In the last entry, we looked at the evolution of email marketing, through three phases. In summary, one could call these the learning phase, the technology phase, and the relevance phase. In phase 3, where our messages must be increasingly relevant to cut through the electronic clutter of modern life, it is our ability to harness and spread interesting stories that will set us apart from others.
If one considers the concept of branding, and how it has changed with technology, we also note an interesting progression. For the sake of argument, I would say that the modern concept of branding is also characterized by a three-phase evolution.
If we look back to the dawn of the age of television, beginning in the 1950s, companies—those with a message to convey and the resources to present it to us —became sponsors of programs. Thus, television is often credited with creating the possibility of mass branding, as advertisers purchased time to broadcast their images over the airwaves. In this era of one-way communication, which we can call phase one, branding was essentially a monologue. Marketers spoke; consumers listened.
Phase two began in the 1990s, when the internet opened the possibility of rapid two-way communication. Consumers began to express opinions, using company websites and email to voice them. As individuals and organizations became comfortable with the technology, the brand monologue became somewhat of a dialogue. By the beginning of the 21st century, interaction between company and client was an everyday occurrence, and consumers were finding forums for expressing opinions about brands.
Today, we are clearly in what can be considered a third phase of branding: the social network era. Social media opens vast possibilities that can take us far beyond dialogue. Companies and brands can enter into wider conversations with all of their constituents.
For brands, or for anyone trying to convey a message, social media is a true game changer.