Does Your Branding Let Digital Do Its Thing?

Web strategist and Forrester Research consultant Jeremiah Owyang this week wrote about the effect of letting a Web property get SNOWED—his acronym for Stakeholder Needs Overwhelm Web Experience Design.

That’s an issue that asset management marketers struggle with in trying to provide equitable support for multiple business lines—mutual funds, unit investment trusts (UITs), retirement plans, annuities, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), separate accounts—sometimes in multiple geographies and seemingly always led by warring managers.

You may start by working with a single business in a single market as a beta test for a new, cool design. But what’s produced in the test stage is almost never what’s delivered once all the various stakeholders get their crack at it, is it?

Who knows—maybe the American Airlines case study that Owyang cites can provide a neutral starting point for you to start chipping away at this matrixed approach to Web work. For today let's consider a related but less daunting challenge that calls for you to use logic, reason and expertise to appeal to your colleagues in Marketing.

Here's an older video that brilliantly presents the problem. Thanks to Owyang for calling out to it in his post.

Like Microsoft, financial services marketers need to follow brand standards. Standards are created to control the effect of too many cooks following their own recipes. Standards preserve order, leverage enterprise investments and, not incidentally, they typically originate from Marketing! There’s no undermining the importance of standards.

But when communicating digitally, in small spaces, in quick bursts, there is a tightrope to walk between slavish adherence to rigid or narrow standards and fresh canvas expression devoid of all reference to the brand. When the branding is choking the effectiveness of the digital delivery, those of us responsible for leading digital strategies (and achieving digital success) need to speak up.

Here’s where we see the tensions surfacing:

  • Online display advertising: The logo, the tagline, the line drawing of the corporate headquarters—all cannot appear on every frame of the ad. Not if you also have a message to convey. Something must give.
  • Brand identity in widgets: In providing valuable information as opposed to marketing messages, widgets are almost the antithesis of online banner ads. Fight the reflex to weigh the widget down with intrusive elements. The available real estate will be even smaller when you're designing for a mobile phone application.
  • Branding on Twitter: Your Web site is where you show off your brand plumage. The point on Twitter is to be conversational—you know, less about your firm as an entity and more about its place in the world. If you can do this, starting with your profile, your background, your phrasing of your tweets, you’re likely to attract more followers. (For much more about Twitter, see our Social Media directory.)
  • Email subject headings: No doubt your approved editorial style is the result of a hard-working thoughtful committee that produced guidelines, all of which assume that communicators have more than 1 second to attract attention. This is not a safe assumption online. We could point to any number of examples but think of just the email subject heading, the thinnest of all communications and yet one of the most powerful. 

Marketers find comfort in the production efficiencies of re-using templates and subject headings yet lament about low open and click-through rates. It's common practice for asset managers to standardize on subject headings—to wit: "In The News," "Quarterly Commentary" and our favorite: “Another Update from Company XYZ.” Stop the madness! Creativity matters more in digital communicating, not less. Each email sent deserves its own unique heading.

We encourage you to take on the tyranny of the standards. Gather your analytics, collect some examples, including from other industries, and call a meeting to put the question on the table. “What room is there for our communications standards to be more flexible to support the business objectives we intend to achieve using digital tactics?”

Confronted with the facts, right-minded, well-intentioned marketers will find a way to reach a compromise.