Let‘s face it: with the exception of the undisputed super-brands of the „AAA-category“ (Apple, Amazon, Adidas & Co.), more and more brands struggle to win the heart (and money) of today’s consumers. Several studies conclude that consumers wouldn‘t mind if about 70% of today’s brands would just disappear. While the studies may follow the highest scientific standards, the results clearly indicate that consumers perceive quite a few brands as replaceable. Being perceived replaceable is just the prequel of becoming a commodity again: a disaster for branding and brand management.
The key is to avoid falling into this ‚replaceable‘ category; but how? Personally, I don‘t think it‘s a matter of advertising/brand communication. Aggregated spending on all types of communications is not significantly lower than the years/decades before today, it may be even higher in fact. I believe, it‘s about brand positioning and brand purpose – or to make it short: about meaning. Consumers are increasingly savvy and better informed than ever, and they value brands that contribute to their lives in a significant and recurring way. Contributions can be manifold and creative advertising might be beneficial for personal entertainment or social conversations.
Another pitfall: fake brand images and empty promises are unmasked instantly. They are exposed as means of ‚old-school marketing seduction‘ – by interactions. The interaction with a brand (or to be exact – with its agents, as a brand cannot interact by itself), is the ‚moment-of-truth‘ for a brand. It is the most crucial brand experience. This is not something that is different in the digital age, as the quality of interactions has always been a factor in brand management: for example, quality of service (think hotels or airlines). It has, however, become more obvious as the option of digital technology provides the opportunity for far more frequent and relevant interactions. This digital opportunity also has it’s risks, as a brands poor performance in interactions (poor website quality, etc) is usually shared among digital peers – and spreads quickly…all over the world.
Studies also suggest that there’s an even more substantial relationship between the meaning of a brand (as perceived by a human being) and its interactions. According to social psychologists like Mead or Blumer, „People act toward things based on the meaning those things have for them; and these meanings are derived from social interaction and modified through interpretation“ (Wikipedia). To make it short: a brand has no meaning without interactions. Simply looking at an ad or receiving a direct mailing is not an interaction in this sense! If you want to become a meaningful brand it has to have a purpose in terms of your contribution to people’s lives, and make it palpable in your interactions. Branding is now an effect of technology, product/service and experience. The old ways of branding and marketing have started to flatline. Interaction design is brand design and interaction management is the core of brand management.
It can be extremely damaging to a brand when their ads promise great experiences and meaningful contributions but in reality don’t deliver when the customer’s interaction with your webshop, customer service website, hotline or social media customer care team do not meet the standards that the ad has set. Ever noticed that people focus on their experiences of brand interactions when they rant or rave about the quality of a brand? It‘s even true for Apple. It‘s about a poor maps service, about a poor customer service (personally, I don’t agree, as I’ve always had fantastic support), maybe about the potential interactions with the system/OS in terms of open vs. closed – it‘s rarely about apple ads being ‚too clean‘. The meaning of your brand is a result of the interactions it is part of; direct and indirect. Do you want to increase the meaning of your brand? Start with the quality of your brand interactions…and win the hearts of consumers.
Takeout: As brands struggle to win the hearts and wallets of today’s consumers it becomes increasingly clear that a brand has to have meaning in order to be successful. Brand management then has to create this meaning…and it begins with the customers‘ interactions with the brand. Successful brand management then must focus on creating interactions that contribute to people’s lives in a significant way. This is how your brand will win the struggle.