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Orchestrating connected brands

Orchestrating connected brands

Ismail Jooma

Head of Strategy



Customer centricity. Two words that feature on almost every brand blueprint from the last decade. While these words are steeped in good intentions, beyond the obligatory and mostly awkward brand recap in presentations, they have, for the most part, lost their meaning.

In an age of gratuitous narcissism, customer centricity has become an overused term (thank you, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat puppy-filters). Being placed at the center of the brand story is the very least that the customer expects. And while connected consumers understand this, not all brands do.  

We live in a connected age, in which consumers expect brands to know who they are and bring them closer to products and experiences that are useful and inspiring across a fragmented media landscape in both the digital and physical worlds. This omnichannel approach is the new consumer reality, and, as a result, connected consumers expect connected brands.

We believe that a connected brand is a brand that lives naturally in people’s lives. It doesn’t interrupt or impose itself on them, but instead becomes a valuable part of their daily routine and inspires them to connect with others. It is no longer enough to simply talk to people about your brand; instead, you need people talk to each other about you.

More importantly, connected brands harness creativity and technology to carve out a space of cultural relevance. This is fundamental to our approach, because rather than share of voice, connected brands earn a far more powerful share of culture—an earned trust that makes people want to include them in their daily lives.

While the consumer landscape is constantly evolving, CMOs also need to rethink their approach if they are to exceed the continually rising expectations of connected consumers. VMLY&R’s own proprietary Marketing Insights Survey, which tapped into the mindset of chief marketing officers across a spectrum of South Africa’s largest brands, revealed key concerns across a range of topics.

Today’s CMOs are evolving from being predominantly brand storytellers to drivers of business growth in an increasingly tough economic climate. This means moving beyond beautifully crafted brand positioning statements to understanding the multiple ways in which the connected consumer experiences the brand—from being inspired by relevant and engaging content to a measurable data view that is optimized for driving commitment in the form of purchase.

Brand commitment in the context of highly segmented audiences and a fragmented media landscape was the number one concern cited in the survey, with the majority of respondents stating that “consumer intolerance of ads” is their key challenge.

We believe that the answer to this is twofold: first, it involves building a connected brand, and, second, orchestrating that brand to achieve maximum consumer relevance to drive business impact.

Consumers’ dislike of advertising does not apply to connected brands, which are by their very design geared to do the opposite of interrupt. Instead, connected brands are purposeful and insight-driven, understanding the wants, needs, and barriers of their audience and rewarding them with seamless experiences that add meaning to their lives.

This is where brand orchestration fits in. The best way for brands to be truly connected to consumers is to be meaningfully integrated into their lives. Instead of viewing our channel split according to various disciplines, we believe in an ecosystem view. This ecosystem is connected and entwined, with each part building into and enhancing the other. When we’re able to orchestrate a brand vision across channels in a strategic, coherent, and beautifully crafted way, we can tell a brand story that is not only more compelling, but also truly resonates with our consumer’s world view.

Our recent work on the Edgars brand is a proof point of this philosophy. We took a 90-year-old department store brand struggling for relevance and transformed it into a cultural catalyst for self-expression. Using media agnostic storytelling across the connected consumer journey, we orchestrated the brand across traditional ATL media, in-store design, and social and digital platforms. We also leveraged creative influencers to craft relevant, original content across multiple audience segments.

The content included makeup tutorials, body-positive poems, choir performances, personal stories, and more—all of them with Edgars merchandise at the core. From launching an original song with Africa’s rising icon Sho Madjozi to co-creating an entire fashion collection inspired by her love of traditional African fabrics, the result was a brand repositioning that took Edgars from being on the outside of local culture to a connected brand for the connected age.

When we orchestrate connected brands, we go beyond customer centricity to empower CMOs with the ability to tell their brand story across multiple platforms. This helps create an impactful business outcome, because it adds value to the lives of connected consumers and reaffirms the old adage that “when you get it wrong, it’s called advertising but when you get it right, it’s called culture.”