The Epicenter Of Influence – Amra & Elma

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[This article is based on a conversation with Elma Beganovich, Cofounder and COO of Amra & Elma LLC]

Today more than ever, branding plays a crucial role in a company’s strategy. The COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly changed the way we live, forcing companies to rethink how they reach their customers; some of the changes will be temporary, others will last. A company’s value and purpose have acquired greater prominence in a time of economic uncertainty and social upheaval. Innovation continues to challenge existing business models and to disrupt traditional markets, including by intensifying the competition between start-ups and established companies. Last but not least, social media have come to play a dominant role in the way we communicate and consume information, and have acquired an outsized role in shaping social and economic trends.

Amra and Elma Beganovich spotted many of these trends early on, and in 2012 they created a digital marketing agency to leverage the latest digital trends and technologies to optimize the branding strategies of mega-companies as well as start-ups.

The competitive advantage of Amra & Elma LLC stems from the unusual combination of talents of the two sisters. They boast an impressive set of academic and professional credentials: Amra has a B.A. in Economics and an MBA, and has consulted for major international financial institutions including the World Bank; Elma has a J.D. and a Masters of Law, to which she has added solid programming skills. Not the backgrounds you instinctively associate with major digital influencers. And yet…

In 2012, Elma and Amra noticed that the few authoritative magazines on lifestyle were getting increasingly out of touch with new trends. So they taught themselves to code, started blogging, and quickly acquired a massive following. That initial blog has grown into a top digital marketing agency whose clients include major brands like Procter & Gamble
PG
, Johnson & Johnson
JNJ
, Wells Fargo
WFC
, Nestlé, Netflix
NFLX
and Uber
UBER
, with services ranging from influencer marketing to social media management and brand strategy.

Elma Beganovich, Cofounder and COO, notes in this recent M4Edge podcast that while brand strategy is crucial for all corporations, it’s an especially tough challenge for start-ups and other young companies, because they have a more limited budget and their overall product and business strategy is still evolving fast. Brand strategy therefore needs to be well-focused and in sync with the overall business strategy.

“You have to identify the epicenter of influence,” says Elma Beganovich. Sometimes it will be someone who does not have an impressively large number of followers, but who is “an influencer of influencers”, a trend-setter watched closely by the most famous and followed influencers. And of course, it needs to be the person who holds the greatest sway on exactly the right set of preferences, behaviors or trends that will make or break your company.

How do you find this “epicenter of influence”? Amra & Elma rely not just on their expertise and instinct, but also on technology: they invested in technology that uses image classifiers to ingest data from Instagram and other social apps, and have developed sophisticated algorithms to quickly identify the most powerful influencers based on category, location, and other relevant characteristics.

While the digital marketing world is characterized by speed, Elma Beganovich stresses that “a successful brand strategy is a marathon, not a sprint.” It starts with a careful analysis to understand your industry, your competitors and their strategies, your target demographic and the right social media platforms. Then it moves to pre-launch planning and teasers. It requires identifying the right metrics and key performing indicators, leveraging trackable links and promo codes. And especially if you are a new company, you need patience: the rule of thumb is that a consumer will need to see your brand at least seven times before they are ready to pull the trigger and try your product or service.

In fact, Elma Beganovich emphasizes that the biggest mistake is to jump the gun before you have a well thought-out strategy. Since digital technologies have become more advanced, every digital platform has its own technical characteristics and specific advantages; the most common mistake that Amra & Elma have seen is in companies that just dive in without sufficient preparation and then cry in frustration because their digital marketing efforts do not work.

The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted the value of digital branding and influencers marketing even further. Elma Beganovich notes that the last six months have seen a huge increase in online activities and impressions; companies that had so far eschewed e-commerce have been forced to jump in; those that already had a well-developed digital presence have enjoyed a natural advantage.

The increased prominence of issues like climate change and diversity has been another game-changer. Elma Beganovich notes that according to recent surveys, one consumer in two might stop buying from a company seen as violating ethical norms; and more than nine out of ten consumers will consider switching to a brand seen engaging in social responsibility.

Purpose driven marketing, or “cause marketing”, is therefore on the rise. Since brand strategy has to align with the business strategy, this can become a forcing function pushing companies to reflect on what purpose and values they want to embrace. The idea that companies should go beyond shareholder value maximization and serve the interests of a wider range of stakeholders has gained support, including with a recent formal statement of the Business Roundtable. But this is easier said than done. The interests of different stakeholders are often in conflict with each other. When they embrace a purpose broader than shareholder value, companies need to make sure this purpose is clearly defined and that their management practices and incentive policies are aligned with it, recognizing explicitly any trade-offs with profit maximization or other priorities. This will ensure that managers, board directors, employees and customers understand the purpose statement and believe it.

Here a well-thought out brand strategy can be instrumental in triggering a rigorous internal discussion and deliver a well-thought out and clearly articulated mission statement, communicating it in the most effective way to all stakeholders. Given the strong positive response it can elicit in customers, purpose need not come at the expense of profitability.

Today, the right digital branding strategy can hold the key to success, providing the best tools to navigate the challenges of the pandemic and an evolving social and technological landscape. It needs to be seen as more than a marketing effort, as an integrant part of the overall business strategy; in fact, branding can be instrumental to sharpening the business strategy. Elma Beganovich feels optimistic on the economic outlook, but she urges companies to redouble their branding and marketing strategy now. It’s a marathon and not a sprint, but… “don’t wait to start until it’s too late” is her parting advice.



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