketing management Brand Darwinism, and it’s a specific set of steps and best practices designed to build modern brands in the age of extreme innovation.

Forbes framed it perfectly in an article recently published, ‘The Next Boom: Follow the Leader, The Consumer’ with the opening, “The customer is in the driver’s seat, and new businesses need to employ the technology resources available to them to build a customer-driven enterprise.” The article goes on to speak to how the Covid-19 crisis has dramatically shifted customer expectations and that consumer need and consumer mindset is bringing new clarity for brands who can understand how to connect their value proposition with technology in order to “meet consumer expectations now, not in a year or more.”

Brands are not connecting quickly enough to the new consumer mindset, which is moving faster in technology adoption than corporate America. Through this drive towards meeting the need and mindset of the consumer amidst rapid technology change, marketing as a function hasn’t necessarily been keeping up. Just one example is how fully consumers have adopted new channels like Tik Tok and Twitch in the last year which now represent very broad audiences, while brands lag to activate these platforms. From the #deletefacebook movement to the death of the cookie the entire industry can feel a new era is coming on the horizon, even if that future still looks a bit cloudy. Meanwhile, consumer needs – driven by technology and precipitated by a global pandemic – are speeding on.

To meet these challenges, SCS has been refining a process that we call Brand Darwinism. The concept, borrowed from the agile development methods of technology start-ups, is an understanding that your marketing creative and communication is in a continuous ‘survival of the fittest’ loop. Yes, it’s a simple continuous improvement process, but at the highest of RPMs: treating creative and media planning like you would technology product development – in a series of smaller, focused and iterative steps. It’s about creating the flexibility to move with the consumer, and that’s a function of marketing operations more than anything else. The question we feel that marketers should ask themselves in 2021 is this; What are the processes and technology that unshackle your brand in order to be mapped to (rapidly moving) consumer needs? At SCS, we have evolved six key phases in our Brand Darwinism process:

1 – INSIGHT THREAD

The idea of an Insight Thread is to have a process that allows you to see the entire consumer landscape and understand everything that’s in their world. A full picture of their journey and engagement with the brand, from every angle. And through this process we’re looking for insights, sparks in the consumer need, behavior or psychographics that give our communications an opening or advantage. It’s a thread because it should be a continuous process; a set of data tools, analysts and strategists who are moving the goal posts in the right direction and at the right time. The steps in this process start with listening, and continue with measurement and evaluation throughout.

2 – STRATEGY MAP

Simple tools like the Strategy Canvas, Brand Pyramid, and Brand Experience Map allow us to form and defend a unique brand position. This used to be about brand strategy and creative platform definition, re-looked at every 3-5 years. But the Strategy Map process should now be re-set annually and reviewed quarterly, tied to the Insight Thread. The Strategy Map will also set a benchmark for the brand: NPS, Sentiment, Penetration, Sales, Share – clear view of the brand health in the metrics that matter. Ideally, formal quantitative research on a quarterly basis, supplemented by real-time data monitoring.

3 – PASSIONALIZATION

With new content being shared by the millions every single day and Share of Voice being a constant challenge, brands sometimes feel they need to rationalize customers to buy, sometimes to the detriment of making a real connection with the consumer. The Passionalization process is intended to ensure that the emotional triggers and deeper connections to the heart of the brand is foundationally set over the Rationalization approach. The tools and steps within the Passionalization process start with the Creative Wheel, an evaluation of the emotional territories the brand could fill to discover the best options for a creative platform that matters.

4 – TOP-DOWN / BOTTOM-UP

IPA’s effectiveness research into 700 brands in 80 categories and 996 campaigns discovered that share growth only comes from those brands who employ long-term emotional brandsell campaigns, sitting above their short-term sales-oriented advertising. Top-down it’s critical to have a brandsell campaign in both creative approach and media strategy. Bottom-up it’s important that creative is curated specifically for each digital channel, living within every platform uniquely. This is go-to-market planning integrated tightly with creative development, executed for each channel (now in days instead of months).

5 – BRAND ADAPTATION

How can we rapidly adapt our customer experience? This looks at steps to allow for flexibility in our owned platforms and channels to bring new messages to market while activating employees and partners across the brand system. Stakeholder meetings, brand presentations, and internal communications are an import part of the step. New technology is making both communication and execution of a more dynamic customer experience possible in new ways. And integration with first-party data and owned platforms with acquisition advertising is poised to find considerable efficiency and cost savings.

6 – CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

The focus here is to always be testing. And to ensure that media and organic channels never get too stale, there is always some form of testing that is pushing into new audiences and new places to engage with the brand. Create guidance for budget and tactic innovation at 5-15% of the plan, and ensure this budget is utilized to discover channels and audiences while measuring performance ongoing in A/B tests. Creative, paid media, and organic promotion come together to test and refresh brand communication.

This is the first in a series on the Brand Darwinism process and we’ll be going deeper into the tools and practical steps for each of these six phases in the process. As retail, technology, new channels, and consumer needs continue to evolve at the speed of light, consider how aspects of the Brand Darwinism process can help meet the challenges and opportunities of the age of extreme innovation.