Building a Brand in 2018?
You’ll want to brush up…
What does 2018 has in store for us? Uncertainty or certainty? If you are in the profession of building brands, you would be craving for dollops of certainty all through the year. Unfortunately, just like any other thing in life, the amount and nature of certainty or uncertainty that we can introduce into brand building in 2018, lies in our hands. It lies in the choices we make, the areas we decide to focus on, the clarity of our thinking and the direction we wish our brands to take.
First things first. Brands are still bought by human beings, who are called ‘consumers’ or ‘customers’. If you are buying a pack of sugar, you are probably a consumer, but if you are buying a pair of shoes, you are more likely a customer. In 2018, if there was only one thing that a brand builder should choose to do, it should be a reaffirmation of the fact that human beings buy brands (and not robots). Our mental thought patterns, behavioural instincts and decision-making may have been significantly impacted by technology, but at the final moment of truth (a fancy name for a supermarket aisle or the checkout counter), our human nature will continue to rule. Consequently, brands need to focus on conversion into sale at this final moment of truth. A multi-nodal decision journey, seamless payment methods, loyalty schemes, discounts and promotions and brand equity do not matter if the customer experience has not been excellent in the trip, which will culminate in the final moment of truth.
2018 should be the year for brands to invest in developing excellent customer experience. This is not about getting lost in the mazes of experiential marketing, but investing in getting the fundamentals right. What are the fundamentals, if anyone needs a reminder?
- Creative and purposeful advertising with credible messages
- Delivery of advertising with the intention of deepening brand engagement (and not focusing on generating only visibility and shallow vanity metrics)
- Consistency of messaging, positioning and identity at all customer touchpoints
- Being available at all customer sales channels, through effective distribution and fulfilment strategies
- Living up to the brand promise (both in terms of functional and emotional claims)
- High level of responsiveness to customer feedback / queries / opinions / requests with an intent to solidify trust and enhance commitment
- Continuously and infinitely repeating the above steps
While the first thing is being done, there is a need to do a second thing equally effectively. This is about having focus — focus on how to build and grow a strong brand. The focus needs to move away from the endless obsession around online and offline metrics, identity, channels, platforms and formats to developing excellence in selling. Selling ensures your brand is out there at the right places, is always available, has optimum pricing and communicates a credible differentiation.
Every single brand fixture in a massive supermarket is an outcome of effective selling. Higher shelf space allocation at the right eye level is also great selling. So is the availability of the whole range, effective replenishment rates during periods of high sales, activation of attractive promotional campaigns and all around visibility and availability. In 2018, we do not need endless debates on font styles and font sizes (till the time they are readable), but purposeful action to ensure brands are built through visibility and dissemination of information.
After focus, comes clarity. In 2018, brands need to focus on ‘clarity’ as a overall package. There needs to be clarity in everything — advertising, positioning, packaging, claims and addressing of feedback. For a customer or a consumer, complexity is acceptable but ambiguity is not. Ambiguity has many forms, which can include confusing messages or claims, promising something and delivering something else, dishonesty (the recent Apple iPhone case should stand as a testament) and being left clueless. From the time a consumer sees a brand in a video advertising, there should be clarity on what the brand stands for, how can it be bought, how it should be used, how can it be returned if there is dissatisfaction and finally, how a consumer can keep faith in the brand’s promise (even if there has been a negative experience).
When we have focus and clarity, we tend to be less fragmented (like I am now writing this piece with no other Safari tab open). In 2018, brand builders need to reduce the high level of fragmentation that has become symbolic of brand building. There is fragmentation everywhere — burgeoning line and product extensions, too many SKUs, too many price points, too many agencies, too much data, too many metrics, a marketing mix that is unsustainable, too much online or social media presence, too many ambassadors / influencers / celebrities, too many claims (bordering on being labelled a ‘panacea’) and too much advertising. Brands can still be built by being selective and discerning about choices.
The concept of ‘discerning’ is an anathema in brand building. Every brand builder wants to influence the consumer to make a discerning choice by selecting his or her brand. For each and every brand, which does not become that discerning choice, the fault lies in the fact that they are not built in a discerning way. The fact that McDonalds in India is actively asking consumers not to buy from 139 of its franchise restaurants in the country is an example of fragmented brand building, which leads to lack of control.
Being selective about the path you chose to build a brand requires consensus. A glaring, but surprisingly deprioritised, problem in brand building is either the lack of consensus or the need to have it from too many stakeholders. In 2018, brand builders need to develop a strong belief to be discerning, which is something they can forcefully defend in the consensus court. Post that they need to carry that belief through to brand launch.
Lets build some strong brands in 2018 by being human, by having focus, by having utmost clarity, by reducing fragmentation and by making selective and discerning choices. Brands need to speak a language that everyone understands — from the creator to the consumer and everyone in between.