2017 in review: Rebooting branding for a digital age

As we approach the end of the year, its time to look back and do a quick review of 2017.

We’ve done another 100 blog posts this year, posting every week, like we have since the blog started back in 2006.

In the future, I think we’ll look back at 2017 as the year when the hype and hysteria about digital marketing was finally replaced by a more pragmatic and business-focused approach. As we proposed in our new book at the start of the year, the way forward is ‘rebooting’ branding by blending the best of proven, more conventional techniques with new approaches. And always with  focus on selling more stuff!

1. Brand positioning is just as important in today’s digital age.  

2017 showed how clear and consistent brand positioning remains vital for success, despite all the changes in the marketing mix.

A great example was our post on the Method brand, bought by SC Johnson for an undisclosed (but probably juicy) price. Ten years after our first post on Method, “People Against Dirty” remains the brand’s rallying call. The ‘role models in bottles’ statement from the brand’s original manifesto is sill front and centre on the brand’s website. And Method has been incredibly consistent with its product and packaging, as the pictures below show. It has stuck to making beautifully designed, colourful, non-toxic cleaning products that are ecological and effective.

2. The power of combining earned, owned AND paid media


Ground-breaking IPA research we posted on in 2017 cut through the hype that digital content (owned) gets shared in large numbers online (earned) without paid media. The study showed that only 7% of the campaigns generating significant online coverage used earned and owned media alone. In contrast, 78% of effective campaigns combined earned, owned and paid media to create a “multiplier effect”.

Take the awarded and applauded Christmas campaign by UK retailer John Lewis. This campaign might have been the world’s most viewed Christmas ad on YouTube. And yet over 95% of the campaign views were actually on TV. As creative agency Adam & Eve DDB observed,TV was the core of the plan, because only TV can deliver audiences on the scale we needed.”

3. Using social media to sell more stuff

2017 was the year when we finally started to see brands using social media to sell more stuff.

We posted on how Just Eat were doing just this, following a new and unified strategy to focus on driving ‘brand response’, with measures in place to track clicks to orders. Social media now drives 16% of total orders, with a CPO (cost per order) below the company’s benchmark, whilst also building the brand. Just Eat’s three key criteria are good ones to use:

  • Stand out in the newsfeed: thumb stopping as they scroll on their mobile devices
  • Evoke reaction: make the audience feel hungry, laugh, cringe or even cry
  • Sell more stuff: every single piece of content should encourage people to order


4. Harnessing AI to build the business 

There has been a lot of hype about artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, but few examples of brands really using these technologies to grow their business.

In 2017 we were able to post on one such brand: online fashion retailer ASOS with their #AsSeenOnMe feature. ASOS scour the web for user-generated-content (UGC) that features ASOS clothing. The best on-brand content is ‘curated’ using a combination of machine learning and human expertise, showing aspirational images of clothing on real people. These images leverage ‘social proof’: seeing a product that looks good on other cool people who have bought it adds to the attractiveness.

This content is the used in the brand’s Instagram feed and website, including a product reference to make purchase easy. On the website, you can click on #AsSeenOnMe to see cool people wearing the item AND other gear (e.g. accessories, clothing) that you can also add them to your basket.

5. Root brand purpose in the product

In 2017 we tried to cut through the hype about brand purpose fuelled by Simon Sinek’s idea that product is secondary. For example, we violently disagreed with his claim that Apple have employed purpose-led marketing. Apple’s success has been driven by a focus on creating and communicating beautifully designed products, inspired by a sense of purpose. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPod, he didn’t say, “I have a dream of how to change the way you listen to music.” He said, “1,000 songs in your pocket,” as did the advertising.

So, another year over, and another 100 blog posts about brand-led growth which we hope have inspired you and given you some practical ideas for your own brand.

All the best for the new year and see you in 2018!