Commentary

The Value of Web Relationships

"What have you done for me lately?"

I admit, quoting Janet Jackson is not the most original way of getting people to read this, but no truer words could be spoken when it comes to the current state of relationships between consumers and brands.

Let's begin with an obvious factor contributing to the erosion of brands. Consumers are feeling less inclined to remain loyal to any one particular brand due to an overabundance of choice with little differentiation. Few brands today are capable of laying claim to having the best, fastest, most reliable, cleanest or lowest cost solution.

The problem can be summarized through this basic equation: Abundance of Choice + Product Parity = Consumer Apathy

So the marker for success is now brand personalization, placing the lives of consumers in the center.

Lessons Learned
When I began working in the industry, one of my first accounts was Oldsmobile -- a historic, established, well-known consumer brand. A 100-year legacy and the foundation of its loyal base were built upon the pillars of American ingenuity, reliability and distinct aesthetics and styling.

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However, even a popular brand cannot remain competitive without constant self-examination and the desire to reinvent itself and invigorate the consumer. Cost cutting, erosion in quality and uniqueness and a lack of meaningful product differentiation from other car manufacturers ultimately lead to the demise of Oldsmobile and, finally, the extinction of the brand in 2004.

The core pillars that helped Oldsmobile grow and create a strong bond with consumers crumbled. The brand no longer had the attributes that fostered its growth. Their core customers began to age and "Buying American" no longer commanded the attention of car purchasers. Oldsmobile failed to deliver on the high expectations the brand's legacy had established.

How to Make Consumers Care
On the other end of the consumer spectrum, Betty Crocker is a prime example of a successful approach to build and retain brand power in the marketplace.

Beginning in 1929, Betty Crocker created a loyalty program that lasted into the 21st Century. Long before the days of social media, television or even wide acceptance of radio, they fostered the behavior of consumers, allowing them to save proofs of purchase from box tops to purchase products through a specialty catalog. Only recently has this program been replaced by another popular campaign -- Box Tops for Education -- and BettyCrockerStore.com.

The reason this loyalty program lasted for 77 years and made Betty Crocker one of the world's best known and successful brands is not attributed to chance. It worked because Betty Crocker took the effort to discover the needs of its consumers and then kept an open dialogue to stay relevant.

Successful brands reward loyalty beyond just a simple response of cost savings. It's important for a program tailored to your biggest fans to be more than just a financial bribe. Success is built over time with trust and fostering a relationship through conversation.

The current marketing environment requires brands to see loyalty as the vehicle that drives the brand and its relationship with consumers. Enter the Internet as the perfect tool to deliver on consumer expectations beyond share of wallet and product benefits. It is the opportunity to provide specific content important to a consumer's personal life.

Two recent, successful examples of this approach come from two very different brands. Crystal Light's "U-Pump-it-Up" campaign, offered free self-improvement and motivational tools to anyone that registered. Users could create their own goals, or track progress towards common goals with friends in a community of 53,000+ users.

New Balance's NB FITS (Fitness Information Tracking System) was another completely free Web destination that offered registered users a variety of fitness tips, tracking tools, and community to help people achieve their specific fitness and wellness goals.

Rather than consumers showing their loyalty to a brand, the new (Web-based) model requires brands show their loyalty to consumers. Giving consumers a great product is the price of entry for them to like your brand. Giving consumers a great personalized product to fit their life creates a complete customer experience. Only with this level of brand ownership is the bond of a true consumer relationship cemented.

1 comment about "The Value of Web Relationships".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 15, 2009 at 6:16 p.m.

    Andy, you are right. Oldsmobile had a loyal following at one time. When they needed a younger audience to increase, let alone maintain sales, they relied on the 1955 ad model. Don Draper would have been proud. It did not work in the 1980's. Cadillac had to alter their marketing, too. And eventually all women portray in ads had the schmatas on their heads removed. As for actual brand loyalty, the basics still apply regardless of how many times one uses the information on that product's website. A product still must deliver the minimum of what is expected within certain price points - value, perceived or real -to continue to be purchased. My last sentence is not a sentence fragment (although I have been known to drop off a word since my typing stinks). Poor grammar hurts my ears, too. And Andy, it was your examples that did not hold up with your points as comparisons, not your premise.

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