Experience makes or breaks reputation
A lot has been written about what brands do or should be doing to position themselves through a variety of marketing communication activities and on different channels. Focus often gets placed on how they should integrate the ever expanding media platforms, especially social media, and make use of highly visible messages and visuals in order to stand above competition and achieve better reach.
All of this advice is correct; no doubt, but much of it tends to be focused on the supply side of the divide – as if we still live in a world of brand monologues – with scant attention given to the increasingly obvious truth that the power of demand has taken over that of supply in many product and service markets. Increasing numbers of brands are at the mercy of the whims and desires of the people they wish to reach, or their friends and associates – not the other way round. Think of a person whose success in winning the hand of the object of his/her desires relying more on the approval of his/ her best friends than on the will of the person desired!
More than ever before, the success that can be achieved by any brand will be determined by how the markets – not only their immediate ‘target’ market markets – feel about them.
Not only their Target Markets?
Let’s look closer at this claim.
There was a time when many brands, especially those which operated in relatively older, established and stable markets, could safely assume that their worlds were predictable. Their target markets were clearly identified and, for luxury brands, they knew who could afford them and who would never even dream of doing so. So they could decide with relative ease whom to totally ignore in their brand communications and whom to keep spending their brand communication Rands/Euros/Dollars on. They could point to people who mattered for their brand communications with their eyes closed.
Sadly, that time is no more!
With increased consumer awareness of and interest in issues such as environmental protection, human rights, labour issues, Women and Children’s Rights, etc. brands have to invest in mapping more complex stakeholder groups than ever before. While their core service/product related messages will continue to be targeted at existing clients, wider brand communication messages dealing with rights and brand behavior issues, such as the ones described above, have to be targeted at a wider stakeholder community. While selling to a clearly identified customer target group, all brands are now forced to reassure almost everyone else that they are well-behaved; they do nothing to contribute to environmental and atmospheric degradation and that they do not tolerate any violation or abuse of rights at any level, whether this is done by their own employees or by those of their suppliers and other players within their entire value chains.
Ultimately, brand reputation relies on the approval of all stakeholder groups.
In relatively young and dynamic markets, such as South Africa, where there is a relatively fast migration of consumers from lower LSM (Living Standard Measurement) levels to higher ones, brands have to also pay attention to this growing community of ‘aspirant consumers’ who will constitute their core target customer base within a relatively short period of time.
The existing target market might have more features distinguishing it from aspirant target group than income. In a country like South Africa, the aspirant target market might be coming with a totally different brand engagement culture, be it influenced ethnic norms, linguistic norms, religious and, generally, different socialization norms than those of the historic target market.
In such cases such as the above, brands have to ask themselves a simple question: “what shifts are there to be made in order to better appeal to these aspirant target markets which will soon constitute our core target market? Of these shifts, which are negotiable, i.e. do not constitute the soul of our brand, and which are non-negotiable”? But that is a discussion for another piece.
Finally, reputation should matter to all brands. It is up to each brand to fully understand key customer and societal touch points – and the number keeps growing – and ensure that its level of appeal in terms of these key touch points is above the rest of its competition.
Solly MOENG – DonValley Brand, Marketing & Communications
“At DonValley we observe brands with keen interest; we observe people brands, destination & country brands, and we observe corporate brands. We offer a variety of brand management tools applicable at different stages in the lifespan of brands, to help them maintain effective dialogues with their target audiences and markets.”