Most Brand Managers understand the importance of having an accurate image of the brand’s target audiences. What’s often missed is how our marketing actions impact the quality of that audience.
We often judge the strength of a brand by the number of Facebook fans, Twitter followers and email subscribers. What we don’t know is if these fans are actually buying its products, and referring it to their friends, or are there to for freebees or discount coupons.
There are various ways to define audiences. One way is to segment potential customers based on hard data such as demographics, media usage, and purchase frequency. This is important, but we need to take the audience segmentation one step further.
Strategically, brand managers have to think of how consumers relate to brands and the categories they belong to. We all have brands we love, brands we hate, and brands that leave us indifferent.
We use our relationship with brands as a selection tool that help us decide among the multitude of competitive offerings.
Category First, Brand Second
Whenever a new brand enters our radar, we automatically link it to a category. That’s how we structure things in our minds, and cope with the multitude of choices available. For the Brand Manager, this is important for two reasons.
First, linking a brand to a less-crowded category (if the option exists) when establishing its frame of reference gives the brand a chance to stand out.
Second, in the case of a new brand, it is important to create the category-brand link as early and clearly as possible to eliminate confusion and avoid building the wrong brand perceptions.
Once the category-brand relationship has been established, a brand’s audience consists of these four types of consumers:
These are people passionate about the category in general, with no loyalty to a particular brand. They enjoy trying, comparing and talking about products and are familiar with the vast majority of brands in the category.
Take wine connoisseurs for example: they are able to list distinct differences between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and lecture you for hours on why a bottle of wine is worth $1000, while another only $10.
These consumers are a great go-to resource for any brand in the category. A discussion with category connoisseurs will allow you to understand the category in much greater detail than any focus group will.
Your goal is to make this group aware of your brand, but not through advertising. No amount of advertising will convince these people your brand is worth considering.
The discovery has to happen as a result of their own research. All you can do is be ready to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself. Category connoisseurs are the greatest endorsement your brand can hope for.
If your marketing strategy focuses on offering freebees and steep price discounts your brand audience is probably dominated by opportunists. Also known as “bargain hunters” and “professional contest enterers”, these consumers’ only reason for buying is a “good deal”, regardless of the brand.
These people a very price sensitive, and respond well to comparative pricing strategies that show how much they will save. They collect coupons and points, buy off promo flyers and use apps that show the lowest price for a particular product.
Advertising works well when targeting these consumers, but only when a “deal” is being offered. The long term effect of servicing the opportunists is shrinking margins and no brand loyalty.
This is the third category that is not brand loyal, and only interact with the category when it’s absolutely necessary.
They are also not as price sensitive as the opportunists. Pragmatics make their buying decisions based on a combination of price, product characteristics, brand image, and convenience that is very difficult to per-determine.
The foundation of their buying decision is the need, not the deal. They are not early adapters and rarely choose brands based on the image they reflect.
Car buyers who are looking for a vehicle that will take them from point A to B fall into the pragmatics category. Those buyers don’t care that much about a brand that reflects their personality and status-what they value is the car’s reliability, gas mileage and warranty.
Another category that attracts a large number of pragmatics is air travel. We often choose our tickets based on a combination of objective factors such as price, flight time, number of stops and airline reviews.
Brand loyalists are the most sought-after audience.
What brand doesn’t want to have customers who will not switch brands regardless of constant temptations from its competitors, and refer the brand to friends and family?
Study after study show that brand loyalty is on the decline, which is understandable. The main reason is increased competition, which makes differences between products indistinguishable.
Secondly, the brands themselves are responsible for the decrease in consumer loyalty, by not living up to their original promise.
Blackberry promised to be an innovator in mobile communication. The brand had developed a passionate and loyal following their keyboard phones, until competitors offered superior alternatives Blackberry was not able to match.
Every brand’s target audience consists of a mix of all four categories.
In an ideal world, the percentage of brand loyalists and category connoisseurs will greatly exceed the number of pragmatics, and opportunists. This is something we can control through our marketing strategy and actions:
- If you are constantly communicating “limited time deals” and “price discounts” you will invariably attract a large number of opportunists.
- If your strategy focuses on providing quality, informative, factually comparative information you will get on the radar of category connoisseurs and pragmatics.
- An aspirational brand that has move beyond product features and benefits, and constantly deliver on its promise, has the best changes of building a loyal following.
Each of us belong to all four segments depending on how we relate to each category. I am a connoisseur when it comes to cars, pragmatic when it comes to cell phone plans, opportunist when it comes to cable TV, and brand loyalist when it comes to bikes.
So next time you review your marketing plan, ask yourself: what type of audience is a particular initiative most likely to attract: connoisseurs, opportunists, pragmatics or brand loyalists?