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A New Branding Paradigm, Online and Off

A New Branding Paradigm, Online and Off Joseph Carrabis

I've written about my joke list and how sometimes what I receive is linked serendipitously to some research NextStage is doing. It happened in Social Networks and Viral Marketing, and it happened again in mid-June of this year.

NextStage was researching how different age groups respond to branding efforts when I received some jokes that closely duplicated our results.

What we discovered shouldn't be shocking to anyone: different logos appeal to different age groups. When I write "logos" I mean, literally, the combination of logotype, icon and slogan that make a complete logo. Not all companies use all three elements and… you get the idea.

What I don't mean is the company, the product, or anything else. Just the logo itself.

Again, this shouldn't be surprising. Different people respond differently to different words and different colors; different images imply different things to different people, and so on and so forth.

What was surprising is this: how people are getting branded is changing. How it's changing has some interesting implications for how products are going to be perceived in the marketplace.

First, the numbers
NextStage's research tested three age groups: 19 to 34, 35 to 54 and 55 to 75 year olds. Individuals were given logos from products marketed starting in 1925 through to the present. The products chosen covered breakfast products to automobiles, telecommunications providers to household goods, fast food vendors to farm equipment.

The rules of the game were simple:

1) Name the product
2) Name the product's promise (i.e., what would you get if you purchased this product that you didn't have before?), and
3) Give a reason for your score.

The results are summed in the chart below and shown in figure 1:

The numbers alone demonstrate that there's a change in how people are being branded. Three generations of people and logos and the ability to name a specific product really changed very little: 39 percent to 46 percent to 40 percent. That's pretty much the same number, give or take a standard deviation or two.

But the ability to remember a product's promise in the marketplace? Those numbers have more to do with changes in the marketplace than with the fading memories of Boomers and beyond.

How social technology is changing markets
Most people appreciate that technology changes marketing, and some people are realizing that technology is also changing markets. The internet, for example, is a great democratizer. People get to tell their stories and each person gets to state his (or her) case.

How do you know if someone's case is valid and if their story is true? You don't, not directly. You rely on your social network to vet the individual and the information they provide.

But what about links that come to you from outside your social network? How do you know you can trust the information at the end of that link?

Side note: I explain how trust grows online and how businesses can create an atmosphere of trust between their website and visitors in Reading Virtual Minds, volume one.

There's not a lot involved but what's involved is important.

Persuasion versus interaction
The old model for marketing and hence branding was one of persuasion.

The new model is highly interactive.

Customers are tuning out promotions and spin and looking for the input of peers -- real or imagined -- to help them make sense of the competitive landscape.

One such company-provided solution was decision-making tools. Such tools help consumers select computer components, stereo components, automotive accessories and are, as NextStage learned in its research on new branding methodologies, "...so 20th century." NextStage's sizer tool, as a counter-example, doesn't help you decide what to buy. Instead it helps you determine strategies for getting more out of what you already have. The goal isn't to sell, it's to help, and such altruism is proving a very effective online marketing strategy.

New technologies are changing the marketer's burden. "Push versus pull" now means that marketers cannot simply push product at consumers: they need to pull consumers to products. The way to do that is by first understanding consumer behavior online then by responding to the consumers performing those behaviors-- preferably in real-time. A problem with true democratization is that everybody is equally important in their own eyes. The person with $10 in their pocket wants the same level of sales interaction as the person with $10,000 in their pocket.

The only way to treat both people equally well is to have interaction technologies that scale.

The new branding
What NextStage discovered in its research was that new technologies are making it increasingly difficult for brands -- even established brands -- to take a firm hold in consumers' collective non-conscious.

Marketers, struggling to increase customer trust and loyalty, are learning that if they demonstrate that their marketing content is personally relevant, then consumers will put the marketing message into a larger context.

But here's the problem. Marketers want to evoke a feeling of partnership with the consumer, but consumers don't know that they can trust the marketers.

The solution to the problem is demonstrated by the numbers in this chart: Don't promote product, promote concept.

The new branding demonstrates the paradigm shift in push versus pull.

Next: How to change push to pull

Return to page 1

Quit asking consumers to equate product with desired outcome; start inviting consumers to equate desired outcome with product.

It's not "Coke." It's "Liquid Refreshment."

Some brand (and this shows that the branding failed) used as a tag line "the drink that refreshes." Under this new marketing paradigm, online or off, the tagline needs to be "be refreshed with..." or "stay refreshed with...."

This paradigm shift allows marketers to be more responsive to the ever-changing and ever-demanding marketplace, and the new adaptive markets are extremely agile and agonizingly demanding. Fail to meet consumers' needs and you'll be forgotten before the next page loads.

I was once told, "If you don't have competition, you don't have a market." I doubt that's true any longer. New markets are being created daily as new technologies evolve allowing person A to share information with person B. In many cases, the market didn't exist until some technological innovation created a space in which that market could exist.

The competition isn't in technologies any more; it's in the delivery of the technologies' messages, or promises, to consumers.

Social networks and the new branding
Recently, in an interview with TechNewsWorld, I explained that this is a "Holmes and Watson" scenario.

Boomers want to identify a Holmes in their social network, someone with experience and no agenda whom they can trust to provide good information. The marketers who are targeting that demographic need to identify the Holmeses; then (if possible), they have to bring the Holmeses into the brand's fold. Marketing to Boomers means finding influencers.

But the situation is different at the other end of the scale, inside the social network. There, everybody wants to be a Holmes so the value of each individual Holmes goes down depending on how many Holmeses there are.

In addition to the Holmeses, marketers need to identify the Watsons in this group, the evangelists who can carry a Holmesian message without being branded as another no-name with an opinion. As one person in our research commented, "they were just doing the usual thing you see on forums and blogs-- trying to sound important." Ouch!

The true power of social forums and networks -- what marketers often fail to understand -- is the exchange of ideas, not the promotion of product. Just ask any one who attended "Foo's Paradise" at Googleplex this past August. Folks from several disciplines were invited by Google, Nature Magazine and O'Reilly Publishing to get together and just talk. They did talk, and only talk, and everyone involved thought it was wonderful.

Communicating your brand
There was a time when, meeting someone for the first time and somewhere between asking if they'd ever been here before and their zodiac sign, you asked, "What do you do?"

The question in the new branding is different and driven by consumers who know their market space better than most marketers would like or will even admit to. The question, "What do you do?" -- whether the asker means to or not -- is a question that puts the respondent under a microscope. Depending on how and when the question is asked the respondent might answer inaccurately or not at all. It's also a question from an era when the market -- the person asking the question -- had more power than the consumer -- the person giving the answer.

That's changed. There are too many businesses out there, each vying for the consumer's mind. Businesses that used to ask "What do you do?" are learning they need to start asking, "What do you need done?"

The market has shifted from supply and demand to demand and supply, with consumer's making highly educated demands to learn whether or not suppliers measure up. They don't want just any soft drink any more. They want liquid refreshment. Woe to the bottler that simply wants to sell them a "Coke."

Many thanks to NextStage Global's Dr. Cindy LaChapelle for help in preparing this column.

Please email NextStage if you'd like to be notified when a whitepaper on age and branding becomes available.

Joseph Carrabis is CRO and founder of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global. Read full bio.

Joseph Carrabis is Founder and CRO of The NextStage Companies, NextStage Global and NextStage Analytics, companies that specialize in helping clients improve their marketing efforts and understand customer behavior. He's also applied neuroscience,...

View full biography


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