It seems that everywhere I turn I am hearing marketing people talk about how brands are struggling.
It use to be that if you established a well-known brand name for your product, service or company, you could be assured of a large chunk of market share.
A great brand insured that a competitor had to engage in massive spending in order to knock you off your "King of the Mountain" status within your niche.
Now it seems that brands have lost their luster. Having a well-known brand does not create the same positioning and market share it once did. The big brands have to spend just as much as their competitors to maintain their status - and even that is no guarantee.
The question then is: Are brands dying out?
Hardly. Name identification is, and always will be, an important component of marketing.
But buyers today are more skeptical of brand names. Sure name recognition can be the tie breaker, but it does not equate to value in people's minds these days.
A new element is taking over the marketing toolbox: Content.
Since the early days of the internet, the motto "Content Is King" has ruled. Buyers go online to research before they buy. They want valuable (non-fluffy, non-hypy) information. Moreover, they also want to know what peers think about your brand.
This peer thing is a whole new wrinkle in a marketer's strategy. It can't be faked, as WalMart tried to do in two notorious examples.
Nor can it be controlled. Social networking defies anyone to reign in even one pissed off buyer's anger. (A great example is how Dave Carroll's YouTube video, United Breaks Guitars, about the horrible service he received brought United Airlines to its knees.)
So what can a company do to avoid WalMart and United's errors?
To me, the answer is to create great content for your "target demographic."
And that, by the way, begins by not thinking of your customers in de-humanizing terms like "target demographics."
A far better way is to adopt David Meerman Scott's approach of thinking of them as "buyer personas." (PLEASE NOTE: That last link takes you to an article on David's blog that is pretty much required reading if you are to understand buyer personas.)
Creating content begins with constantly asking yourself:
- "What do our customers want?"
- "What do our customers need to know?"
- What information would help our customers become more informed consumers of our type of product?"
- "What information would solve their problems or help them achieve their goals?"
Here is the point:
Educating customers or clients creates a HUGE competitive edge far beyond the edge created by a well-known brand name.
I recently wrote an article about personal branding that talked about how vital it is to create a body of informative work in order to build a personal brand.
The same lesson holds true for building a brand for a product or service. Buyers have always gone through an "information gathering" process before making a significant purchase. In the past they may have looked up magazine articles or asked their friends and neighbors about their experiences with a certain product.
Today, the internet has created an environment in which buyers want to find out more about what you sell before they buy. Their information gathering process is longer and more in depth. They expect to be able to find out a lot of information about your company and your product online.
Will producing content ever completely replace brand name recognition. Of course not, but no longer can companies expect their brands to create invincible fortresses for them to withstand a pesky competitor. While a brand does create a certain amount of credibility, it does not create trust. Information that is not overly biased, that actually helps the buyer in some way is what builds trust.
Be willing to share your knowledge with your buyers. Find new ways to educate them and give them the information they desperately need and want. This is a far better way to build a market share than to spend massive amounts of money on jingles and slogans.
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