How The 21st Century Consumer Surprised Us With Brand Perceptions


David Cooperstein, Contributor

February 14, 2014

Now that the Super Bowl is over, we can shift the conversation back from 30 second wow factors to real brand strategy. If you are like most, you think you know a brand. Intuitively, there is something iconic about certain brands where, as a CMO, you expect the marketplace to share your views. Thankfully (for the sake of our careers), consumers are not as predictable as we’d like, offering us surprises when we survey them. Do consumers prefer Apple or Microsoft? Crest or Colgate? Visa or Mastercard? Over the course of 2013, we set out to test this question using our Brand Compass framework (client access required) that helps marketers navigate the brand expectations of 21st century consumers.

The core components of the Brand Compass that we tested were:

  • What is the balance of trusted, remarkable, unmistakable, and essential attributes to build brand resonance?
  • How do those attributes impact preference, pricing power, and referral?

We selected six categories (more coming), including health & beauty, food & beverage, big box retail, financial services, consumer technology, and media.

Both across and within each category, we found some surprising things.

  • Trust reigns supreme, always. If a consumer doesn’t trust your brand, you can assume other efforts you undertake will be spoiled by that initial impression. But trust means different things by age segment. Young men love Axe because it is edgy and remarkable, while adult women favor Dove because they trust the brand’s support of all kinds of real beauty.
  • The brand leader is not always obvious. Not surprisingly, many brand leaders are tried and true household names like Kellogg’s and Heinz who have built trust over decades of advertising and consistent product offerings.  But some new brands have risen to dominate their market. PayPal established brand leadership by successfully reassuring consumers of the safety of its online payment service brand under the positioning “the faster, safer way to pay and get paid online”.
  • Retailers have an Amazon problem in brand perception. Amazon’s rapid rise to a $65 billion retailer has been expansive, spanning the couch to the aisles of competitors’ stores. But they also lead brand perception in terms of being trusted because consumers say they consistently deliver on their promises, literally. The packaging improvements and on-time or early delivery of purchases give consumers confidence that they will get what they need, when they need it.  And they have become essential by providing personal offerings and insight into products that make the shopping experience better than one can get offline or from most eCommerce competitors.
  • Brands need nurturing, even for leaders. When we first defined this framework in 2011, every correlation of brand impression to business outcome favored Apple. Whether the brand drove personal pride leading to referral, or made one feel special and lead to pricing power, Apple was always in the upper right quadrant. Who leads in the area of consumer technology circa late 2013? Microsoft! Apple and rival Samsung remain strong when it comes to Millennials. Microsoft’s refreshed brand strategy and new products appear to be improving their perception broadly across all age groups and especially with women.

What are you doing differently to appeal to the 21st Century consumer? Let us know how your brand strategy has evolved, and what that impact has been.

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