The role of marketing in the development of brands.
What is a brand and why have one?
In The Oxford Dictionary, a product is mathematically defined 'as a quantity obtained by multiplying quantities together, or from an analogous algebraic operation'. If we focus on the first part, i.e. 'a quantity obtained by multiplying quantities together', then we may find some very useful learnings for the businesses we serve.
As in mathematics, different quantities of letters, numbers, symbols etc. are combined together to create a single quantity or product i.e. (a + b)2 is the product of a2 + b2 + 2ab. Similarly, organisations create combinations of people, technology and raw material to offer a single quantity that brings value back to the business. Until this point there is no need for brands. However, the real thing begins when the formula gets public and anyone with interests in mathematics can establish its identity and use it to support their work. In mathematics this works fine whereas in the world of businesses, this is a problem. As the commercial world operates on competitive laws, an industry can't grow if all of its participants (businesses) offer the same product.
It is for this moment, businesses apply a tactic to differentiate their product/s (goods or services) from others through continuously adding values in the areas which directly or indirectly connect with the users of their product/s i.e. production, delivery, consumption, and support. Today, that tactic is known as the art of creating brands.
Why do people need brands?
In reality, people don't need brands, they need products. In order to get the best product within a certain product category, according to their needs (known or unknown), they need assurance and points of differentiation, to help them in their decision of consuming one product over the other. Therefore, a brand is only valuable to a business if it increases profits on the product/s offered. Hence, we don't find a single IPA Effectiveness Case Study that has failed to increase the product value and won the award title.
Why do brands fail?
Brands are not created for the advertising agencies or marketing departments, but for the businesses they serve. The role of marketing in building brands is that of an advisor and of a spokesperson. Therefore, in building brands, it is critical for marketing to carefully play its role and not exaggerate it. It must not advocate or create a false product need and similarly avoid misinforming the business on user needs. It must challenge the processes of a business if they are not delivering a product according to user needs (Its strong connection with the world of users and their behaviours offers it this unique position within a business). However, at the same time marketing should avoid over-influencing its role in the development of brands. Without a doubt, a business is in trouble if it only drives a brand through marketing and avoids creating a better combination of people, technology and raw material to deliver value in the areas of the production, delivery, consumption, and support (depending on the user needs) of its product/s.
Consider the example of Bing's failure. Back in June 2009, Microsoft launched its search product 'Bing' and positioned it as a specialist search engine. Later on, Bing openly attacked Google's capacity to hold a gigantic number of results for a given query through clever advertising techniques. However, it failed to realise that the user is only interested in the first few search results and Google assures that those few are the most relevant from its index of millions for the given query. With all its ignorance, Bing tried to create a need for not having millions of search results. However, it failed to understand that a large index is not a user issue, but a better output; an output that offers users what they want, when they want it, how they want it. Bing is failing because it is only focusing on communicating the need for not having too many results and not focusing on creating a product which can offer better results than Google. Currently, Microsoft's search product 'Bing' is a brand serving marketing needs and not the business.
Despite its multi-million advertising campaign, Bing failed to make a Big Bang in the Search Engine market. Since its launch, it has only managed to attract 4% of the global internet audience compared to Google which serves 46% of global internet users. If we investigate further, then we realise that even the 4% share of Bing is not really what it appears. The average user only spends 2.57 minutes on Bing.com compared to Google where the average time spent is 13.3 minutes (images, maps, videos, text). Considering this, it wouldn't be wrong to hypothesise that the false demand created by Bing has only managed to make people come to its door, but has failed to keep them there. In reality, users don't pay attention to whether they are presented with 1 million or 1 billion search results, as long as the immediate results answer their query. An increasing downstream rate from Bing to Google further strengthens the argument. Furthermore, there are now reports coming from Google which suggest and prove that Bing is using Google Search results.
Building a brand solely via intelligent marketing techniques such as advertising is a common problem facing many businesses today. For businesses to thrive and overpower their competition, evidently brands must be built with business in mind and not just marketing. As marketers and advertising professionals, it is critical for us to understand that building brands is a business process and not marketing alone.
What could marketing do?
Brand building is a continuous process. Some businesses foresee its need and start building one before the competition forces them to do so; others wake up to the tough competitive calls. In either case, once a business has made a commitment to build a brand, it must not stop or pause the process.
Brands are created collectively; no single division of a business has the capability to create a brand on its own. Therefore, as marketing and advertising professionals we don't create brands, but we identify, inform and communicate areas of a business through which it can build and maintain a successful brand in order to differentiate its product/s from others.
As mentioned earlier, marketing has two clear roles to play in the process of brand building i.e. Advisor and Spokesperson for the business and its product/s. If we look around us, then we would find lots of stories, cases, and conversations on how successfully marketing is delivering its spokesperson job. Sadly, there's very little debate on marketing as an advisor. In reality, today most of the marketing is only doing 50% of its job.
Learnings from Google and Bing suggest that the information age has already started to destroy brands built on 50% marketing. In its true essence, a brand only becomes successful when all processes and divisions of a business are working seamlessly together. Sadly, in the building of brands we are still experiencing a disintegrated chain of efforts. From sales to research to development and so on; all is happening in little individual silos. To end this piece, there is no one better than Stephen King to quote on this subject, in his essay 'What is a Brand?' King mentioned, 'Experts are hired to construct all the bits – a production unit in the North Midlands, some basic research people from High Wycombe, an advertising agency in W.I, a packaging boutique just off the Tottenham Court Road, some merchandising experts from Soho: and in some office suburb, someone choosing a name by sticking a pin into a computer printout'. Unfortunately, after more than three decades, what we have today is new names for silos; i.e. social media agencies, digital agencies, social audience research experts, digital product developers, ecommerce management systems, technology geeks etc. etc., but still the same old problem of disintegrated brand building.
Can marketing alone solve this issue? Probably not. However, if marketing plays its role holistically in the development of brands through not just communicating what's on offer, but also helping the business in enabling its different units to work together to create the highest valued product, then there's definitely hope. And In this, lies the power for creating a more successful and prosperous future for the brands and the businesses they serve.