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Vizeum is a strategic agency created for the new era of media. We exist to step-change our clients’ communications.  We do not start with an ad. We do not start with media. We start from a different place. We combine our unique understanding of underlying human motivations and the new human behaviours enabled by the digital age, to help our clients grow their business.

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Spotlight

Rory Sutherland discusses the value of brands & the role of engagement

In the second of the Vizeum Spotlight interviews, Rory Sutherland discusses the value of brands, the role of engagement and the little extras brands can deliver to set themselves apart.

If you are a marketer, the value of ‘Brand’ is unquestioned. ‘Brand’ elevates your product beyond commodity status, enabling you to command a price premium and ensure product selection over competitors. But what really makes a brand and what is its real value? Is there such a thing as true brand love? These are some of the questions that we put to Rory Sutherland when we met him last month.

In our conversation with him, Sutherland asserts that there are two levels on which brands operate within any market. There is the undergrowth of anonymous products and then there is a ‘floor of acceptability’. This second level is where established brands should live, forming part of a consumer’s repertoire. This is the level where brands have gained trust. Consumers assume any brand within this level is of a certain standard. Beyond that, Sutherland says, any further notion of brand love can be misleading as brands should merely consider themselves tolerated.

We have all been guilty of overestimating the role brands play in people’s lives. The truth is that people don’t really care about brands and most people don’t know that much about the brands they buy. Despite marketing rhetoric telling us that consumers are savvier and more engaged, research suggests that 56% of all knowledge about a brand is held by just 20% of its buyers, and 80% of a brand’s buyers know little or nothing about that brand and most consumers have multiple brand partners. For example 72% of Pepsi drinkers also drink Coke.

Your consumers are not a collection of monogamous devotees. They are a group of people who, as well as buying other brands, also buy your brand. As Sutherland succinctly states; consumers don’t choose brands but rather use brands to help them choose. So our task therefore is not necessarily nurturing enthusiasm but, instead, using marketing to overcome indifference.

The next area that we discussed was that of ‘engagement’. Sutherland warns against the obsession that the marketing community have with this KPI. We all know that engagement is the by-word for success and much of this has been triggered by the development of new and exciting technologies and media touchpoints. There is no doubt but that, for some brands, engagement is what is needed to set your brand apart. But in the rush to embrace this marketing activity, maybe we have forgotten to ask ourselves if consumers really want to interact, and do all brands need to engage to be successful? Do we need consumers to always share, visit or comment? Sutherland states simply that in many instances, brands are selected because they can be purchased in a disengaged way, without thinking.

One further consideration around this area is that in pursuing engagement, the benefits of traditional mass communications can be overlooked. Arguably, for some categories, traditional communications have a more central role as powerhouses in building a brand and driving sales. It may be smarter to focus on building an emotional tie or enabling a simpler purchasing route rather than ticking the engagement box. A recent survey carried out by TiVo in the US adds credence to this. It found ‘for every dollar less (those) brands spent on TV, they lost three times that amount in sales. TiVo estimated those brands spent an average of $3.1 million less on TV advertising and lost an average of $8.6 million in sales.’

The last area that Sutherland discussed with Vizeum was around what he calls ‘discretionary effort’. These are the little extras that a brand undertakes that it does not have to.  By going above and beyond, consumers with take disproportionate meaning from these small gives. Consider the chocolate you get on your pillow in a good hotel or the free piece of fruit SuperValu offers your child while shopping. These extra unneeded elements, whilst not necessarily driving sales, add long term implicit value and set your brand apart from your competitors. It is almost like brand manners – the brand holding open the door for you. It doesn’t have to do it, but when it does, the good will created far outweighs the effort it took.