As their audiences become more connected, brand marketers need to be open-minded about where their best opportunities lie

A young woman in South Korea recently spent most of her day browsing an online shopping site – in breaks at work, over lunchtime, whenever she had some free time available. That evening, she spent a further two hours taking a closer look at the products she was interested in. Then, finally, of all the products she had spent her day researching, she bought just a tiny fraction.

On the face of it, this seems like a startlingly inefficient virtual shopping trip. However, our shopper is not all that unusual. Consumers worldwide spend far more time browsing products on eCommerce sites than they do actually buying them. They visit these sites many more times than they make purchases from them. Does this mean that the sites are failing in their primary purpose? Or could it be that consumers are using them in a very different way to how marketers expect them to? Are eCommerce sites as much about providing brand experiences and seeking brand inspiration as they are about driving purchases?

The young woman’s online window-shopping shows how people are increasingly taking control of when they want to be engaged and inspired by brands – and in many cases they are choosing touchpoints that aren’t traditionally considered brand-building channels at all. If they are to continue building effective brands, marketers need a new definition of what constitutes a brand-building opportunity.

Redefining brand opportunities

Tweet thisBrand channels used to be defined by their ability to reach target audiences at scale. However, reach is no longer a differentiator for any media platform. When the same consumer can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, not to mention TV, outdoor ads and more, the ability to reach them isn’t the issue – it’s what happens when you do that counts. Brand opportunities are defined by the state of mind of the audience, not the fact that the audience is there.

We can see this in the growing evidence that reach no longer correlates with quality of engagement. Recent Kantar TNS analysis of equity for one FMCG brand is fairly typical. It showed that the touchpoints where it competed most effectively on reach (TV ads, print ads and word of mouth from family and friends) were also the touchpoints where it underperformed in terms of engagement. The context in which this brand outperformed its competitors was less conventional. It turned out to be the occasions when celebrity chefs used it as an ingredient in their recipes, providing unique endorsement, relevance and credibility. What gave this brand its competitive edge wasn’t just the ability to reach more people; it was the ability to create more unique and influential brand memories.

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Choosing when and where to build memories

Marketers can’t create such memories simply by chasing their audiences across the internet. This quickly becomes exhausting: it exhausts resource, budget and organisational energy. Just as importantly, it can quickly exhaust interest and attention on the part of the audience. Marketers need to get selective – but they need to get selective intelligently, by focusing on how brand memories actually form.

People don’t remember every encounter with a brand – they remember encounters that flood their brains with emotion, and align with their motivations and priorities at the time. Effective brands know how to select the touchpoints that do this most effectively – and they know that the right choice of touchpoint depends on both the brand and the audience.

Gatorade, for example, decided that the most effective moment for creating memories during this year’s Superbowl wasn’t to be found as part of a TV ad break. Instead it created a sponsored Snapchat lens showing Serena Williams (whom Gatorade sponsors) being ‘dunked’ by a barrel of Gatorade – and inviting the Snapchat audience to create their own versions, virtually dunking themselves and their friends. This campaign had all the hallmarks of great occasion-based advertising. It was inherently relevant, since the dunking of victorious coaches with giant barrels of Gatorade is a Superbowl tradition; it invited the audience to get involved in the moment in a hugely personal way; and it was fun. Fun goes a long way when it comes to creating powerful brand memories. The 160 million impressions for Gatorade’s Snapchat lens suggest it created quite a few of them.

For Dollar Shave Club, the opportunity that could launch a whole new brand and a whole new business model for its category didn’t involve a TV ad either. It knew that its male target audience turned to YouTube for edgy, funny entertainment – and so it provided it, with a delivery of its brand proposition that doubled as stand-up comedy. It wasn’t an extension or a roll-out of a TV ad campaign – because the main impact of the ad came through a line that couldn’t possibly be broadcast on TV. Instead it was designed around the YouTube-specific need to keep and grab an audience’s attention in a matter of seconds.

This doesn’t mean that every brand building opportunity in the new multi-touchpoint landscape happens away from a TV screen. However it does mean that the brands making most effective use of TV are those who know why TV is the right brand-building opportunity for them. John Lewis is one such brand. Its annual Christmas advertising expertly leverages a moment when its broad audience is perfectly primed for the family-oriented emotion the brand excels at generating.

All three of these brands have succeeded by being selective – choosing the, contexts and experiences that would most suit their ability to build influential memories amongst their target audiences. But the creation of initial brand memories in this way is only part of the journey that brands must take in the multi-touchpoint landscape.

Staying selective to deliver consistent customer experiences

Memories don’t stay fixed, like a video recording of our past experience. They are recalled and reshaped every time another relevant experience comes along. As they are presented with more and more opportunities to interact with their audiences, it’s never been more important for marketers to remember this. Every encounter will either reinforce or undermine the memories formed by their previous brand activity. They must therefore select their touchpoints carefully. They need opportunities where their audiences are open to engaging with them – but also where they can deliver the same emotional promise their brand is already associated with.

This was relatively straightforward for Dollar Shave Club, a brand that was creating its subscription-based customer journey from scratch. It was able to reinforce the iconoclastic comedy of its launch video through witty welcome emails, packaging wrapped in deadpan humour and special offers (manly wet wipes, for example) that were wholly in character.

For legacy brands and business models, things aren’t so easy. However, Tweet this by focusing on the moments that matter, marketers can still stay in control of brand memories – and exert more consistent influence over their audience’s choices.

Whose touchpoint is it anyway?

The eCommerce sites our South Korean shopper visited are one such opportunity – and a powerful one. These are environments where consumers expect to encounter brands and are open to engaging with them, often over long periods of time. However, to take advantage, marketers need to learn how to build branded experiences within the constraints of the eCommerce platform itself. Doing so involves working far more closely with their colleagues in shopper marketing.

Ultimately, this is the real challenge for brand marketers today. In order to make smart choices about the touchpoints their brand should be building memories through, they need to break down siloes internally and pool insight from across the organisation. They then need an integrated approach to delivering experiences through those touchpoints.

Building brands across channels and devices is no longer simply a creative challenge – or a media buying one. It’s also an exercise in organisational change. Brand marketing isn’t what it used to be – and the departments that deliver it can’t stay the way they used to be either.

Anne is the Global Head of Communications Research for TNS, spanning creative development, media effectiveness, and touchpoints optimisation. She works closely with teams from across TNS to bring our best thinking and offers to our clients.

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