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Redefining brand communication

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Defining segments demographically will be an extremely costly method

By Haseeb -ur-Rahman
Apr 24 - 30, 2000

Working in strategic planning, I frequently come across a number of brands and the typical dilemmas of how can we make these brands "connect" with the customers. The problem is usually more or less the same across the board "What is going to be the Brand DNA upon which all communication should be based?" Simple as it may sound this is a very tough question to answer with the pluralistic society emerging where values are hard to harmonize especially with the increasing fragmentation that we are witnessing as a society with various segments emerging within a city with multifarious needs and wants.

Take a simple example. When we professionals start our jobs, we don’t begin with segments in mind but usually with branded products. Now take the STP approach for instance in this case and its relevance in communication. What use does it have? Let’s say you have been appointed as an Asst. Brand Manager (ABM) in a famous FMCG company and you have been given the task of developing a complete brand communication plan. How would you do a complete segmentation analysis in terms of defining your brands potential target market in demographics, psycho-graphics, behavioural intentions etc and how would this affect brand communication? Where would you begin?

Note here when I say communication I don’t mean the media through which the communication takes place but the message which is communicated through a variety of media. Simply it is what you are saying not through what you are saying it!

Defining your segments demographically will be an extremely costly and time-consuming method. Pepsi never says it’s for the age segment of 10-19 or Cartier never says it is for those who earn above $ X thousand. Ask any brand manager and he will tell you that variables like income, gender, occupation, family size, for any brand are usually determined intuitively rather than through hard-core quantitative research. How can you tell if the defined variable like income for your segment is actually relevant or not across all of Pakistan?

Coming to our initial question what would you do if you were the ABM? How would you know that other demographic variable like income, gender, family size, age etc. affect your brands consumption via communication? Would you ask your management to let you conduct a million-dollar national research? Chances are that you’ll get the boot for putting such a (un)reasonable demand!

This is where the concept of brands jumps in. Rather than looking at the demographics of your customers study their psychographics and behavioural life style. But wait a minute!

What is a brand? It’s basically a spirit of your customer’s psychographics and behavioural lifestyles captured in a few words. The intangible bonding that "connects" your customer with you. Take examples:

  • Nike- The athlete with attitude in all of us (Attitude is a psychographic variable)

  • BMW -Successful executives going places (Success concepts are psychographics variables)

  • Dettol- Individuals who fear the infection (Fear is a psychographic variable)

Other psychographic and behavioural variables like lifestyle, class, personality, occasions, benefits, etc of potential consumers are the drivers behind successful brand communication. And trust me on one thing.... You won’t get these through quantitative research.

What do I mean by this? Well what I mean is simple. To know which psychographic or behavioural variable is relevant to our brand we must conduct qualitative study to determine what insights can we find which will allow us to develop our brand communication plan. This means we must hold focus groups, one to one interview, shop with our consumers, observe them in dinner parties, go on vacations with them or whatever the methodology but we must understand them as human beings and define how our brand fits into their life styles, hopes, aspirations, or the like of these psycho-graphic variable.

So what’s the catch here? Simple! Research what your consumer would want hear through these various qualitative research methods and then think where the gaps and vacuums emerge. Once this is done try to define who your brand is for, who your brand is, and why should any one buy your brand.

Then come up with a benefit (USP with rational driven positioning), image (thematic with outward oriented emotion driven positioning) and feelings (thematic with inward oriented emotional driven positioning) and then focus on just one of them to drive your brand communication. In any case this is a very human exercise where conjoint analysis or multi-variate analysis are not the means but a simple heart to heart talk which does the trick. For those who define brands through statistical measures and not psychology with help of concepts like projective techniques or transactional analysis there is sure to be failure. Coke got that back when it launched New Coke and failed miserably since its taste tests were product oriented ignoring brand perceptions.

Segmentation as a concept must be restudied as today in an imperfect world with imperfect knowledge we cannot afford to make ourselves slow just because of the excuse that we don’t know how to position ourselves because all the demographic information is not available. This information may be important for a sales forecast but as far as brand communication goes its relevance is highly limited.

I would like to emphasize once more that until this type of brand positioning which is focused in what it wants to say does not develop we can never see success in communication since the concept of integrated brand communication is not that all media’s must be used, but rather that all media’s whatever they may be (through which your brand is speaking) must say the same thing. The message is the voice of all brand communication and must be developed using qualitative research techniques.

In the end what matters is getting your message across and if this approach helps you then go for it....whose there to stop you.