Marketers have used brand advertising since the 1950s, when brands were established to create emotional value with consumers, signal better quality or value, and to differentiate a product or service from the competition. Simon Clift, the former CMO of Unilever said, “A brand is the contract between a company and consumers.” This brand ‘contract’ represents the feeling of trust that a consumer has in that a brand will deliver on its promise of value when that product or service is selected. If a company breaks that contract and violates the established trust, then consumers are free to take their brand loyalty elsewhere and buy alternative goods and services.
Brand building has been a very large part of a company’s marketing mix since the “Mad Men” era of marketing drove ever-increasing advertising budgets that invested in building memorable brands. Marketers have followed this trend of brand investment to drive consumer awareness and the purchase decision. Even today, Coca-Cola spends around 4 Billion annually to build their brands and maintain their market leadership in the beverage category.
Yet recent history has seen a dramatic shift in the relationship between consumers and brands. Digital engagements and the rapid rise of intermediaries assisting consumers in the purchase discovery phase mean that customers have less direct contact with brands in the buying cycle. Therefore, the “brand contract” has become weaker, and brand relationships are less important to our purchase decisions and ongoing product relationships.
Enter the Intermediary
This shift away from the brand contract began with the rise of Internet search engines, and consumers’ desire to “self-serve” their way through product discovery and selection. We shifted from a world where marketers broadcast their message to consumers to where consumers actively sought out their own answers. Marketers needed to shift from broadcasting generic messages, to figuring out how to be at the right place with the right message to answer consumer questions in the right manner. As more of our consumptive behavior moved from the offline to the online world, new businesses appeared to help consumers find the right solutions for their needs. This led to the rise of intermediary, category-based search engines, designed to help us find the best products at the best prices.
Intermediary price comparison sites are now a major part of most consumers’ process for deciding what to buy. From travel search engines such as Priceline.com or Kayak, insurance comparison sites like Compare.com and Nerdwallet, to more general shopping comparison sites like Google Shopping or Amazon, consumers use these sites to find the best deals and decide what to purchase.
These intermediaries have changed the very nature of what consumers view as a quality customer experience in the purchasing process. Customers have shifted from valuing the most comprehensive information on solutions, to experiences that are the fastest to complete a transaction and have it shipped to the front door.
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Data to the rescue
So what’s a troubled brand, left out in the cold and distanced from their customer, to do? A brand remains connected to their customers by providing personalized and meaningful engagements, that’s what! To do that, brands need to harness their data. They do this by bringing together all customer data from across all systems and all points of interaction to get a complete picture of their customers. To turn that data landscape into improved customer experiences requires adding intelligence layers on top of the data, and connecting the resulting insights to action systems, the points at which the customer interactions actually take place.
Competing in a world where powerful intermediaries own more consumers’ time and attention requires brands to take new approaches and leverage their unique strengths in data and customer understanding. Building exceptional, personalized customer experiences is the best means to:
If you’re concerned about your company’s brand value proposition with your customers, what are you going to do about it in 2019?