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The most important brand influences today

TRENDAFRiCA May 29, 2013

The annual WPP BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Brands 2013 survey was released this past week, showing that global brands are actually in recovery. Apple was named the most valuable brand this year.  The research also details the 10 current most important influences on brands cross-category:

1. Technology is a life force: Technology has become like breathing. We can’t live without it. And we’re not aware of it until there’s a problem. In the technology category, devices, content and distribution systems have coalesced into parallel and competing ecosystems.

Brand implications: “New and shiny” alone isn’t enough. No brand is unassailable. The winning brands attempt to be omnipresent and indispensable. One example is that of telecom providers creating their own branded ecosystems.

2. Life is blended: We increasingly move seamlessly between the personal, social and business aspects of our lives. Or we occupy these spaces simultaneously. Technology enables this fluidity.

Brand implications: Brands must keep up as we move among the personal, social and business aspects of our lives. Brands that force us to pause or switch devices risk losing us. The rigid B2C and B2B designations don’t fully apply anymore. To move smoothly, brands can’t be defined by a narrow function. Brands need to assume a higher purpose; then we grant them permission to be present all the time. The ‘Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)’ trend shows how consumers are driving this trend and this attitude is transforming the workplace as people reject IT-issued gear in favour of the brands and devices that they use in their personal lives anywhere, anytime.

3. Location is not important: Location is everywhere. Location is no longer a barrier because you can reach the consumer anywhere, physically or virtually, at a time that suits the consumer.

Brand implications: The implication for brands in all categories is that they need to meet customers wherever the customers are. Each space, physical or virtual, can serve a different and appropriate function. A physical space can help showcase brand experience and cultivate customer intimacy, while the virtual world can perform the functional benefits of wide product range and simplified purchasing. An example is in the insurance category, where brands have increased their presence in social media, experimenting with storefront café-like locations that appeal to a younger, first-time customer looking for information without a hard sell.

4. Consumers expect what they’ve paid for – and maybe a bit more: Consumers shop from a broad portfolio of brands. A woman may purchase an affordable dress, but match it with a luxury accessory. Consumers calibrate their expectations realistically. They’re fine when the customer service of a value brand lacks intimate personal attention, but impatient if it lacks efficiency. Consumers don’t expect everything from a brand – just what they’ve paid for – and maybe a bit more, like finding some luxury feel in a mass setting.

Brand implications: Technology enables brand marketers to satisfy these service expectations. By collecting and analysing customer data, brands can tailor products, services and messages to be relevant for individual customers. An example is that in both super luxury and mass luxury, brands create personalised experiences to make customers feel especially unique and valued. A customer buying an accessory might receive a thank you on Twitter; a couture customer might be invited to an exclusive fashion show.

5. Customers expect the experience that a brand promises to be executed flawlessly across categories: Having encountered excellent brand experience in some categories, consumers now apply these standards across all categories. They expect excellent brand experience and have little patience when it’s missing. And they don’t necessarily expect to pay extra for it.

Brand implications: No category is immune from this expectation. No aspect of the brand is excluded, including: how the brand engages in physical and virtual stores; how the brand communicates to customers; and how customers communicate about the brand in their social networks. Brands need to benchmark against the best-in-class brand experience. This phenomenon can be called the “Apple effect”, since the brand established a standard for design, functionality and service delivered by both physical and online stores. Meeting those high expectations challenges any brand, including Apple, to consistently improve.

6. Brands are becoming media: Brands increasingly are executing the role formerly filled by traditional media – organising and reaching audiences with relevant content. That’s because the brand’s customer data often is more targeted and detailed than the mass-market audience data of TV or print media.

Brand implications: This phenomenon is most apparent in retail because retailers collect and organise an enormous volume of customer data that can be monetised by creating content relevant to an audience segment and a sponsoring supplier. The apparel category is experiencing a similar phenomenon. While fashion brands still find it important to advertise in industry magazines, their own catalogues often tell the brand story more extensively. Some brands produce their own fashion shows, broadcast in-store or online.

7. The role of reputation is rising: Brands are attempting to restore trust after it eroded in certain categories, particularly financial institutions. Corporate reputation becomes more important as a way to confer credibility.

Brand implications: After years of fracturing into sub-brands, some corporations are promoting their brands under the corporate umbrella of authority. Corporate reputation is especially important to fortify brands on topics like environmental responsibility and good citizenship. Strong corporate reputation correlates with high market share and improves key brand metrics. And corporate reputation and brand reputation increasingly are one and the same.

8. Presence in fast growing markets is imperative for global brands: Even in a year of slowed economic expansion in the fast growing markets, it’s clear that brand presence in these markets is no longer optional for some categories.

Brand implications: There’s a correlation between high brand value and presence in fast growing markets. Presence doesn’t assure high brand value, but absence makes high value much more difficult to achieve in some categories. Being well represented in fast growing markets helps brands not only by driving sales, but also by influencing higher assessments of forward-looking earnings, which can lift share prices. The full impact requires being present, relevant and well differentiated. Global presence especially, drove growth in categories such as luxury, fast food and soft drinks.

9. The middle gets squeezed: Brands at the premium or price ends of the value continuum present consumers with a clearer choice than brands in the middle. When the value proposition isn’t clear, it’s more difficult to persuade today’s cautious consumer to purchase.

Brand implications: In today’s economy, brands that effectively make a case for premium or value are better positioned than those squeezed in the middle with a less well defined reason for being and a limited story to tell. There’s a market in the middle, but there’s little room for error. Brands in the middle can’t be mediocre, at least not for long. In apparel, most of the fast fashion brands are the more premium brands improved in brand value, while those appealing to the broad middle were more likely to struggle.

10. The individual is the expert: Information is available everywhere, anytime to everyone. The brand-customer conversation is among equals. Brands and customers learn from each other. Brands gain direction and co-creation possibilities.

Brand implications: The brand-customer relationship becomes more of a partnership. Comments on social media are fast, direct, informative and inexpensive. Paying close attention to these comments forges a closer brand-customer relationship and results in products and services that more closely match customer desires. The sales rebound of the Detroit automakers resulted from many factors, including a shift from exclusive reliance on traditional media, to a sophisticated presence on social media.

Source: WPP BrandZ survey

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