We are entering a new age of brand importance. Companies today face endless channel opportunities and customer journey interactions—all at a lightning fast pace, and at a time when the traditional advertising model has been upended. Though this was already happening, the past year has amplified it tenfold, prompting companies to increase the velocity with which they implement digital strategies to meet the market’s needs. Companies are conflicted on where to focus their attention, and how to build a brand that is flexible enough to encompass all customer experiences without losing its sense of purpose. It’s a lot to take in, and requires a strategy adaptable and resilient enough to meet the challenges ahead.
In this environment, a hybrid approach to brand building can be a secret weapon. In our conversations with clients, we stress that velocity isn’t the issue—it’s whether the brand has embraced a hybrid approach in order to be more unified and effective.
All the technology, data, insights, channels and media in the world do not guarantee successful brands or effective marketing. In a commoditized world, brands are the vehicle to drive differentiation. But when agencies create brands, there tends to be a lot of focus on the delivery channels, so talk of “programmatic”, “performance”, “omni-channel” and other terms begin to dominate the conversation. A lot of this is the direct result of a permanent change to traditional advertising, and the rise of brand as the center point of the conversation. But you don’t see much on what it takes to create a resilient, engaging and effective brand. The realm of brand-building is too often seen as a logo exercise. But great brands are business assets, and as such, they need to be built from a business lens.
Enter the Hybrid model.
The hybrid model focuses on solving a duality in every brand to ensure its success; What is the business problem and what is the human problem? When you solve for this duality, you can create brands that drive more valuable human experiences and catalyze growth. This is the next frontier of branding, and few are solving for it well.
We find that a lot of companies approach brand building from a singular audience or product perspective, or as mentioned earlier, from a channel view. Those that do so risk creating a brand that won’t have the relevance it needs to be successful. It may look beautiful, and the creative may be superlative—but if it doesn’t fundamentally help solve a business problem through a human lens, it’s not likely to resonate.
As a hybrid brand consultancy, we spend a lot of time partnering with our clients to ensure we’ve defined the business problem accurately, and really interrogated it. Is the business issue market share, is it product parity, is it lack of awareness, or a fragmented set of audiences? Honing in on the metrics that will actually drive the business helps us to understand how to best leverage the brand as a true business asset. We can then evolve or calibrate the brand to better deliver on that business goal. Sometimes we have a general idea, and we really use research to fundamentally dive in and test our hypothesis around the business problem itself. Other times, it’s not entirely clear why the brand isn’t delivering on the business intent. In those instances we work to understand what the perception gap is in the brand’s core promise vs. its market performance.
And that’s where solving for the human problem comes into play—the second part of the hybrid approach. Once you’ve identified the business problem to solve, you start to look at your target audience through that lens, and it may change what levers you need to use to engage them. We all know that marketing can’t deliver differentiated experiences if you don’t understand your audience, their mindset, and the most important moments of impact for them. Consumers are less loyal, have higher expectations of personalization, and need brands to meet them on their terms. Once you have the business problem identified, you can go back and really understand the audience as it relates to that business issue. We seek to understand audiences holistically, as people, at the human level, which then helps us to identify all of the areas where the brand needs to show up, but more importantly, also the areas that are of highest value. Not all brand experiences are equal.
When we solve for both the business problem and the human problem we design brand experiences to ensure that each interaction can stand on its own, but also fit into a broader ecosystem of interactions aligned to a brand’s core promise. Integration makes the brand story complete, preferences enduring, and business outcomes stronger.
It’s not just a hybrid model that helps to craft more effective brands. There’s an ongoing effort to break down silos in agencies and enable talent to really bring a fuller skillset to the table. It plays out at both the business and the cultural level. In our industry today you see ongoing agency consolidation, you see big consulting firms, traditionally focused on business transformation scooping up brand and marketing firms because they want to tap into the hybrid brand model. All of this in the quest for the right hybrid talent.
At VSA, we’ve always had a hybrid sensibility. We like generalists and specialists alike, because ultimately we care the most about getting to the right idea. When you’re working in a hybrid model, your designers think like strategists, your writers think like designers, and so on. People tap into more of themselves, and it better fulfills their curiosity. They can major and minor at the same time, if you will. Experience has taught me that you’re able to really get the best talent out of your people by letting them bring their fullest selves to work. Egos get checked at the door, and good ideas can come from everywhere. I think this is not just where the future of brands is headed, but the future of work as well. It’s a cultural shift, and it’s one that is going to accelerate this new era of branding.
Anne-Marie has served in several roles at VSA over the past twenty years ranging from strategy, to head of Client Engagement to her current role as President. In her role as President, Anne-Marie works to help run the day-to-day business, contribute to key client engagements and implement VSA’s strategy for growth. Anne-Marie’s passion for leading relationships from a strategic, consultative perspective builds true partnerships that advance both business and brand, resulting in many enduring client relationships. Her strong critical-thinking and communications skills help motivate teams toward solutions that combine business relevance with superlative creative execution. Prior to joining VSA, Anne-Marie ran a digital strategy group at Leapnet. Her subsequent 20 years of experience at VSA are marked by extensive, successful partnerships with clients in multiple industries, including tech, finance and healthcare.