A leader in the digital revolution since designing one of the first websites in the early ‘90s and founding the first interactive marketing agency, Chan Suh has joined Prophet as senior partner and chief digital officer. His charge: Ensuring that digital and brand strategy capabilities are truly integrated for the creation of transformative brand experiences. Chan recently took some time out from his initial weeks on the job to discuss his perspective.

What are the challenges of bringing digital in at the formative stages of brand strategy development?

At this point, 20 years into the evolution of the graphical web, there aren’t too many out there who think digital doesn’t matter. The concept of integrating digital with brand strategy is a simple enough idea that everyone seems to agree on. But what makes it difficult is that no one has figured out the processes, methodologies and constructive thinking needed to make it happen with optimal effect.

If the problem is how to make it happen, what is the solution? What is the cure?

First and foremost, finger wagging doesn’t work—just telling people to do it is like a coach telling the athlete to just run faster. And usually, neither does putting your agency and marketing staff together in a room and saying “work it out.” For all the good intentions, the forced mix of digital and traditional brand and marketing hasn’t worked very well. Some digital specialists look at brand experts as working in ivory towers without a clue about what’s going on in the real world. And some brand experts and traditional marketers think “going digital” is adding an app or a Facebook page at the end of a project.

First, we need to develop knowledge and respect for both fields. Then, we will need to create bridges—people, words, methods—that help us use digital technology to enhance what we already do while creating digital experiences driven by brand strategy.  All of this has to be led by the goal of creating common, clear value for our clients.

We want to be the first to crack the code on how to fuse these two DNA streams.  Nobody else has done it well, yet.

How do we get brand and digital experts to realize they are cut from the same cloth?

We need more “t-shaped” people who come with a proficiency in a chosen field but can bridge with experts in other fields. So, at Prophet, for example, I bring my digital DNA and I am finding ways to mesh it with the brand DNA that is our legacy. It’s about pushing boundaries – working with those people who are experts in, say, analytics or customer touchpoints and finding ways for us to add a digital perspective from the start.  Conversely, our digital experts are working at incorporating the rich, fact-driven brand wisdom that our other colleagues are creating.  This can’t happen in other places where people are not working literally side-by-side, every day.

How would you recommend organizations start thinking about digital in order to create more effective “bi-lingual” marketers (as you call them) and a stronger, more integrated platform for brand growth?

A great first step is fairly easy – demystify the technology. Often, “digital” people will start throwing around acronyms like crazy.  They make no sense out of context and they should be banned, because they don’t add any value to the client’s objectives. I recommend that a CEO or a CMO declare jargon-free zones where people have to explain their ideas in business terms and plain English.

Second, it’s good to have experts come in and help devise your digital strategy, but you must give them specific instructions around what you hope to accomplish. It’s the marketer’s job to give specialists clear business goals they can execute against as a means of better justifying their value. If you want to build a house, you don’t hire the plumber and electrician yourself. You hire an architect and a general contractor. Architects appreciate the beauty of copper piping, but don’t need to understand all of the nuances that come with it.

Third, things like social media are important, and they need to be part of the touchpoint wheel. But most people tend to speak before they think when it comes to new digital channels. It should be a part of a larger strategy. Do we want more fans, or more feedback? Is social media an output, or a way to better understand customers and competitors? These are just some of the questions we usually ask our clients and ourselves.

Any last words on how you see things evolving at Prophet in the months ahead?

I believe we are among the first to create hybrid marketers. Digital will be an integral part of how we help our clients’ brands. We are among the very first in addressing that gap between high-level brand strategy and pervasive brand activation. Whether it’s digital or not, our people are experts at figuring out how to help brands grow. And along the way, we will also create some very cool stuff.

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