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.
At Forrester’s recent Marketing Forum in San Francisco, it was my pleasure to introduce Deborah Conrad, Intel VP and CMO, ahead of her keynote. Deborah shared her experiences about transforming the 20-year-old PC-oriented Intel “Inside” brand into the Intel “Every-Ware” brand, which is relevant in a world with a proliferation of devices and consumers of technology.
As I listened to her keynote before joining her back onstage for Q/A, she shared many great examples, stories, and lessons. However, three important insights left a lasting impression in my mind and are relevant for all technology marketers, regardless of company size, technology category, or marketing budget.
1. It’s about the experience. Intel realized that it was no longer about what the chip does but about the experience it creates for the user. This is an important lesson for all technology marketers, who, as a collective industry, have historically marketed technology innovation or the latest and greatest features and functions, not the experience generated by the technology or solution. We can borrow a page from our colleagues in B2C marketing — such as BMW marketing “The Ultimate Driving Machine” and the experience associated with it, not marketing horsepower, torque, and braking distances.
Ever wonder why most digital interactions fail to engage users? In part, it’s because users can’t easily decipher who they’re dealing with. Instead of actively developing unique experiences that support how they want their brands to be perceived, companies chase features and functions that others have implemented. At best, the result is bland cookie-cutter experiences that leave users uninspired. At worst, brands can seem downright schizophrenic to users who get unpredictable experiences as they move from channel to channel.
It’s not easy to create a strong emotional bond through an interface because it’s difficult for users to see the people behind digital interaction points. Instead, they see a mere screen or a system. But people are far more predisposed to creating connections with other people than they are with an interface. That’s why firms need to pay attention to the brand personality they’re trying to convey and make their digital experiences feel more human. Of course, the solution isn’t just to plaster your website with happy faces or buzzwords. Instead, firms can take a more systematic approach and follow the principles of Forrester’s Emotional Experience Design framework. Here are a couple of ways for firms to establish brand personality:
Match visual designs across channels so that users can easily recognize the brand as they cross interaction points.
Keep in sync with the brand attributes that they want people to associate with them by creating content that conveys brand messages and by crafting the right voice to further convey those messages.
Adopt a human tone that lands in the right place in between robotic, just-the-facts approaches and overdone marketing speak that comes off as fake.