Lesson #3: Know Thyself and Build Trust in Others
Branding communicates a set of values and promises to customers. When a brand delivers on those promises, trust is created, and a relationship based on shared experience and loyalty ensues. That bond is vital to brands, particularly when the economic climate sours and consumers shift their spending habits.
As the 2008 Best Global Brands Executive Summary states, "The uncertainty of a downturn drives consumers to want more for their money and demand a more emotionally rewarding experience for their hard-earned and limited cash." In such times loyalty often competes with necessity. "It's no longer a choice between Nike or adidas shoes. The question becomes, 'Do I buy shoes or an iPod?'" Not exactly Sophie's Choice, but a tough decision for any parent with kids in high school.
Brands that have and continue to consistently build trust with consumers are better off in tough times than brands that seek to capitalize on the latest trend or exploit the sincerity of the moment—for instance, going green. The article "Sustainability and its impact on brand value," by Paula Oliveira and Andrea Sullivan, concludes with the sentences, "A study published by TerraChoice, an environmental marketing firm, showed that 99% of the 1,018 consumer products surveyed were guilty of greenwashing. These companies risk not only their reputation, but also future earnings for the business." Why? Because consumers can see through the greenwashing malarkey. Consumers were raised by parents who called that sort of thing lying. Check out brandchannel's 2008 brandjunkie awards, where "None" was the number one answer to the question, "What brand do you think is truly (going) 'green'? Why?"
Brands who aren't true to who they say they are can be more susceptible to outside forces and peer pressure from changing markets and emerging trends. There is a difference between being thoughtful, engaged, and flexible, and simply being something you are not. Like trustworthy.
Lesson #4: Brands are Defining Borders in the Global Economy
Dr. Jürgen Häusler, CEO of Interbrand Central & Eastern Europe, thinks the branding world has it backwards. He writes, "Brands create nations? Why do we furrow our brows when we read this sentence? Because we usually consider it a law of nature that the cause-and-effect relationship is the other way around: Nations create brands."
With the incredible expansion of international commerce and advances in transportation over the past 100 years, immigrants—both legal and illegal—have become the blood coursing through today's economic circulatory system. The phrase "Made in _____" should be expanded to say "Made in _____, by _____." For example, "Made in the U.S.A., by Mexicans." Or "Made in Italy, by Vietnamese." Or even "Made in France, by some Algerians, four Russians, a Brazilian, and nine Saudi Arabians."
Dr. Häusler explains that when consumers around the globe think of fine "Italian" menswear, they aren't thinking of Italy, the actual country, at all; they are, in fact, collectively thinking of Italian brands such as Armani, Brioni, and Ermenegildo Zegna. The same principle applies to cars, (renowned German car engineering is the genius of Audi, Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche), and booze (all of France doesn't make Champagne, Champagne makes Champagne). Though particular nations may benefit from the halo effect of these brands, which is certainly warranted, credit should be attributed to the brands for the quality of their products and their admirable unwillingness to compromise the brand values that consistently ensure quality.
Lesson #5: Technology Continues to Empower the Consumer
Jason Baer, Interbrand's Director of Verbal Identity in New York City, in "Six laws of collaborative branding," succinctly characterizes the current intersection of branding and technology: "One thing is certain: the days of complete and total jurisdiction over your brand are gone." Understandably, a brand's worst nightmare is of being hijacked by disgruntled customers with plenty of attitude, heaps of time, and a high-speed Internet connection. So if your primary consumers are 15-year-olds, be very afraid. They have plenty of each.
Brands, however, must respect social networking. Corporations spend millions of dollars on marketing research to understand what their customers, and potential customers, are thinking. With the Internet today, that information is everywhere. Brands must deal with positive feedback by being grateful, intelligent, and gracious, reaching out to loyal customers and building mutually beneficial relationships with prospective ones. Negative feedback should be treated deftly and honestly, and never create the impression of being defensive, paranoid, or dismissive. How a brand reacts to negative feedback and criticism speaks volumes about its values, ethics, and maturity. Above all, respect the power of pedestrians on the Web.
Baer writes, "Only brands that actively engage their audiences in a conversation will survive… If we don't ask them to participate, watch out, because they will happily take matters into their own hands. Just look at the hundreds of homemade Apple commercials (or the more antagonistic Microsoft Zune spoofs) on YouTube and you'll see that this can't be stopped. So don't fight this phenomenon. Embrace it."
After all, brands that don't value input from their customers don't have much value themselves.
At least that is what online consumers are telling us.