What is your strategy in an era of brand resistance?

brand resistance

By Mark Schaefer

I’ve been working on a few projects and immersing myself in research about changes in consumer behavior. What I’m discovering is that consumer behavior has changed A LOT, and social media has much to do with it.

If you’re marketing to consumers the same way you did five years ago, you’re probably falling behind. Today I want to discuss a fundamental shift that I think will apply to any professional marketer: brand resistance.

The shortest route to fulfillment

I want you to come along with me on a little thought experiment.

Imagine you are magically transported back in time 20 years ago. This is what the internet looked like:

  • Accessing the web was through a slow dial-up connection.
  • Google had just been founded. The main search engine was Alta Vista or Yahoo.
  • There were only 100,000 websites in the world (compared to 650 million today)
  • The web browser of choice was Netscape Navigator
  • Less than 2 percent of the world’s population had internet access.

In this limited digital world — and it was not that long ago — how did you decide on the best car to buy, the most trusted brand of paint for your house, or the best pancake mix?

In this era, the shortest route to fulfillment was a strong brand name. In the absence of perfect information, we went with the famous names we knew. Companies spent millions reducing the friction of a consumer decision by advertising the virtues of Ivory Soap, Buick cars, or State Farm Insurance.

We wanted quality and reliability and usually the only way to know for certain we would get it is to make a default decision to a brand.

A loss of control

Now come back with me to the present time.

How do you make these purchasing decisions today? Most significant purchases — and even minor ones — start with a web search. We look for review sites, forums, recommendations, and comparisons.

The most trusted source of content today is not coming from company advertising … or even newspapers or news channels.

Studies from Nielsen and other sources show that people trust content created and shared by their friends above any other sort of mainstream media channel. Today, people will believe a review from a complete stranger before they believe your product claim in an advertisement.

The shortest route to consumer fulfillment today isn’t necessarily through a trusted brand name. It’s via a search on Google.


Think about the speed that this change has occurred!

Don’t get me wrong … brand-building is still important (perhaps for different reasons) … but what are some of the implications for our companies when user-generated content might be more important to brand awareness (and sales) than traditional PR and advertising?

A few thoughts:

  • A number of studies show that companies are still spending too much money where consumers aren’t — like print media. Are you spending your marketing dollars in channels because that’s what you did last year, or because that’s where you find your customers? Do you KNOW how your customers are getting information today?
  • Some people still think influencer marketing is a bunch of fluff. It’s not. People listen to people they trust, not company messaging. Influencer marketing is red hot and it’s going to get hotter.
  • The CMO of Mercedes Benz recently said in an interview that social media is the epicenter of digital marketing. I believe this to be true. Do you really understand how social media works to build emotional ties to your customers, or are you checking a box by posting five times a day?
  • Are you paying attention to reviews and reviewers? It’s not just about pushing down negative reviews. Today, we have to look at this feedback as a gift, get our house in order, and acknowledge the contributions of the people who are complaining.
  • If consumers are more likely to know and trust your employees than corporate brand advertising, should the focus of the company brand become building the accumulated value of employee personal brands? Will brand value be determined by the sum of (reviews + influencers + employee advocates) instead of ad impressions?

What is the role of “brand?”

I think there’s another mega-trend here that I am trying to figure out. What IS the role of a “brand” today?

The transparency provided by search puts more emphasis on reviews, price, convenience, and free delivery than loyalty to a brand name.

Another recent article revealed that there is a cottage industry of people who carefully remove logos from new clothing. People think branding gets in the way of their own curated personal image.

In fact, here’s a quote from an Accenture report called The Loyalty Illusion:

“Our research revealed that consumers are increasingly likely to have a negative reaction to a company’s attempt to earn their loyalty.”

Whoa. This has been the goal of marketers from the beginning — create customer loyalty. But now we’re learning that consumers don’t want to be loyal? There is a resistance to loyalty?

What are your thoughts? What is the role of marketing and branding in world that seems to want to resist marketing and branding?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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