The lines between online and offline business have become so blurred that the distinction now ceases to exist. The brands that are thriving in this environment are those that offer their customers a seamless user experience across all platforms, channels and devices, whether online or in-store. This is the age of brand commerce.
Below we explore this new model for retailers in detail, explaining how we got here, where it’s taking us and how to use the power of brand commerce to your advantage.
Value at every interaction
The dramatic shift in the business-consumer relationship has meant that brands have had to overhaul their methodologies. They can’t think of themselves as companies trying to sell things anymore. To remain relevant in this competitive market, they have had to rapidly adapt to the increased expectations of consumers.
This change has seen brands increase their presence to become active voices in people’s lives. In short, brands can no longer talk at consumers and expect to continue to stay relevant; they have to be a valuable part of a two-way conversation.
A prime example of this is the campaign to legalise marriage equality in the United States in 2015. Brands from PETA to Uber tailored their communication strategies to what people were talking about. This was particularly important on social media but also through more traditional channels such as television advertising, out of home and print media.
In this case, speaking out and taking a stance on an issue was a highly effective brand strategy, resulting in considerable amounts of free media impressions and positive engagement. However, success in this area depends on how people value what’s being said.
Consider when it was discovered that the founder of New Balance donated around $400,000 to Donald Trump’s election campaign. The company was heralded by white supremacists and reviled by the public at large, with many taking the internet to air their grievances by uploading videos of burning New Balance sneakers.
While it may seem illogical for consumers to associate a businessman’s political affiliations with the products his company makes, the reason for this is clear. The real power (and weakness) of brands is emotion.
Connecting with the consumer
Consumer behaviour is heavily based on hard-wired emotions and heuristics. Consumers associate with certain brands that reflect who they are or how they want to be seen, meaning that brands play an active role in the construction of consumers’ identities.
This is why brands need identities and voices.
A Ferrari makes a man feel more masculine; Jimmy Choo shoes makes a woman feel more successful and stylish; the latest Samsung mobile makes a consumer feel technically savvy. Essentially, the brand story merges with the consumer’s story to form a shared narrative.
Consider brand rivalries. In Australia, you’re either a Ford or a Holden person – a dichotomy constructed by the brands but carried out by their customers. For these people, the brand experience is so deeply embedded into their identities that it becomes impossible to distinguish one from the other.
It should be noted that brand commerce is not just about catering to people’s wants. It’s also about needs.
Further, effective brand commerce strategy is the creation of rich experiences that positively impact the lives of consumers. For this, a seamless connection across all touchpoints is key. Only then will there be success.
Nestle’s NCare is a telling example of this. The brand built a digital application to assist hospitals and health professionals manage the diets, exercise regimes and transfers of their patients, with separate access for the patients themselves. By empowering all relevant stakeholders with a platform for the sharing of vital information, the brand made an important leap in connecting consumers to what they need without compromising on customer experience.
This proves that when brands first create value, customer loyalty soon follows.
The brands at the forefront of their industries are beginning to master this art, but most organisations still have a long way to go.