Earlier this year, The New Yorker published an article entitled "Twilight of the Brands," which posited that due to the abundance of information now available to consumers, brands are irrelevant. For all the die-hard brand marketers out there — myself included — it felt like a blow to the chest. But the analysis is flawed and the conclusion is erroneous because the abundance of information now available to consumers makes brands more — not less — relevant. Brands have always been a shortcut to decision-making, and in a world where consumers are increasingly overwhelmed with information, that role becomes even more important. But what has changed is the art and science of brand building. In the age of the customer, we see that:
Brand communications have shifted from controlled to chaotic. In the pre-digital world, marketers had the luxury of being able to control most of their customers’ interactions with their brands — through ads, packaging, POS, and carefully solicited PR editorial. But in today’s post-digital era, most of consumers’ information about a brand originates from sources outside of the brand’s control, such as user-generated content, ratings and reviews, or social chatter.
JetBlue built its brand on a new standard of in-flight customer experience when it launched in 1999. Guided by its brand North Star to “bring humanity back to air travel,” the fledgling airline offered beleaguered economy passengers better seats, better entertainment, better snacks, and an all-around better customer experience. JetBlue had the prescience to understand that customer experience is inextricably linked to brand experience.
Our TRUE brand compass research shows that JetBlue has established itself as a major airline brand with consumers but has not yet risen above the competitive pack. JetBlue ranks as a TRUE brand follower, alongside air transportation stalwarts like American Airlines and United Airlines. But will it rise to leader status? On the back of a couple of headline-grabbing passenger incidents, a recent USA Today article raised questions about whether this pioneer of a better airline customer experience has “Lost Its Heart.” For me, the question is not so much whether JetBlue has lost its heart but whether the brand has failed to keep pace with consumers’ rising expectations of brands. Does JetBlue still have the prescience to see what will build the airline brand of the future?
The chief marketing officer’s (CMO’s) role is shifting from a two-dimensional world of outbound marketing communications vehicles to a multidimensional world that encompasses every interaction a customer has with a brand. These CMOs must not only craft the perfect marketing communications message but also ensure that their customers’ experience is consistent with the brand promise.
Why does this matter? Because Forrester’s TRUE brand compass research shows that having a consistent experience across all brand touchpoints is a key driver of brand trust. For example, consumers tell us that both Microsoft and Amazon.com deliver a consistent experience every time they interact with those brands. This helps both brands secure high levels of brand trust, which in turn drives strong brand resonance.
To build a trusted brand, marketing leaders must ensure that brand messages sync with achievable expectations to deliver the brand promise. Many airlines now routinely offer a swift response to customers’ on-the-go travel needs via Twitter; this real-time travel support serves to enhance the brand experience. Delta sees the opportunity; the airline is investing more than $3 billion to enhance the customer experience in the air, on the ground and online.
Despite a recent lackluster earnings call, there’s a bright spot on the horizon for Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Forrester’s latest TRUE brand compass research shows a reservoir of consumer goodwill for the struggling brand.
In August 2013, Forrester conducted Consumer Technographics® research with 4,551 US online adults to uncover the drivers of a successful 21st-century media brand. This research is part of Forrester’s TRUE brand compass framework, designed to identify which brands are winning the battle for consumer mindshare and to help marketers build a brand that is trusted, remarkable, unmistakable, and essential (TRUE). This framework has two core components: 1) An overall TRUE brand compass ranking gives a snapshot of a brand’s resonance — the emotional connection a customer has with a brand, and 2) the TRUE brand compass scorecard reveals a brand’s progress along each of the four TRUE dimensions.
The results showed a tale of two digital media eras and the importance of brand building in the digital world:
1990s digital media brands reap the rewards of brand building investment. Established digital media brands from the late 1990s recognized the importance of building their brands with consumers. Yahoo was a TV ad mainstay for many years — “Do you Yahoo!” anyone? This early investment continues to pay off as, despite corporate turmoil, the Yahoo brand retains a reservoir of brand resonance with consumers. And the mighty Google, which was the only media brand surveyed to achieve trailblazer status, continues to invest in TV brand building ads.
As the opening of the 2014 Consumer Electronic Show (CES) dawned in Las Vegas, consumer technology firms pitched their innovation wares. Forrester’s latest TRUE brand compass research shows that innovation is a key to successfully building a sustainable consumer technology brand, but that innovation alone is not sufficient.
In August 2013, Forrester conducted Consumer Technographics® research with 4,551 US online adults to uncover the drivers of a successful 21st century consumer technology brand. This research is part of Forrester’s TRUE brand compass framework designed to identify which brands are winning the battle for consumer mindshare and to help marketers build a brand that is trusted, remarkable, unmistakable, and essential (TRUE). This framework has two core components: 1) An overall TRUE brand compass ranking gives a snapshot of a brand’s resonance — the emotional connection a customer has with a brand, and 2) the TRUE brand compass scorecard reveals a brand’s progress along each of the four TRUE dimensions.
In a surprise upset, Microsoft trumped Apple and Samsung in the TRUE brand rankings. In fact, Microsoft was the only brand in the survey to achieve the coveted trailblazer status— indicating that the Microsoft brand is “at the forefront of brand building with a unique and distinct brand identity that sets it apart from other brands.” Both Apple and Samsung achieved leader status.
The power of celebrity is like catnip for marketers. Celebrity or athletic association adds an aspirational edge through outright paid endorsement or coveted “as seen on” editorial placement. In the world of beauty, brands from Cover Girl to L’Oreal add a sheen of glamour to their brands through celebrity spokesmodels. In the field of sports marketing, brands from Nike to Gatorade borrow equity from high-powered athletes to bolster their athletic credentials. And in retail, mass retailers from Macy’s to Sears offer eponymous product lines from celebrities as diverse as Sean Combs to the ubiquitous Kardashians. Q scores are tracked, contracts are negotiated, and millions of dollars exchange hands. But is it worth it?
If you ask consumers how important celebrity endorsement is to their brand selection, most will vehemently deny it. In fact, our North American Consumer Technographics® data shows that only 19% of consumers rate celebrity or athlete endorsement as important when picking a brand. But most people will probably tell you that advertising doesn’t affect them either. So we decided to dig a little deeper. Forrester conducted a driver analysis in the big-box retail category to identify which category attributes and behaviors have the most meaningful impact on key outcomes like being a more trusted or essential brand. Our research showed that in big-box retail, celebrity or athletic endorsement:
Earlier this summer, I attended an Experian marketing conference in Las Vegas, where I was rather surprised to see WWE champ John Cena on the agenda. Intrigued, I stuck around for his late afternoon session to see what he had to say. I’m glad I did. It turns out John Cena is a great brand builder. This Massachusetts-born native is a $100 million brand with 5.3 million Twitter followers and more than 15 million Facebook fans — just behind Kobe Bryant at 16 million. What’s his secret? Here are three brand-building lessons from John Cena:
Be customer-obsessed. Forrester believes that in the 21st century, the single source of competitive advantage is to be customer-obsessed. Cena gets this. He understands that his brand is only as strong as his relationship with his fans. And he takes that responsibility seriously. Cena claims you won’t find pictures of him at a Miami club, surrounded by a bevy of scantily clad women. His tweets depict his clean-cut image and are PG-appropriate.
Guide your journey with a clear North Star. Leading brands guide their brand, messaging, products, and organization by the light of their North Star — that core brand essence. Oreo’s North Star is to “celebrate childhood.” Cena guides his career with the mantra “hustle, loyalty, and respect.”
Build a trusted brand. Cena is trusted by his fans because he is authentic and passionate about who he is and what he does. As he commented, “you have to be authentic, even when you are falling down in a fake fight in a fake universe.”
Marketers have long relied on brand health trackers to take the consumer pulse of their brand-- to measure brand awareness, consideration and purchase intent. But with so many customers’ opinions now readily available through social chatter, are these entrenched and expensive budget line items still necessary?
Not so fast. Today’s brand measurement world is more complex than ever. Consumer behavior is changing rapidly and marketers have gone from data famine to feast. Today’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) needs trusted advisors to help her turn mountains of data into actionable insights. Forrester has identified three core disciplines of brand measurement to help marketing leaders navigate this complex landscape. These three disciplines are:
Brand equity reveals what people feel about your brand. Evaluating brand equity helps CMOs understand how consumers perceive a brand, without consideration for brand usage. What does the brand stand for in the eyes of a consumer?
Brand health quantifies the strength of a brand in the marketplace. Measuring brand health helps CMOs understand the relationship between how consumers perceive a brand and how that manifests itself in the marketplace relative to competition.
Brand value quantifies a brand as a financial asset. Quantifying brand value helps chief financial officers (CFOs) understand the financial value of a brand to a corporation. It is most commonly used for financial reporting to define goodwill, the value of an acquisition, or the appropriate price for licensing.
We live in a world filled with technology-empowered consumers who have access to more information on brands than ever before. Armed with this information, they are telling brands where, when, and how they want to engage. This new world has sent marketers and the brand’s they support into a tailspin — they are losing control of their brand message and are losing trust with consumers. My colleagues Tracy Stokes, Chelsea Hammond, and I have developed a framework that helps marketers stop their free fall and chart a new course for their brand to win mindshare and market share in this new world. We call it the TRUE Brand Compass Framework.
In this framework, we take the stance that for marketers to succeed in building a 21st century brand, they need to focus on a new set of metrics that capture brand resonance. Professor Kevin Lane Keller perfectly states what brand resonance is: “where customers feel a connection or sense of community with the brand and they would miss it if it went away.” In our research and advanced analytics on brand resonance, we identified four key dimensions that each significantly influence brand resonance. These four dimensions are TRUE: trusted, remarkable, unmistakable, and essential.