How mobile-first companies are redefining the concept of “brand” marketing

by Meghan Laslocky on Mar 8, 2017

This is a guest post by Christian Limon, Head of Advertising at Wish.

One of the most interesting things about working in mobile is seeing its impact on marketing as a discipline. Mobile upended decades-old ideas about how brands go to market, but it’s a challenge for many people to embrace the paradigm shift. Here are a few ways in which marketers have to think differently about brand marketing in a mobile-first world.

The relationship between distribution and brand is inverted in mobile.

In traditional retail or brand marketing, a predetermined brand strategy informs and guides distribution.

Mobile-first brand marketing graphic

But in mobile, brand sits in a different level in marketing’s sequential value-chain where distribution is the fundamental, first-order problem. This isn’t to say brand is not important, but brand strategy is dependent on solving distribution first.

Distribution is the price of admission; you have to enter the arena before you can compete in the game.

Mobile-first brand marketing graphi

Look at The Honest Company, an amazing brand with a great CPG (consumer packaged goods) branding strategy. It has seasoned tech leadership from Jessica Alba, the internationally recognized face of the company, pop-culture coverage, and nonstop company press. Even with these huge wins, The Honest Company is watching mobile commerce play out from the sidelines.

Wish, where I work, is an example of the inverse: it’s the largest western mobile-first shopping platform, largely because we embraced the reality that distribution is mobile’s price of admission. You don’t hear about Wish in the press, let alone in popular culture. Celebrities don’t endorse Wish and you’ve never seen a Wish tv commercial (yet!). But we’re winning on mobile because we’ve nailed distribution.

Feedback loops are more sophisticated in mobile.

In brick-and-mortar, distribution strategy and branding are predetermined — determined at pre-launch or pre-shipping — and thus are stuck in a fixed or tight range of outcomes. Their outcome is path-dependent on their starting point. The outcome is determined at the start.

In the traditional economy, risk and control is front-loaded. Thus, knowledge and experience are most valued.

The organization must be a knowledge and experience machine.

On mobile, your ability to take advantage of feedback loops over time can move you into a healthy LTV > CAC equation or widen a competitive advantage. On mobile, brands can immediately collect data, iterate, optimize, and channel feedback back down to improve the level-1 distribution position. Intelligent brands establish and benefit from this circular feedback loop.

In the mobile economy, risk and control are played out across a longer lifespan, in complete juxtaposition to the front-loaded risk and control of the old economy.

In the new economy, testing, learning and data-driven change are most valuable. The organization must be a learning and change machine.

The term “brand” itself needs to be rethought

We still talk about ‘brand’, but I think the term is an inherited and loaded term from the old economy, too broad and misused for the modern company.

Traditionally, ‘brand’ can describe nearly any qualitative free parameter related to a business. For example, David Ogilvy famously defined brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.” Similarly, Leo Burnett defined brand as “anything that leaves a mental picture of the brand’s identity.”

These definitions aren’t precise or acute enough for modern marketing disciplines and decision making.

Next gen marketers take brand cues from data

To be a star in marketing now, you need to move past previously unquestioned pillars of brand. Instead it’s better to start with a clean mindset and a first-principles data-driven position.

That said, there’s a strong ‘creative’ element that great brands benefit from. The data that supports good marketing still relies on artists and designers to explore the possible spectrum of a brand; a creative imagination is still required.

Skilled creatives and strong data are a perfect marriage; but like all great marriages, they are rare and hard to build.

Thanks to mobile, brand marketing is in a transformative stage. Success relies on discarding many of the pre-established notions of what brands are and how they function. It utterly relies on embracing and reacting to data in real time to build, then strengthen, a competitive position.

As Head of Advertising at Wish, Christian Limon leads global user acquisition across all platforms. He was formerly Vice President of Growth & Advertising at Glu Mobile and Director of Global Partnerships at Tapjoy.

Meghan Laslocky is AppLovin’s senior marketing manager.