Brands Engage Customers by Connecting on Values

November 5, 2019
Contributor: Laura Starita

Modern brands communicate a complete identity to customers. The successful receive rewards in the form of increased customer value.

In September, Walmart announced it will no longer sell e-cigarettes. By taking a stand against youth nicotine use, Walmart is connected in consumer minds with community wellness—a sensible move for a company expanding into health services. Actions like these produce an emotional response in consumers, which they then attach to the brand itself.

Walmart’s efforts reflect a larger renaissance underway in branding. Marketing leaders today are expanding the role of a brand beyond traditional associations with a product to encompass ideas or values that customers care about.

 70% of consumers today distrust marketers.

Given that 70% of consumers today distrust marketers, the brand renaissance is in part motivated by the need to rebuild trust and bridge the gap that 81% of marketers see between their brand positioning and the company’s real-world actions.

There’s no time to lose. Ninety-four percent of marketing leader-respondents to Gartner’s Brand Strategy 2019 Survey say that brand as either a critical or important driver of customer behavior, and 93% see brands driving prospects. Maintaining brand relevance in the eyes of these customers is key; 35% of marketing leaders name it among their top three brand challenges.

How do leaders achieve ongoing brand relevance? Through constant renewal.

Marketers embrace a continuous process of brand updates

The same market changes that influence business strategy – whether technological, macro-economic, geopolitical or competitive – also affect brand strategy and positioning. Industry transformation and new business models are two top drivers of brand adjustments, named by 49% of leaders. The speed and velocity of these changes compel marketers to adjust and refresh their brands more frequently than before. The once-every-few-years brand refresh may be a relic of the past.

Ninety-one percent of marketing leaders now review the brand position at least once a year and 53% of that group review their brand at least once a quarter. Twenty-five percent have a continuous review process. Though review doesn’t always lead to a change in brand strategy, positioning, or presentation, 83% of leaders report that they do make some change at least once a year.

Frequent review and refreshment reflects the growing understanding that business and cultural shifts can happen quickly and require a response. Brands that get caught unprepared will pay in the market.

Insights drive brand updates

If relevance is the goal, then insight is key. When marketers have clear and actionable information on key customer issues, they can drive brand updates and increase relevance while maintaining the brand’s core advantage

There’s room for improvement on that front. Fewer than one-in-four respondents have in-depth insights into brand-critical issues, such as brand perception, media and channel preferences, purchase patterns, and others.

“There were no insight bright spots where marketers seemed better informed,” says Christopher Ross, VP Analyst, Gartner. 

To keep brands relevant, marketers need to understand what appeals to customers about the brand and what drives customer action.

Marketers also need insights into their competitors. The fact that they don’t have them, notes Ross, “Seems like an ‘Achilles’ heel.”

The insight gap rolls up for brands to the highest level of the organization. Though marketers believe in the relevance of brand, they lack ways to measure and communicate it. Thirty-one percent say that quantifying the brand’s impact on the business is among their top three challenges they face.

If marketers need evidence of the value powerful brands get from continual renewal, look no further than Nike. The Just Do It trademark celebrated its 30-year anniversary with a campaign featuring top athletes of color, including former NFL quarterback and human rights activist Colin Kaepernick. Some complained about Nike’s support for the NFL star, but the athletic brand knew from its customer analytics that true Nike fans supported the social justice movement in sports.

In the mode of continuous improvement, Nike has kept “doing it,” most recently with the Nike HQ at the Church campaign featuring the renovation of a Chicago church into youth center. That latest effort won a 2019 Cannes Lions Craft Grand Prix award, but it’s not just the critics who’ve rewarded Nike. The marketplace also approves, as Nike customers continue to show up in their swoosh-adorned kicks, the clearest sign of brand value.

Learn more about brands in the complimentary research “Presentation of Brand Survey 2019: Marketers Believe in the Power of Brand but Struggle to Respond to Disruption,” by Christopher Ross and Elizabeth Shaw.

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