I love watching the annual Academy Awards — not only for the fashion show and blunders exposed on live TV but also to learn about how content resonates with audiences today and how cinema is evolving. In a world where people frequently face information overload and crave smaller bites (and bytes) of content, I’ve often wondered, what is the fate of the full-length film?
Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data reveals a curious story: Rather than reaching any type of saturation point, US consumers’ media appetite is growing rapidly: 93% of online adults frequently watch video today, more than 10 percentage points higher than two years ago. And their often-criticized waning attention span is not deterring consumers from sitting through full-length films; in fact, movie viewership is on the rise. However, our data shows that the viewing experience is changing: Movie watching is getting more personal as consumers increasingly turn to their home devices instead of going to the movie theater.
B2B brand management has come a long way from its roots in consumer packaged goods and has gradually branched out to play an equally central role in B2B markets. B2B CMOs are just as invested in bettering their brands as B2C. No longer relegated to industry rags and trade shows, B2B marketing is entering a new age, with firms like CA Technologies, General Electric, and IBM in the vanguard. At a Forrester event, General Electric CMO Linda Boff remarked that GE is often the first brand —not just the first B2B brand —on platforms like Pinterest, Snapchat, and Vine.
But are most B2B brands successful in following in the footsteps of these trail blazers? Forrester research with over 1,000 B2B and B2C decision-makers reveals mixed results. Here's the good news: B2B CMOs include Brand in their top three priorities and consider Brand Management to be the strongest skill set in the department. But here's where it gets ugly: 25% of B2B CMOs consider Brand Awareness an important marketing metric; only 15% believe Brand Equity is important.
This chasm between awareness and equity, which also exists for B2C brands, can prove particularly vexing and stubborn for B2B because of some commonly held misconceptions:
Brand matters more for B2C (a lingering notion despite being soundly dispelled)
The role of brand (in a traditional sales-driven culture) is to drive awareness and fill the mouth of the funnel (the reality points to a vital role in securing choice and loyalty)
Brand Equity is amorphous, eludes specification, and hence best avoided (there exist many robust quantitatively-specified equity models)
There are plenty of good brands. And some great ones. But few can arouse the intensity of emotions that make them inseparable. Brands achieve resonance at the point of inflection where the interaction transforms from transaction to relationship. And like any relationship, resonance occurs in intensifying layers, with the best brands being able to trigger an enduring and self-amplifying relationship.
Patagonia has practically written the book on how to do this right. Newer brands like Spanx and Dollar Shave Club have built a loyal following by rewriting the rules. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and CrossFit have built communities that thrive on shared experiences. And “legacy” brands like USAA and Delta Air Lines have effectively engaged their communities to strengthen their bond.
If you deliver a great customer experience, you’re halfway to building an amazing brand. Now, ramp up on emotional connections — they are much stickier than functional excellence.
An engaged community will do the heavy lifting around building brand and salience for you — if you give them a reason to. Create the right environment and the context for your brand communities to thrive.
Black Friday approaches. I should be breathless with anticipation. You see, I’m a brand strategist. To me, the prospect of millions of people reveling in thousands of brands and turning the bottom line from red to black is brand nirvana. It’s like Christmas came early. Which it does, in a way, on Black Friday.
Yet, the tendrils of self-doubt infiltrate my exuberance. Must a weekend so treasured for time spent with friends and family be ruined by being pepper-sprayed at Walmart, by being gored in the Pamplona bull run down the aisles at Best Buy to save 50 bucks on a TV I don’t need? Do we really need to spend any more time glued to our devices buying more clutter?
Maybe you feel this way, and maybe you don’t. But you would expect brands to be cheerleaders for Black Friday, right? Wrong.
Black Friday 2011: Patagonia buys a full-page ad in the New York Times and instructs readers not to buy its jackets. That’s right, they pay good money to tell folks not to buy their stuff. Citing the “astonishing” environmental cost of making jackets, they encourage people to reuse and recycle. Fast forward to Black Friday 2016. This year, Patagonia is donating 100% of Black Friday sales to grass roots organizations "working to create positive change for the planet in their own backyards." Yes, you did read that correctly. 100%. And sales, not profit.
Black Friday, 2015: REI decides to remain closed that day and give all its employees a paid day off. No, their P&L does not self-combust. Instead, they choose to close shop again for Black Friday 2016. REI’s CEO says that this “reinforces both REI’s culture with employees and the message that resonates with the company’s core customer base.” About 2 million people plan to #OptOutside with REI.
A powerful brand not only has to be extremely relevant to prospects, it has to make itself an invaluable and inextricable part of customers' lives as well. In the recent Forrester report called Navigate Your Brand To Resonance: Four Milestones To Brand Building, I outline a road map for CMOs with four clear stops, from salience to resonance, on the road to building a powerful brand. This journey is a must-take road trip for CMOs looking to assess the state of their brand and craft a strategy for taking it to the next step. The milestones are shown in the figure below:
The roadmap traces a deepening connection between brand and consumer built on a foundation of customer-obsessed experience delivery and powerful emotional connections. Good brands succeed in being salient, inducing trial, creating memorable experiences, and forming emotional bonds. Amazing brands do more – they energize the entire brand-consumer relationship in a way that creates a resonant and enduring bond. Brands that achieve this resonance are twice blessed - they reap the rewards of loyalty with existing customers and also set in motion a powerful recommendation engine which feeds the awareness and salience funnel. As Forrester research has consistently shown, word of mouth and recommendations are far more credible than brand-generated paid and earned media.
In the report, I provide several best practices of brands on this journey from salience to resonance; here are a few:
This general election season, as the two major candidates for the United States presidency vie for supremacy in the Rust Belt, the rhetoric on job growth is hot and heavy. Much of the polemic is directed against corporations fleeing offshore in search of cheaper labor, and remedies lean toward cracking down on these companies, penalizing them for leaving. What if, instead, companies wanted to manufacture in the US? What if companies built strong American brands that commanded premium pricing to offset the cost disadvantage? What if branding could make America great again?
Baseball and Apple Pie Never Looked This Good Before
The best brands create and sustain themes of resonance. There is no one-size-fits-all panacea; some of the best emerging brands have dramtically changed the conversation between brands and their audiences. One of the shifts in the conversation has been from bigger is better to small is beautiful. The hipster holy trinity of local, artisanal, and small batch has gone mainstream. Take beer for example – local microbrews now proliferate grocery and convenience store shelves, forcing an embittered Budweiser to launch a baffling campaign lauding itself as a “macro beer.”
Here are three brands that trumpet their made-in-America story as vital ingredients of their brand personality:
Allen Edmonds couples a rich heritage with an updated offering that is as relevant to millennials as it is to “suits.” 100 sets of American hands caress the leather on its 212-step journey to footwear bliss.
American Giant makes what Slate calls “the greatest sweatshirt known to man” in the United States, choosing to limit spend on distribution and marketing and focusing on the product. The result: "Great product, made here, sold at prices that make sense."
Wally Ollins, of Wolf Ollins fame and a legend of sorts in the branding world, didn’t look too kindly upon brand measurement. "There are too many people," he said "... who are fed the rubbish that if you can't analyze it - if you can't chew it up into numbers - it doesn't exist." Not one to mince words, he continued, "I deeply reject all that and find it to be a contemporary version of witchcraft." It's hard to argue with Wally; somewhere along the way doctrine and data have dulled the notion that brand is, to quote JetBlue's CEO, "the way we feel."
The Inevitability Of Measurement
David Aaker is a legend of sorts as well in the branding world, and a lot of his work centers on brand equity. David writes of brand as an asset. And as an asset, it is must withstand financial scrutiny and ROI justification. CMOs may know it in their hearts, but CEOs and CFOs must see it on paper. That leaves us with the unenviable task of calculating the incalculable. Many have rushed forward to meet this challenge. I describe various measurement techniques in detail in my new report for Forrester clients: Branding Never Sleeps; a brief summary appears below.
Four Measurement Streams
The nitty gritty of brand performance is relatively easy to measure using survey, operational, and transactional data
Near-real time brandsentiment can be captured by social listening, although skewed samples and lack of established frameworks muddy the water
Perception can be surveyed, but traditional ask-and-tell tracking of emotions is fraught with problems; neuromarketing offers some emerging and exciting avenues
It's not about whether brands have value. It's about how to manage the value.
Twilight Of The Brands
In early 2014, our profession faced an existential crisis. The end was near, said James Surowiecki, in his New Yorker article, "Twilight Of The Brands." Look at Lululemon, he cried. The cult-like athletic wear brand was reeling from product failure and leadership indelicacies. And he referenced new research that said consumers were "supremely well informed," and did not need to "rely on logos" to determine value.
In The Pink Of Health
Turns out Surowiecki wasn't so well informed after all:
More is not better. It is true that the digital age brings with it more information about brands. More than many would care for, really. And therein lies the rub – this tsunami without filter or curation does little to clarify and more to confuse.
Brands signify more than information. The idea of brand as a signal of value is valid, although simplistic. More information may bridge quality and trustworthiness gaps, but a brand is much more. It conveys an emotional connection. Information plays no role in sipping a Coke or running in Nike.
Marketers are always falling in love with mobile’s latest “shiny new object” and new technology acronyms — 5G, BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), NFC (near-field communication), RWD (responsive web design), etc. — and they’re constantly looking for the next platform, whether it’s virtual reality (VR), bots, artificial intelligence (AI), or the internet of things (IoT).
However, it is time to stop this quixotic quest for a paradigmatic new platform to replace mobile! Instead, recognize that mobile will activate these adjacent technologies to enable new brand experiences.
Over the past decade, smartphones have become a sort of black hole, integrating a huge array of sensors, but mobile is now exploding back out to our environments. Sensors and connectivity are expanding beyond smartphones to our wrists, bodies, cars, TVs, and washing machines as well as to buildings and “invisible” places in the world around us. The IoT is generating tectonic shifts among digital platforms and tech vendors, signaling a new wave of disruption, and unleashing new forms of competition.
The IoT is also redefining brand engagement by enabling marketers to:
Listen to their customers and analyze their real behaviors.
Create more frequent and intimate consumer interactions.
Peter O’Neill here with some comments about being truly effective at content marketing. Did you know that B2B buyers say that 70% of the content they read and study before making a purchase decision is actually found by themselves; as opposed to being given to them by marketing or sales? At Forrester, we like to talk about the new interaction model of need-match-engage, where the buyers now initiate the interaction and spend a major part of their buyer journey doing their own research before calling in potential suppliers.
Content marketing has therefore become much more than product and solutions collateral, campaigns, mailings, and fulfillment. B2B marketers have to be great at being found by buyers in their early research phase (the phases we call discover and explore). In a way, successful marketers will “fool” their buyers into consuming their thought-leadership and educational content in stages 1 through 5 — while hardly realizing its source. And the most successful marketers will learn how to mix their brand "scent" into that content without appearing to be selling — to the extent that buyers will count it as part of their 70%.