Way back in the year 1970 – Stephen King’s seminal essay – “What is a Brand” (watch his branding master class here) described a brand as a personality, a set of intangible added values that consumers can relate to beyond features and functionalities. According to him “People choose their brands as they do their friends. It is the total person you choose, not a compendium of virtues and vices.”
In those times – a brand was used as identification. Only after a product was created did the elements of branding come in – logos, packaging, tag lines, ads and TVC’s – to add to its visibility and recall. Thus, Coca-Cola, Heinz, General Motors succeeded on the strength of the traditional branding model.
Now well into the 21st century, we live with brands that are only a few years old. And with some that ported in from the last millennium. A 21st century brand now is a promise that solves a consumer need. Think Uber. VFS. Air BnB.
Or it may even create a need where none existed (remember the iPhone?). So, while a brand and its core values may not change –staying relevant to an evolving consumer – necessitates a change in the manner in which it adapts to and engages with them.
As brands struggle with multiple challenges that include higher consumer expectations, technology, media fragmentation, no credible way to calculate marketing ROI and more – the 21st century marketing playbook needs to re-write itself in order to continue creating value for consumers.
Here are five pointers to consider – for making that happen.
- According to Dr M Muneer, author and global brand consultant, the fundamental principles that make a brand are unchanged. “It is still about need identification and communicating how that need is being addressed. Being relevant in changing times – is critical.” He cites ‘Olay’ and ‘Dove’ as brands that keep their core values intact and yet have evolved to stay relevant over time.
Takeaway: In order to stay relevant to changing consumers – plan and execute fresh brand experiences in contemporary settings across consumer touchpoints.
2. In an age in which algorithms are defining the brands we see and experiences we must have, Punit Bharat Modhgil , co-founder at octane.in, tempers the principle of personalisation-based marketing, driven by big data – with caution. “ I believe it is critical to balance the creepy with the cool” he says.
Takeaway: In order to target micro segments of consumers using fragmented media – engage with them using elements of mass marketing in a one-on-one setting. The team at itokri.com for instance – sends a small gift and a personalised handwritten note of thanks with each order.
3. The question of how does a brand need to communicate its story is something that Sunil R Nair, COO, Alt Balaji believes to be a matter of evolution. “A brand needs to evolve by choosing what it wants to represent. It needs to be part of issues that matter to its consumer. “Which in turn needs great consumer insight. A compelling example according to Sunil is the manner in which Levis communicated to a rebellious generation seeking freedom through movements such as ‘Occupy Wall Street’ with their ‘ Go Forth‘ campaign.
Takeaway: Cutting through the clutter demands inspiring brand stories. Stories that are cause led. And consumer led. Where the brand and consumer (almost) mirror each other. A long-term communication with core values has to harmonise with regular brand refresh across social media to stay top of mind and impactful.
4. Observing the decline of traditional advertising-driven brand building coupled with the ineffectiveness of renting media space for impact, Punit Bharat Modhgil believes that it is owned media and its quality which will enable organic reach and long tail effectiveness. “Brands are still looking at share-of-voice/share-of-wallet and not investing enough in their own digital presence” – Punit avers.
Takeaway: Spend money on creating engaging content on your owned media spaces, improve your organic presence and signal-to-noise ratio. Results will be visible over time, however.
5. The old saying – “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” – holds good even today, believes Dr Muneer. Despite volumes of big data, it is still difficult to accurately track and calculate marketing ROI. Punit Bharat Modhgil believes that brands must make in-house investments in online consumer research. Integrating those findings with quantitative tracking data, qualitative environmental and competitive information would create a holistic framework to enable better quality of decision making.
Takeaway: Invest in your own in-house research infrastructure. Track online consumer behaviour to find out more about brand drivers, product, pricing, performance, concept testing. And write your own in-house algorithms that will integrate all information to calculate your marketing ROI.
These are but a few aspects marketers need to consider and execute in order to connect their brands with attention deficient yet empowered consumers. Brand refresh now needs to consistently create a new, consumer – centric brand experience. Every single time.
Riitu Chugh is a brand planner by discipline, a communications strategist by choice and a story-maker by passion. Follow her on Twitter @junoesque