It’s time for the brand promise to evolve. Again.

Contributor John Nardone explains how being an empathetic marketer can help you with everything from managing data to conceiving of dynamite creative.

It’s time for the brand promise to evolve. Again.

With GDPR recently coming into effect, advertisers are once again fretting over their use of consumer data. In Europe, the fretting is beneath a regulatory cloud, with financial consequences for the misuse of EU consumer data.

Here in the US, we are not facing legislation, but GDPR, Cambridge Analytica and congressional hearings have nonetheless refocused us on the question of fair and appropriate use of consumer data.

It is a fundamental conundrum that’s faced marketers for years: how to manage the fine line of personalization vs. privacy. When does appropriate use of data flip over to inappropriate? When does personalization cross the line into “creepy?”

The answer to the privacy vs. personalization challenge shouldn’t be difficult for responsible and thoughtful marketers. If they want to know whether their use of data is appropriate, marketers just need to put themselves in the shoes of their consumers.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes

It’s time for the brand promise to evolve. Again.

Good marketers should always be empathetic and attentive to the needs of their consumers, but in a data-enabled environment, they should aspire to go a step farther. They should strive to deliver some value in return for using that consumer’s data and for her attention.

In other words: It can’t be about the needs of your brand (i.e., more sales!). The message you deliver to the consumer, and the way in which you deliver it, must serve the consumer’s agenda, not your own. If marketers can adhere to this very basic premise and allow attentiveness and empathy to guide their strategies and communications, concerns about inadvertently crossing into the realm of data creepiness will be largely assuaged.

While the above concept might sound obvious (albeit rarely put into practice), it’s only in recent years that the dynamic messaging capabilities needed to deliver on this premise have become available.

As industry columns like this one are quick to remind readers, we know more about the individuals seeing our ads than ever before. Now, it’s time for our brand promises to be expressed in ways that reflect that knowledge.

A singular brand promise, tailored to the individual

The brand promise has evolved significantly over the past 70 years. Pre-1950s, most brand promises were straightforward. They stated what the product did. Detergent makes your clothes cleaner. Deodorant makes your armpits drier. Car wax protects your car’s finish. Simple, sure. But certainly not personal.

In the ensuing decades, the brand promise evolved. It took on meaning relative to the consumer. Advertisers shifted away from product features to focus on end benefits. Yes, deodorant keeps you drier, but why? So you can be more confident. That’s what really matters to consumers.

But over the past decade of digital and programmatic innovation, distribution has come to outweigh the message. As marketers, we became infatuated with the precision with which we could reach consumers — to the point that we forgot to pay attention to the messages and the creative with which we were reaching them.

Thankfully, we’re headed for a correction in that ever-swinging pendulum, one that brings empathy and humanization of the consumer to the forefront in ways that were not possible in decades past.

In today’s world of personalization, the empathetic marketer has the opportunity to evolve the brand promise yet again by translating it to the individual. And that’s where some serious creative magic can happen.

How awesome creative can be

It’s time for the brand promise to evolve. Again.

In the world of the personalized brand promise, deodorant doesn’t just make you dry. It doesn’t just make you confident. It makes a 46-year-old father of two more confident when he meets the parents of his daughter’s new boyfriend. It makes the 27-year-old account manager more confident when she gives her first company-wide presentation. If context matters, then the context of the individual matters the most.

In the hands of an attentive and empathic marketer, data can enable a new, more personally relevant expression of the brand promise. Not only can we speak to a product’s end benefit, but we can speak to that end benefit as it applies to an individual at a given moment in time.

The creative possibilities enabled by the personalized brand promise are limitless. But to get it right, we must first embrace empathy as our key guiding principle in connecting with consumers in the moment.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

John Nardone is the CEO of Flashtalking. A first-generation ad tech pioneer, Nardone served as a founding board member of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB). Throughout his career he earned recog­nition within the advertising community for his ground-breaking work at Pepsi, Modem Media and Marketing Management Analyt­ics (MMA), culminating in his receiving the Ad:Tech Industry Achievement Award in 2012.

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