Moderately sized brands are lured into mass media awareness campaigns because they’ve been told that higher share of voice equals higher sales. However, they’re then competing with all media advertisers, where only the biggest brands succeed in mass and all others have little to show for their effort and expenditure.
A brand’s real opportunity for growth is through deeper connections with narrower groups of highly-engaged customers. Target (or niche) marketing, of course, is not a new idea. But new tools and techniques triggered by advances in customizable technology and the growing segmentation of consumers into communities has taken targeting to a whole new level. These, in turn, are enabling a new concept called “narrow branding,” in which brands present themselves in very different ways to different groups of consumers.
Narrow branding is a deeply subversive concept. It challenges cherished ideas about brand consistency and standards by enabling consumers to shape and mold the very essence of a brand.
But for those willing to shake off old assumptions and look at a more customer-centric approach to marketing, narrow branding promises big benefits.
The New Consumer
Today’s consumers are savvier, more informed and better connected than ever before. They share information, express their opinions and influence each other’s decisions in ways that traditional mass media can’t comprehend.
To succeed, brands must be adaptable and constructed around the lives of consumers. They can’t present themselves in a single, unswerving way. They need to focus on individual targets whose aspirations drive the promises, the attributes and even the visual language of the brand.
Narrow branding understands this. It starts with conventional segmentation, breaking down consumers by groups that share common lifestyles and interests. Then it completely reimagines every aspect of the brand—the brand experience, product mix, usability, distribution, content and media—as though the entire brand was originally conceived and built for each consumer segment.
Though narrow branding may at first seem counterintutive, it does not veer away from brand identity. Rather, it embraces the positive qualities of the brand, sharing them in more detail with customers.
Think of it as brand personalization. More narrowly defined brands meet consumers at their level, allowing them to influence and feel ownership in the brand. They are purposely inconsistent in order to achieve relevancy with specific customer segments. They take advantage of adjustments in packaging, product placement and messaging to grow core groups of enthusiastic and loyal customers.
Traditional mass media, of course, doesn’t allow much room for customization. A 30-second spot or print ad is a pretty solid, immutable. This is not as true for digital communication, which can be altered to reflect changes in the consumer environment at will.
Narrow branding is ideally suited to this world. Technology enables marketers to identify and customize entire brand experiences for specific audiences, then “engage” in a much longer and more proactive discussion with consumers than traditional mass media ever could.
The SeaPak Success Story
The SeaPak Shrimp Company is an example of a mid-sized brand in a low-involvement category (frozen foods) that achieved the necessary level of customization and engagement.
SeaPak adopted narrow branding to customize every aspect of its consumers’ brand experience, including products, packaging, distribution, media, content and messaging. Specifically, the company identified two core—yet completely different—lifestyle consumers: those who live to cook and those who cook to live. Then it set about to create a separate, narrow brand for each.
The live-to-cook lifestyle is a far more involved customer. They have a passion for cooking, discovering new recipes and preparing unique meals for family and friends. SeaPak surrounded these shoppers with content that enabled their passion, including special access to famous chefs through online Q&A events, original seafood recipes from Food Network chef Robin Miller, customized monthly e-mail campaigns with chef recipes, wine pairings and prep advice. In addition, products, packaging and distribution are customized for this target, with higher end unbreaded seafood products, upscale packaging and placement in the store near the fresh seafood case, where these consumers typically shop.
The cook-to-live group is more concerned with achieving balance, spending more time with family and less time in the kitchen. So for this segment, SeaPak placed brand emphasis on quality and ease of preparation. Products for this segment are focused on quick-baked breaded items, less full meals and more quick dishes and appetizers. Distribution and packaging also reflects this approach, with brighter, more casual packaging located in the core frozen section of the store. Content and messaging is focused on quick and unexpected usage occasions, preparation on the run and couponing.
SeaPak transformed itself into two narrow brands that appealed to two very different consumer lifestyles. The results: an increase in engaged consumers exceeding 300 percent. More importantly, narrow branding created a sales lift of more than 15 percent in a category that was in decline.
It’s a lesson that brands of any size can learn: it’s not necessary to bombard the highest-funded marketing campaigns to have the largest impact.
Narrow branding enables brands of any size to evolve and stay relevant with the consumer, providing all brands a distinct foothold in what has been traditionally a big brand world.