In search of relevance…

As marketers continuously search for growth opportunities for their brands, a challenge they regularly encounter is around ensuring relevance of their brands. In a large number of instances, brands are originally developed to cater to specific consumer segments and their relevant needs.

Due to wider economic factors, double digit growth opportunities are a thing of the past. The world’s biggest consumer markets are continuously experiencing low single digit growth rates. Asia, considered as the next paradise for growth, has had its economic growth estimates cut in half. In these circumstances, the ability to leverage pockets of opportunities is like a gold mine.

The negative economic outlook is compounded by high levels of competition and fragmentation in a vast range of product categories. This is also the main trigger behind the recent surge in M&As, divestments and portfolio optimisations. Think about the Kraft-Heinz merger, P&G selling off its beauty business to Coty, the Mondelez sell off its Douwe Egberts coffee business and you will see that focus on core brands and tapping into growth opportunities were the primary triggers. The ongo

Amidst all these upheavals, the search for brand relevance continues. The biggest challenge in broadening your brand’s positioning to appeal to a wider demographic group is finding relevance. Unilever has been able to do this successfully for its Dove personal care brand by extending the relevance to target men (Dove Men+ Care range). The fact that it has been able to use rugby players in its UK campaign is a significant spectrum transition from women using the brand for skin and facial care. The core relevance proposition is the aspect of “care”, which is around the softer side of manhood, i.e. the ability to care for different elements of their lives.

There are numerous failures as there are success stories. But the biggest learning from these examples is the fact that relevance is a challenging proposition to drive home with any consumer segment.

Our definition of relevance has moved away from our own individual viewpoint of things that are important to a highly social one. In today’s sharing world, we develop preferences, adopt lifestyles, change our behaviour and attitudes through influences by our cohorts, role models, celebrities and ambassadors. Let’s also not forget the rise of influencer marketing as a channel for fuelling brand growth.

The new ways through which we seek meaning in our lives and then buy brands that fulfill these meanings has a profound impact on brand marketing.

To make their brands relevant in today’s turbulent markets and also widen their appeal across broader demographic groups, marketers need to dig deep into a brand’s core values.

Strong brands have a well defined set of values, a strong purpose and a proposition that aims to provide a solution to a relevant need. Consider the success of Nike+ as a brand that provides solutions for running needs. The primary reason behind the growth of Nike+ has been its ability to cater to a need that is deeper than getting hold of a right pair of running shoes. It’s about creating a community around runners, sharing of success and failures, taking away the isolation / loneliness associated with running  and providing a sense of empowerment.

 

In the case of Dove Men+ Care, the strategy was around making the practice of skin care relevant among men. Then the next step involved creating a range specifically designed and suited for men, but with the same core values and proposition the Dove brand stood for. The need for care was then evolved to the proposition of “Care Makes A Man Stronger”.

Extending the relevance for a brand may also mean tapping into new occasions that are a strong fit. Uber’s current strategy is underpinned on this principle. The extension of its business model to deliver groceries, food deliveries and alternative transportation models (e.g bikes in Thailand) is based on the extension of the convenience need to these channels. But does it expand Uber’s sphere of relevance? Yes it does because the need for convenient food and grocery delivery is as relevant as the need for convenience in hiring a cab.

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2016-02/24/uber-motorbike-taxi

http://www.wired.com/2015/12/ubereats-is-ubers-first-app-thats-not-about-rides/

All these examples point towards a single core principle. Expanding relevance to identify new growth opportunities is strongly dependent on how “malleable” and “extendable” that need is. In the white goods industry, and more specifically among refrigerators, product innovation has been driven by making layers of needs (on top of basic refrigeration) relevant for consumers. We have seen the introduction of variable temperature control, smart sensors, modular and flexible storage design, Internet of Things (IOT) enabled etc. Any brand that has achieved success in this innovation driven category, has done so by elevating the need for “refrigeration” to higher levels.

http://www.cnet.com/uk/news/touchscreen-refrigerators-and-talking-everything-at-ces-2016/

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/01/06/ces-smart-homes-of-the-future.html

As we move into an era in which consumer needs are going to evolve rapidly, finding relevance for their brands will continue to be a significant challenge for marketers. The golden rule of “not standing still” will become ever more critical. Constant innovation, refresh of brand positioning, creative evolution of brand messaging, tapping into brand legacies and extension into meaningful categories are some of the few strategies that marketers would need to adopt to keep their brand alive and relevant.

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