How do customers respond to your Brand?

I have always held a strong belief that Brands behave just like human beings do! As such an interaction of a customer with a brand follows exactly a similar pattern of interaction of one person to another unrelated person.

Let’s say a person X hopes to have a relationship with person Y. Every person does this from his own social behavior status, which could be broadly divided into 3 levels: (a) Acceptance (b) Association (c) Adoption

3 Response Levels (image copyright - one%inspiration)

Preliminary contact / hand-shake happen when each interacting person Accepts the other person’s invitation. This happens quite frequently, regardless of space, time or context. None of the participants have long-term intentions of carrying on; hence the relationship is superficial, and open.

When these persons meet again, there’s an existing element of recognition or identification between them, which breeds conversations, interactions and occasional dependencies. This stage is known as Association. There’s overt / covert liking of each other’s qualities, but linkages are not strong. There’s also a general agreement to meet / interact again, and often this behavior stays for a long time.

At the 3rd level the association solidifies into a firm relationship, which slowly gets deep-rooted. The belief and motivations of one person gets internalized in multiple ways into that of the other person, leading either of the persons to adopt the other’s belief, principles and attitudes. Strong and sustainable bonding is the outcome of such adoption processes.

Likewise, a customer’s response to a brand also follows a similar pattern:

Acceptance happens when a brand pulls a customer through instant promotions; e.g. “Buy One. Get One Free”; “50% Discount before 30th July”; “More you buy, more points you win.” etc. Garnier may launch a sachet pack of its shampoo variants, to woo customers into using the brand. Many consumer electronics brands also use the method to clear their inventories, by giving “Bundled offers” during festive seasons. Although behaviors vary from brand to brand, customers have a general tendency to claim these deals, with little or no regard to the Brand or its values. Additionally, customers tend to shift the moment another brand offers a better deal.

On a longer term this method follows the law of diminishing returns, and hence should not be used too often, unless the Brand itself symbolizes “Discounts” or “Value”. Many retail stores, have followed this method to great success – by making sure that returns are higher than the inventory cost.

Association happens when a brand pulls customers by appealing to their needs – whether emotional or social or rational. As a result customers start identifying themselves with the brands, and hence differentiation occurs between competing brands. When Garnier promotes Fructis shampoo, it’s appealing a customer’s rational need to have stronger hair. It’s not necessary that the customer, even after using the shampoo, will keep on using it forever. Needs might change, or another brand may offer the same need packaged with another one. The linkages here are not strong; therefore constant interactions and experiences are needed to sustain association and convert into long-term Adoption.

ADOPTION happens when the customer looks forward to the same brand to meet multiple needs. Let’s say that the Garnier Fructis shampoo customer had a few experiences with the brand, and has decided to use other variants of Garnier shampoo that meets her other hair care needs – e.g. shiny hair, damaged hair, etc. PLUS starts looking for Garnier for other grooming needs – e.g. skin care, hair color, eye care, etc. A combination of meeting needs in all the above cases, would makes her believe Garnier’s message of “Take Care”.

Adoption is a permanent and deep-rooted experience between a customer and a brand, especially since a customer’s belief about the brand strongly links with their own belief-system – emotionally, socially and rationally. If Innovation is what a customer looks for, repeated associations and interactions with Apple will definitely believe that the brand stands for emotion.

For a brand to be strong, a combination of all the 3 level processes is perhaps needed in some proportions.  Even though the first 2 levels are temporary, there are many ways to develop permanency through these stages. For example, while using Garnier for hair care, a customer discovers that the brand stands for “No Animal Testing”. This realization may motivate the customer to continue with not only the shampoo brand, but also with other Garnier products.

Therefore for a Branding effort to succeed, strategic efforts are needed to develop the relationship at each level, esp. since, like a relationship between 2 individuals, Branding also is a social process, where change is the element that keeps the relationship fresh.

Related Articles / Posts

Advertisements

How to Reposition brands in a Connected World

Whether or not many companies and marketers accept it, we’re living in an extremely connected world. Mobile phones have revolutionized the way we verbally communicate with each other; Internet has drastically changed our behavior within our groups and society at large; and the integration of both these technologies, has shifted our perspectives of “reaching out” to the world outside of ourselves. As a result we’re discovering hundreds of different ways everyday to re-invent ourselves on every frontier of our existence – perhaps like never before!

However, what about the brands, which have been constantly giving us meaning and reasons to use them, since our toddler days?

Many brands have been able to retain their stronghold, by delivering the values they have been promising over all these years. It means that these brands have been extremely successful in differentiating themselves from the competition. It means that these brands have been consistently maintaining their presence within the purchase consideration set of their customers, and in most cases making sure that they are indeed the chosen ones from this set.

Then, there are many other brands who have found themselves cat-napping during the communication revolution happening around them. How can these brands re-invent / reposition themselves?

The answer lies within the “communication revolution” itself. Here’s how:

Creation of a new value-system of the customers (Image (C) Shantanu Sengupta)

A brand is after all a composite set of direct and indirect value-based proposition / promises delivered to the customer, in order to differentiate the core product from a competition. The best way to visualize brands is perhaps to visualize them as human beings / personalities in the real world. In this way, brands are able to mirror important facets of their target customer personalities, while creating a unique set of promises that satisfy the customer’s needs at the time of purchase.

Therefore, just the manner in which the customers are changing their ways of communicating and evolving into new “avatars” or personalities, these “cat-napping” brands too need to reposition, by following the changes embraced by their prospective customers, to evolve into new “avatars”. The figure below makes it clearer.

Today’s Customer M, who is connecting more and more frequently thru various virtual means, to other customers with different value-sets, is destined to adopt additional set of values, influenced by his network. As a result, Customer M has now an augmented value-set (Core + Influenced values). On a longer time frame his core values may have the chance of being proportionally dominated by influenced set of values – to the extent that he might now have a newer value system – “MX”.

Lesson for “cat-napping” brands:

  1. Augment the value proposition, by promise of the additional benefits that meet the needs of the socially enriched customer
  2. Retain the Core values intact during the process of augmenting the value-proposition
  3. However Give Up Control, if the core value system is meta-morphing into a new, but composite value system
  4. Re-Gain Control by promising long-term benefits, reflecting upon the new-composite value system

How to build trust when competitors created skepticism?

  • A company wants to get in to market like air purifiers, detox products, or gas addittives. Its predecessors have created some skepticism with non-performing products, because they are a very ethical company and believe their product does just what it is supposed to do. How would you advise the newcomer to move ahead and buid trust with consumers? What must they do? What must they not do? LinkedIn Question by: Jeffri Epps

First and foremost, you need to do an in-depth research of customers, and specifically try to probe on the effects of competitor communication on them. It’s likely that one of the 3 results might emerge:

  • A – Consumers agree to competitors’ skepticism, and are content with that position, taking actions accordingly
  • B – Consumers are skeptical of competitors’ activities, but have decided to carry on with competition – because of herd mentality or due to no other alternatives available
  • C – Consumers neither agree or are skeptical about competitors’ position / messages – hence are not bothered who offers the products or services

In case of A, it might need further probe on additional factors they are looking for, which are currently not addressed by competitors. Depending on how strong and sustainable advantages these factors are, you may decide to take a course of action

In case of B, you might like to explore ways in which you’re able to present yourself (your product) as something that makes a difference in the attitudes towards the product.

In case of C, you might like to see in what ways the product could be seen – not necessarily in terms of benefits, but in terms of value. e.g. something like “well, you know, people say many things about this, but who cares!!”. But you’d have to really see how the values associate to the brand in the long term.

Long ago in India, domestic TV advertising started going the route of being “also ran” stereotyped communication. After all all TVs gave comparable picture an audio performances. At that time an imported TV was considered much superior, but was not available to 99% of the population! On researching, one brand discovered that actually, an imported TV immediately created an element of envy among the peer circle. this element was capitalized with huge success thru the “Neighbour’s envy; Owner’s Pride” campaign – even though “envy” was depicted with all its negative connotation.

I’m not sure what product category you’re in, but maybe by research, you’d get some insights that truly justify a “negative against the negative” approach, which ultimately could work positive for the brand.

(Please contact me should you need elaboration / clarification) Also Look for Other Answers.

Do companies / brands fear to differentiate?

  • There is a lot of average and mediocre brands around today. As if brands lost their guts and courage to stand out and stand for something crisp. Is this caused by fear? What are its sources or drivers? LinkedIn Question by:  Lucia  Tarbajovska.

Well, I feel it’s not the fear… primarily it’s the failure and lethargy to identify a differentiator that:
– truly falls in line with the short term and long-term profit objectives of the company
– succeeds in convincing the decision makers that it’s an “opportunity” worth exploring
– gives them an understanding / courage that it has a sustainable competitive advantage

Additionally majority of the companies who are in a particular product / service category, have a tendency to have a “herd” mentality – “everyone is going that way… they could not be wrong!”. In short they tend to embrace mediocrity, if this gives them short term gains or saves them the hassles of taking risks.

In today’s ever-changing business / economic battleground, you’d rarely find a Bill Gates and Richard Branson who stick to their guns / dreams or who are not bothered about short term results as long as keeps their long-term goals intact.

Also Look for Other Answers;

Basic approach to position a Hotel Brand

  • How would your marketing strategy differ for launching and promoting a luxury city centre business hotel as a brand vis-a-vis a Destination spa? (LinkedIn question by: L. Aruna Dhir)

There are many angles to be looked into before we can really give a proper answer. However, in brief, the answer lies in the basic positioning and differentiation approach that would define the core strategy. The approach should be as follows:

  1. Where’s the property located? Is it within easy city limits or a bit on the secluded outskirts of the city? If it’s within city limits, “City Centre” business Hotel branding sounds good, while for a far-off location the “Destination Spa” would sound good. Premium destination Spa perhaps would have more appeal with an accommodation added in, if it’s located out of city – since possibility of promoting as “Spa and Resort” would have long term attraction.
  2. What’s the core benefit / value of your product for customers? Is it more towards the hassle-free stay / conference / meetings / banquets? Then positioning within the “City Centre Hotel” market would make good sense. Otherwise, if your core benefit / value on offer is “Leisure and Relaxation”, then it would make more sense in positioning it within the Leisure resort / Spa domain.
  3. What are the possibility of “packaging” the product and increasing its value? Once the above 2 fundamentals are decided, you’ll get a very clear cut core positioning of your product, which will define the next stage – strategy to promote in each case. However, it’s also important to note that it’s not the end of the other option , whichever position you choose. For example:
  • Once you have promoted / established your hotel as a Business Center, you can extend / branch out to the other offering as a part of the 24 hour package; e.g. Conference /Business, Dining, Pub, Spa, Relax… each at different time of the day. It also allows you to promote the Spa separately, and then adding up this sub-brand as a “total hospitality experience”
  • In case of promoting it as a Leisure Resort cum Destination Spa, you can take a similar approach too! Therein, to promote Conference /Banquet / Business products, you can just add: “Our weekend get-away package can also include your business seminars / conferences”

Therefore to answer the question in one sentence:

  • Marketing strategy in each of the cases quoted above differs in the basic orientation and approach one wishes to take in defining the core benefits and values of the brand, vis-a-vis competition (as pointed above).

Also look for additional Answers in LinkedIn

What Montblanc could do for “Gandhi”

Recently, Montblanc stirred a controversy in India, while launching the $25,000 worth limited-edition commemorative fountain pen in honor of Gandhi to mark the 140th anniversary of the birth of the Mahatma.

The decision to turn a man – who shunned foreign-made products and pushed simple living to new extremes – virtually into a “brand ambassador”, left some Indians puzzled and others angry. One group filed a lawsuit in India to try and halt distribution of the pen.

What went wrong? The BrandChannel labeled this move as “long on imagination but short on basics”. Montblanc intended to symbolize each element of the design as Gandhi’s life and achievements: e.g. The top of the cap and cone are inspired by the spindle which Gandhi used to spin cotton – one of the symbols of Indian independence.

Personally I feel that by doing this, Montblanc has overlooked 2 vital issues:

  1. Brand creation is not only about symbols related to a good idea – Just by gilding some of the symbols from the freedom movement, as well as imprinting Gandhi on the nib, doesn’t create a “Gandhi” brand! Even though the spindle, white and orange color, etc. do associate with Gandhi, doesn’t exclusively belong to the person or the personality of Gandhi fully. Rather these elements represent the freedom movement he inspired and led. Perhaps if there was a decision to commemorate Indian Freedom movement, these symbols would have been closer associations.
  2. Brand personality cannot be created without some basic values representing the brand – Even though the limited and mass editions were designed with some symbolic associations, they failed to capture the essence of Gandhian values, namely Simplicity, Satyagraha (resistance through mass civil disobedience), Swadeshi (self-sufficiency), Ahimsa (Non-Violence) and Swaraj (self-rule). What’s a brand without any values associated with it? Consider these: By replacing cotton thread with gold,saffron color with a saffron mandarin garnet and the white color with white gold, Montblanc has unknowingly demonstrated that they did not even understand Gandhi’s primary values of simplicity and opulence.

What could have Montblanc done to address its primary objective of raising its brand profile in a 1 billion populated country? There are plenty if ways it could have recreated Gandhi’s values. Some of the ideas could be:

  • Creating a simple pen design closer to Gandhi’s own pen design – by using mass affordable materials – e.g. Bamboo (??), Brass, Wood, Lacquer, etc.
  • Innovative ways of using the thread – not gold, but cotton – strengthened and restored by additional materials
  • Using Bamboo nibs perhaps?
  • Using a hand-woven cotton case for housing / packing the pen
  • Handcrafted pens for and from the masses – e.g. a design developed for mass production by the very people who love Gandhi in the land of Gandhi. (This would incidentally have given Montblanc a lot of exposure and increased its reputation in India)
  • Creating a limited edition out of the various prototypes that would have been developed to mass produce pens as described above

Yes, one final issue however lies in doing so – i.e. probable dilution of “premium-luxury” brand value. Well… this could be restored if Montblanc followed the above strategy for a year or two in some ways, and then released a design closer to the current one, but much toned-down in material and opulence, and with increased dose of donations (from the sale) to charity organizations and Non-Violence movements worldwide.

How to measure ROI on branding and image advertising

  • How do you measure ROI on your branding and image advertising? Please describe the tools, and formulas you are currently using to measure ROI on your offline advertising. LinkedIn question by: David Jacobstein

Let us understand the perspectives on this first. We need to understand what do we actually mean by ROI:

(a) did we literally mean mean to say Return On (our) Investment?

(b) Or did we just use it colloquially to mean just “Returns” from or “Effectiveness” of our branding and image advertising?

In case it’s (a), we must understand that ROI from Branding and Image Advertising usually is not realized immediately. Usually we can see the change after 2-5 years of doing the activity – even though exceptions could be found esp. in case of brands launching new/ innovative products or ideas (eg. Apple, thanks to it’s products since iPod). More often we see that a flurry of innovative product campaigns from “branded house” brands (eg. Samsung), improves Return on (Communication) Investments over short term. In case of the other extreme – ie. the House of Brands (eg. P&G) – there’s more propensity to equate ROI to the Sales growth – even though the dollars might have been spent in branding or image advertising.

In case it’s (b), then we need to question the very basis of of our activity, which will give us answers. What motivated us to do the activity? What are the objectives of the campaign? Are we trying to increase visibility? brand recall? point-of-sale recall? change attitudes? or preferences? develop new habits? change negative to positive? developing a personality for the brand? etc. etc. – the list could fill up many lines here! If we have your objectives laid down, then we would definitely have some reference points to those objectives – eg. in case of brand recall, we might start off with 25% current spontaneous recall that need to be increased to 40% with 5% flexibility. In this case, a “before-after” comparison would give the ROI indications. Similarly, if we perhaps plan to do an image campaign to increase total awareness (aided + unaided), and implement thru extensive outdoor visibility, we might consider “before-after” method again to ascertain ROI.

Therefore, to answer the question:

In general, every image advertising / branding campaigns aim to strengthen / improve upon the rational and emotional values associated with the brand. These values are usually identified and graded through an elaborate process of qualitative and quantitative research tools. Once done, key improvement areas are identified for a branding / image campaign and suggestions given for probable communication solutions. Additionally reference points for these values are created for comparison – empirically or numerically. Once the campaign is developed, it’s pre-tested to see if it addresses the concern areas identified by research. If yes, then the campaign is launched, and a second exercise is done thru the same elaborate process, after concluding the campaign. If the results match the objectives, the campaign is said to be “effective” or labelled as “successful”, giving good ROI.

A note of caution however; if the ROI=Sales growth, some campaigns might sometimes give excellent results, even though the results could hide sensitive factors or problems that might chip off brand value in the long-run, resulting in brand failures.

Also look for Other Answers in LinkedIn.

%d bloggers like this: