Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Why are most marketers messing up on support points just when it matters most?

For a brand to effectively drive sales it needs to be seen as authentic. That authenticity won’t be built by positioning around the ideal benefit or by demonstrating affinity for the prospects’ values. Brand owners need to tell a story about the brand itself and the building blocks of that story are support points. Those “reasons to believe” are increasingly critical because the growth of online media provides a great opportunity to dialogue about the brand itself – provided that the Brand Manager knows what to talk about.

Let’s step back a moment and look at why “owning a benefit” creates challenges and directs strategists away from the brand itself. “Benefits” are often the pinnacle of brand strategy. It is the answer to the question “How will using or buying the brand benefit the consumer?” Generally, the prevailing wisdom is that whether we are working on cat food or vodka the consumer decision and the resulting benefit is an emotional one. The consumer may cough up a rational alibi under research interrogation, but scratch the surface (or run a functional MRI as Martin Lindstrom did  and underneath it all is a Freudian buffet of unconscious emotions.
The brand manager’s battle cry is to seek out an emotional benefit that can be fulfilled and executionally attack it more poignantly than the competitors.  It gets even tougher within the school of thought that the strategy is more durable if the emotions are “values-based” and grounded in a deeply held attitude that is unlikely to change situationally or over time.

With this widely practiced approach one big problem is maintaining relevance to the category consumer. Lacking a great insight, there are a limited number of emotional benefits that are relevant to the category and an even smaller subset that might be reasonably owned by the brand. With the array of competitors in a mature category (launching a craft beer?) there is usually little to no “white space”. You are circling the block but there is nowhere to park your brand.

With no spots in sight, a popular solution is to talk about the user rather than tell a story explicitly about the brand. “I am Canadian!” means, naturally, that you are a proud Canuck and that this brand aligns with those values. Importantly with beer, the brand and its imagery will allow you to express that to others. A less famous and less effective example was the “Bud Light Institute” an imaginary place that developed solutions that enabled you to have more fun “with the boys”. Put another way, the message was “you are a real man who likes his male-bonding time”. With this user-centric approach, the strategic focus increasingly becomes aligning the brand imagery with prospects’ self-image or identity. What often gets left out of the communication though is a story about the brand itself and this is a lost opportunity to build authenticity and ultimately effectiveness. In a highly competitive category that may be the difference between winning and losing.

At the same time, strong consumer skepticism about your marketing claims continues. The Edelman Trust Barometer, 2019 reveals that 44% of Canadians now distrust businesses. Digital media have made people instantly knowledgeable about brands, wary of “fake news” and rightfully skeptical about the authenticity of  brands. One way to think about the rise of all things “artisanal” or “craft” is a consumer yearning for authenticity – a sense that it is real and linked to real people “crafting” it.

Luckily, we have never had more bandwidth to dialogue with consumers via web sites, email, text, social, experiential. Brand managers have ample opportunity to tell prospects about their brand but sometimes lack compelling, strategic content. The opportunity is to go beyond communication that pounds away, repeating the brands emotional benefit. Consider that your prospect consumer has heard you it is just that they don’t believe you. Repeating it does not make it so.

Our solution is to build a richer, more convincing portrait of the brand. Build Belief™ is a strategic approach that identifies exactly what qualities of the brand most enable prospects and current users to believe in the brand’s emotional benefit. We find these assets by looking through a framework of over twenty possible facets that may apply to a given brand. What we find out from consumers is which of the specific support point statements is most convincing in helping them believe the claimed benefits of the brand. For example, in a recent project with a craft beer brewer, we found that the brand’s historic role in promoting local culture is considerably more powerful than describing traditional, time-honored brewing techniques.

In most categories the consumer has more choice than ever before, and hollow benefit claims just rouse increasing skepticism in a downward spiral. It has never been more necessary for marketers to make the strongest possible case for their brand. At the same time, a skilled marketer now has the opportunity to deploy an informed array of brand-centric support points that build authenticity in mass as well as more targeted media channels and that is what Build Belief™ enables them to do.

Lighthouse Clients

Cases, examples and client references are available upon request. Some of my clients over the last few years are:

Toyota Canada
Labatt Breweries/AB-InBev
Canadian Blood Services
Cadbury Adams
Constellation Brands/Vincor
Prime Restaurants - Casey's, East Side Mario's, Fionn MacCool's, Bier Markt
Sigma Alimentos - a large food company in Mexico
Multiple Sclerosis Society - MS WALK
Yellow Pages Group
New Balance Canada
Ideazon -(Gaming Hardware)
Edwards Builder's Hardware

Going further back:
Pfizer - Viagra, Detrol
Volvo Canada
Red Lobster USA
Xerox Canada
Sprint Canada
Absolut (Maxxium)

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