How to ‘Botify’ Your Brand and Save It From Becoming Irrelevant

Legacy companies that do so often see a sizeable shift in ROI

In an increasingly digital world, perhaps relying on bots could be what brands need to grow.
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Web-only brands (often referred to as digitally native vertical brands, or DNVB) are the subject of a lot of controversy. On one hand, we’ve seen impressive exits for companies like Bonobos, but on the other hand, there has been a steady parade of failures in the subscription box sub-category of web-only brands. Birchbox is among the more notable failures, but MoviePass is by far the more entertaining and audacious.

While many in that space scramble to tweak the business model, I think they’re missing the point. If meteoric growth is the goal, the existing models have been working just fine. They have a profitability problem in the long run, but that doesn’t mean you should pass up insane growth rates. Internet Retailer reported this year that the top 75 DNVB’s were growing three times faster than traditional ecommerce. Not 3 percent—three times faster.

You can do wonky analysis about vertically integrated value chains, and you can tabulate the costs and benefits of single-channel sales. If you feel the need to take a forensic look at the business models, go for it. But if you’re looking for real learnings, all you should care about is the growth rate and what made it possible. These companies are running circles around their industry peers because they know how to acquire and keep customers. The formula is pretty simple: design a sexy brand, build a digital infrastructure from scratch and use it to deliver a sticky digital-savvy customer experience.

When large legacy brands launch their first bot, they typically see a fundamental shift in the way their brand is experienced by customers. DNVB’s create that effect in every facet of their operation. It’s built in from the ground up.

That puts legacy competitors in a tough spot, with a lot of tough choices to be made.

Kill your darlings

William Faulkner was famously quoted as saying, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” I’d argue that advice is better suited for business than writing.

Botifying your brand doesn’t mean “digital transformation.” It means embracing a digital-first culture inside your organization and expressing it at every touchpoint with customers.

The whole reason legacy brands die slowly is because they pour all their resources and energy into preserving their existing lines of business. However, there are only so many times you can give a dying business CPR. A better choice would be to euthanize your legacy brand, business and investments early and often. And no, your logo doesn’t get to stick around in the process just because you’ve had it for 20 years. Don’t take my word for it—there’s data to prove that your logo is losing you money.

Get rid of your terrible brand if needed. Change your name; throw out your legacy tech. Kill the lines of business that distract you from your future. Growth is business, and business is growth. Anything else is dead weight.

That’s the first step in “botifying” your brand. Get rid of the stuff that tells your customers you’re a sloth in unicorn clothing.

Free your data—at least little

Clint Boulton recently profiled a huge batch of data analysis success stories featuring companies like Shell, TD Bank and Dr. Pepper Snapple group. For the data poor legacy brands out there, it probably reads as a litany of reasons why they’re struggling to compete.

Here’s the funny thing, though. In all my years in the technology business, I’ve never come across a company that truly failed at counting their cash. When it comes to literal dollars and cents, every business embraces data. Then you shift your focus to customer experience or support, and suddenly few people in those departments know where the data is or what they’re supposed to do with it.

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