Monday, April 25, 2011

Repositioning a brand in a nonlinear world.

Let's admit that the AIDA model of awareness –> interest –> desire –> action is dead

Brands exist in a nonlinear world of social media, SEM, viral and, yes, advertising. This is why I coined wikibranding — more than ever before, brands are defined by consumers, via peer influence and first-hand experiences, and less so by linear brand marketing.

Here's a personal case study: Buick.

I remember when I moved to America from Ireland as a kid seeing Buick ads that featured a catchy Mad Men-esque jingle, something along the lines of "wouldn't you really rather drive a Buick...than any other car this year?"

Through the years my answer to that question was a resounding "no." Buick's gray styling, quality and customer profile placed the brand squarely in the "I'd rather eat prunes" mental filing cabinet.

As of last week, however, I now would consider a Buick Regal and advocate that my friends do likewise. Did I suddenly become aware of the redesigned Regal? No. My Buick Regal journey didn't follow the AIDA model.

I experienced the car first-hand, by accident, when I rented it at National. I was impressed by how well it drove — precision and road-feel, balanced with Lexus-smooth transmission and suspension. It's interior styling was premium and smart, as was the exterior.

I was so surprised by the Regal that I posted my epiphany on Facebook.  The ensuing skepticism of my import-driving friends further reinforced the challenge brands like Buick face — it's hard to change perceptions when your image is trapped in time (and a social media echo-chamber).

Later that week I was driving through Laguna Beach when a good looking car cut in front of me; I stared at it because it didn't look immediately familiar – yet again, the Regal. My earlier driving experience caused me to impute positive perceptions on a car that I would otherwise have ignored.

A day later while flipping through Wired I noticed an ad for the Regal that invited me to photograph the ad with Google Goggles to view additional video content.

I'm quite sure that Regal and its ads have been trying to get my attention long before my first-hand experience. But all these efforts were invisible to me because our brains are the original spam blocker.  My positive first-hand experience made me more open to listening to Buick.

So what are the lessons learned for well-established brands like Buick that seek to change perceptions?

Rethink the role of brand repositioning advertising. In a nonlinear marketplace, I no longer believe the objective of a repositioning campaign is to build awareness – its true function is to reinforce newly formed perceptions brought on through first-hand experiences. Think about it: if a consumer knows they don't like prunes, running ads that make prunes seem hip and cool isn't likely to work. Accept the truth that the consumer knows what they know. After decades of dismissing Buick, the last thing I had time for was reading one of its ads.

Create experiences that allow the consumer to reach their own conclusion — e.g., sampling, trial offer, public displays, 3D immersive experiences online with like/dislike review options, in-person demonstration, trusted peer reviews.  This is the root of wikibranding.

Embrace new behaviors, not just brand imagery. Consumers judge brands by what they do, not simply by what they say. Media can play a huge role in redefining a brand by signaling new behaviors. Buick's ad was in Wired, not Golf Digest, where I would expect to find Buick. That brand context, combined with the Google Goggles interactivity, helped me see the Regal as a tech-savvy brand.  No amount of copy would have had the same effect.

I will be the first to say that this model may not apply to a new brand which desperately needs awareness.

But for brands that need to recast their positioning and perceptions, awareness can be a ball and chain (i.e., "I know you and know that I don't like you.")  For these brands I would suggest that instead of AIDA, we let consumers practice EOIS – experience –> open mind –> investigate –> share.

2 comments:

Andrew Langdell said...

I'd add: Focusing on making products/services worth having to the list. The more companies understand the experience component of the piece (and that it starts with product) the easier it is to enlist the wiki.

Andrew Langdell said...

I'd add: Focusing on making products/services worth having to the list. The more companies understand the experience component of the piece (and that it starts with product) the easier it is to enlist the wiki.