How quick are your brand's reflexes? How quick should they be?

Consider that we live in an era in which a brand can be targeted without notice on social media one day, send all its employees home to work remotely the next, and have to convert its physical events program into a virtual one not long after.

Consider, too, that people's media consumption habits altered almost overnight in concert with their (in)ability to travel, causing some media channels to fall off the radar and others to enjoy newfound popularity ( webinar platforms of the world, take a bow).

In short, responsiveness has never been so important.

To date, most marketers have applied the term "responsive" to websites that adapt their content automatically to suit the screen on which they're being viewed. But in 2021, "responsive" is better suited to describe a brand that can quickly adapt its marketing to communicate relevant messaging to customers as soon as they need it, in whichever channel they choose.

So how can marketing teams, many of which are facing the added pressure of reduced resources, set themselves up for success now that responsiveness is an essential ingredient for good brand health?

Examine your brand, structure, processes, tools, and expectations to ascertain whether your brand can truly be considered responsive. In particular, ask yourself the following six questions.

1. Can your brand respond to the changing market in hours rather than days?

In the post-COVID world, speed is about being able to respond to regulatory changes and shifting attitudes within hours, or overnight, instead of two or three weeks.

That capability doesn't develop by itself. It's not enough for the executive team to understand the value of a quick decision; the marketing team must, in turn, have the decision-making, production, and approval processes in place to facilitate rapid action, as well as the means to disseminate the word.

If you've pulled the pin on your physical annual conference, for example, you'll need to get the word out quickly—preferably alongside news of some other virtual activities you may be planning. At minimum, that means revisiting and updating all your conference marketing materials, from your website and conference site to your online ads and brochures.

B2B marketer RedHat quickly reinvented its considerable event program in 2020 from physical to virtual, and it still managed to attract 40,000 registrations to its annual summit. The shift was supported by a responsive production process that enabled the international marketing team to quickly edit and update multiple documents with universal changes in minutes rather than days.

Among the processes and tools that support such capability:

  • Automated daily or weekly reports. Monitor mentions, comments, and references involving your brand on the Web and on social channels daily. Track website traffic, content trends, and lead generation at least weekly.
  • A structure to support rapid decision-making. Some companies have instituted a COVID management team that meets daily to discuss developments in the business and in the world, as well as ways to best handle those developments with customers in mind.
  • A crisis management plan. If your brand is called out on social media or embroiled in a PR nightmare, it helps not to have to manage the response process on the fly. Having a plan in place will ensure that everyone involved knows their role and the amount of time they have to respond.
  • Responsive production technology. The process of physically making small changes to large numbers of marketing materials is slow and expensive. Communications across multiple channels must be able to be updated accurately and quickly while safeguarding the brand's look and feel.

2. Is your brand identity able to be executed compliantly by anyone in the organization?

It's not only Marketing that needs to adapt to quickly changing circumstances. Sales, Product, Human Resources, Finance, and Accounting are all likely to have changing requirements—whether that's communicating new offers to the market, updating sales and product marketing collateral with new positioning, adapting work policies for a remote working environment, or providing customer relief through flexible payment terms.

Responsive brands such as Monash University have frameworks in place that enable their teams to self-produce content within set brand guidelines to protect brand consistency, maintain flexibility, and facilitate speed to market while avoiding tying up limited marketing and design resources with repetitive, manual changes.

Your framework should include the following:

  • Brand and style guidelines that provide clear explanations of how the brand, logos, colors, language, and so on are used (and not used) to represent your brand
  • A central repository of approved assets, whether a library, digital asset manager, or file directory, with all your approved formats in it, accessible by the entire team
  • Editable templates that allow your teams to produce the collateral they need while also maintaining brand consistency (Locking down the templates to limit the changes teams can make will reduce the approval load on the "brand police" or marketing team.)

3. Is your brand marketing reliant on any one person to keep the wheels turning?

Many organizations struggle with a level of organizational inertia because of enshrined bottlenecks and blockers.

In brand marketing, it's often the CMO who needs to approve all work, or the head designer who alone understands the brand guidelines.

Truly responsive brands take steps to grease the wheels. You might consider...

  • An approval matrix: If it's tiered according to the complexity or budget of the campaign, less complex marketing work can be approved by other team members, facilitating speed.
  • Creative committee: In larger enterprises, a team of people that makes decisions about creative work, particularly from external agencies, can help develop a shared understanding of brand values as well as enabling work to get out the door even if key personnel are away.

4. Can your brand marketing be executed at scale?

If everything is a bespoke execution, your marketing organization will need to add resources to keep pace with growth. Responsive brands understand that to scale marketing activity, structure and tools must be put in place to handle predictable, repetitive, manual work so the marketing team is free to tackle strategic work and new projects.

Although most marketing teams use a variety of martech tools, brand marketing requires relatively low levels of automation, in general. At a minimum, it's worth considering...

  • Email automation: Automating lead scoring and progression as well as email delivery and content-based nurture with marketing automation tools
  • Brand automation: Enshrining brand guidelines in responsive templates that facilitate rapid editing and production of approved assets within limited parameters at speed and scale
  • Content automation: Tagging content as it's created to enable its rapid use and reuse (for example, a listicle-style blog post repurposed, with minimal human intervention, for use as social tiles, checklists, and cheat sheets)
  • Process and admin automation: Automating compliance or billing processes, for example, that can save teams hours every week

5. Can your brand directly address your customers?

At the heart of a responsive brand is the ability to speak to customers in a personalized way; however, many personalization initiatives fail to generate the amount of content required to serve all key personas at different stages in the buying process.

Depending on the level of personalization required, integration may be necessary between tools used by the marketing team and those used by the broader organization, including the following:

  • CRM system
  • Marketing automation platform
  • Accounting software
  • Brand automation solution
  • Content management system
  • Digital asset manager

6. Is your brand marketing dependent on external production workflows?

A creative agency can be a huge asset to a brand, but regardless of how efficient and responsive, external suppliers always extend response timelines. And if your account manager takes a few days off, the process slows to a crawl.

In-housing, or the process of taking creative and other agency services in-house, has been picking up speed in recent years, according to the Association of National Advertisers, which reported in 2018 that 78% of brands have some kind of in-house capacity.

The importance of that capability is growing during the pandemic. Over 90% of advertisers say they have adjusted their messaging during the pandemic, and 55% nominated their in-house agency or another "internal team" (42%) as being "very important" for that (only 26% nominated an "external agency").

Brands should be self-sufficient in their ability to respond quickly, not reliant on external agencies to find and update assets.

* * *

As the economic and social landscape continue to change, responsiveness is becoming a prerequisite for brand marketing success. Companies need a mix of the right technology, processes, structures, and commitment to a coordinated approach to become as responsive as possible. Anything less is—at best—irrelevant.

Other Resources on Brand Marketing

How to Become Hyper-Relevant—Build a 'Free Range' Brand: Nicole Ertas on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

Five Differences Between Branding and Direct Response Every Marketer Should Know

How to Market Effectively in 2021: Integrate Performance and Brand Marketing

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image of Tim Brown

Tim Brown is head of marketing at global brand automation company He has a background in agency, brand, and creative production management.

LinkedIn: Tim Brown

Twitter: @outfitio