Monday, October 23, 2017

The Strategic Significance of Brands

 

Achieving brand relevance is a strategic task that, by its very nature, is never complete in the volatile markets of our rapidly changing societies. Each and every day more brands enter the marketplace. Ironically, as their numbers increase, there are fewer and fewer brands that really stand for anything significant in the minds of the public.

For years, the holy grails of strategic brand management have been (i) carving out a niche in the marketplace, (ii) achieving brand differentiation, and (iii) keeping the brand in front of its target audiences. While these fundamental differentiation strategies are still necessary, they are no longer sufficient to create a famous, valuable, nor, most importantly, a relevant brand.

With this geometric proliferation of increasingly meaningless brands in the marketplace, how can a brand establish its relevance? Simply put, in a world of too many brands for human cognition to make sense of, a successful brand needs to stand for something that actually matters.

Achieving Brand Relevance

Achieving brand relevance is about keeping the brand current in the marketplace, and linked, at the macro level, to its times. While that may seem simple enough, it is really quite difficult to establish and maintain such a balance in the rush of commerce.

The brand proliferation that began at the end of the 1990s, changed the rules for effective marketing strategies, requiring more that the usual gain in short-term brand awareness accomplished through the repetition of marketing messages. While still of tactical importance, merely keeping the brand in front of its target audience does little to ensure that the brand has a freshness about it or a positive significance.

As businesses, nonprofits, and governmental entities alike are embracing branding and spending more money on marketing, their brand messages need to become more complex and orchestrated to carry more meaning and to establish effective brand relevance. The traditional strategies of repetition are inadequate of themselves to create either the “authentic newness” or the “individual meaningfulness” that are the hallmarks of contemporary brand relevance.

“Authentic Newness”

Being positively new and fresh is a fundamental aspect of successfully establishing brand relevance. In most industries, brand strategists work to achieve newness by generating news, promoting their goods, extending their existing offerings to create variety, entering new markets, and through the introduction of new products and services.

These strategies remain effective to relieve the monotony of a fixed identity by introducing various degrees of new meaning. However, to deliver relevance they must be deployed authentically and with sincerity.

In many cases, customers and consumers have become too sophisticated to accept a new color, shape, feature, size or flavor as “new.” They have seen it before, ad nauseam, across all industries and in every category. Often, the traditional strategies for looking new are now widely recognized as “marketing ploys,” and thus they have lost their magic to entice consumption.

Authentic “newness” is a function of legitimate change and invention. A brand is seen as “new,” and therefore relevant, only when it delivers an innovative new presence to the marketplace. Without this it lacks the authenticity required to make it truly new. To be new in this sense, a product or service must have a real reason for being in the marketplace, distinct from the needless proliferation of marginally new entries endlessly deployed simply to drive incremental sales. In short, to do something new, novel, modern, original, fresh, and different is to advance an authentic innovation into the marketplace.

“Individual Meaningfulness”

“Meaningfulness” arises from marketing communications that have legitimacy and importance for the target audience.

Legitimate messages are not those characterized by repetition or those that are undertaken for purely marketing purposes. Rather, today’s legitimate messages actually inform, educate, and communicate on matters of importance. For example, they are communications that introduce and articulate new technology, evidence social responsibility, or demonstrate the sincere furtherance of non-commercial objectives by an enterprise. Such marketing communications contribute to establishing brand relevance.

Thus, communications from relevant brands tend away from traditional marketing communications about price, quality or service, and more toward messages that address the purpose and behavior of their brand and their organization in their world.

Therefore, to do something that is significant to the times requires showcasing the brand with meanings that reach beyond the point of consumption and commerce alone. Today, in order to establish and retain their relevance successful brands need to stand for social responsibility and the greater good.

Brands As Non-Commercial Entities

What makes brands enduringly relevant today is the way their enterprise impacts the society, its culture, the environment, the world, and values which aren’t consumer-driven considerations.

As consumption in the developed world reaches the point of saturation and markets begin to top-out, people award their regard to brands that are relevant to the times and issues of their society. A “living wage” for coffee growers sells more coffee for Starbucks than do solitary brand impressions or the mere iteration of new flavors. Free access to the world’s libraries will establishing greater brand relevance for Google and than does dominance in the search industry rankings. Progress in the development of molecular medicine is worth more in brand relevance to the many biotech companies, than is direct-to-consumer advertising for traditional medicines. Brand relevance is about authenticity and meaningfulness.

Thus, achieving brand relevance is less about the consumer recall of nominally differentiated marketing messages, and more about the brand’s significant impacts on society, impacts that both consumers and non-consumers alike recognize as real and germane.

Brand relevance doesn’t come easily in a world cluttered with brands and their traditional marketing activities. It isn’t the result of product placements, large television advertising budgets, nor impressions per thousands of percipients. Brand relevance is the reward of ongoing meaningful activity both within and outside of the marketplace.

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