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Consumers are at the heart of many brands

Bram van Schaik

Kantar Insights

Consumers are at the heart of many brands, but let’s also protect the heart of our brands

What an amazing collection of great brands we have in The Netherlands. Whilst the average lifecycle of brands gets shorter and shorter, it’s great to see so many Dutch brands build upon their strong heritage. At the same time, it’s also great to see how some of the brands in this top 30 have emerged only in the last few years.

Some of the fastest emerging new businesses are those companies that have built services based on technology and platforms. Besides, the most prominent example of this practice is, which completely changed the way we travel by meeting one simple consumer need – namely, how to easily find and book a hotel room.

It’s not just about technology. Across the board, Dutch brands are frontrunners in adopting agile ways of working. Ultimately, all of these top Dutch brands have one thing in common: they are open to change and put consumer needs at the center of service innovation. Yes, great brands are built upon great consumer insights.

Agile organizations thrive on consumer insights

What does an agile approach look like? Take as an example. Every day Booking combs through their data in search of any small consumer insight might make their service easier for their customers. And Booking tests these insights! In the Netherlands, they are known to be the kings of A/B testing (or should I say A/B/C/D/E/F/G/H/I/J/K/L/M testing?). I think this is even better because they are really known for testing everything!

Many of the traditional brands in this Dutch top 30 have adopted elements of this way of agile working. Small teams have been built out to work on improving “user experience” based on consumer insights, and Customer Journey Managers put the customer at the center of every business decision. As a result of these developments, we’ve see amazing growth in the use of consumer data in decision-making processes. Customer feedback leads to a lot of process and product innovations. As a result, the speed of innovation has multiplied in the last few years.

Being agile is, I believe, one of the main reasons why Dutch brands recovered so well from the financial crisis. This applies particularly to Dutch banks. It’s no accident that ING, ABN AMRO, and Rabobank are all in the top 10 of our rankings. All of them continue to introduce innovations: ING was the first large established bank to have a mobile app, ABN Amro introduced the Tikkie payments app, and Rabobank builds check-points into their apps to help consumers avoid making payments to the wrong account.

Of course, one innovation alone can’t elevate a banking brand: Whilst it is clear that consumers appreciate the above innovations, many of these can easily be copied and indeed that’s what’s happened in the banking sector. What’s needed, then, is innovation as a continuous process, not a one-time push.

To return to, they have also found out by now that breakthrough (functional) innovations are harder to achieve once you are an established brand – hence their recent campaigns geared toward building emotion and brand love as opposed to simply touting low costs. has now defined their purpose as being to “empower people to experience the world.” This gives them the opportunity to bring their brand to a more aspirational level, while staying true to the original reason for being: to create a platform that enables an easy and convenient booking process. Research shows that a well-defined purpose, if built on the right consumer insights and delivered in the right way, can make a big difference in establishing a brand.

Consistency, however, is rapidly becoming the biggest challenge for brand builders. Traditional companies – especially for companies like Heineken in the fast-moving consumer goods space – are famous for building iconic brands. Such organizations used to have very strict brand guidelines that were carefully monitored, literally by the book. This way of working is under huge pressure nowadays in the new agile organization models. On the one hand there are more products, variations, and extensions to develop and improve than ever before. And on the other hand, there are more touchpoints than ever before.

All this is managed by different teams, organized around projects. Every project has its own Customer Journey Manager making sure that the consumer experience is looked after at all times. Very often however, there is no one to protect the brand. As a result, sensational innovations are developed rapidly, taking the customer relationship into account but not what the brand stands for. Carefully built-up brand assets are no longer used or replaced, and brands are increasingly sending out mixed messages, leaving their consumers confused.

It is clear what benefits the technology-centered approach to organizational models is bringing our great traditional brands – fast innovation, customer centricity – but we also have to consider how much effort has been made in building those brands. Consistency is much needed if a brand wants to grow. So, let’s keep the Customer Journey Manager – but can someone else please protect the identity of our famous brands?