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Recession Marketing

A Challenged Marketplace: Opportunity For Brands

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Brand Strategy Brand Opportunity

In today’s business climate, one thing stands out. All the rules are up for grabs. At least from where consumers stand, everything they’ve taken for granted can no longer be taken at face value. What seems good and trustworthy is just a headline away from some bombshell of betrayal. Presumptions about family, gender and race are being upended by demographic turnabouts. Traditional milestones of education, career and retirement are under question. For most people, figuring out the future means reexamining what used to work and finding a new way forward.

What a great opportunity for brands and those that manage them!

More than ever, consumers want fresh answers and new solutions. Brands have an unprecedented opportunity to bring something better to the table. So here are three brand management tips for the marketplace ahead.

First, embrace incongruity. Combine unusual elements. Confound expectations. Reinvent category boundaries. Embrace experimental culture. What consumers know nowadays is what doesn’t work, so they’re willing to experiment and give something new a shot.

Why not a Nissan that is more a rolling day spa selling health than an automobile selling transportation, with the A/C spritzing you with vitamin C to prevent wrinkles and seats designed by NASA that improve blood flow? Why not iPad kiosks at selected Delta gates at LaGuardia and JFK where people can sit and order food, play games or read? How about the vegetable butcher at Eataly’s in New York City or the Paper Pot from Molla Space that stylishly dispenses toilet paper like tissue or the Urbio Urban Vertical Garden that turns any interior wall into a green space? And don’t forget THE RIDE, which remakes the old-timey Manhattan bus tour with a combination of live street theater and buses specially equipped with the latest audio and video technologies.

Second, prioritize process over product. This is not to suggest that product is unimportant; it is only to recognize that consumers see ever more parity and are worried ever more about how they are treated.  Take the current DIRECTV campaign. It is not product-focused at all. It is strictly about how customers are treated, irreverently caricaturing the downside of what can happen when process takes a back seat.

Process is also the implicit undertone to the current Budweiser campaign, “Grab Some Buds.” It is more than the typical beer ad showing people having a good time in social situations. Rather, it is a salute to relationships. But note: not brand relationships; instead, interpersonal relationships. Consumers don’t want relationships with brands. They want relationships with other people, and so the brands they want are those that facilitate or celebrate interpersonal engagement. This is also the guiding principle of social media, to wit, sharing content is about the sharing not the content.

Finally, make people happy. Admittedly, this seems faddish, but it’s utterly serious, too. Social psychologists, macroeconomists and national governments the world over are trying to devise new metrics – measures beyond GDP – that add quality of life to economic outcomes. Maybe brands can’t improve someone’s overall sense of wellbeing, but brands can certainly do more than settle for customer satisfaction. Consumers are giving brands permission to tackle happiness, and so that’s what Coke, Zappo’s and UK retailer John Lewis are doing. Happy consumers make for loyal customers, not the other way around, a swap of priorities that defines the new zeitgeist of consumer connection.

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Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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