Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Changing face of brands



Jogging my memory a bit to see how marketing and branding have changed across the last two decades; I observe an interesting journey which can be roughly split into three phases:

Phase 1:  Era of one way communication 

Brands used the television and the print medium like a megaphone to announce what they had to say to an audience whose attention was easy to get. Competition was less. Media was not as fragmented. The environment was not as cluttered. Most importantly, loyalty was not a dirty word. 95% of the advertising budgets were allocated for above the line communication.  Advertising briefs were simple, revolving around creatively communicating a single minded proposition. Many of us can hum most of the jingles on television even till date and quote the slug lines that we read in magazines, in an era long ago. .

Business objectives were universally simple.  Standardize products and scale up production to make it affordable for a maximum number of people.

 Phase 2: Era of  relationship marketing 

Towards the later part of last century, consumers began to demand more.To best meet the needs of these demanding consumers, marketers segmented the markets and developed superior products to best address the functional and emotional needs of a particular set of target audience. Sometimes, multiple sets of audiences with multiple brand variants.   

Along with fragmentation of media, consumer’s attention spans became shorter. Brand owners where challenged in their effort to win the minds and hearts of the audience.  

This was the era of relationship marketing. Instead of maximizing profit from each transaction, relationship marketing focused on maximizing profit over a lifetime.The visionaries arrived at a solution in the way of devising ideas which would compel the audience to take part in the brand through a myriad of engaging platforms. Consequently building a relationship which, would hopefully, translate to loyalty.     

To cut the clutter and catch consumers’ attention wherever they were, brands adopted a 360 degree approach.  Advertising budgets got fragmented.  Though television still got the bigger chunk, it was now being shared with outdoor, events, PR, online brand pages and a many other channels – all united towards a common cause – engaging the consumer in various interesting ways to ensure consumers’ participation with the brand.

 In 2012 Havas media’s research called Meaningful Brand Study showed up that people would not care if 70% of the brands disappeared.  And , they did not care to have a relationship with brands where they play a passive role while brands create and manage relationships.   Sentiments such as these necessitated a complete change in the way brands interact with their audience.


Phase 3: Era of collaboration


These sentiments are largely driven by the new wave technology which consists of three major forces:  Low cost internet, Reducing cost and availability of multiple devices to access the internet and social media.
Social Technology today allows individuals to easy express themselves through expressive social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest , Instagram, Blogger and other social networking sites. Sites such as Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes and TripAdvisor  are collaborative media which help consumers collaborate with one another.   

As the collaboration and expressions expand, consumers are playing a larger role in influencing perception and purchase. People believe one another more than they believe brand sponsored communication. This trend is tending towards brand managers losing control over their brands while consumers are taking over that role. Consumers are increasingly joining the C- Suite as the chief stakeholders and are asking tough questions, demanding answers and letting the world know what they think of a particular brand. No holds bar.

Brands, to regain control, has to rely on the ‘consumer trust system’ which essentially gives them the power to control what consumers say and do about a brand. The three emerging cornerstones of the trust system are:


1. Brand Soul  
In the online world, people connect with people. Not plastic packs, fabulous fragrance or superior dirt removal power. Keeping this in mind, every brand is creating a 3 dimensional avatar of them which goes beyond describing its products and services. A human angle of the brand, which forms the basis of its true differentiation and social identity. It reflects in the consumer’s social network and provides a reason for consumers to align with them in the social media space.

A good example which comes to mind is Standard Chartered Bank.

Objective:  Promote their credit card through facebook

Strategy: After a thorough research of the Indian market, the bank found that food was the second choice after shopping in terms of spending through credit cards. They created a community of food lovers on Facebook called India Food Explorer. Apart from providing recipes, the page directs its ‘friends’ to restaurants and also offers exclusive deals to Standard Chartered Credit card users. Started in March 2012, the page currently has 799K friends on facebook.  This has provided a platform for the brand to speak to almost 8 lakh customers everyday, without spending a lot of money and engaging them in a conversation which they care to have.Being the foodie of the banking world helps Stan Chart connect with millions of people. This is in contrast to what most banks did previously. They would rely heavily on direct mailers and send mails which went largely unopened.  It was more like transmitting information rather than talking to a friend about a common passion.

2.   Building a community by using technology

A good example that comes to mind is Nike + Fuel band  
Instead of putting out just another ad saying ‘buy our shoes’ because a celebrity says so, the brand launched the Nike+  which actually helps people become better runners.  Nike+ Fuel band  (click to watch a video about Nike + fuel band) takes it a step further.
They built a community of sports enthusiasts who put the action back into words.  By comparing and competing with anyone plus the additional benefit of showing of success – the band successfully motivates people to get active.
Using technology which helps to measure their every activity and compete with people in the social media space, Nike has been successful in functional integration plus an earned media channel in the form of 10 million users.   

3.  Creating a sense of ownership through co-creation
If attention is precious, trust even more so. To ‘buy’ back loyalty and trust, for about a few years now, several brands have been trying to involve the customers in their product design just to give them a sense of ownership.

Among a whole host of others,  the one that comes to mind is the Lay’s campaign where they invited consumers to send their recipes for chips. The top 4 flavours, judged by experts, were rolled out and the final winner was chosen by popular vote.

Brand building is changing rapidly. With the rise of the networked consumers and the more accessible technology, brands today are leaning more heavily on technology as used by people to help find a place in the consumers’ hearts and minds. This space puts the consumer first. Brands today need to understand the consumers’ interest and align it to fit itself in the consumers’ world.  

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