Becoming a brand hedges threats in the digital age

Published in Business Friday, Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 23, 2014

THE DIGITAL age, also known as the age of information or new media began in the 70s when computers were commercialized and mass-marketed and various forms of technology applications began development.

The result is a knowledge based society spawned by technology and the internet where people began to have access to a multitude of information and limitless, no boundary connections to people worldwide. This meant a transition from a highly conformist industrial society to the so-called knowledge era triggered by highly opinionated and invariable more social and connected individuals.

Following are snapshots of the digital era and its impact on brands and commodity products and services.

Brands avert risks in digital age

Triggered by anonymity in the internet, more and more netizens pose as experts in certain product categories. However, a lot more use the internet to ventilate personal biases.

Commodities and unknown products or services are susceptible to irresponsible attacks from posers or irresponsible, opinionated netizens. Reputable brands, on the other hand, are safeguarded from malicious consumer attacks.

In May 2013, breakfast cereal Cheerios came up with a multi-racial advert showing a black father, Caucasian mother and mixed race girl. Soon as it came on air, the advert came under attack among racists, forcing Cheerios to disable the comment section in its website.

Fortunately, in previous years, Cheerios has built its brand as a wholesome, healthy food brand. This resulted in more individuals and netizens speaking favorably about the brand and denouncing color of the skin remarks. These loyal users have become Cheerios’ number one defender in the face of advertsity. A year later, Cheerios introduced a sustaining commercial showing the same multiracial new American family eagerly awaiting the coming of the second child.

Digital age spawns new consumer segments

So unlike the industrial age, where work was more physical, distance was a limitation and buyers were less vocal and largely conformist; the digital age is far more complex, leveraging on human knowledge capable of multitasking and connecting with anyone, simultaneously, nearly worldwide and spawning a generation of individualistic, more vocal consumers.

This generation triggered the rise of new consumer segments: women with pocket power, men as shoppers and digital or online consumers.

Because women are naturally meticulous and more patient in work, most employers in the digital age prefer to hire women. This led to more and more women having the financial capacity but with little time for the family.

On the other hand, more men either decided or are forced by circumstance to stay at home, take over the household and assume shopping chores. A Forbes article titled ‘Marketers finally noticing grocery shopping men’ acknowledges that the male population in grocery stores has risen dramatically. A number of proprietary consumer studies conducted among stay at home men reveal that men choose to buy brands, don’t experiment with their purchases like women and remain true to brands endorsed by family and friends. Men’s instinctive macho trait causes them to choose popular brands to err on the safe side.

The rise of digital and mobile devices and platforms in the last decade has created more online consumers, revolutionizing consumer shopping experience anywhere and anytime. These consumers have far more disposable income as credit and debit cards and bank transfers are the mode of currency. But these consumers are equally savvy buyers and often buy only the more popular brands and know which sites to access to get their favorite brands.

For example, many online consumers in the Philippines need not travel more than twelve hours to shop at Macys, Nordstrom, Saks or Neiman Marcus. One need only to access borderfree and/or port 51 and have branded merchandise on sale or featured items delivered from these popular American stores right on their doorsteps.

Longer living generations of consumers

The digital age or knowledge era has triggered advanced in the medical and related fields particularly in geriatrics medicines, where today more people beyond 60 years old have become more active physically and mentally compared to previous generations.

The 2012 Global Aging Report reveals that worldwide in 1950 there were only 200 million people belonging to the 60 to 80 year old age bracket. This has risen to 760 million in 2011 and is expected to rise to 2 billion by 2050.

Women outlive men by 4.5 years. Women account for 55 percent of the 60 to 80 year old segment, 64 percent of 80 to 100 year old segment and 82 percent of the 100 plus segment.

Renowned English author Samuel Johnson, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken”.

Brands make investments to capture a dominant share of mind of consumers repeatedly over time until such time that potential consumers act on the offer, become generally satisfied with the brand’s performance and stay with them, often for a lifetime, unless there is an overly dissatisfying experience. When consumers live to a ripe, active wizened age beyond 60 years old, brands that have made investments in these consumers when they were younger are certain to recover their investment multiple times over.

Technology era spawns new wealth

The digital era has spawned rising wealth among those who are able to ride the opportunity. But owners of new wealth are far more sophisticated, meticulous and demanding consumers. And they are avid buyers of brands, not commodities. No wonder that in the recent decade, the list of most valuable brands now include Apple becoming number 1 in the recent year and for the first time edging out long-time leader Coca Cola, Samsung, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Cartier, Burberry et. al and many more premium and highly exclusive elite brands.

Building brands are for men, commodities are for boys

Building brands, however, is not easy. It is not for the weak of heart or for the mindless, whimsical businessman.

Brand building requires a picturesque vision and the will to act on this vision and sustain it for generations to come.

The Walt Disney Company, often referred to as Disney, one of the world’s largest diversified media and entertainment conglomerates, was founded by animator Walt Disney in 1923. Today, the conglomerate is operating the Walt Disney Studios, parks and resorts, Disney consumer products, Disney owned media, television and interactive properties.

While living, founder Walt Disney was often quoted as saying, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” “When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable” and “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths” and in an unprecedented testament to consumers, “You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality”.

The author is Chief Brand Strategist of MKS Marketing Consulting and is strategic brand management course program director at the Asian Institute of Management. Email at karenvdeasis@gmail.com

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