Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Branding 2.0

The other day, my wife asked me a compelling question about a McDonalds spot she saw on television. It featured a select demographic group enjoying the new "McCafe" product line and to my surprise, she was asking if this particular ethnic group liked coffee more than another. Of course my rational mind responded a bold and resounding no. But it started a dialogue which perhaps echoes the thoughts of any lay person without a marketing background. She wondered why McDonalds had chosen to run an ad like this, and I told her that there are any number of reasons. Yet the most likely explanation would be found in any Marketing 101 handbook. If you want to speak to a certain demographic, you use that demographic in your ad. What we don't consider is what goes on within the minds of everyone else who sees it. But is that important? Does it matter that it makes people form certain opinions, ask certain questions or even jump to certain conclusions. The answer is, of course. You can't ignore it. That's the psychology of advertising that contributes either to the life or death of a brand.

If you're trying to reach everyone by appealing to everyone, then that probably won't work. History shows us that. The world we live in is diverse and integrated. If you run an ad focusing on one demographic today and then another tomorrow, no one is fooled. Anyone knows, you can't be everything to everybody. But if you cater to one group over another, you have a greater chance of winning the heart of that people group. It's called exclusivity.

Positioning yourself against competitors in your category has traditionally been the focus of building business and differences are significant. Otherwise you run the risk of becoming a commodity rather than a brand. Know your customer and cater to that customer, I always say. Did McDonald's exclude in the aforementioned commercial? Absolutely, and if I never saw another ad for that product line, I would conclude that they purposed it that way. There's nothing wrong with that. It's when you don't know your customer that problems arise. Undeveloped brands often stumble by convincing people how great they are rather than working out what people are interested in and letting the chips fall where they may.

In other words, it's not always a popularity contest, and the brand with the most friends at first doesn't always win.

Look at Apple computer. They certainly didn't get where they are today, because of mass appeal. Look at Top 40, across the board, CHR formatted radio stations as another example. They are rarely if ever the leader in any market. Standing out in the crowd means that you are not a part of the crowd. This has been the key to every successful trend throughout history. Being all things to all people is the oldest of all marketing ploys, and is not the way to build your brand.

Another mistake I believe young brands make in advertising is starting a bunch of fires to see what takes. This is an ineffective and often expensive luxury businesses no longer have in this economy. The psychology behind advertising is a powerful one which is still capable of targeting with pinpoint accuracy and control. Especially in today's crowded and competitive world, if you don't know your relevance, then you simply become irrelevant. And again, if you want to be all things to all people you better take a trip in the way back machine. Those days are over. Marketing has become a two-way conversation within a cultural space far richer, deeper, and diverse than we could ever imagine. Cultural and social value translates into commercial value. Having a great product or service today, no longer guarantees you'll be around tomorrow. Brands are evolving, and the very DNA, of the we do marketing must necessarily follow suit, or risk extinction.