Branding Amid The Noise

Consumers in developed markets, as well as you and I, have access to a mind-numbing mix of media sources. Through the barrage of ads and attention-demanding gimmicks, we’ve developed the unique skill of simply tuning out.

We’re also increasingly cynical. How exactly does one build a brand amid all this market clutter?

One thing folks generally agree on is that the strongest brands are no longer built using traditional push selling. Building brands now requires pull marketing that builds richer relationships that engage the customer on their terms. To get their attention, customers expect you to inform, entertain, and involve them.

Most people also readily agree that the web is a vital tool for doing just that. Yet, we don’t see many compelling examples of “brick and mortar” companies building relationships on the web. Why is that?

A Relationship With A Soap Company?

I’ve got to admit, I’ve been skeptical as to whether consumers have an interest in developing a relationship with the company that makes the soap they use. Most of us have just a few other things that take precedence.

Recognition of the intense competition for the customer’s attention is key to building brand relationships. This has been effectively demonstrated by Unilever. When one analyzes Unilever’s online efforts relative to its competition, it becomes clear that there are some valuable lessons for those using the web as an integral component of the overall marketing mix.

For context, let’s first take a look at Procter & Gamble’s online presence for Ivory soap. After entering the site, we’re offered options for detailed product information, FAQs, and product news.

In the FAQs (the meatiest portion of the site), we’re regaled with information about why Ivory soap floats. My favorite FAQ is this: “Why did Ivory change to a bundled over-wrap?” As I peruse the Ivory site, I’m trying hard to figure out why exactly I want a relationship with Ivory.

Presenting a dramatic contrast is Unilever’s DoveSpa. The Dove signage is understated with only a small logo in the lower portion of the screen. Instead, the Spa is defined as “a place to relax, unwind, and pamper your skin, your body, and yourself.”

Okay, they’ve got my attention. The site has relaxation exercises, instructional activities, quizzes, surveys, and articles all related to skin and mind/body issues. While Dove product information is available should I want it, Unilever is offering much more.

Procter & Gamble approaches the web from a product perspective. They’re not talking to me as an individual consumer; they just don’t get my attention. Unilever, on the other hand, seems to understand my life. They know I’m stressed and they’ve responded with a Spa. Unilever has ultimately raised the level of the discussion and appealed to something that I care about. Needless to say, they do have my attention.

Relationships As Competitive Advantage

The DoveSpa site is not a fluke, but rather it builds on the success of previous efforts. Unilever is transferring the capability it established with its Ragu and Lipton efforts to not only DoveSpa and the European Percil effort, but also another 40 branded sites around the globe. Unilever’s ability to establish online relevance and rapport should become a significant competitive advantage.

The key to Unilever’s online success is the same that’s behind their success in global markets. Unilever is devoutly customer-focused. As Richard Goldstein, President and CEO of Unilever United States, stated last year, ” our decision to migrate to the web… is driven solely by the needs of our consumers… not by the need to be digital. The pipeline and technology is secondary to our desire to provide added value to the user.”

Just to reiterate:

  1. The strongest brands establish a rich relationship with consumers.
  2. Competition for mind share in the crowded marketplace requires that the customer wants to engage our offerings.
  3. Unilever seems to have established a competency for building relationships online that far surpasses its competition. If I were Procter & Gamble, I’d be concerned.

How are you doing in your segment? Are you focused on pushing your product or are you engaging your customer? Be honest.

Recommended Reading

Radical Marketing From Harvard to Harley, Lessons From Ten that Broke the Rules and Made it Big
by Sam Hill & Glenn Rifkin

Radical Marketing is one of the best business books we’ve seen in some time, one that we expect to become a touchstone in the evolution of relationship marketing.

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