The New Relationship Between Consumers and Brands, Part 2

Okay, so we’ve established that the old way of doing things – putting ads on TV and being confident that they’ll be able to reach consumers – is no longer a viable model on which we can count. We need to develop new ways of connecting with consumers.

But how do we do that?

Well, the big thing is: we need to create value for our consumers.

And by that, I don’t mean “talk about value” or “explain the value of whatever it is we’re trying to sell.” That’s what we’ve been doing up until now. Talking about all of the wonderful attributes our product or service has and how buying it will bring value to the consumer’s life. What I’m saying is that the marketing, itself, needs to be of value.

In fact, if I could make one prediction as to the big shift in direction that marketing will take over the next several years, it would be this:

Marketing will shift from a communications-oriented role to being a value-creation tool.

Because in this incredibly ad-cluttered world, it is only useful, real value that will stand out in the midst of a sea of junk.

Marketing can go from being something annoying that consumers actively try to avoid and can become something that consumers actually genuinely want, value and enjoy. Even something they actually seek out. Even something they are actually willing to pay for.

When I look back at the great marketing from the past few years, the stuff that really blows me away haven’t been traditional ads at all but, rather, what I like to call “branded utilities”.

What that is is basically where a brand goes out and actually creates something useful – something that will provide real utility in the consumer’s life.

Ask any marketer and they’ll tell you that brand messages need to be delivered in a manner that’s relevant. And they’re right. But I think that’s just become the price of entry; that’s the bare minimum your brand needs to do to even get noticed a little bit.

But I think we need to go beyond relevance to usefulness; to actually deliver a brand message in a useful way.

This way, your message becomes less about “information as pollution” and more about information that helps people get through life.

Here’s an old example:

The Michelin Guide

michelin_guide_cover_nyc_2008

You’ve probably seen this before. It’s a guide to restaurants and it’s sponsored by Michelin, the tire manufacturer.

Michelin needs to get their name out there, to remind consumers about their tires. But most people aren’t all that interested in reading about tires. So rather than put out a brochure about tires, Michelin went and created a restaurant guide, branded with their name.

The edition above is a recent one but this initiative goes back decades. What’s the relevance between a restaurant guide and a tire company? Well,  the guide first began when cost and manufacturing efficiencies made automobiles accessible to the average person. Suddenly, average folks could afford a car and were no longer bound by the schedules and locations provided by mass transit. So Michelin tapped into this newfound freedom and the mindset that went along with it and said, basically “Now that you’ve got a car and can go wherever you want, whenever you want, you can now go out and explore all of the great restaurants in different cities. And, hey, here’s a guide to let you know about all of the different restaurants out there.”

So, rather than just do a clever ad, they gave consumers something of value and associated their brand with pleasant experiences of freedom and exploring.

Recently, more marketers started to recognize the value inherent in creating a utility versus a traditional ad.

Nike Ballers Network

nike_ballers_network

Here’s a really cool little app that Nike created for people who like to play pickup basketball. You can download it to your BlackBerry or iPhone. You put in your location, pick a time and day and it will give you a list of pickup games that you can join. And once you’re in, you can manage teams, keep track of stats, and all the rest.

Now, Nike is a brand that has consistently done great advertising, some really legendary work. But, at the end of the day, what did it really provide to people beyond 30 seconds of entertainment? This app, on the other hand, provides real value, something that Nike’s consumers can really use. And every time they use it, they’ll feel better about Nike.

Another example:

Fiat Eco:Drive

fiat

This is an app from Italian automaker Fiat called Eco:Drive. Here’s how it works: you get a little USB key that you can plug into the dashboard of your car. After driving, you can remove the USB, plug it into your computer and it will analyze your driving style and give you tips to be a more eco-friendly driver, reduce your emmissions, lower gas mileage, etc. Here’s an example of a brand seeing a consumer desire – to be a more green-friendly driver – and going out and actually building a unique app that lets them do jsut that. The consumer gets something of value, the brand gets to position themselves as green and get big points for innovation.

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