The Absurdity of Brand Disconnected from Product

Last week I ran into research that presents a strange example of disconnected brand thinking. I found it in a study claiming to tell us what brand attributes are most important to the fabled Millennials. (Link here.)

Problem is the research draws broad brand preference conclusions that are entirely disconnected from product – there’s no product anywhere to be found. And that means the reported findings are entirely meaningless since consumers can’t tell us about brand in the abstract.

But just for fun, what did study claim? It says that the most important brand attributes for Millennials include (in order of importance):

Trustworthiness
Creativeness
Intelligence
Authenticity
Confidence

Sounds like an oath for a Boy Scout… Still, let’s apply these attributes in a real situation.

Suppose our “average” Millennial is hungry and just walked into 7-11. Will s/he:

(a) Search the store shelves to find the products from brands they deem trustworthy and creative, then eliminate those without intelligence and authenticity, and finally narrow the field to the one product that gives them confidence.

OR

(b) Look for a Snickers because they love peanuts and caramel.

If you answered (a), you might be an account planner I know.

(For full disclosure, some Millennials might choose (c) which is a bag of Red Vines or (d) which is a protein bar because that’s more their thing.)

This survey reveals exactly nothing useful. I suppose the team behind it would argue that “all things being equal” what they found matters.

But here’s the thing: All things are NEVER equal. Product category or type, consumer need, availability, price, past enjoyment of the product, etc… matter far more to Millennials in the act of shopping (whether we like it or not) than whether the brand is a “good citizen”.

Think about it this way: Are you going to “buy an Apple something” just because Apple is a good citizen even if you don’t need anything they make? Will you choose between Apple and Samsung based on “good citizen” perception or because you like/hate the Apple ecosystem? Or are already tied into Android? Or want Android’s cheap version of what Apple delivers? Or your carrier has bad iPhone deals and good Samsung deals?

Research like this isn’t marketing’s only problem with big claims extracted too far from human reality. Neurosceince applied in marketing falls into this trap. (Here’s my post about that mythology.)

Don’t get me wrong. I want companies to be good corporate citizens. But despite a current fad in marketing to claim “it’s all about corporate goodness” there’s really no viable evidence that good citizenship has a significant affect on shopping. (That said, good citizenship is important for companies and might be an effective tool with investors. So it remains important – let’s just not exaggerate things.)

And there’s a critical lesson from this research that applies throughout communication: Brand can’t thrive when disconnected from product. Too many agencies do this in their advertising work. And, in this post (link here), I noted how it hurts brands because they miss out on more effective advertising opportunities (and I mean more effective at branding).

Just wish our business would quit being such suckers for things like this. Advertising agencies need to show that what we do builds business and economic strength. Research like this just doesn’t help.

Copyright 2014 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved


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