Brand Activation: What It Means and Why It’s Important Now Than Ever Before

Excerpt from The European Business Review

While traditional marketing’s concentration on the positioning of a brand relative to its competitors is still absolutely critical, it is clearly no longer sufficient. To drive trial, increase visits to a store or website, incent trade-up, increase purchase frequency, propel greater sharing and advocacy, inspire consent for data collection or usage, or enable other outcomes that build business, marketers need to activate specific behaviours by their consumers.

Once it is understood that the true challenge and opportunity for marketers to build business is behaviour change, the need to utilise a wider range of tools, tactics, channels, and approaches beyond simply creating brand awareness becomes clear. What becomes equally clear is the need to understand what consumers are doing when and why along their paths to purchase, so the marketer can create welcome opportunities for engagement that not only demonstrate the brand’s essence, but also help advance the consumer toward transaction.

Fortunately, today’s marketers have a robust suite of tools to drive engagement beyond simply trumpeting a brand’s essence. Socially shared interactive videos, digitally delivered content, and in-store events are but a few. These increasing opportunities, however, also increase complexity for the marketer.

The unique strategic, creative, and technological skills, insights, processes, and people required by state-of-the-art digital, social, mobile, database, sponsorship, and shopper marketing have driven increased specialisation. Each discipline requires its own constantly up-to-date expertise in the latest technical innovations, legal requirements, strategic shifts, and tactical opportunities. As a result, it makes complete sense why the partner or department that is clear on the implications of an algorithm change in a social media platform may not be aware of a shift in priorities of a key retail partner, the latest content marketing approach, or the newest sponsorship opportunities.

Even when efforts are executed at the highest level within one or all of the marketing disciplines, it is a tremendous challenge to coordinate each with what is happening in all of the others to maximise their collective effectiveness and ROI. This fragmentation and disconnection, unfortunately, is occurring at precisely the same moment when uniting these disparate efforts is more critical than ever, as consumers expect more seamless experiences across channels and are moving more frequently and fluidly between them.

So the question becomes how to most effectively utilise and connect the disparate marketing disciplines to activate behaviours that build business while also building brand in a best-in-class way.


William Rosen is Chief Executive Officer of VSA Partners, one of the world’s preeminent branding and marketing firms with clients including AB InBev, Google, Nike, P&G, IBM, Allstate, Hyatt and McDonald’s. He is also co-author of The Activation Imperative: How to Build Brands and Business by Inspiring Action.

Laurence Minsky is Associate Professor, Columbia College Chicago, and a marketing consultant helping agencies and brands across the globe. He is also co-author of The Activation Imperative: How to Build Brands and Business by Inspiring Action and Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand, among other books.