Multi-dimensional Branding Comes of Ageby Courtney Albert
Age, gender, lifestyle interests and geography as well as social and economic influences all guide consumer brand preferences. However, a brand's ability to deliver on expectations (realistic or not) will either reinforce or undermine brand confidence and efforts. From the lure of a store window, prompt from an email, passing online comment or reminder through print, all the way to checkout, the entire retail experience is about participation: an open invitation for consumers to connect -- to experience, collaborate and discover.
However, this state comes with a lot of consequences – "noise" and distractions – a brand's messaging must successfully reach, penetrate and endure. Many retail brands have realized they can no longer talk at consumers and especially cannot only provide one message. Instead, a brand must engage consumers and deliver an experience specifically designed and produced from beginning to end. A good or great experience makes consumers – and often their social networks – more committed to a brand, while a bad experience can quickly become a public outcry and result in tearing down of the brand. Delivering a unique and differentiated experience requires mastery, precision and discipline with a heavy dose of creativity and originality.
Multi-dimensional brand management requires a constant and active leadership approach that impacts the whole organization and subsequently extends to stakeholders, employees and consumers. Time and time again, we hear and read about the importance of delivering a consistent brand experience. Employees are trained on this basis and this is the primary message delivered to consumers. This objective, however, only conveys part of the story. Consumer behavior is not consistent and consumers increasingly shape brands and messaging. Consumers are disruptive, for better and for worse, and it is imperative that retailers answer appropriately. Understanding this new context evolves the relationship between business and consumers. In truth, today's branding strategies rely heavily upon a new way of thinking and more holistic execution, something in short supply within larger businesses typically characterized by hierarchies, silos and glacier-paced decisions. Having a brand strategy in place does not mean you have the right one, and all too often businesses take a fragmented approach to branding. With ever increasing competition and market complexity for brands and retailers alike, the search for complementary business strategies and capabilities requires creating a clear, strong and differentiated brand. In this Point of View, we will explore three focuses -- design, media and technology – retailers have weaved together to achieve multi-dimensional branding.
By Design: New Dimensions in Consumer Experience
In a traditional model the buying path was simple. When faced with a purchasing decision, a consumer typically started with familiar brands. He or she would then create a shortlist based on familiarity and chose a brand based on price or proximity, which equaled purchase. To even be included in the initial consideration, a brand had to make sure the consumer was even aware of the brand before the decision-making process commenced. This practice of purchasing based on name (or brand) recognition has changed. Now, consumers follow a more complex path, where brands are added and subtracted at varying stages, culminating to purchase. It is somewhat of a "spaghetti ball" and is heavily weighted by research, influence and perception. This development has also allowed lesser-known brands to not only aggressively compete, but to develop cult-like followings.
Branding is no longer squarely built upon a logo, packaging, store signage and window displays. Nor is it just focused on producing the right commercial, radio campaign, two page print ad or website banner. It has shifted to include elements traditionally reserved for luxury brands, signaling the increase of consumer expectations, including sustainability, exclusivity and innovation. Branding is about creating an entire experience: emotionally, physically and intellectually. A brand's standing should enable consumers to sense and experience the company's vision, strategy and positioning. Without seeing any previous advertising, a consumer's first impression and perception strongly aligns with the brand's character. This translates into creating unique spaces (online and offline) that symbolize every part of the brand, from the level of expected quality to the ideal consumer. A precisely designed environment with spaces and channels that skillfully present the brand in all its facets deepens trust: it can be grasped and felt.
Multi Media: Digitally Directing the Brand
Consumers live in a seamless world where online and offline experiences enhance perceptions. For example, consumers can browse assortments from their smartphones and linked apps; check product availability; pull up reviews and compare prices; arrange for delivery or store pick-up; scan for discounts and / or payment options; and address customer service issues. Facilitated by an explosion of global markets and social chatter, consumers and retailers co-promote and co-maintain brands and – in more inventive cases – co-create brands. Consumers move across categories, price points and channels; consequently, this means the number of potential touchpoints or connections that consumers have with a brand can make or break a brand's identity.
Digital is no longer a nice "extra," it is a compulsory brand extension and remains a critical platform for connecting and conversing with consumers. Digital makes the purchasing pathway less linear and has reshaped consumers' expectations over time. Social networks, forums and blogs have fundamentally changed brands and branding; digital has changed this by facilitating a never-ending stream of information, including: reviews, opinions, feedback, gossip and experiences. And this lively digital discourse cannot be stopped – consumers can influence a brand's cachet at any stage, behaving or acting as an advocate or naysayer. Retailers will always inevitably have to deal with unexpected criticisms, but should also focus on collecting positive brand messaging consumers generate for a brand. Likewise, they must understand this new context evolves the relationship between retailers and consumers. More importantly, if left alone, consumers will create digital platforms and "voice" with or without the brand's approval.
Technical Frontiers: 3D Branding
3D brands bring it all together: when the brand's identity enables consumers to sense and experience the brand's vision, strategy and positioning, while at the same time maintaining a constant and evolving conversation within the market. 3D branding leaves a mental imprint of the brand, be it a novel online model, an innovative retail store concept or the interior design of a retailer's headquarters. The lynchpin in this notion is technology.
The hardship is that technology offerings are vast and progressing at an astonishing rate. Even more challenging are the time, cost and resource impacts associated with implementing and supporting systems. For many brands, it can be difficult to not only find the right fit, but to harness and cultivate the right solution. Successful 3D brands have found ways to incorporate, and in many cases re-purpose, tech offerings that not only provide critical customer experience feedback but are also appealing and non-intimidating. To truly master the concept of 3D branding, retailers must find ways to evolve and innovate, while maintaining the vital elements of design and digital media to support and manage the customer experience.
Many traditional brand management philosophies have little place in today's world and lack the vision and flexibility to make a substantial impact. Centralized "command and control" structures and models have given way to more flexible and responsive approaches, incorporating design, media and technological aspects. Brands are "alive" and must be connected to its customers' need and whims, sometimes before the customer realizes what those are.
At The Parker Avery Group we believe a focused and managed brand provides the momentum retailers need in the world. From creating a clear leadership story within the organization to creating an outstanding consumer experience, a strong brand can break away from the pack, propel through existing and new competitors, reduce the complexity of decision-making and truly focus on a brand's unique definition of success.
Ultimately a brand strategy is the business strategy.
If you’d like to learn more about our vision or understand how you might take advantage of this strategy, contact us or call 770.882.2205.