I used to be a brand builder and I loved it.  I spent almost 10 years building brands, defining brand personalities, and creating “brands as people” with values, attitudes and beliefs. I thought a lot about how to reach consumers who would relate to my brand.  In the late 90’s, as consumers began to spend more time online, I saw an opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with them.  I thought brand building online would be bigger than branding through television, print and other traditional media.  I decided to make a big change – I wanted to help other companies build their brands more effectively, not just my own.  I thought online was the best place to do that.  I was profoundly right and shockingly wrong.

For over 10 years now, I’ve been an online media seller. You name it, I’ve sold it.   Yet in all that time selling online media, I’ve done almost nothing to accomplish my original goal of helping build brands online.  Instead, I’ve helped perpetuate online media as little more than a direct response, transactional, performance based medium, massing impressions in a steady assault on the consumer until somebody, somewhere clicked and perhaps converted.

When online marketers do take a stab at branding, the campaigns often fall prey to direct response performance metrics, with ad sellers and agency planners optimizing around click through statistics, not brand metrics such as reach and frequency, brand lift and brand favorability.

While considering the divide online advertising has with branding, I came across the book, “Start with Why,” by Simon Sinek. Sinek examines how asking “why” can help frame organizations, build brand movements and inspire people: 

“When a company clearly communicates their WHY, what they believe, and we believe what they believe, then we will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to include those products or brands in our lives.  This is not because they are better, but because they become markers or symbols of the values and beliefs we hold dear.” 

With all the technological power of online, we have not yet connected brands and people with similar values and beliefs.  We have focused on driving transactions now and neglected the value in building relationships. We have completely ignored why audiences engage with brands.  We never, ever actually asked people what they believed in or what they thought.

In my brand building days, we asked questions all the time.  We conducted surveys to determine to the best of our ability what values people held most dear, what beliefs were most important to them and what causes they supported.  We asked them to help us understand if our brand values aligned with their values.  We knew that consumers relate to brands and buy them in part based on those brands reflecting the values that go into the way that they live their lives.  And so we asked them a lot of questions.  We asked them why.

Surprisingly, online media has never asked a lot of questions.  Online tracks, online doesn’t ask.

Now that I’m refocused on brand building, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the possibilities of online. What if we actually ask people what they think and what they value, and then overlay that with the powerful audience targeting methods already in use online?  Brands would be able to achieve their goals of engaging and building relationships with consumers who they know share their brand values and beliefs.  In return, those people will support their brands, talk favorably about them and remain loyal to them.