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Global 2015: THE FUTURE OF BRANDS | MARKETING

Brand building dilemma: Salience, scale continue to drive volume

But new marketing tools focus on niche 



Brand building is only going to become tougher as marketers try to build brands at scale.

We’ve got two interesting and diverging forces. On the one hand there’s a lot of evidence that says if you want to drive volume, scale big, be salient, don’t segment. Be big or go home. On the other hand, we have fragmenting traditional media and a set of new digital tools that are not set up to reach people at scale. Even Facebook, a platform with maximum digital reach, loses that scale when you break it down to personal networks.

There are significant benefits to being a bigger brand, and yet what we’re seeing is that the tools that help a big brand stay big may actually be suffering a type of entropy. So is there an alternative to chasing volume that lends itself more easily to the world of digital media?

Big brings benefits and challenges

The bigger the penetration the brand has, the more loyal buyers the brand will have. There is nothing about our new world
that will counteract this generalization, because it’s how we humans work. We like the safe choices. Yes, we want to show we’re individuals, but there are tremendous pressures for us to fit in and conform. It’s a brave minority who are totally willing to go against the flow. And a lot of it is non- conscious. Availability and familiarity are tremendous advantages for converting those people who hadn’t really thought about the category but suddenly need it.

It is tough to be all things to all people. Big brands rarely command a significant price premium simply because most buyers do not value what the brand has to offer all that much. It is tough to identify something that will spark desire from everyone.

Worse, if marketers believe that marketing success relies solely on Salience and scale, they’re struggling from the get-go because all the channels they’re dealing with are actually becoming more niche in terms of the number and type of people they reach. Marketers will need to find ways to stitch all of those platforms together if they want to market at scale.

The Internet has made it easy for people to find brands, but it has made it difficult for brands to reach consumers. Far from reaching the global village, the Internet
has left us posting the digital equivalent of flyers at street corners. Even in countries where TV viewing is still strong, there’s still a fragmentation of TV channels. And at some point within 10 years, we’ll see addressable TV advertising - the ability to target an individual within a household. That will make targeting powerful but it won’t make reach any easier.

Profit from premium

So what is the solution to this dilemma? Maybe we need to make premium our objective, not volume. Then the marketer's goal becomes extracting the maximum value from each transaction, not simply selling more stuff. But building a premium brand is a brave choice in a world where investors appear to value growth in monthly users more than they do growth in profit.

Charging a premium for a brand requires creating an offer that a clearly defined target audience finds meaningfully different. This is not just about innovation in the product. Innovation could be about sustainability.

It could be about values. It could be about brand experience. It could be about great service. It could be a new way of communicating. It is whatever resonates most with the target audience. And if it resonates, word will spread, and the Internet will help people find the brand - without any digital fliers on Internet street corners.

In this scenario, the new media tools work for us, not against us. We only need to reach the right buyers, not all of them. And the more tightly we define what the brand stands for and who it appeals to, the easier it becomes to tailor channel, targeting and content to maximum effect. But there is a trade-off. There will always be people who value a cheap price over the best brand. Premium brands do not try to be all things to all people.

All brands benefit from growing salience, but meaningfully different brands grow fastest. And in a world that is increasingly fragmented, brands that cater to the needs of the few may increasingly have the upper hand.