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  • Writer's pictureOli Shawyer

(Forgotten) power of brand...

Updated: Feb 7, 2018

The rise of digital and the further fragmentation of the media landscape has been significantly reported on for many years. And the rise of digital agencies, digital marketers, digital consultants, digital strategies, digital briefs and digital (insert anything) have followed.

But with that, notably in the last few years, we've seen a rise of contrarians to question such a pursuit. After all, it's only natural - for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction (Newton's Third Law of Motion).

But opinion and career agenda aside, there are some significant flaws with being so digitally focused, trained, educated. And whilst there are many arms to this argument (both for and against), including actual effectiveness and impact, I want to take a few moments to talk about one that really interests me - the power of brand. Or perhaps, in this instance, the forgotten power of brand.

Digital marketing has unleashed an obsession with efficiency and short 'terminism'- an obsession that (whether by choice or lack of understanding) is ultimately trading long-term brand building for more immediate rewards and outcomes. Coupled with short-lived CMO and Marketing Director tenures, it's likely that there are a lot of people that don't actually care for the long term, notably because that's not what they're going to be evaluated on or rewarded for in their next review. But, the reality is that such a pursuit is likely to kill our brands.

Focusing on the short-term and immediate ROI only forces marketing efforts to concentrate on those most likely to buy - the 'lowest hanging fruit'. Accessing all the data at our fingertips enables us to find them relatively easily right now. And by doing so, ignoring everyone else, because everyone else is 'wastage' (classified as such because they have no intention of buying the product... now). But what seems to be overlooked in the new-age 'marketers guide to the galaxy' is that often, that same 'wastage' is largely responsible for driving the long-term profit and ultimate survival of our brands.

Driven by trend including what-everyone-else-is-doing and the coverage by media, smaller entry barriers (reach, cost, channel availability, tech), measurability (albeit questionable) and lack of real education (notably around the fundamentals of marketing) amongst many other ingredients, the obsession is becoming status quo, eroding the future of these exact organisation's marketers are working so hard on now (got to smash out those quarterly KPIs).

Whilst a lot of the programming of our body is “hard wired” into us already, we do still create new neural pathways every time we experience something new and different. Being exposed to a new and then repeated message of 'problem and solution' allows us to develop and foster these new neural pathways. It's this understanding of the power of the unconscious mind that justify's long term brand development (or should at least make marketers take note), notably through mass media efforts like sponsorship and TV advertising that don't have immediate, measurable ROI.

So whilst a pithy commentary piece isn't going to change anything, for more a point of discussion than anything, here are a few fundamentals of branding and it's long term impact that I think marketers (and business owners) need to be reminded of (or worse yet, made aware of):

Familiar = preference. Preference = buy.

For this point, I want to borrow from my learnings of behavioural economics.

Familiarity is a fundamental underpinning to how we make decisions. Incapable of being able to rationally unpack every decision in front of us, evolution has allowed us to develop mental short-cuts to move that process along quickly. The mere exposure effect, a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them, is but one of these.

When you're lining up in a supermarket looking up and down the shelves at all the diapers (I'm a first-time father as of 12 weeks ago), you're looking for cues, prompts, levers to help you make that decision quickly and effortlessly. Regardless of what you say you would do in this situation (notably as a first time buyer wanting to get the best for my baby), you're never ever going to pick up each pack and carry out a feature / benefit / cost analysis across all the choices. No, you're going to pick something that feels familiar. And the reality is that it's only ever going to feel familiar if you've been exposed to elements (or assets) of the product before. Exposed to the brand before.

I, from day one, reached for Huggies. Why? Because I'd been exposed to the brand and its product/s over many years of 'wasted' marketing. Including a period of never being in a place to consider having children. If I'd never been exposed to Huggies before that moment, I may not have done so. It would have been a much more arduous task to choose a pack of nappies. But alas, it was an easy decision to make amongst the most chaotic time of my life because Huggies felt familiar.

The higher hanging fruits are vital.

For this point, I want to borrow from the taught lessons of Byron Sharp and his book How Brands Grow.

When you're focused on the short-term measures of success, and you're equally convinced in the power and and efficiency of targeting, I believe you naturally chase down the 'lowest hanging fruit'. The 'already converted'. Especially when you're handed over a pre-determined budget with accompanying instruction to invest it digitally.

To compliment this, we've all somewhat grown up believing in the power and appeal of 'loyalty'. We've been told that retention is cheaper than acquisition. Told that if someone loves you, they'll continue to love you unless you give them reason otherwise. And when you understand loss aversion, you know that people don't like change once they've found something that works for them.

But the reality is that most people buy a range of different brands (in the same category) and we're rarely 100% loyal to one. All brands have many light buyers, and whilst these 'light buyers' are only occasional buyers of the brand, there are so many of them that they significantly contribute to the sales volume.

For instance, did you know that a typical Coca-Cola buyer purchases just one or two cans or bottles a year? This particular 'light buyer' makes up over 50% of Coca-Cola's customer base. For what is a very large brand, very light buyers dominate. Imagine convincing half of your entire customer base to purchase just one more can or bottle of coke? That would double your entire revenue. Then again, imagine 50% of your market deciding they no longer want to buy that one or two bottles a year at all...

I'm one of those Coca-Cola light-buyers. I rarely ever purchase a Coke, and when I do, it's often for one sip. But when I do decide I want a soft-drink, it's the power of Coke's brand that helps be cut through the choice when standing at the kiosk. It's because they ensure their messaging still reaches me, even though the data tells them I'm not a sure thing.

If you focus on the short-term, you focus on customers who buy four to five bottles of Coke (because they're more likely to buy another)... but that's a tiny portion of your market make-up, which may result in increase in sales for the quarter, but at how much of a cost for the longer-term? You need to talk to people less likely to engage with your brand to remind them that you exist and keep yourself front of mind for that time of consideration and purchase.

Long term brand building activities.

I know that most people will read this and mutter to themselves 'no shit mate', but the reality is that the huge advantage delivered by the power of a brand will continue to diminish if marketers don't raise their eyes above the level of what's directly in front of them.

And before you jump down my throat, I'm not questioning the important role of digital (after all, I work in the digital space), I'm just saying that brand-building initiatives are just as important. As marketers, business-owners, CEOs, we need to focus as much on activities for long-term effects.

If you ignore the future and don't focus on longer term brand building activities, those quarterly KPIs will continue to get harder to meet, and your role as an adequate marketer dying for relevance at the C-Suite table will continue to diminish in real business value.


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