In the consumer goods industry in the past, interaction between brands and consumers was limited to the physical world and traditional media - a brand 'connected' with the consumers through the product or service itself, the logo, the packaging, advertisements in various traditional media (print, radio, TV, outdoor), retail promotions, sales and service associates, call center team and so on. The communication back from consumers (feedback) was also dependent on these carriers and other activities like consumer research and surveys. These interactions between the brand and consumers were relatively limited, occasional and in some case well planned e.g. consumer research. The advent of internet and proliferation of social media changed the way brands connect with the consumers. It's more spontaneous, more real time, and probably more honest. How does it affect the consumer goods marketers and consumers and what does the future look like? Let's get into some basics first.
What is a brand and how does it connect with the consumers? A brand is characterized by the impression or perception the consumers carry in their minds and it evokes certain feelings, emotions and thoughts. A brand resides in the individual consumer's mind and hence has as many definitions as the number of consumers connecting with it. But marketers do try and define a brand's positioning by looking at these individual perceptions. They also constantly try to influence the way consumers perceive and think about the brand to their benefits. And for them to achieve this, they constantly measure the consumer perception. This is where technology has been playing an increasingly more important role and redefining the way these perceptions are being measured. Instead of planned structured feedback, internet is enabling instant, spontaneous, globally visible and shared feedback. It is also reducing the lag which used to exist in the whole 'brand-consumer-brand' communication cycle, shrinking the cycle itself drastically.
What does it mean to the brands and their marketers in the consumer goods industry? For marketers this is an opportunity to increase the success rate of their brands. Due to the shorter communication cycles, it is possible for brands to reach maturity and the summit of success relatively faster - which means better and more efficient utilization of marketing funds, less money going into building the brand and potentially better value to the consumers through better prices, better services etc. This also means better profitability for marketers. Also because marketers will be able to 'correct' the positioning faster, if needed, for consumers this means less confusion on what the brand is promising and what it is delivering, clearer choices enabling better decision making and hence lesser gap between expectations and actual value delivered.
Looks like a win-win situation? There are challenges though. In the past, consumer goods marketers mastered the skill to understand the consumer through various traditional means - structured research and surveys, focus group discussions etc. These processes got matured over time and the interpretation of what consumer was saying was understood well. The technology-enabled feedback (read social media) is new and these are still early days. We are still learning how to interpret what the consumer is saying on this platform, the opinion and feedback is open to the whole world and influences other consumers. There is a lot of noise out there as well and it is important for the marketer to distinguish genuine feedback from the clutter. Then there is this question of identity of the consumer on the net. Knowing consumer's correct profile and linking it to the feedback is one of the most critical activities for marketers to take decisions on brands.
Future looks good for the consumer goods brands and consumers alike, but it will be interesting to see how we will master some of the specific processes within brand management, which have changed in character as technology continues to play a major role in shaping them.