Pi Attitude Zone: Flexibility

The Ho-Hum Brand [1]

When brands started proliferating, and the internet was first providing consumers with limitless product information, marketing ‘experts’ predicted that consumers would be ”bewildered by choice”, and that they would fall gratefully into the arms of the big, well-known brands they knew and trusted.  Brand reputation, we heard, had become “a company’s most valuable asset”.

Really?  Actually what happened was very different.  Consumers got savvy.  And lazy, self-satisfied brand owners started losing sales.  Reputations that had taken years (and sometimes billions of advertising dollars) to build up could suddenly be trashed in half a day by derisory messages on social media.  And upstart newcomer companies started taking business from the big boys. 

Established brands are showing their fragility.  Consumers, you see, are making smarter and better-informed product choices than at any time in history.  Far from trusting a familiar logo or a self-congratulatory brand slogan, a product’s potential customers are investigating the real value of competing offers, and judging them pitilessly on their merits. 

The rise of brand marketing, over a century ago, coincided with a historical moment of information poverty.  When products’ merits were unknown, consumers looked for a name they trusted.  Now the internet and mobile communication devices mean that shoppers are only a thumb-click away from unerringly detailed product specifications, independent reviews by category experts, and frank and often damning product opinions from people who have tried the damn product themselves.  A poorly-performing or overpriced offering can be “outed” and ridiculed in a matter of hours.  Eighty percent of shoppers now look online before putting money down on a major purchase, and base their decision on what they learn in real time. 

Branding consultancies like Interbrand argue that the plethora of available information actually increases the value of branding.  But that kind of ‘information overload’ has turned out to be just another spurious urban legend.  Itamar Simonson, a Stanford marketing professor, recently co-authored a book with software guru Emanuel Rosen, called Absolute Value.  The book reveals that ‘information overload’ is bunk.  “Most consumers learn very quickly how to get a great deal of information efficiently and effectively.  Most of us ...find what we’re looking for without spending huge amounts of time online”. 

Pricing, in particular, has become an implacable driver of choice.  It doesn’t matter how prestigious or famous your brand-name might be, online shoppers will overlook you and pick the acceptable option that’s twenty percent cheaper.  ‘Bye!

Brand-loyalty?  Lots of luck with that.  These days, your brand is only as good as your last product offer.  A brand that relies on past glories is probably coasting to oblivion.

Zone: Flexibility Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Business / Professional