Everything old is new again: How some traditional brands have used martech to support growth

  • The key to a successful transformation proves to be a focus on core values.

    Everything old is new again: How some traditional brands have used martech to support growth


    Every day we hear of more and more well-known traditional brands shutting their doors. There’s no shortage of thoughts as to why this is happening (retail apocalypse, anyone?), but in many instances, it’s a simple case of a brand not staying connected to its target.

    But there is hope. Some brands are re-evaluating their missions and finding commonality with today’s shoppers. In many cases, this means embracing marketing technology, and in some, recentering their core business around it.

    Sure, it’s a digital transformation. But it’s more.

    Having the foresight to back up, look at your business and see how martech could take your 50-year-old business into the next 50 years takes guts and a commitment to the brand’s core qualities, those that made it successful to begin with.

    Kathleen Hickey, marketing manager at VoC solution Usabilla, said companies need to transform to survive.

    “Although there is never a ‘right’ situation to force a digital transformation, brands do eventually have to modernize to survive digital Darwinism,” Hickey said. “However, when making this transition, companies need to ensure their customers are at the forefront of every decision made and that their wants are being heard. You never want to make it feel like your brand is forcing something unwanted on your customers, or they’ll go to the competitor.”

    I talked to a few traditional brands that have made a commitment to martech in order to modernize. The one thing I found in common with all of them is that while they were adopting automation, martech integration and new business models, they all managed to keep the intangible qualities that made them a success in the first place front and center.

    From plate engraver to global DAM

    Wisconsin-based Widen was founded as a family-owned print and pre-press provider in 1948. Today, it is a major digital asset management (DAM) company.

    As the company celebrates its 70th year in business this year, its newest priority is a global office in London, announced earlier this month, that will provide better access to its 600+ brands across 158 countries.

    Jake Athey, Widen’s vice president of marketing, told me the company added technology to its martech stack as it evolved from engraving plates for printing presses to its current iteration.

    “Our martech stack has helped us be data-driven marketers who understand how to present the right content, to the right people, at the right time and guide those people through complex buying decisions and challenges overcoming a mess with their content.”

    “Our marketing team (and most of the customer experience teams) cannot live without Salesforce, HubSpot and our own Widen Collective [the company’s collaborative support platform],” Athey said.

    Athey said that Widen had faced a “do or die” moment in the late 1990s “when digital was coming of age and we needed to find new ways to deliver value to our customers other than printing, photography, color retouching.”

    “Fortunately, the Widen family has always embraced technology and a ‘try it’ mantra, and we were driven to establish an R&D department that would solve new challenges with digital media. Few of our peers successfully made that shift,” Athey said.

    Athey said that Widen leveraged tech as a differentiator for the business and for the customers.

    “The background in print gave us a differentiated perspective as we pioneered one of the early DAM systems. Because we’ve been through a massive transformation, we are not dogmatically attached to any single technology. We view DAM as a fluid category that must evolve to be relevant for the next 70 years.”

    The current website touts “trust” as one of the brand’s key messages. I asked Athey how Widen continued to thread its key emotional drivers through its different formats as a company.

    “Widen value statements don’t adapt. The business adapts to market conditions, and the values serve in inspiring and making those changes happen the right way for our customers. Specifically, we have cultivated decades-long relationships by challenging each other every day to figure out how we [can] be the best part of our customers’ day, every day. We look to inspire changes in other organizations as a result of applying our values to transform the markets we serve.

    “When it comes to ‘trust,’ we simply do what we say we’re going to do, consistently, over long stretches of time. Trust is earned,” Athey said.

    Embracing data

    Twiddy & Co. is a 40-year-old coastal vacation rental company in North Carolina. When it came to updating its brand, it relied on a variety of martech tools.

    “We use a variety of tools, from web optimization software such as GA [Google Analytics] to revenue/operations/process drivers like SAS Business Intelligence,” Clark Twiddy, chief administrative officer, said. “We use some really good [work force optimization] tools to help us know when the best times are to be on the phones. We also are using this year some automated texting platforms such as Avochato — that’s made a big difference for us this year in engaging with our customers.”

    Adopting martech was inevitable for the company.

    “We just kept throwing more people at unresolved root causes and hit the point where the results weren’t moving the needle and financial drain was limiting our ability to invest in other areas. We had to seek out smarter systems and get faster insights at lower costs.”

    Twiddy says that martech has made a big difference.

    “We’ve been able to make excellent strides in data/decision credibility and also process as a result of investments and usage of analytics. There’s an interview out there that says each business has people, process and product — things like SAS and phone optimization have helped our people develop better processes that allow our products to get better and also attract new products. We’re big fans and see more integrated technology in the immediate future,” Twiddy said.

    WKC connects with a new audience

    You don’t need to adopt every martech solution that comes around. Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) revitalized their brand with a single focus — improve the brand’s image to millennials through social media.

    The words “Westminster Kennel Club” conjure up images of a decidedly English, somewhat staid, play-by-the-rules event. But this year, the venerable brand worked with agency GLOW to make the 142-year-old organization more relevant to millennial dog lovers. To do this, they staged a five-day social media marathon — an “all-access digital pass” — using multiple social media platforms to generate more than 44 million impressions and attract more than 15,000 new followers. The Westminster Kennel Club’s Giphy page alone has received more than 106 million views.

    I asked Sarah Pine, associate director of social and digital strategy with GLOW, how WKC was able to use martech to reach its goals.

    “We’re constantly trying to push the boundaries on all social platforms,” Pine said. “And we’re constantly looking at the different emerging social platforms,” adding that the agency was one of the first to partner with GIF platform GIPHY. “We do use different technologies to help us facilitate a lot of efficiencies.”

    Pine told me that the on-the-ground team used TweetDeck to facilitate its work on Twitter to “help facilitate Twitter chatter and help guide the conversation, how we can appropriately respond to them and also see other media that’s talking about the event in real time. We also are using different platforms and technologies. We used Spredfast to get social conversation visually on the air. We took people writing on Twitter and put their tweets onto the broadcast live.”

    In terms of looking at new pieces of martech to incorporate into the process, Pine said, “We’re evaluating not only the platform, but looking at what’s new and out there and how it can be relevant to our brand.”

    Back to the future

    While it’s true that as times evolve, many brands will go out of business (see Sears and Toys R Us for recent examples), there is hope that adoption of emerging tech, and particularly martech, can help some brands evolve and in fact, give them a new life.



    [Article on MarTech Today.]

    About The Author

    Robin Kurzer started her career as a daily newspaper reporter in Milford, Connecticut. She then made her mark on the advertising and marketing world in Chicago at agencies such as Tribal DDB and Razorfish, creating award-winning work for many major brands. For the past seven years, she’s worked as a freelance writer and communications professional across a variety of business sectors.

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