Branding across five generations of consumers

Published in Business Friday, Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 26, 2016

MOST business owners fail to realize that for the first time there are now five generations of consumers living on planet Earth.

These five generations of consumers are the Silent Generation, aged 65 years and above; Boomer generation, 50 to 64 years old; Generation X, 35 to 49 years of age; Millenial Generation, aged 21 to 34 years old and Generation Z, those below 21 years old.

Each generation is shaped by needs and wants that may be common or distinct from other generations, making marketing commodity products and services tougher and more complicated.

In this scenario, branded products and services have a better fighting chance of survival.

Why branding matters?

Branding guru Kevin Lane Keller defines a strong brand as a product or service with which customers have a positive relationship.

The right customer experiences, brand messaging, meaning and imagery around the brand help define the brand’s associations.

Parity versus branded. Products and services may offer parity or similar benefits. However, a commodity has no brand recall. Thus, commodities have limited chances of surviving across and among generations than products that have elevated themselves to become brands with positive associations.

Global versus local. Today’s local or domestic products compete with global brands that bring status to the consumer.

However, a local brand with a consumer base that is loyal to the brand and is consistently driven by the local brand’s positive customer experience is likely to enjoy a higher consumer base than the global brand.

Likewise, it helps if the imagery around the local brand remains unique, bright and energized.

Targeted versus universal. With five generations of consumers living on Planet Earth, it is far more economical to reach a defined target market rather than engaging all generations at one time.

Branding is an efficient way of reaching out to targeted consumers. Branding drives targeted consumers to seal consumer relationships and gives new and long-time consumers a purpose to stay with the brand across decades and generations.

Steve Jobs founded Apple with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne on April 1, 1976. Today, Apple celebrates 40 years. Paul Allen and Bill Gates founded Microsoft on April 4, 1975. Today, Microsoft is 41 years old. Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google search engine as Ph.D students at Stanford. Google as a privately held company was formally incorporated on September 4, 1998. 2017 is Google’s debut year.

An Atlanta pharmacist Dr. John S. Pemberton invented Coca Cola’s formula in 1886. The Coca Cola Company was founded in January 29, 1892. Today, Coca Cola is celebrating its 124 years foundation year.

Luxury brand Goyard, a French trunk and leather goods maker was founded in 1853. Today this family brand is 163 years old, a year older than the brand Louis Vuitton.

BMW, short for its German name Bayerische Motoren Werke AG or English Bavarian Motor Works was founded on March 7, 1916. Today, the brand is celebrating 100 years.

H&M, short for Hennes & Mauritz, a Swedish clothing factory was founded in 1947. Today, the brand is 69 years old.

Building brands

So how can local firms duplicate the success of this revered brands?

Define your target customer. A target customer is the segment of customers a business owner wishes to reach out to using communications and media that help trigger their ‘buyer want’. These are the consumers, whose use of the product helps define for other potential consumers who the brand is intended for.

Targeting a particular segment does not mean removing the right of other consumer segments to buy and use your product. Having a targeted consumer helps the brand owner economize on marketing expenses.

Instead of targeting a universal market immediately, a brand owner may target a consumer segment one at a time, provided the succeeding targeted customers complement the brand’s associations that have built a strong brand.

Have a vision and mission. Branding is not a one-time activity nor is it plain imagery or advertising. Branding is a sustainable part of the business proposition. The business owner must be driven to sustain the life of his brand through generations. The brand owner must be driven by a leadership vision and must have a clear mission to reach the vision. The mission may include reinventing his product or service, refreshing the brand, pushing and expanding his sales force and distribution and shedding old and new staff and manpower not in any way helping push the mission forward but instead forestalling the accomplishment of the vision.

Keep a flexible and empathetic mind. Winning in the present business environment means keeping an open mind. A brand message meant for one generation may not be important to another generation. The key is to find a universal brand message common to more than one generation for branding to be an economical process. Or to come up with a highly empathetic messaging that will drive not only the targeted segment to buy but equally other segments over time. But this can happen only when the brand owner or brand expert is empathetic to all generations and consumer segments.

Develop a strategic messaging. A strategic brand message is highly important. A brand’s value proposition is the reason why targeted consumers buy a brand. After the high impact television 15 seconder production material or celebrity endorsement wears off, the consumer reflection buying process begins to set in.

This means one begins to evaluate the reason why one needs the product.

An advertising campaign without any empathetic brand messaging, despite having a celebrity and high media weights, is likely to be forgotten or confused with other brands possibly having the same exact endorser.

Never engage in an Out of sight, out of mind strategy when you are way ahead. Without a vision, most products are simply followers as opposed to becoming challengers or leaders. Thus, during an economic crisis, these brands pull back on branding efforts.

Challenger brands

But there are also challenger brands that likewise lose their stride or grit specially when faced with a strong category leader or with internal challenges brought about by changes in business size.

Faced with the daily grind and tediousness of pushing forward the brand, some challenger brands lose the vision and simply take on a survival strategy, happy with their present achievement, not realizing that what has been gained may likely be lost in the face of an active leader.

Thus, just like followers, these challengers also pull back on branding efforts. On both occasions, these brands do not realize that momentum is lost and it is far more expensive to reclaim a challenger or strong follower position.

Branding requires commitment. It is not for the soft of heart, nor is it a passing fancy or for the whimsical and the gullible business owner.

The writer is Chief Brand Strategist of MKS Marketing Consulting and is an alumna of Oxford University’s SAID Graduate School of Business Strategic Leadership Executive Education and Stanford Graduate School of Business Strategic Marketing Executive Education. De Asis is also an alumna of the Ateneo Graduate School of Business and a PhD graduate of the De La Salle Graduate School, Taft Campus. Reach the author at karenvdeasis@gmail.com

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