A while back, I talked to Chris Stutzman, VP, Principal Analyst
of the CMO Practice for Marketers and Agencies at Forrester. The company had
conducted a survey about how engagement with brands might be changing, and
Chris wanted to gather opinions on what the findings meant for the future of
Chris proposed that branding is the ongoing quest for relevance.
He suggested that the classic model of branding involved marketing activity to
create equity and drive willingness to buy, pay a premium or buy more, i.e. buy
a new line extension. Chris suggested that in the classic model of
marketing, equity is a function of relevance, differentiation, credibility and
projected leadership (he spoke mostly about share of mind).
He then suggested that Forrester’s research had identified a new
need, one I would describe as the need to “level up” in gaming parlance. Chris
suggested consumers are holding brands to a higher standard today. With lots of
good quality brands and plenty of copycats, people are spoilt for choice. So
brands need to create demand based on additional factors. He identified four:
1. Societal contribution, e.g. as detailed in Jim Stengel’s Grow.
2. Pride, e.g. not just a signal of status, but the feelings enjoyed by the user.
For example, one person I spoke to
recently told me that they feel “righteous” when they drive their Toyota
3. Special experience, e.g. Amex or Red Bull hosting exclusive events
for customers and consumers
4. Indispensable value, e.g. enhancing the value
of the offering to a “must have”. (He did not give an example, but I would
assume that the Apple ecosystem of iPod + iTunes would fit)
You can read more about Chris’s viewpoint here.
Subsequent to our conversation, a few more thoughts occurred to me as I
discussed these ideas with colleagues:
- Are there only four basic ways to level up? Surely there must be
more? My colleague, Phil Herr, suggests that some brands exhibit cultural
empathy, and cites Pabst Blue Ribbon beer as a brand that has found favor among
bicycle messengers because it “gets” them.
- These all seem like premium brand strategies. Is there a
countervailing trend that says, “All brands are the same, I’m smart and I’ll
buy the cheapest”? Phil suggests the same strategies do apply to value brands
like Pabst Blue Ribbon, but are pursued less often.
- Last but not least, James Galpin rightly pointed out that these
strategies are in fact not new. He notes that John Lewis, Co-op and Quaker, all
built brands based on a societal contribution, and that Amex has been
sponsoring tennis at Queens in London and giving free tickets out to card
holders (usually via a competition) for the last 20 odd years.
I suspect that James is right. These brand strategies are not new.
They tap into basic human motivations and have been used by savvy marketers for
decades. I suspect the reason we see more efforts to “level up” is less to do
with the consumer (they have always valued things that are meaningful) and more
to do with the world of business and marketing. With over supply in many
categories and fast followers everywhere, then functional differentiation is no
longer sustainable. You have to take it to the next level to ensure that your
brand stands out from the crowd.
So what do you think? Are these brand strategies new? And what other brand strategies might
marketers employ in order to “level up.” Please share your thoughts.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Nigel Hollis, Chief Global Analyst Millward Brown
Sponsored by: The Brand Positioning Workshop
FREE Publications And Resources For Marketers