The fundamental task of a business is to create and keep a customer sustainably and at an acceptable return to the shareholder.
Any business organisation seeking to make an impact with its products and services needs to recognise this central truth. By this realisation, it is clear that the customer remains the single most important aspect of how businesses or organisations thrive.
The overall process of developing products or services, tailoring it specifically to serve a particular need for a particular set of people or customers, form the basis of the entire brand building process in marketing.
When marketers talk of the product adoption process of awareness, interest, evaluation, trial and adoption, what they are essentially referring to is how to mobilise customers around a singular idea.
This process of attracting customers towards a product or service so they can patronise and do so consistently is the foundation of branding. The digital age, exacerbated by the pandemic, has even done more to transform the way customers interact with brands and what brands must do to get ahead of the game.
What is a brand?
A brand is a vehicle of mobilisation. Anything that seeks to attract or mobilise people towards a grand idea of transformation qualifies as a brand. At its core, a brand seeks to create strong connections and engagements with its audience over a sustainable period of time. The world is full of brands of all kinds, across different forms because humanity was made for connections and relationships. The brand and the process of brand building are the major engines of marketing activity, which has a goal of creating sustained competitive advantage through differentiation. The brand building process considers these three stages – segmentation (grouping customers in clusters in relation to age, demographics or psychographics), targeting (choosing a customer class which is relevant for the objective of the brand) and positioning (how the brand will speak and argue out its points of differentiation) in its execution.
The new age for brands
We live in an age where brands have a hard time mobilising and attracting customers. The digital age has changed everything. It has transformed how to reach customers with your products and services. It has created a new set of unique audiences that have amassed a great deal of following on social media and are using opinions about brands more forcefully than relying on facts. Today it takes approximately 0.05 seconds for someone to form an opinion about your brand. Fifty per cent of people follow 1 to 4 brands on social media while it takes between five to seven interactions for a customer to remember a brand. Averagely, a customer has more than four social media accounts at any given time. This is staggering.
How does a brand stand out in such a complex and dynamic age where old prejudices have been thrown out of the window? The power of technology and its transformative tenets are changing the way we view brands. Thirty or 40 years ago, brands spoke to you without a way of you speaking back or sharing your opinion. The promotion, the communications and points of difference a brand makes were handed down to the customer to embrace and accept without an avenue to interact. Today, customers are dictating the direction of brands. They own the conversation with their large followings on social media. The conversations about brands begin online; in most cases organisations are even the last to join in the conversation and are always playing catch up. Customers can no longer be taken for granted. Marketers are faced with an arduous task of being anticipatory, results oriented and always focused on nothing but a commitment to the bespoke needs of the customer.
Winning in the digital age
It is important to understand that the digital age presents enormous opportunities to fortify your brand and successfully amass a following that is consistent and innovative. Brands must be consistent in their points of difference more than ever before. In an age where opinion trumps facts, where a simple rant on social media can lead to chaos and reputational damage, brands must learn to be consistent in their offerings. Brands will be ineffective if they can no longer embrace the context of their customers or speak their language. Beyond the search for profitability and meeting targets, brands must become advocates for the key issues confronting the society, environment and communities in which their customers live and work. At any point in time, the competition for attention and prominence skyrockets; brands must be willing to invest in resources and infrastructure to track, monitor and engage in the trends that are emerging on social media.
The digital age thrives on technology as a platform for performance and consistency but ultimately it is about people. The people are your customers and marketers must ensure that they do not forget the focus of their marketing activity. A great philosopher once said: "Only the people make history" and for brands to have resonance, the people element cannot be eliminated. There is a plethora of data analytics and social intelligence tools available to help brands know what consumers do and say online for better listening, strategic decisions and innovation to win in the marketplace.
Points for brands to ponder about
• A brand should talk less about itself and talk more about the lives of people.
• A brand should love the things people love and reflect lifestyle and tastes of its people.
• A brand should speak like people. Not like a brand.
• A brand should get in on the conversation. Be part of the trends.
• A brand should have an opinion.
• A brand should also reflect the target audience for which it plans to attract and retain, including their mistakes and imperfections.
• A brand should also reflect the organisation first. A brand should be seen/felt among employees.
Brands must constantly evolve, remain sharp and relevant, not dogmatic. A brand must decide what it wants to be and maintain that integrity throughout the brand journey. Branding is a process, not an event. It is premature to say you have finished building a brand. It is an evolutionary process that is dynamic and transformative. It is a dialogue, not a monologue and marketers must always remain in touch with customers to remain top of mind.