Brands Are Getting Distracted By Digital Tools

Leeds Digital Festival is over. I can only assume it was a success. Navigating events on the website was clunkier than driving a Challenger tank around Aldi, but overall there seemed to be a real fizz and excitement in the city, with plenty of people talking about a wide range of topics, digital or otherwise.

By the end of March, I had foolishly agreed to do a slot. With five weeks to go, I was a topic short of a talk. However, one afternoon, scrolling through the list of events on AR, VR, agile, big data, VUI and flux capacitors, I realised something. Most of this stuff is all well and good, but frankly, commercially speaking, it’s going to be worth three fifths of fuck all if there’s no solid brand strategy.

So, the talk became an epilogue of frustrations. Frustrations from client and potential client conversations, of other agency tripe and the utter nonsense barked by Gary Vaynerchuck.

It’s a statistical certainty that most of you weren’t at the talk. So, here’s the gist of what I prattled on about for the best part of forty-five minutes (consider yourselves spared):

Most of us aren’t building brands

Long-term brand building has been forgotten, with clients and agencies both focusing on short-term ROI which can be measured on the dashboards of digital tools/platforms. Yet data from IPA clearly shows that focusing on such short-term tactics is not conducive to growing your brand. You need to build brand equity and be salient in the minds of consumers before you can exploit that equity with a display ad.

We’re targeting too tightly

‘Big data’ is still being held up as a silver bullet and the future of marketing, targeting small numbers of customers in exchange for higher conversion rates. Sounds sensible. However, targeting too tightly too often stifles a brand’s reach, which hinders penetration and growth. It’s wise to target tightly when someone is almost ready to purchase, but make sure you’re reaching new customers who haven’t got that far yet.

Forget about engaging people. We want them to buy stuff.

A strongly held belief in boardrooms everywhere is that brands can forge strong relationships with consumers, with social media still held up as the bastion of nurturing loyalty. In reality, loyalty simply increases with market share, not the other way around. Organic reach is, in most cases, very small and social media engagement has as much to do with real business growth as a Labrador does aerospace engineering.

Consumers largely ignore your USPs and RTBs

As marketeers we spend a lot of time with our brands, looking at them in tremendous detail. No one else does. Consumers couldn’t care less what’s on your strategy document. And because they don’t care, they dedicate little time or attention to your brand. They don’t notice your ‘reasons to believe’ or your USP claims. At best they have a vague notion of what your brand is famous for. A sort of gut feeling. Accepting this is important. It ensures we appreciate the importance of our brand being distinctive. It pushes us to think more creatively about what will be noticed and what is going to be worth people’s attention.

Regardless of what digital wizardry you’re thinking of using over the coming year, remember that without a solid strategy, these tools will be ineffective. Remember that much of what you do, should be preparing future sales, not just generating immediate conversions. That’s how you sell more in the long-run. Yet most marketers seldom remember any of this.

…Now there’s an opportunity.


Adam Irwin, Senior Brand Strategist, presented ‘We need to talk about brand’ at Leeds Digital Festival 2019.

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