It is a well known marketing maxim, that in these days of information overload, brands matter more than ever. A strong brand identity enables consumers to cut through the clutter and rapidly identify what an organisation delivers that is different to their competitors. This means consumers can easily decide if a brand is right for them; a strong brand also makes it simple for them to make the decision to purchase one company’s products time and time again, to become brand loyal. (Apple and Nike are two obvious examples of brands that inspire slavish loyalty from their consumers.)
However, in this week’s New Yorker, James Surowieki argues that in fact, brand loyalty is an outdated notion, and a strong brand matters less than ever before. With online reviews and ratings, price comparison sites and a world of consumer information at their finger tips, people no longer need to trust in a brand. Information empowered consumers can now choose, product-by-product, the best option for them. Based on the opinions and experiences of the online community they can instantly compare products and easily discover if companies are delivering on their brand promises.
So is brand loyalty dead? Does a brand matter more or less in the information age?
More. Rather than the internet rendering brands irrelevant, it has made it imperative that companies not only have a strong brand, but that they deliver against what their brand and their marketing communications promise. As Marty Neumeier argues in Brand Gap:
A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company…Companies can’t control this process, but they can influence it by communicating qualities that make this service different than that service. When enough individuals come to the same gut feeling about a business, you can say it is a brand. In other words, a brand is not what you say it is, but what they say it is.
Now is not the time to give up on branding, but rather to ensure that the brand extends beyond a great looking logo and clever strap line, to encompass every contact the consumer has with the company, be it a sales person, help desk, website or store. If your brand is about high quality then you have to ensure that all your people, all your communications, all your products and services deliver the highest level of quality. If you don’t, in the transparent world of the web, the gap between what you say and what you do will become obvious. If you do, you have a good chance of inspiring authentic, and deserved, brand loyalty.