Beginning in the 1970’s, when the nation was dealing with a major shortage of fuel and high gas prices, American car buyers were flocking to smaller, lighter, and more fuel efficient foreign brands. In a mad dash to protect market share, American companies were making their cars smaller and smaller with each model year. As a result of poor planning, brands like Cadillac began looking much like sister brands such as Oldsmobile, Buick, and Chevrolet.
Unfortunately for Cadillac, customer perceptions didn’t fit the new products. In the minds of Cadillac buyers, the brand was a larger and more comfortable luxury car. Buyers left in droves. They flocked instead to luxury brands such as Mercedes Benz, Lexus, and Acura. Cadillac was in trouble.
Marketing in the twenty-first century is much the same. At Brand Acceleration, we are often contacted by company or community leaders who have no clear idea what their brand represents. They assume that what their staff or citizens believe is what their prospective buyers and employers believe. Much of the time, they’re wrong. If your ads, brochures, web site, and other marketing materials attempt to sell a message that is out of sync with audience perceptions, they won’t believe it, and sales results will be very disappointing.
The Las Vegas Experiment
From the 1930’s, Las Vegas had a reputation for gambling, showgirls, prostitution, and entertainment meant to attract the thousands of workers on the Boulder (Hoover) Dam project. The city and its brand were edgy, gritty, and not meant for children. It was a no-holds-barred adult entertainment capital.
In the 1990’s, Las Vegas attempted to broaden its appeal by promoting itself as a family-friendly destination. Sadly, consumers would have no part of it. The message was out of sync with their perceived reality. The effort bombed. So, in 2004, the “What happens here, stays here” campaign was launched, clearly going back to the reality of customer perceptions. One study showed that for every dollar spent on the campaign, twenty-six dollars were returned.
Understand audience perceptions
It’s very important to have a clear understanding of audience perceptions and there’s only one way to do it. Go to the source. Our preferred approach is to conduct benchmark brand research as a way to discover the true opinions of each of the key audiences, and there are always at least three. Through a series of exercises and carefully crafted questions, we discover the feelings, thoughts, and emotions that are common among all audiences. With this newfound information, we can craft a message strategy that is believable and effective.
Another truth is that communities and companies may actually have no brand. It’s possible that your key target audiences may know little or nothing about you, resulting in no brand position at all. The good news is that your marketing communications effort may be starting with a clean slate. The bad news is that people may be free to make dangerous assumptions about you. Any marcom effort though, would have to resonate in the minds of insiders, otherwise the effort will fail.
Does every effort require brand research? No! But it sure makes a huge difference when asking the key question, which is, “Who are we?”