Avoiding brand fade ensures firms get the credit and ROI they deserve.
Recently, we’ve observed a new danger that affects nearly every successful content marketing program in the legal industry. Yes, “successful” — sometimes success creates its own threats. In fact, the more successful a law firm’s content marketing efforts, the more likely it is to be impacted by this issue.
We call this new danger “brand fade,” the decline of a firm’s control over the presentation of content in direct proportion to the range of that content’s distribution. Brand fade is new.
Twenty or 30 years ago, the mission of brand and marketing strategy was to spread a firm’s “message” as widely as possible. Now, two decades into the digital revolution, the poles have reversed. Brands now position themselves less as an authoritative presence than as a participatory experience. Similarly, marketing strategists no longer hunt for eyeballs but rather seek to draw people into their brands. If digital doesn’t turn over all the control to the audience, it at least makes “the user” where the conversation starts. Brand fade is a direct consequence of this shift in the conversation.
Thankfully, there are ways to inoculate your firm against brand fade — so long as you remain aware of it from the start of your editorial process.
How Brand Fade Happens
Consider the course of a successful content marketing campaign. A new article is strategized, researched and written. That piece is then published through all the firm’s channels, including website, social media and email. Mentions and promotions proceed organically. The material is quoted to support other pieces, echoing from one context to another. Months later, your investment is still paying dividends of exposure and engagement. By any usual digital key performance indicator, it’s an unqualified success.
For a brand marketer, however, something important has been lost: the visual association to the firm’s brand.
Typical markers like logo and colors are easy enough to control on the firm’s website. On social media, it’s already more difficult, since your brand necessarily appears with many others, all dominated by the network’s own. As others pick it up, they present it on their own branded channels. The more impactful your digital content, the further away it roams and the broader the conversation it starts. This is good for your firm in one respect, but the relationship back to your brand becomes all the more tenuous with each share. It’s still earning attention, but are you earning anything from it? And is what you’re earning still what you want?
Brand fade makes it clear that in a digital context, you cannot rely on visual artifacts like the logo, palette and typeface. In fact, often, you cannot rely on presentation at all. So, how do you tie your content back to your brand when you don’t control the “chrome?”
Guarding Against Brand Fade
Although the problem is becoming more pervasive, guarding against it correctly can be the difference between building a highly evolved “brand” that remains top of mind and a typical “organization” obscured by the status quo. There are four areas a firm should consider when attempting to protect against brand fade. Some solutions require more planning and infrastructure at the outset, but others are more easily attainable. The list below begins with the easiest solution to achieve and moves toward grander solutions.
- Tone and Voice
Twitter has turbocharged the problem of brand fade, as content can easily be cut and pasted from the original context and shared. Brand fade is exacerbated by a loss of context. To prevent this from happening, firms should inject a consistently branded tone and voice into their content. If firms do this successfully, when readers find their way back to the source (the firm), they can more easily see the connection between what they originally read and where they now find themselves.
- Branded Visual Content
Now that you’ve focused on branded tone and voice, it’s critical to focus on how the content is formatted. The trick here is to create shareable, branded pieces of visual content (infographics, data visualization, frameworks, memes, etc.). Branded visual content builds valuable equity by making the source more apparent and easier to find, while also making the original insight more immediately shareable.
- Branded Talent and Concepts
For professional services, personal branding is one way to raise the probability that the author of a piece of content remains connected to the insight, thus ensuring connected pathways back to the original source and the proper flow of equity. There’s a second benefit to strong personal branding. When done correctly, and in connection with a properly built master brand, it makes it more difficult for professionals themselves to become the portable commodity.
In a similar way, firms can inject their brand into concepts related to specific topics. The management consulting world has been strongly focused on this idea for decades. Creating models for a way of thinking and branding specific terms and phrases can create loyalty and adoption that may otherwise whither.
- Own a Point of View
The Holy Grail to defeating brand fade is owning a point of view. If your firm claims to be innovative and you drive that idea deep into each of the above areas (your content, your people, your design assets, etc.), then you might be able to not only build a differentiated point of view, but also improve your firm’s brand recall. This amplifies your brand equity and aids the premium you can command for services and performance.
It’s important to realize here that there is no single silver bullet or sure bet. Creating valuable content absorbs so much of your team’s time, and combatting brand fade requires a concerted effort on all fronts. PR, communications, business development and leadership must all work together to ensure vigilance. With that said, avoiding brand fade is critical in the digital age. It ensures your firm gets all the credit and the ROI it deserves.
Kalev Peekna is the chief strategist at digital agency One North. He leads the digital strategy team and advises clients on the creation and execution of strategic programs to enhance the use of digital for their marketing, business development and knowledge management goals.
Ryan Schulz is the managing director of brand and experience design at digital agency One North. He leads its experience design team of technologists, strategists and designers to encourage collaboration across brand, user experience, creative and front-end design.