In today’s digital world, we are bombarded with brand promises, marketing messages, sales pitches and promotional offers at every turn. It is nearly impossible to siphon the constant stream of data that invades our space — whether it be at work, at home or at play.
So what does it take to for us to move from knowledge of a brand to complete brand emersion? What leads us from Googling the website of a new product or service we heard about from a friend to becoming the poster child for that brand? How do these brands take us from skeptic, to curious onlooker to brand ambassador? Well the good brands will appeal to your emotions. The better brands will also tap into your core values.
Have you stopped to evaluate how the brands you utilize everyday say something about who you are and what you value? What motivates you to select one brand over another for a product for which the attributes, benefits and pricing are the same? Why do individuals favor BMW over Mercedes or Mercedes over BMW? What are the intangibles of the brand that tap into the deeper set of emotions and personal values tied into the consumer purchase decision?
In the age of media mania, we often, unconsciously, make our purchases not on a gut feeling but on a set of intrinsic values that support the beliefs we have about ourselves.
Brand managers know this and are able to position their organizations on a more meaningful platform. They are able to look beyond the product features and benefits and varied demographic profiles of their consumer base to explore the deeper connections they have established with their target market.
For those that do it well, they are assured that when they send that email, post about a new product, tweet a sales promotion or send a survey request, their legion of brand ambassadors will not only listen, they will act. These brand loyalists will open that email, share the post to their personal online network, take advantage of the discount and diligently fill out that survey.
Why? Because they have developed a sense of belonging with the brand and have found the brand to be an opportunity to interpret a feeling and mindset of how they want to be perceived by others. As such, the more they can engage with the brand through patronage, feedback and digital sharing, the more assured they become that the brand will continue to align with their own values and beliefs.
So how can organizations tap into this opportunity? By listening beyond the surface and exploring the psyche of their current and potential customers, organizations can better understand what distinguishes a customer from a brand ambassador. This is not always easy to do and it will require more than delving through mountains of online data collected through internal databases and customer surveys.
Understanding a collective value set involves personal interactions and experiences with your market base. It involves building consumer profiles that reach beyond generational differences and common demographic segmentation. A deep understanding is cultivated through ethnographic research, where the organization has the opportunity to observe and learn about their customers in their own homes, places of employment or where they choose to spend their free time. It is paying attention to the nuances. How does the customer prioritize their resources in terms of time and money? What value sets do they use to make these decisions? What do they want the world to know about who they are and where they came from in their journey?
Then your job is take what you learn and answer the following: How does your brand align with these values and priorities? Are you tapping into the opportunity to best communicate it as part of your own brand offering? Are you meeting your customer base where they are at in their busy lives and at a level that appeals to their sense of self?
So the next time you start your yearly marketing budget planning, perhaps the first question on the table should be what do your customers want to say about who they are and what they value? The next question is how does your organization fit into that value set?
• Veronica Guerrero is an assistant professor of marketing and management at the California Lutheran University School of Management.