Goodbye ad agencies. Hello brand partners.

The way we communicate with each other continues to evolve. Rapidly. Radio, newspapers and television have been influenced by new media. Not only has the internet reshaped the communication landscape, but so have the devices, technologies and apps that we use to access and share information. Conventional advertising, in part, has always been about maximizing communication channels. Today, more than ever before, those channels are morphing continually as is how we interact with them. This transformation is also having a direct effect on the expertise and services provided by traditional advertising agencies.

Both in consumer and healthcare markets ad agencies, as they were once perceived, are becoming a thing of the past. Although branding has always been the heart of advertising, creating and communicating a brand in a compelling manner has never been more complex or competitive. It is heavily influenced by a number of factors.

Technology enables a level playing field.

No longer is communication expertise a necessity to lob your message into the marketplace. Never in our history have we ever been more bombarded by messages. Some propagated professionally. Many not. What results is an abyss of white noise. Brands competing for our attention, adoption and loyalty.

Devices enable 24/7 access.

When it comes to a brand, there’s no such thing as business hours or days off. Society is armed with smart phones and laptops. And with these devices comes an insatiable appetite for immediacy. Don’t know an answer? Google it. Need to make a purchase, but the store is closed? Amazon is open for business.

Social media enables connectivity.

Perhaps the greatest shift in modern communication has been the advent of social media. With Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and so many other channels, people have new ways of staying in touch with each other. Keeping each other up to date and sharing our likes and dislikes has become a societal obsession. Whether checking TripAdvisor reviews, sharing an article you found interesting, networking, or just posting pictures of a family get together, our views have never been more easy to express to people we know and those we don’t.

So what does all this mean for brands within healthcare? First and foremost, technology and the advancement of communication does not obviate the need for intelligent and informed branding. It escalates it. The basics of branding are just as important as ever. Knowing what differentiates your brand and why it matters to your constituents is paramount. Although branding has always been about perception and experience, now targeted audiences can interact with the brand on their own terms and timeframes. They can share how they feel about the brand. They can become true loyalists, or simply move along. Perhaps due to price. Or performance. Or simply because there is something new to try. It’s not that these circumstances are novel, it’s that technology accelerates and amplifies the process.

Another important consideration is to embrace communication channels intelligently. Know your audience and their media consumption and communication preferences. Frequently there is a temptation to paint audience preference with a single brush. The reality is that personal preference is just that – personal. Some people may prefer traditional media channels while others have abandoned those for newer options. Don’t make assumptions based on your own media habits. Respect your audience and invest in understanding their likes and dislikes. Select the communication channels that make sense to your audience and help deliver your message in the most targeted manner.

Enthusiasm for new media and communication channels must also be tempered with a realistic understanding of regulatory obligations. Unlike many traditional channels that spoke at audiences, new channels often provide the opportunity for two-way communication. This interaction makes these outlets greatly appealing. It is this same interactivity, however, that brand managers must address carefully. Communication, even when generated by users, must be compliant when the communication channel has been supported by industry. Regulatory issues with new media can be complex and few precedents have been well established. This characteristic will undoubtedly continue to evolve along with technology itself.

As dynamic as change has been in communication, an equally disruptive evolution has resulted in the world of advertising. Ad agencies must now be brand partners. This means not only having a command of technology and communication channels, but moreover, having the knowledge to know how to best deploy them in the context of a real brand plan. In order to achieve brand success, tactics cannot drive strategy. The market, through research and knowledge, must always be the impetus for understanding where and how your brand can make a difference.

For the strategic work, for the message development, for the deliberate communication planning and for consistent creative implementation, don’t turn to an advertising agency. Turn to an enterprise that is a true brand partner. One that accepts the collaborative role of being a steward of the brand. It is through brand partnership that market-driven brands can be built and the right communication channels, traditional, new or emerging can be utilized to help foster adoption.

by Jonathan D. Katz

09/02/2014