Monday, March 17, 2014

A New Role for Brands

Killing off "Zombie" Ideas, and Why Brands Really Matter


Mark Tomblin, Chief Strategy Officer at TAXI, recently spoke on the Planning Salon, a Google Hangout series where planners form all over the world can share ideas and then debate them — live.

Mark's chat, which you can watch in the video below, primarily covered his thoughts on a new role for brands in a world full of choices and information, how people really shop, and some of the "Zombie Ideas" that are holding this new role back.

First, Zombie Ideas.

You've seen them, you've used them, and they were probably the first thing you learned in marketing and business school. They are concepts and frameworks that have been developed over the past 100 years, through the birth of brands, planning, and the modern consumer age.

And though they make sense, they're easy to understand, and they're easy to sell, they're not necessarily right.

At least not anymore.

Some examples:

The AIDA Purchase Funnel — Awareness, Interest, Decision, and Action.

(Hmm… do people really put that much rational thought into every purchase? Is this even possible? Is this how you buy?)

Brand Personalities — brands as people whom we can relate to and be friends with.

(Hmm… do people really view brands as something they can have a relationship with, as they do with their own family and friends? Are brands really that important?)

Loyalty — "fostering" our loyal users and "converting" occasional users to loyal ones.

(Hmm… can you really create unwavering loyalty among shoppers who are surround by choice? Is it really about evangelizing them, or do we just need more users, period?)

Now, Mark doesn't advocate killing these ideas entirely — they're Zombie Ideas, after all, it'll take a clear shot to the head to get'er done — but rather understanding the limits of these concepts and metaphors, and keeping those limits in mind when we apply them.

So… if these ideas, and our understanding of the role that brands play, is outdated, then what isn't a Zombie Idea? What's relevant now? And what role do brands truly play in people's lives?

First, consider this.

(1) We've solved the problem of choice. Choice surrounds us, we've got thickets of choice that we wade through every day. Which means that brands aren't really about providing a standard of quality anymore, or credibility, because we've got plenty of that.

(2) We now understand that about 95% of the decisions that we make in life — from what to eat for dinner to what kind of toothpaste to buy — are made by the unconscious brain. (I've covered this topic at length in the Habitual Shopper Series). Which means that outside of important, life-changing decisions, we're operating with our emotions.

(3) In the developed world, most of us are operating at the highest levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. We all pretty much have our physiological and safety needs met — it's the belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs that we're looking to fulfill.

With these factors in mind, we can define the role of brands as:

(1) Markers that reduce our cognitive load. In other words, they help us make choices faster and with less thought, so we can get back to what really matters to us.

(2) People are making decisions emotionally and with their unconscious mind, so brands should speak to those emotions and the subconscious.

(3) Brands can use that emotional value to provide users with an emotional "hit" — helping to fulfill a small part of their belonging, esteem, or self-actualization.

In summary, brands today are a way of reducing our cognitive load when shopping. Because, through advertising, we already have a built in emotional connection with a brand, even if it's just a blip of feeling, we no longer have to think to make decisions.

They simply feel like good decisions.

The example Mark uses is Rice Krispies.

Rice Krispies isn't about puffed rice (there are plenty of knock offs and store brands that offer the same thing). It's about the tiny emotional kick that you get from buying or serving Rice Krispies — whether its a memory from your childhood, or the "snap, crackle, and pop" you hear when they're served.

And you're giving that feeling to your children.

The brand doesn't help moms become better mothers, but it does make them feel like they're being the mother they want to be.

Interesting, huh?

In conclusion, remember… they're just brands! And they have a simple role. Let's not get too carried away in the models that we build to define it. And always aim for the head...

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