How do we Define a Brand?
Most brands consist of a range of external attributes, including a visual identity made up of logos, colours and fonts, characteristics important for creating feelings of familiarity and affinity. However, whilst this outward identity is important for a brand, it is the internal elements of a brand, brand values, which build relationships with customers and guides the purpose of a brand.
Branding is about cultural relevance; what makes customers choose the qualities of one brand over the alternatives. With the explosion of digital technologies and social media in recent years, there has been a shift in what it means to be culturally relevant. Digital users now serve as strong proliferators of culture, and their consumption of online content and services has changed the face of branding.
This has not always been the case, however. In the past, brands relied on the market being shared by a small number of producers or sellers. This meant that competition for attention was limited. Brands could easily collaborate with the entertainment industry using ads and sponsored content for a share in the attention oligopoly.
A Brief History of Branding
The standardisation of high-quality goods in the 1950s meant that companies such as Procter & Gamble and Unilver began to focus on giving their products a distinguishable identity, which would mark them out from near-identical competitors. To do this, brands needed to develop an understanding of the consumer and the emotional value they sought from their product choices. This led to an explosion of articulate branding practices worldwide, with UK retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and John Lewis leading the way in accumulating high levels of brand loyalty.
Cue the rise of digital technologies around the 1990s. Companies had to alter their marketing strategies. Most brands believed that producing Hollywood level video advertising content at online speeds would keep engaged consumers gathered around their brands. However, consumers had other ideas.
New technologies and social media mean that collaborations now take place between disparate geographical locations, that once would have had little to no contact. The resulting increase in speed for networking opportunities resulted in the pushing forward of ideas, products and cultural practices at an unprecedented rate. So, while niche subcultures are gaining traction with speed, the larger brands are beginning to miss out.
The Customer Journey
A Harvard Business Review Study in 2017 outlined the stages of the ‘consumer decision journey’:
1) Consider – the beginning of the journey, in which the consumer considers a set of brands and products assemble
2) Evaluate – consumers seek input from their peers, retailers and reviewers to narrow their selection criteria
3) Buy – though arguably the most important part of the purchasing chain in terms of measuring success, this is not the end of the journey
4) Enjoy and Advocate – the final stage of the journey, in which the consumer interacts with the product.
New research shows that, assaulted by advertising and media, consumers are spending less time in the consideration stage of purchasing. Instead, consumers are spending more time in the evaluation stage, listening to word of mouth recommendations and peer feedback.
Traditional advertising targets the consideration stage of the consumer journey. As customers drastically reduce the consideration period, brands must adapt their marketing strategies to fit new trends in behaviour.
Marketers must now consider earned media (customer created channels) as well as owned media (the channels a brand control, such as websites). If customers bond strongly enough with a brand, the evaluation stage can be shortened or skipped altogether, with the consumer moving straight to the buying phase. Additionally, if a person has a positive experience, they will advocate to others, altering the evaluation stage for another consumer.
Our values define what is most important to us; they guide and influence our decisions. They also crucially affect consumer buying decisions and affect sales and profits: people are more likely to buy from a brand whose values align with their own.
We are being exposed to an increasing plethora of products, services and information, so it is becoming harder than ever to untangle why any given brand is more valuable than another. This is where brand values come in. Consumers are increasingly weighing brand values into their purchasing decisions, so brands that share and act on their values consistently will continue to welcome customers back time and time again.
Iconic brands are cultural innovators, championing new ideologies that are meaningful to customers. To brand effectively in the digital age, therefore, companies should stop chasing after trends and start marketing novel ideas.
Social media marketing has turned branding into a dialogue, sparking conversations between brands and their consumers. So smart hotel brands, for example, will not simply be looking for travel influencers with the largest follower bases for their digital marketing campaigns. They will be looking instead for proof of how an influencer engages their audience, and what kind of content works best within that niche. Brands partner with micro-influencers who are already brand supporters, ensuring that the content they produce puts the brand in a positive light for the most targeted hotel marketing.
The Influencer Angle
On the other side of the coin are the influencers receiving a high volume of collaboration requests from all kinds of companies. An influencer’s ability to impact the attitudes and percpetions of a brand’s target audience makes them powerful marketing tools. For an influencer, this ability is predicated on being seen as ‘one of us’ by internet users and being seen as a trustworthy source of information.
As a result, influencers look to collaborate with brands whose identities are in line with the views and content they already produce. Influencers want their followers to identify them with the brands and the messages they aim to disseminate. They are primarily focused on delivering great experiences to their audiences and maintaining the brand they have so carefully cultivated, and they will want to work with brands that will provide them with benefit and value, following certain principles of influencer marketing, rather than brands that will merely leverage their influence.
We are becoming increasingly loyal to experiences and ideas, rather than to brands themselves. We are tired of brands that merely sell to us and look instead for the things that are relevant to us. Because of this, the ways brands measure brand strength and build brand equity are transforming on an almost daily basis. Brands taking on the digital age should be aware that the customer experience needs to be at the forefront of marketing strategy, not merely an afterthought. Innovative brands know their targets, establishing and maintaining a high level of understanding of their customers and how they behave.
Hotel brand interested in working with high quality, pre-vetted influencers? Click here to find out how Swayy can help you. Influencers: read up on what we can do for you.
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By Shannon Collins