A recent conversation with a client looking for an ad agency was a reminder of just how little of its own dog food the industry eats. Her assertion that “they all look the same and say the same things” highlighted just how difficult brand differentiation is. It’s so hard in fact that even those who claim to do it for a living struggle to do it for themselves.
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It’s tempting to think of consumers in binary terms in relation to the brands you are responsible for: in, or out; buying, or not buying; loyal, or not loyal. But for many brands, the status of an individual can be more complex. At any given point in time, people can take on other roles in relation to your brand, and in relation to your competitors’ brands, that nevertheless have a direct influence on your competitiveness.
The aspiration drive that has dominated how marketers think and what they strive to achieve in building a brand’s mythology is increasingly being seen by consumers as unattainable and fake. Buyers are drawing a line under what they perceive to be airbrushed brands. And the push-back is manifest in everything from the acceptance of imperfect food to the increased use of plus-size models on fashion house runways.
Everyone loves a good story, and the critical strength of heritage brands is that they have such stories in abundance. Little wonder then that as American consumer confidence starts to look up, the brands that remind consumers of what they have, where they are and where they’ve come from are doing well. It’s a timely reminder of just how much the story of a brand links to the narrative that buyers run in their own minds of the lives they lead and the lives they would lead if they could.
Marketers are under enormous pressure to get cut-through. Thing is – where’s the cut off point? How do you decide whether the claims you’re making are justified and how do you know you have pushed the boat out too far? Putting aside the legal considerations (not my space), here are four simple ways to filter what you should and shouldn’t say:
Stories add to the humanity of brands. They help consumers think through and act upon a narrative that is fundamentally rooted in human truths. Stories generate empathy. We see ourselves in the tale. Or we see a side of ourselves. Or we see the ‘me’ that we would like to be. Without that narrative, everything is dominated by features, data and discounts.
This is the year of wearables it seems. Morgan Stanley are predicting shipments will top 70 million this year and grow to 248 million by 2017. But the thought that wearables themselves will feature in consumer and business spending across areas ranging from fashion and fitness, healthcare and insurance also points to escalation of another trend. Products and services are now less about what consumers have or get and more about who they are and want to be.
Everyone has a story now. Or at least most brands claim to have one. But having a story in many ways is like having a product. Really it means nothing if it is not competitive as a narrative and personally relevant to each recipient. So your story must be distinctive from the other stories that are in play in a market and it must continue to be so. That’s challenging in fast moving sectors where there is always something new to look at, another brand tale to try.
As the downtown areas of major metropolitans reclaim popularity and no small element of retail cool amongst the citerati, more and more globally scaled brands are scaling up their physical presence with impressive and expensive flagship stores that literally showcase who they are and what they have to offer.