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The New World of Brand Marketing: Get Personal, but Importantly…Better Get Real.

We notice the velocity of change in the world around us but nowhere has that change been more profoundly felt than in the world of marketing. Today, brands are struggling with the new realities of trying to connect and develop loyalty with the Millennial and Digital Native generations.

Advertising agencies are seeing their impact and roles eroded and diminished by the realties that today’s tech savvy generation of consumers want the type of relevant connections that are created by Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare and a host of other apps. 30-second TV spots are yesterday’s news.

In the past consumers were demographic groups where you match targets with a few media types–the expression was “birds of a feather flock together.” So if you knew or assumed where the “birds” were, the chances are you were going to be successful with your brand message and product sale.

In his book, Entering the Shift Age, David Houle talks about how in the past brands were institutions and had authority. He says, “And so Ivory soap was pure; Chevy was America; BMW was German precision and engineering; and Tide was the family detergent.” One wanted to be like everyone else and so then we lived in a world of brand authority—in other words brands would give us access to what we aspired to or whatever the brand said as an institution. If I wore a Polo shirt with that logo, I must have money and status.

Today we have moved to a world of personal authority where the mantra is that, “I do not want to be like everyone else and things I want will get validated by my friends and those I trust.” Individuals don’t want authority to come from a brand, they want to connect to it on their own terms. So brands today must be about ‘you’ the person and who ‘you’ are versus status, wealth, image and being part of the “in crowd.”

So, as mentioned and to use a hackneyed phrase—the paradigm has shifted. The old paradigm had the brand as an institution, top-down communications, customers were passive and attitude drove behavior. The new paradigm has the brand defined uniquely and not as an institution with bottom-up communications where the customer controls the relationship and behavior drives attitude.

So what do companies need to do?

Companies need to more fully understand that among today’s consumer the definition of “brand value” has changed from the old days of brand value equaling product features at the lowest price to the new realities that brand value must equal quality; what the company stands for and does it stand behind its products, is the price competitive, does it meet my needs, is information accessible and does the company talk to me on my terms?

Are there companies that get it and those that don’t? Yes.

An interesting dynamic that is happening is the rise of “conscious capitalism” as a strong driver of influence on Millennials and Digital Natives. What that means is that now a product makes much more of a statement by its awareness, commitment and consciousness—actions it does versus the things it says. Perfect examples are TOMS shoes, Warby Parker glasses, the Red campaign and products, Patagonia, Simple Banking, etc.

TOMS shoes’ idea of buying one pair and giving another free pair to a child in need is brilliant. People buy because they feel good about what TOMS does, plus they have cool products and to date they have given away 45 million pairs of shoes. Now that commitment by TOMS as a company has moved into eyewear and coffee. Warby Parker provides eye exams and treatments in Third World countries and the gift of sight to those in need because someone has bought a pair of their cool glasses. Conscious capitalism at its best—one for one.

Those examples are relevant and real to the new generation of consumers. It is not giant retailers making tons of money putting on TV ads at Christmas showing how they built a Little League baseball park in some town. That action is clearly phony and can be seen right through as a pathetic example of trying to get on the cause bandwagon. It is not large companies sending out emails once you bought something or flew on their airline saying “how did we do and we really value your opinion” when nothing is further from the truth and you have already felt ripped off.

So, the net is that it’s not ‘new’ news to say the world has changed. What is ‘new’ news is that companies can’t just say, “Well, we are on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, so what more do you want?” Customers can’t be generalized about and need to be talked to on an individual basis. Brands need to gather as much information as possible from as many sources as possible and use that information to be change agents in their relationships, products and what they stand for.

Today’s digital savvy consumers are “omnichannel” in their approach to buying as they look across brick and mortar, online, mobile, friends, and other multiple sources of information. Companies that don’t change and respond to younger consumer changing purchase patterns won’t keep up. Look at what H&M does, changes all its product line—everything– every 90 days based solely on customer feedback.

So, the future will be to those who understand how to use data better and adapt to the new consumer realities. It is not the “tactic du jour… Oh, we have a million likes on Facebook” as that does not translate into sales. Using data smartly and in an impactful way does as well as creating value in new way by making the company stand for something more that selling something. The future will be for the TOMS and Warby Parkers of the world thanks to the Millennial and Digital Native generations.