Customers’ role in building brands is increasingly important. The new business models and the focus on customer-based marketing present a refreshing panorama for branding in the 21st century. In this blog, we will explain it and understand its evolution.
A little history of customers’ role
In the early years of branding and brand management, the focus was on the sending end of the communication; on companies. Then, in the mid-1990s, revolutionary concepts emerged that gave brands a new direction. One such concept was the so-called customer-based brand equity. The basis of this concept is on the premise of previous blogs that say the brand resides in consumers’ minds as a cognitive interpretation.
At the time, cognitive psychology and information processing theory heavily influenced customer research. That current was led by the Canadian psychologist Robert Gardner. Later, it would be related to consumer choice and the new customers’ role in building brands. Thus, the knowledge of these currents was adapted to brand management and gave birth to the customer-based approach.
However, before this new approach, branding suffered from a lack of independence from marketing. Furthermore, it was not even recognized. Compared to advertising and marketing, research articles on branding were hard to find. The very notion of brand equity was often not even mentioned and certainly not defined. Above all, the academic discipline of branding seemed immature and scientifically incomplete. All changed after the introduction of customer-based brand equity.
New branding approach to the customers’ role
The customer has become the main point of interest in this new approach. And for the best understanding of this analysis, we could say he is the brand’s owner. That’s why customer-based brand equity introduces an outside-in approach. It also encompasses an external strategy formation instead of the internal construction of traditional methods.
According to Kevin Keller, brand equity creation takes place by shaping the brand associations in consumers’ minds. Understanding the customer is, therefore, central to the concept of brand equity creation. However, it is essential to note that the approach implies a specific view of the customer.
Finally, this approach assumes that the brand is a cognitive interpretation in the consumer’s mind. The customer now has much, much more control in the brand-customer exchange. This idea is a departure from other theories that state that marketers view the customer through a lens borrowed from behavioral psychology. In this notion, the marketer, who traces the brand in the consumer’s mind, will be able to choose precisely the correct elements of the brand and communicate them to a customer who will respond accordingly. These assumptions can be contradictory and unreasonable in current times.
In other words, from this approach, we can only conceive the creation or development of a brand with that brand-customer duality. That is because customers bring brands to life. They give them their purpose and nourish them with emotional aspects, character, and history. That gives rise to co-creation as a way to get closer to understanding the modern branding approach and the new customers’ role in building brands.
Decentralization of brand management. The new customers’ role.
To justify this new customer role, we must consider that branding, as Hatch and Schultz describe, has become a multifunctional activity. Branding is no longer the task of marketing departments but has become part of managing various company areas. The intervention of Human Resources, R&D, and Institutional Relationships, among others, turned brand management into something chaotic.
We must also add the more significant knowledge consumers have of brands and the market. This knowledge often leads them to get involved, even in speculation and the stock market, to invest their money in different brands from their computers or cell phones. Because of this, consumers today can question everything and take relationships to a very high level of skepticism.
However, as Morgan says, not all customers have an emotional connection with the product, but some use it as one more element in their lives without giving it much importance. Once again, marketing departments have ceased to have complete control over the brand to become a company-wide policy. Everyone has to believe.
To the conquest of customers
As we will see in the following blogs, the discipline of branding should be like a brand-customer relationship. New lifestyles appear, and the brand and the customer avoid one-way messages. There must be a dialogue, an exchange, a continuous interaction that founds both actors.
But, for this dialogue to be deep and fruitful, brands and customers must share the same values, ideas, and beliefs. This kind of relationship will validate their faith and trust in each other. In this way, it will be possible to create a more intense relationship with the customer that will generate loyalty and a sense of belonging.
How to approach consumers?
The brand-customer relationship that leads to co-creation is a win-win relationship. On the one hand, customers benefit from that because the brand puts into practice innovations they would like to see in certain products or services. On the other hand, companies benefit because they design coherent products with less financial risk. At the same time, as Saleem says, they get more loyal customers to the brand by achieving a more effective connection between the two.
On the other hand, although interactivity, authenticity, dynamism, and customers’ power are essential in this new brand management model, Grant maintains that brand management is no longer effective because it ignores the pressure of brands to adopt a more authentic approach. In this sense, the traditional techniques to obtain consumer knowledge, based on market research and observation techniques, are helpful to get insights related to attitudes towards brands but not to acquire knowledge about customer intention.
Therefore, we can use a participatory customer approach to predict their behavior. The objective goes beyond providing opinions, but that the customers become brand creators. For this reason, all interested parties must participate in the process and contribute their creativity.
On the companies’ side, it is necessary to actively listen to their audiences and the responsibility of maintaining long-term relationships. They also need the commitment to put input into practice and allow the brand to evolve through participation.
Conditions for co-creation
Notwithstanding what we discussed, there are two conditions for consumers to participate in the company’s co-creation process. First of all, the company’s activity must be relevant. That is, they have to care about the category to which the brand belongs or what the company can do for them. Second, you must convince them that the company values their ideas and that they will be heard. And the company will implement their opinions and contributions.
In this way, consumers will be able to accompany the brand in its process of evolution sincerely and give the best of themselves. Of course, as Saleem says, their participation must be from the conceptualization to the generation of content for its correct communication. Despite this, this process entails specific execution problems. Therefore, marketers must see them strategically to avoid making mistakes that affect the brand’s image.
Is the future in co-creation?
There are two alternatives when starting the co-creation process. First, we can start with an existing community where topics related to the company’s activity are already discussed. Secondly, we can create a community to analyze ideas and concepts about the brand. Therefore, as Grant mentions, there will be as different prisms of the same brand as the ideas they can come up with. These start from a problem to be solved rather than from how to advertise the brand in question.
Thus, in a context where technology makes it easier to share ideas anywhere, brands must establish the foundations to encourage innovation and creativity. Likewise, they must develop mechanisms that evaluate the ideas proposed by the different actors involved in a company.
To conclude, the interest in building and developing brands from and towards customers should be a premise of any company that wants to establish lasting relationships with its customers and generate loyalty. In this new century, power is on the side of information, and customers increasingly own more. Therefore, companies should stop looking at their navels to think about their future and better understand the new customers’ role in building brands.