Archive for the ‘Branding’ Category

THE RELEVANCE OF CHANNEL BRANDS

October 16th, 2012

I have just returned from the IBC Conference, otherwise described as the Planet Klingon – by its own delegates! –  in Amsterdam. It is my third visit in just over a decade, and although on the surface much remains the same (dress codes, conference topics, and several people vaguely resembling Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons!) some things do change below the surface. One such thing is the realisation that TV is not only not going to go away, but that it is integral to the success of many of the products and services on display.

My role at IBC this year was to argue against the proposition that “connected TV will render traditional TV channels irrelevant”.  Part of me was surprised this was still up for debate, but then I remembered the setting. There was a robust debate from John Honeycutt of Discovery, Nigel Walley, Anthony Rose, Saul Berman et al resulting in a strong majority of the audience voting against the motion – i.e. there is a place for ‘traditional’ (I do hate that word – it assumes a rejection of change) channel brands in the future connected world of television.

Mind you, as almost exactly the same proportion had voted the same way in the pre-debate benchmark vote, it means the two teams technically tied. It does, though, demonstrate the seismic change in attitudes to TV’s future role amongst the tech community, totally different to even 3-4 years ago, and that is worth thinking about. Even if we hadn’t managed to shift the balance during the debate in the slightest!

As far as my own personal contribution went, my preparation for the debate gave me a renewed sense of the continuing importance of channel brands in a connected TV world. Branding becomes increasingly important whenever choice and functionality is improved, and the TV viewing environment is no different. But, I can hear you ask, why shouldn’t those brands be Google or Apple or even zeebox?

I attempted to answer that in four parts.

First of all, brands have to stand for something relevant to the choice process and channel brands have proven to be a very defined and relevant short-cut to programme choice for decades. Viewers understand the difference between an E4 late night drama and an ITV Sunday evening one, a Discovery documentary and a Nat Geo competitor. People use channel brands all the time, as several on demand aggregators have found to their cost.

Secondly, channel brands offer a guarantee of quality (after all, the essence of what a brand should stand for); for most viewers,  it is important that a programme has had a peak-time, ‘proper’ channel transmission; a bit like theatrical release is important to the DVD market (and ‘straight to DVD’ tells you all you need to know).

Thirdly, we should never underestimate the importance of now! What is on the telly now is significantly more important than what’s on my planner or on demand, which is why the latter are often used a safety net and the schedules remain first port of call. Social media and channel programming strategies are making now more important all the time, and while the schedules take precedence, the channels that create that content will always thrive.

Finally, I talked about the context of viewing; most of which is still shared with other people. This is always missed out by those advocating an individualised, targeted, solitary viewing future, and it means that the aggregators’ main USP – personalisation  – will only benefit those living alone or preferring to watch alone (most don’t). Shared viewing is more about compromise than the personalised, something the channel brands are uniquely able to provide with their much-derided ‘general entertainment’ tag.

I also looked to a future where channel brands can increase their revenue base through opportunities such as merchandising, live events, PPV, micro-payments, data value and a whole bunch more. They can be much more than just a navigational aid in TV’s connected future.

They will need to adapt in order to thrive, but when even the IBC Crowd are pronouncing their faith in the ‘traditional’ TV channels, it is time to reaffirm their relevance, past present and future.

 

THE OPPOSITE OF A BRAND ADVOCATE

October 16th, 2012

I conducted a piece of brand research a couple of years ago, which dared to raise a question few people in marketing ever ask; “are there any brands out there that you would refuse to buy, at any price?”

The answer, at the time, was an unqualified ‘yes’! It was remarkable how many markets and brands were deemed toxic by consumers, many of them in the services sector. These were spontaneous outpourings of rage – we just gave them time to get it out of their system. There were many numerous examples of poor, almost non-existent customer service, especially at those times when customers are most in need; when the technology goes wrong.

There are several brands already banished from the Brennan household, mainly due to the above complaint, but my recent Escher-esque dealings with Microsoft have resulted in an addition to the toxic brand gang. I won’t bore you with the details, but it consists of many failed attempts to re-access a closed Hotmail account (bloody hackers!) leading to a constant loop around the message boards for a solution. At least I knew I was not alone; endless exhortations to the God of Inaccessible Alternate Email Accounts came from around the globe, with not a single answer to pacify them. It has been more trouble than it has been worth, so I’ve just opened a Google account instead.

But it’s refocused my attention on the problem of toxic brands because, sure as eggs is eggs, if I asked that same question today, there would be even more candidates across even more markets . In fact, I would bet good money that the number of brands spontaneously placed in the toxic category would outweigh those in the ‘buy at any price’ equivalent.

Which is odd, really, because the industry spends so much money on the latter. One of the myths of social marketing is that brand advocates will lead the way, spreading the good word in a way that paid-for media could never achieve. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that people with a grievance outshout the satisfied every time. Try it the next time you’re at a dinner party and the conversation has dried up. Ask the question “are there any brands out there that you would refuse to buy, at any price?” and listen to the grievances pour out. There will be no more awkward silences, I can promise you.

So why isn’t more invested into the opposite-of-advocates (see, they haven’t even got a recognised name)?  I believe their existence is a failure of marketing and a challenge for media planning – after all, why try to reach them? But it is largely due to the increasingly digital mindset of technology-led services. I explore this whole issue of digital vs. analogue mindsets in my new book (shameless plug), focussing on the enduring ‘analogue’ strengths of TV, but the digital vs. analogue paradigm extends across the marketing spectrum.

For many digital-mindset brands, it is virtually impossible to speak to or even email a real human being representing the company. As a consumer, your key interaction with the brand – when you most need them – will all too often result in an online infinity loop or, at best, a highly scripted, often surreal interaction with what may or may not be a real human voice. There is little room in either ‘brand experience’ for analogue qualities such as ‘common sense’, empathy or lateral thinking. As such, the services industry often struggles to match branding promises against the reality of faceless, commissioned, unresponsive CRM based on algorithms, efficiency and ‘hands-off’ customer servicing.

There are technology-based brands that get it, and these are often what I would call analogue-mindset businesses. Companies like Apple and Sky are far more customer-focussed, responsive and…well, just a bit more human in how they interact with their customers. All of the latest insights emerging from neuroscience, cognitive psychology and behavioural economics have opened our eyes to what those analogue qualities are worth in business terms, and I’m surprised that so many technology brands have failed to grasp that fact.

It’s interesting that I’ve just mentioned two brands with more than their fair share of brand advocates, but they are also two brands that rarely get mentioned when the ‘toxic brand’ question is asked. But then the question itself rarely gets asked in the rush for Facebook ‘likes’ and brand champions.

In the meantime, I’d suggest a bit more focus on the ‘opposite-of-advocates’ would yield a great deal more in the way of business performance. If you want to find out who they are, or how strongly they feel, just ask that question at your next dinner party. Then lean back and listen to the roar. You might not get invited back, but you’ll be much better informed.



CONNECTED TELEVISION – How TV’s Analogue Strengths Have Created a Digital Supermedium’