As the days pass, we must continue to question the relevancy of notions like “brand” and “brand loyalty” to contemporary consumer lifestyles, at least as those notions are traditionally understood. The standard position in marketing arenas holds that brands play an important role in consumers lives—that we “buy in” to the brand’s proposition and remain loyal to the brand over time because we “believe in” what the brand has to offer.
But the evidence around us just doesn’t appear to support that view. Who among us only wears shoes by Nike? Who chooses to drink only from the Coca Cola family of beverages? True, some of us habitually choose Coke over Sprite, Pepsi, or Mt . Dew, but that is a flavor preference as opposed to a brand preference. And evidence from research on auto purchases suggest very few, if any, auto consumers are truly brand loyal. Sure, many consumers may be passionate about their cars, as well as their car’s brand name or logo, but very few actually restrict their auto purchases to a single brand over a period of years.
In fact, what we appear to be witnessing is a consistent tendency on the part of marketers to confuse consumer interest in compelling, branded product experiences with consumer interest in brands. It’s not that consumers are not interested in great branded products partnered with compelling experiences. In fact they are very interested. What they don’t appear to be doing, however, is transferring the pleasure of those experiences to the larger brand, and then letting the brand name guide future behavior. Many consumers may love their Saabs, but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily purchase more of them, especially if a competitors model ups the ante the next time they go looking.
As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, this tendency to favor products, experiences and features over brands is the key reason Apple and Nokia, who’ve experienced phenomenal success with certain products, are still encountering problems with building the brand. So far, Apple hasn’t been able to convert those legions of iPod sales into Macintosh sales.
Increasingly, we’re coming to believe that notions like brand or branding are being fostered largely by the major agencies, within a dialogue which has very little to do with actual consumers and a lot more to do with the way people inside the industry talk about brands.
Ogilvy & Mather, continue to espouse the traditional notion of brand. While their writing about branding reads wonderfully—it’s parsimonious and to the point—it just doesn’t mesh with how consumer’s appear to be living and behaving:
“We believe in brands. In their power. Their value. Their increasingly important place in consumers' lives. More than just a goodwill entry on a corporate balance sheet, a brand is the single most important asset any company has. We believe our job is to help clients build enduring brands that live as part of consumers' lives and command their loyalty and confidence.”
In fact, we believe one of Hugh Macleod’s wonderful cartoons over at Gapingvoid, a cartoon inspired by the O & M communications above, really nails this issue. One can't help but wonder if the two marketers featured in the cartoon below have ever really listened to consumers talk about brands...