Brand development is one of my favourite areas of marketing and I enjoy watching brands come up with innovative ways to connect with their consumers. Brand development is a challenge for modern brands as often the vast majority of sales are made through retailers or online where it can be very difficult to establish consumer-brand relationships. I’ve been interested in watching how brands overcome these obstacles, and it seems that today more and more brands are beginning to embrace this particular issue and are developing effective strategies to address it. I’m going to unpack this issue in two parts – this article will ‘set the scene’, while the next will identify some examples of brands that have executed strategies to effectively drive consumer engagement.
Today’s consumer is undeniably more sophisticated than ever before. Technology has revolutionised the entire purchase process, from the consumer’s research and evaluation of a product right through to the mechanics of the actual purchase transaction. Because of this, brands have a whole new set of issues and barriers to achieving valuable brand engagement with their target consumers. Due to the chain a product flows through before it comes to market, many brands out there (particularly the large consumer product brands) aren’t selling directly to the consumer. Often brands are sold by the producer to marketing intermediaries who then on-sell the products to consumers via retailing. This often means that the producing organisations have very little opportunity to create their own brand ‘contact points’ directly with consumers.
So what does this mean? Despite all the changes that technology and the supply chain have brought about in the way marketing is carried out in the 21st century, the desired outcomes of both the brand and the consumer remain the same. Brands still want to establish deep connections with their consumers so as to generate sales, while consumers purchase products to satisfy their needs. Marketers and brand managers today are armed with a much deeper scientific understanding of how both brand engagement and consumer satisfaction is brought about. We have learned that the underlying motivations for purchasing a particular brand are closely aligned to a consumer’s psyche, where a brand is purchased to enable the person to become their ‘ideal self’. Consumers today are crying out for brands that help them become the person they aspire to be, and in many ways brands become essential building blocks to a person’s self image.
Therefore the challenge for brands today is this issue of ‘driving brand engagement downstream’ through the marketing chain. This isn’t easy to achieve because the brand messages can be diluted by wholesalers, distributors and retailers.
This is where innovative branding strategies come in. Major brands need to find ways to link their end consumers back to the brand from the point of sale through offering extra ‘augmented’ services to their core products. In order to capture the attention of consumers and engage them, companies need to get people interacting with their brands and provide extra value for doing so. The purchase is no longer the end game, with products being complemented by significant extras. These are often found online where consumers can log into online communities created by the brand, often via access details sold with the product. An example of this is HP’s product registration, where consumers enter the serial code on their computer to gain access to an online community, special warranties, product discounts and pre-releases. Brand relationships can be extended via other means also in the form of premium ongoing service and warranty support. Although strategies like this mean more investment on the part of the brand beyond the point of sale, smart brand managers realise that the fickle consumer of today needs to have this level of commitment shown to them before they reciprocate with repeat purchases and brand loyalty. Without the investment you simply cannot rely on people to engage with your brand solely from their purchase transaction.
The best way to demonstrate how brands are driving consumer engagement is through looking at examples. The second part of this article will look at three major brands in the sports market, and how they are adding value by driving consumers back to engage more closely with the brand. Stay tuned!