image credit: takeabreak [Flickr]
The key question facing marketers today isn’t “Is my media mix model working?” or “Do I have an iPad app?” It’s one that has been around since long before the internet but is growing in importance: “How useful is this product to my customers?” Unfortunately, most marketers don’t know that’s the question because they are trying to answer another question that has also been around since long before the internet and is now less important than ever: “How do I get my customers to think my product is useful to them?”
No communication strategy can make a long-term success out of a sub-standard product. Despite that, the product and the marketing have long been seen as separate things. This doesn’t work anymore because the communications cornucopia makes it increasingly difficult to get customers’ attention. And yet companies still approach brand strategy from the perspective of, “What are we going to say?” rather than “What will we build?” and “How will customers interact with us?”
Today the product itself has become the primary advertising channel — it convinces people based on its utility to them.
One example of this is the Wii. Before Nintendo launched the gaming system in 2007, anyone could have told you that the last thing the world needed was another gaming system. Sony and Microsoft dominated the market, and Nintendo, a once-great pioneer, was going the way of Atari and Sega. The Wii, however, wasn’t another button-pushing gaming system. The Wii is about ease of use. To play tennis on the Wii, all you have to do is mimic playing tennis. But the ease of use goes a lot farther than that. It starts when you take the Wii out of the box. Attaching it to a TV is about as difficult as attaching a DVD player.
The digital expression of a brand promise is a difficult but essential leap. It requires providing a value that clearly and immediately communicates what the consumer values about the brand. Some very disparate companies — Gibson guitars, Kraft Foods and Charmin — have had great success with iPhone apps that provide very practical services that correlate perfectly with the brands themselves. For example, Gibson’s app includes a guitar tuner, metronome and a chord chart — all things incredibly useful for any guitarist. Kraft’s iFood Assistant provides recipes, a feature which lets you create a shopping list and automatically includes the ingredients for recipes you’ve chosen. It also tells you which aisle the items will be in and where to find the locations of nearby grocery stores. Charmin’s app lets users find nearby restrooms, which consumers obviously find helpful.
This strategy is the antithesis of the “compared to Brand X” or “now 10% better” approaches. Those strategies assume the audience is passive, that they only consume messages. Marketers were able to succeed despite that assumption because people weren’t able to broadcast their opinions very far. Today, of course, people’s displeasure can be magnified like never before.
The best way to counter that is to not “claim” to do anything. This means moving beyond the world of positioning a brand to take advantage of an attitudinal need. It’s not McDonald’s saying their food is healthy, it is McDonald’s putting healthier food on the menu. In the past, you targeted an audience, articulated a promise and then communicated the heck out of it. Today everything is an advertisement — starting with what it is you are selling.
Editor’s Note: The full version of Steve Beck’s article on brand utility appeared in Ad Age’s CMO Strategy section on May 4, 2010.
May 10th, 2010
Attention Brands: It's Not What You Say, It's What You Build
image credit: takeabreak [Flickr]