We are in an age characterized by proliferation and fragmentation in each and every stage of our lives. The way we interact with brands is not immune to this trans-formative and disruptive trend.
What does this mean for brands? Quite a lot and importantly so. What do brands need to do succeed? ‘Focus’ comes to mind as one of the most important strategic elements to follow. Not only do we have proliferation in the way we consider and make purchase decisions, but also in the way we are exposed to brands. In the last few weeks, the online space has been abuzz with Facebook’s launch of its Canvas ad formats. Cadbury’s became the first confectionery brand in the UK to use the Snapchat ‘Sponsored Lenses’ platform for advertising. Towards the end of 2015, Instagram opened up its advertising platform to brands. This is just the tip of the iceberg, with Virtual Reality (VR) being touted as the next big thing in the way we will interact with brands.
No wonder an average brand manager in an organization is a confused and harried one. There are too many options to advertise on, too many metrics to measure and monitor, too much pressure on identifying and justifying ROI and too much complexity in simply understanding the impact of integrated campaigns on a brand’s health and growth path.
What is the consequence of this proliferation and fragmentation? Brand loyalty has become a very precious commodity. The more we are pulled and pushed in all directions, the more we try to protect our most precious asset – attention. The adage of 80/20 has stopped being relevant a long time back. Only 5% of consumers will now account for 90% of a brand’s revenues and these would be the really hardcore loyal ones. Consider the fact that UK supermarket chain Tesco has decided to delist more than 30% of the 3000+ products it stocks to give its shoppers an educated chance of buying better by reducing proliferation.
One of the key success factor for any brand in this age is to adopt and follow a strategy of ‘focus’. What do we mean by ‘focus’ in the light of brand advertising and communications? Its about being discerning in its choice of media platforms it wants to be visible on, and secondly, being patient about the results it wishes to achieve.
Strategy in any form, and equally brand strategy, is a medium or long-term path. Getting influenced by the number of shares on Tumblr, number of likes on Facebook or even the number of retweets on Twitter does not fit well with the mindset of strong brand building. The Harvard Business Review, few years back, published a thoughtful article on ‘how brands are built over decades but then managed over quarters’. Brand managers need to move away from this short-term, reactive and wishy washy mindset. It does more damage to a brand’s reputation and equity than any good.
Consumers desire consistency and discipline in a brand’s promise and values. Successful brands follow these principles without any deviation. Brands who want to be successful at a global stage need to adopt these principles more strenuously. Today’s consumer is an educated and well-traveled one. You don’t need to experience the brand in multiple countries to assess the strength of its purpose and values. The World Wide Web will give you this information right in your living room.
Any form of digital or multi-channel campaign strategy only makes sense if the channels allow the brand to communicate a consistent purpose. Any form of experimentation with new media channels only makes sense if the advantages of brand building significantly override the associated risks of damage to brand equity. Similarly, any tactical campaign makes sense if it links back to overall brand strategy. Last but not the least, advertising and communication planning for brands should always take into account the ‘lasting impressions’ it will leave on the consumers’ minds. Consumers (like any human being) are quick to adopt quality and sound purpose as hygiene expectations from brands but take a long time to forget mistakes that damage a brand’s equity (all the recent corporate scandals are a proof to this point).
So as a final call to all current and aspiring brand managers – cut through the clutter, free your mind, think ahead and plan strategically. Month-on-month sales and revenue targets may still be a reality but to achieve them doesn’t mean putting your brand’s reputation at risk. Just like the visual on Snapchat that disappears in a few seconds, a loss in a brand’s equity happens in a few seconds (and cannot be rolled back).