Today the brand landscape is not what it used to be some years back. Today the brand landscape is more complex, intense and highly competitive. Today the brand landscape can be economical theorised as “Perfect Competition” in which market rivalry is so ferocious that the players in the industry are forced in terms of their pricing down to their cost base. They don’t make a profit anymore. All the value that’s created goes to the consumer.
Now, what are the conditions under which you have perfectly competitive markets? One is you have a large number of sellers with low barriers to entry. The other is you have perfect information and the third is you have homogenous or commodity-like products. Well, have a look at Google and think of a product like the iPhone. Lots of retailers are selling the same product. Just consider the retailer profits, they’re basically under huge pressure because everybody’s selling the same products. What about the concept of perfect information, especially in a global environment? Today, you look at the internet. You look at Google. You look at Metasearch engines like Kayak, which is a search engine on top of search engines. In the UK, we have moneysupermarket.com. Consumers can even go to a store and use their mobile phone, and scan in the barcode, and find a better price elsewhere. And there are even some websites, like ratemyprofessor.com where you can get information on the people that teach you. So, there’s a lot more information consumers have. Not only do they have more information today than they had yesterday, but they often have more information than your very own salespeople at least about the products they are interested in. For example, if one goes and buy, let’s say, a television. One might have done his or her search online beforehand. The consumer has selected two, three different models and he researched them in depth. And when the buyer goes to the store, the buyer wants the sales person to help me make my decision. Now of course, they have dozens of TVs to deal with. They have lot of other electronics in their mind. It’s quite difficult to know more than buyer know, so that whole relationship in terms of information has shifted. The customer often knows more than the company.
Most of them are very, very much alike between competitors. And even think about the iconic Apple brand in terms of the pad, in terms of the iPad. The lawyer when they were suing Samsung went to the judge and showed the tablet from Samsung versus the pad from Apple and said, look, they are so similar. They’ve copied everything we do. Competitive benchmarking and competition have commoditized industries, and one doesn’t have to tell those of you in business to business products how difficult it is to differentiate your products from each other. Not only that, but potential customers are driving this commoditization. In business to business, we’ve got strategic functions now, which are procurement and they are making products seem very similar. Why? Because they want to ask you to compete on price. They’re telling you as competitors, hey, you’re the same as all these other prequalified suppliers. Give me their best price.
The question is what role does a brand play in this environment? Does it matter if the same product comes from one brand versus the other? If the oil comes from Shell or it comes from Total Parco, does it matter. In reality, it does matter.
The brand is not a product or even a service, it’s an experience that happens over a prolonged time. There are many, many touch points and these touch points cut across all consumers’ different business silos. It can be the parking lot attended. It can be the ticketing person. It can be an operator of a little choo, choo train where you can listen to. It’s a small world and you’re in your own little magic bubble while you’re there. And you can think of even vendors who are constantly fixing and upgrading the shopping window, they have to disappear into the background. It’s very, very difficult to create a magical experience. It’s not the same as commodity products. This is the behaviour of dozens, if not hundreds of people that occur across this experience that you have.
What matters is about the brand promise and delivering the promise accordingly which traditionally, marketing communications was about creating that promise. It’s creating those expectations and about the delivery of that promise. The brand is not just the icing on the cake, it’s the cake itself. It’s not an outcome, as in the brand image. It’s part of the process itself. It’s its inside the organisation. It fuels innovation. It drives your people’s behaviour who then deliver the costumer experience. Now, this is a real step change from the way we think about branding before. Before, it was very controlled. It was the visual identity. I could have advertisements, place them media, again, which were very controlled. Now it’s about internal to the organisation, engaging with different business functions that marketing traditionally has not engaged with. Operations, human resources, IT.
And it’s about those functions, delivering the brand at many various touch points across the customer experience, that’s really what matters the most!