If, as recent research at Young & Rubicam indicates, most brands are like bubbles that are about to burst, marketers need to retrench and change their MO—and fast.
The problem: Consumer spending was down even before the recession. Concurrently, branded product offerings have exploded in the marketplace, many becoming quickly commoditized. Brand trust has rapidly eroded as more companies engaged in unethical behavior. As a result, consumers have become jaded. They've lost loyalty to brands.
Research has found that consumers have decided that most brands don't matter, signifying a newly empowered consumer.
Internet brand and product research, and opinion-sharing with online communities, offer a wealth of information that was unavailable in the past, thus building a new consumer equation. The upshot: Consumers are now firmly in control of brands.
So, is it surprising that the same old marketing tactics and approaches to packaging and advertising are failing to reach consumers?
Let's focus on packaging. As a design-firm principal who has been involved in package design for two decades, I can see that in a newly emerging marketplace the same old marketing tactics and approaches aren't working now and won't in future.
It's disquieting when companies seek new or revitalized package-design solutions for their products but take the same approach to their overall branding efforts.
When properly developed, packaging refers back to the brand. But if a brand has lost its relevance, has never established clear differentiation, needs to reconnect with consumers, or has become a commodity, simply refreshing its packaging is not likely to lead to the desired results.
For packaging to be effective, new thinking must first permeate the entire company . It's time to...
- Get disruptive and creative
- Generate excitement
Those are the qualities that consumers are responding to now. The brands that do not meet the expectations of today's consumer are being summarily dismissed.
When Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen coined the phrase "disruptive technology," he meant that disrupters think of a better way to offer simpler, better-performing, or problem-solving products—and product packaging—for consumers. They create excitement in the process. Excitement leads to buzz. Buzz leads to customer engagement.
Branding is all about enjoyment, isn't it? People enjoy brands that deliver the unusual, with creativity, excitement, or entertainment value as well as an invitation to engage. That's why some brands—but fewer and fewer—command so much attention in the marketplace.
Such brands are fluid and dynamic; they are able to respond to our culture and adapt to changing markets with seeming ease. The consumer enjoys interacting with those brands. It also explains why most brands are ignored or dismissed: They do not fit within those parameters.
Emotions are key. Try as we might to operate from logic and analysis, human beings are not like Mr. Spock.
When our senses are engaged, they necessarily lead to emotional responses. In our experience, enjoyment is a powerful motivator. It leads to brand awareness and loyalty. Emotions overrule every other consideration as our minds tell us "We simply have to have this particular product, this particular brand."
But here's the important point: Brands can't simply launch one exciting concept and then sit back. They have to continue to create excitement.
That's tough—not every company can be like Apple, right?—but it may not be as hard as it sounds. Creativity and innovation feed off each other, and brands can learn from companies that are smaller than Apple or Google.
Think of much-smaller companies that have strong brand adherents. They've consistently delivered due to the ongoing energy they create:
- Method cleaning products. They have a strong point of view: "A Cleaner Clean." Unconventional, see-through packaging; very unlike the rest of the products in the cleaning category.
The inferred message: We offer cleaner cleaning products; we have nothing to hide. The Method website says it's for "efficacy, safety, environment, design, fragrance." The result: Consumers enjoy using Method—in increasing numbers.
- Stonyfield Farm yogurt. Cause branding a commodity—yogurt—took it from limited natural-store distribution to a mainstream player. The message: "Health for you. Health for the planet."
The brand represents unflagging commitment, passion, and vision to ideals consumers can trust and believe in. And how about the packaging? The iconic cow and Stonyfield Farm banner with the word "Organic" beneath it are highly recognizable—and enjoyed by many brand loyalists.
- Green Mountain Coffee Roasters coffees. This company gets more Internet searches than the largest purveyors of coffee. Surprised? High quality, good corporate citizenship, and Fair Trade practices have created consistent energy for this brand.
The packaging's dark green cartouche and the Green Mountain Coffee logo within it, with its signature coffee bean representing the "o" in "Mountain," is distinctive. A rich brown panel topped by artwork depicting a steaming cup of coffee against a backdrop of mountains and a stream remind us of the pure enjoyment of a good coffee break.
The bottom line: New vision and approaches can add significantly more value to brands over their competitors.
The brands I've cited could easily have become commodities, but they didn't fall into the ho-hum, business-as-usual brand-management trap. They chose to brand their businesses with more creativity and energy than the norm.
Moreover, they stuck to their vision and continued to generate positive energy. As a result, they've been richly rewarded by consumers.
My advice: If your brand is less than exciting, reposition, rebrand, and repackage—in that order. Disrupt, create, entertain, engage.
Deliver positive energy and enjoyment to consumers, and they'll not only become loyal, but they'll also engage their communities to become loyal, too. Become one of the all-too-few brands that matter.