Early in my career, one of my clients told me that the role of brand marketing was to condition demand in the market for one brand over the other brands that it competes with. That struck me as a rather simple yet elegant position. Effective marketing continually builds and re-enforces the associations, feelings, and memories about a brand for consumers, and that in turn increases the probability of consumers picking that brand when it is time for that consumer to buy or use a product. This is more than a statement of belief; we see the relationship between consumer perceptions of great advertising and brand affinity to remain very strong (based on 16525 global brands r=0.68).
But if that is the case, why is it that brands are having such a hard time finding paths to growth? Putting the brands with not so great advertising aside, why don’t we see more brands growing? This is source of much debate as we continue to see examples of established, mature brands that are maintaining their associations on consumer attitudes but are not successfully translating those associations into consumer behaviors. “I love this brand but I buy something else.” How can we help brands create a mutually reinforcing set of attitudes and behaviors to bridge this disconnect? Or as many of my clients ask, is branding less important now than it was in the past?
Part of the answer lies in recognizing that the environment in which brands operate is more complicated, and may interfere with the ability of brand marketing to drive growth. We see direct to consumer channels with the benefits of convenience and personalization that come from being a member of Amazon Prime or beer and wine of the month clubs. We see a wider set of product choices from both private label and craft brands that often provide both better functioning products and are associated with relevant cultural trends. We see easy and immediate access to information online about product performance.
However, while the environment is more complicated this should not lead marketers to conclude that brand marketing is less important. On the contrary, we maintain it’s more important than ever before. Without re-enforcing positive associations and brand memories, consumers would be even more disconnected from predisposition and we would see consumer behaviors change further and faster than they are already. But the importance is well beyond maintenance and stemming declines. Consider some of the brands we see growing the most in value in their respective categories. Amazon, Domino’s, Netflix, Tesla, Burger King, … the common glue behind the growth for these brands is the ability to deliver a meaningful difference to consumers. There is not one route to establishing this perception among consumers, but all have found ways to do so and to re-establish the set of mutually re-enforcing attitudes and behaviors. That is the challenge brands must embrace today. It’s the same first principles, but brands need to think widely and creatively on how to turn those principles into strategies for growth.