By George L. San Jose, President and Chief Creative Officer at The San Jose Group
In high school, I could typically identify people by their cliques (jocks, cheerleaders, hippies, disco fashionistas, etc.) but not as individuals. So unless I personally knew them, they had no individuality. Today’s consumers see brands as cliques and clicks; they have learned to navigate cyberspace without looking at the obtrusive digital ads popping up wherever they go. Not too appealing for brands campaigning to win consumers. We have conditioned consumers to get free software or new apps in exchange for allowing a provider to bombard them with ads that they have mastered to utterly ignore. Mix this with brands caving to funding in-store promotions instead of branding and you have the perfect ingredients for a brand’s death sentence…lack of differentiation and discount price are always the race to the bottom.
Brands that lost their consumer preference entirely have died, so brands must establish the right brand positioning, Unique Selling Proposition “USP,” and creative content to win preference and emotionally connect with consumers. A recent report by Northwestern University’s Don E. Shultz and Martin P. Block, Killing Brands… Softly, presents some alarming news for brands and their advertisers. Over a ten-year study, Shultz and Block found consumers are shifting from having specific brand preferences to no preferences. Although this may sound like brand loyalty’s obituary, the study points out a major flaw in the industry: Consumers can’t identify the differences between brands, because in the “smaller competitive space,” consumers find brands “more and more similar.”
Rare opportunities for brands to win consumer preference exist because brands scarcely produce actual persuasive content. Today’s brands (with the help of social media) distribute more clutter than they do creative. Since social media’s inception, brands have attempted to use it to establish their brand identity and engagement to win consumers, but just because a consumer favorites your brand’s funny tweet or likes your Facebook page, it doesn’t mean they’ll purchase your brand.
Even Coca-Cola knows that social media doesn’t transmit directly into sales. Earlier this year, Coke shocked brands everywhere when it revealed to Ad Age that its social buzz (74 million Facebook likes and two million Twitter followers) didn’t increase sales. Social media alone can’t give a brand a unique identity and win consumer preference, but it’s still essential to the brand (as Coke asserts). The value relies in combining relevant and unique social media accounts with other media to reach, engage and build loyalty. Brands can win consumers as long as their content is persuasive.
Brands seem to manufacture their content through the same idea assembly lines. (I could write a book about why this is happening). They sound, look and feel like each other and unsurprisingly run together in consumers’ minds. Imitation may be flattering, but it will not make you the brand of choice.
Advertisers challenged to win consumers break through the clutter with memorable entertaining creative. It’s the brand story weaved creatively in the consumer’s lifestyle, through memorable, unique and engaging content that creates the personal experience. Brands still win with unique creative, and that only happens when there is a trust in the relationship. An audacious brand professional and a trained USP story telling Adman may become the new click that gives consumers a reason to choose brands…as they once did.