PURPOSE and trust is the name of the game in the world of branding. Creativity and the ability to retain a brand on consumers’ minds over time are other pillars for successful brand building.
The latest closure of Crabtree & Evelyn retail bricks-and-mortar business worldwide, following the footsteps of other global retailers such as US toy maker Toys R Us, seems to suggest that online shopping is the way to go for brands to strive and be impactful. But is this the case?
Several ad agencies and branding experts beg to differ. Publicis One Malaysia and Leo Burnett Malaysia CEO Tan Kien Eng tells StarBizWeek that as online e-commerce consumption continues to grow, there will be a fundamental need for humans to be physical, to touch and feel.
He says it is not about the death of the bricks-and-mortar business but how retailers should streamline and evolve their physical stores to provide a unique experience for people.
“As we bemoan the death of bricks-and-mortar businesses, on the flip side, more and more online brands, through data and the deep understanding of their customers, have started to venture into physical stores in malls.
“Basically, they are creating omni-channel experience integrating bricks and mortar with their online platform. Leo Burnett understands this and collaborates with the Publicis Groupe group of companies to provide future clients with end-to-end business transformation solutions to win and capture market shares,” Tan says.
At Leo Burnett, he says the agency believes in purpose-driven brands. Brands with purpose create better acts in the form of products and services to better serve people and deliver better customer experience, he adds.
Aside from product relevance, design, quality, safety etc, he says people connect with brands through stories and acts. Content and context play an important role, he says.
“Through precision marketing, the Publicis Groupe, such as Leo Burnett, Starcom and Digitas are able to serve the right content within the right context to engage people leading to transaction. We also take the opportunity to capture and analyse data to better serve their customers again and again.
Branding Association of Malaysia president Datuk Eric Chong says online and offline branding should complement each other to ensure brand effectiveness.
On one hand, he adds online branding has an edge over offline branding as it is cheaper in terms of operational costs etc compared with the bricks-and-mortar operators. But on the other hand, the bricks-and-mortar operators have the experience and financial resources needed for brand building.
“It will definitely be a challenge for offline operators or those with physical operations to stay afloat. It’s akin to an elephant surrounded by “online” fire ants which over time will cause the elephant to topple.
“In short, neither online nor offline businesses can claim to have an upper hand. Conventional retail operators will have to form strategic alliances with online players to effectively promote their brands and be comprehensive players.
“The future world of branding is online and offline and shopping experience is paramount,” Chong says.
Entropia senior partner Prashant Kumar agrees. There are many countries where some of the largest brand builders on TV and newspapers are the new-age e-commerce players, ride-sharing brands, over-the-top (OTT) players and payment solutions, he says.
“Different mediums have different roles to play in an integrated brand experience. Ultimately it’s not about offline versus online, smart brand building requires a judicious mix of the two,” he explains.
The magical human experience of a high touch physical store can’t be copied online, he says, adding that in the same way, online can enable aspects of the experience that are unparalleled in the physical world.
“So an ideal world will have both. And the mix will depend on category economics and customer needs to which a brand satisfies. As much as the individual business model, a brand may choose to follow within its constraints,” Prashant notes.
To ensure that the company’s brand reaches its target audience, IPG Mediabrands Malaysia CEO Bala Pomaleh says advertisers should be clear about their product proposition and benefits and who will consume them.
Towards this end, he adds, market sizing is critical. Bala says this will enable clearer revenue and cost projections and helps determine if a product or service should even be launched.
“Market sizing includes not only knowing the addressable segment size, but also their particular attitudes, media, and lifestyle habits. This allows the advertisers to work hand in hand with their agency partners to craft communication that works more effectively. Then comes the science and art of placing these ads so that returns are maximised,” he says.
He says smart agencies are loaded with various capabilities and tools to help advertisers become more efficient in placements to maximise effectiveness.
He adds that it is paramount that these efforts are then tracked to measure effectiveness, and for learnings to be used for continuous fine tuning of ad placement decisions.
This is why analytics is critically important for all advertisers, he says, noting that by knowing what works and what doesn’t, channels or activities that are not giving sufficient yield can be reassessed to ensure optimal marketing spend.
“Advertisers and agencies need to work together to harness paid efforts and have a clearly defined strategy to leverage earned media both online and offline,” he says.
Trust is the cornerstone of brand building, according to the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As) president and Havas Immerse Malaysia managing director Andrew Lee.
In recent years, he stresses that trust in business has eroded right alongside trust in institutions, but with a twist. “Even as people express doubts about the motivations and trustworthiness of businesses, they are also increasingly looking for private companies to assume a leadership position in addressing critical issues ranging from income and gender inequity to climate change.
“Brands have the potential to be drivers of the sorts of positive change consumers seek, but only if they are able to establish a meaningful level of trust,” Lee says.
For a brand to be a winner, he says it should, among others, be able to address a negative experience, focus on brand-consumer proximity etc and bolster a company’s compelling purpose with facts.
Chong highlights creativity and brand retention as other pillars for brand effectiveness. “For a brand to reach its target audience it must be creative and one that is able to successfully have a strong retention on consumers’ minds. Short of this elements, a brand will fail to reach its target audience.
“Equally important, is the media platforms ie traditional media and social media as communication platforms by retailers to reach consumers for their brands.
The bulk of the ad spend share is still with the traditional media (newspapers, TV and radio). Conventional or traditional media still has an edge over social media when coming to credible and reliable information and this helps in the endorsements of marketers brands.
“For retailers, social media provides an avenue where they can promote their brands in real time but the information has to be credible and one that eliminates the occurrence of fake news etc,” he notes.
Leo Burnett’s Tan foresees data and brand safety to grow in prominence in the branding arena. The use of data will continue to increase, he says. As data helps to improve upon better precision in targeting, he adds it may limit the opportunity to market in other areas as data is largely based on a hyper assumption.
Brand safety, he notes will become even more important as machines are tasked to optimise dynamic content in the name of personalisation. “We will continue to see mobile playing a more integral part in people’s life.
“Video will continue to grow and marketers will realise it is not about shorter or longer duration of videos but it is about impactful creative work that are entertaining, relevant, meaningful and useful,” Tan emphasises.
Bala says consumers will play an even more active role in shaping a brand. Brands that read their consumers better will then be able to devise more innovative communication, he notes.
Netflix is case in point, with their recent Netflix original, “Birdbox” which resulted in a huge amount of memes created around the movie in online platforms.
An Internet meme, commonly known as just a meme is an activity, concept, catchphrase, or piece of media that spreads, often as mimicry or for humorous purposes, from person to person via the Internet.
“Whilst funny, it also meant that these “content creators” were getting more people to watch the movie, possibly increasing the subscriber base. Netflix’s recent “Black Mirror” episode, Bandersnatch went a touch further to allow viewers to decide the outcomes they want to see, much like role playing game books of the 80’s.
“This means there are now added layers of complexity in production which enables viewers to explore various outcomes and marks a new era in streaming. Efforts such as these transform the brand experience.
“Gaming is another major area that is gaining traction, with huge opportunities for weaving brands into games. Virtual reality content will get increasingly affordable with more content and production in this space, so this technology will certainly impact branding in interesting ways moving forward,” Bala adds.
Personal is the new premium, Prashant says, adding that personalisation at a scale will help many brands step change their margins. Last but not the least, user experience is increasingly becoming central to the brand experience, he adds, noting that for many categories it is the new media.
Lee opines that there will be more brands creating meaningful connections with the consumers. “This will enable tangible improvements to the personal well-being of consumers by making their daily routines easier, and by helping them to stay healthy, connecting them to their loved ones, and being there for them when they need guidance,” he concludes.