The Switch: Brand communications — the game that keeps changing
by Alistair Mokoena (@AlistairMokoena) The other day I stumbled upon a campaign brief I wrote in 2000 when I was a brand manager at Unilever. Just to see how much marketing has evolved in the last 16 years, I decided to compare it to a brief I recently received from a brand manager. The difference is massive.
Most of these changes are driven by shifts in how consumers interact with brands and brand communications. The world has become a real village. We are all connected. We consume the same stimuli. Social constructs that used to define us, such as class, status, income, age and origin, no longer do so. Anybody anywhere in the world sees the same stuff, thanks to the internet.
Implication for marketers
The implication for marketers is that everyone, regardless of income levels, demands the highest quality and the widest variety at the best value. Thank goodness the era of using cheap, simplistic, patronising and intellectually bankrupt advertising to target low-income consumers is gone. All human beings deserve to be taken seriously and treated with respect.
Consumers are now active participants in brand communications. Ten years ago, brand communications was a one-way communication process with brands doing all the talking and consumers all the listening. And, if consumers had something to say, they would write a letter of complaint or send a stinking email.
Now there’s a new social-media-enabled hobby called consumer journalism. Not only do consumers interrogate the authenticity of brands, question the credibility of their promises, investigate incidents of consumer disappointment and hold brands accountable for trampling consumers’ rights, they have also taken it upon themselves to respond to brands by bastardising campaigns. You don’t need to go to advertising school to exercise your freedom of expression, they argue. We as ad people now find ourselves thinking twice before we make brand claims and promises because we are well aware of the possibility of having our copy twisted and our images photoshopped to serve an agenda not of our making.
Consumers have a voice
Consumers have a voice and they will use your execution or your brand to make that voice heard.
There’s no such thing as monogamous brand-consumer relationships. No brand can own a consumer and no consumer is blindly loyal to any one brand. Yes, it’s possible to have a primary brand that you go to most of the time but we all dabble and try other brands for reasons such as boredom, price, availability, convenience, etc.
Research has shown that every consumer has a repertoire of at least three brands. What does this mean for marketers? For starters, we can all start forecasting sales a little better. Instead of assuming that we will get 100% share of consumption from a consumer, we should probably aim for anything between 33% and 66% of consumption. This also has implications for how we hunt for volume. We have to target broadly when communicating and activating. The only context that requires a narrow approach is brand definition or brand positioning.
Significant shift in thinking
Briefs are now asking us to prioritise the recruitment of new users over the retention of loyal users. This represents a significant shift in thinking. Over time, marketers have come to realise that their best chance of driving brand growth is through constantly recruiting new users and not through encouraging binge consumption among loyal consumers. There are two main reasons for this. First, all brands suffer from the “leaking bucket” syndrome; in other words, all brands experience churn and therefore have to constantly recruit new users. The second reason is that there is only so much extra usage or consumption that can come from loyal consumers. In economics, we call this a point of satiety or a point of full satisfaction, beyond which one experiences diminishing returns.
For the longest time, marketing was criticised for its lack of measurability, accountability and perceived wastefulness. Now, thanks to digital marketing, we have concepts such as performance marketing, which some people have accused of having too many measurables. The trick is not to track everything but to decide which measures are most critical. The same applies to big data. Some data points carry more weight than others; ours is to connect data points that tell the most interesting and most-incisive story.
Change is generally uncomfortable and massive change is traumatic. Unless we pause to acknowledge the seismic changes that have hit and continue to redefine our beloved profession, we will not work out why our jobs are so challenging. Cut yourself some slack.
Alistair Mokoena (@AlistairMokoena) is a Unilever-trained chartered marketer with lots of blue-chip marketing experience who switched from client- to agency side at the end of 2012 and is currently MD of Ogilvy & Mather Johannesburg. One of his favourite pastimes is driving around in the bush, photographing wildlife. He contributes the monthly “The Switch” column, covering relationships inside agencies and between agencies and clients, to MarkLives.com.
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