In economics, signalling focuses on the ability of one party to effectively convey information about itself to another party. That was relatively easy pre-Internet. Brands simply pushed claims into the marketplace through a range of set-play media actions and waited for consumers to react. The ability of a signal to reach an audience rested almost entirely on the message itself and the media budget.
As we move now from a world in which asymmetric information has prevailed to one in which perfect information, or at least more transparent information, is closer to the norm, marketers are grappling with a landscape where they must balance a new abundance of signalling platforms with a maddening overload of market noise. To be heard above the din, they must think through not just what they signal and how, but also why and to what effect.
The power of signals
As Allen Adamson has said: “Branding is about signals – the signals people use to determine what you stand for as a brand. Signals create associations.” Brands that simply telegraph what others are saying will only add to the background volume – making it harder for any signal to stand out. Extending Adamson’s observation, lack of signal creates dis-association, a brand that people are not inclined to feel part of, or even to be seen with. The price of noise is commoditisation. And as the noise increases, profile fades and brands drown.
There’s clear correlation to me between market leadership and signal leadership. The brands that are listened to are the brands that consumers turn to for guidance. According to this article in strategy + business, market leaders that lose their pre-eminent position have only a short time in which to regain the top spot – before they risk slipping back into the field. That timeframe it seems can be counted in quarters rather than years. Peter Golder, Julie Irwin and Debanjan Mitra found that, “Brands with the largest market share tend to have lower advertising and production costs, a broader and more loyal customer base, and enough popularity to counter their competitors’ moves … [when] they analyzed the quarterly periods from 2003 to 2008 [they found] fewer and fewer companies were able to get back on top after just three quarters below the top.” Furthermore “the stakes for ceding first place are high … The gap in market share between the number one and number two brands, on average, was more than 10 percent.”
Brands that have a powerful share-of-signal are under similar pressures.
With the ability to turn the signal: noise ratio to your advantage so critical, here are eight signs that your brand is doing it right in creating effective market signals:
- There’s a strong idea running through everything you do, and that idea is distinct from what your competitors are saying and doing.
- You’re telling a story others wouldn’t tell, couldn’t tell and, most importantly, shouldn’t even try to tell.
- Consumers take their cues from you. You don’t just lead the market, you pretty much decide the market. You are the brand reference point for your sector (and sometimes for others as well).
- Your signals continue to attract market attention and market share in good times and bad.
- People react to you passionately – and you cue those reactions.
- Your price is a signal in itself to others of just how much distance there is between your leadership position and their place in the market. Providing your position stays constant, the more they give way on price, the further the distance between them and you.
- You may not have the first word on developments in the market, but your story and powerful share-of-signal mean you almost always have the last word.
- You change the conversation proactively and those shifts trend quickly and globally. Those changes are also picked up and passed on eagerly by brand fans.
Photo of “When the signal drops”, taken by David Blaikie, sourced from Flickr