As a researcher and someone who loves numbers, Tobias Schwarz, Director of Crossmedia Redbox, is glad that concrete goals in brand communication have long been standard practice. However, he is always surprised about one particular media task: increasing consideration. In this article, he explains why brand relevance is not something you can outsource to your media agency.
A little media story: On a random morning in a random media agency. Media consultant X opens her electronic mail. Ah, there it is, the new campaign briefing! The client is looking for an ATL campaign, both analog and digital, a target group of women 20-49 years, the budget is 500k… so far, so good. Under the header of “Goals” the consultant reads: continue to build brand awareness. And, what’s new this time: increase consideration and relevance for the core product. All of the above should, ultimately, positively impact sales…
This is probably how most briefings read today. This little story demonstrates that, fortunately, it is now common practice to set concrete goals for brand communication; goals that can be operationalized and whose degree of fulfillment can also be traced back to the communication performance. It also shows that it has become widely accepted that there are always two sides to the communications coin: brand and performance. Brand, in order to ensure long-term and sustainable business success; and performance, in order to skim off the top in the short term, continuously, to “keep the shop in business” and to finance brand. However, we can even see a third positive development: The realization that there is also something between brand awareness and sales that is also shaped by communication. We are talking about brand relevance.
At some point, you have reached all there is to reach in creating awareness
Particularly with established brands, at some point, even more awareness is simply not possible. When this point is actually reached varies greatly, as it depends on the industry and the product’s or the service’s relevance to the masses. Yet when it is, for those brands that are established in terms of awareness, the relevant question now is how to increase the brand’s relevance with those who know the brand. This is great! We’ve learned that our goals should be SMART*. Most importantly, this means they must be measurable. Consideration of brands or products is a matter of attitude. Since attitudes are usually rather difficult to observe from the outside, consideration is usually collected through market research. This is done by asking a representative sample of the target group the question: “Which of the following brands from area X would you generally consider?” Although there are still various variations and related varieties such as the closely-related “Purchase Intention”, within which the consideration is sharpened even more in the direction of purchase, I would say that consideration, in its “original form”, remains on the general, non-binding level and is operationalized as just described.
Now we come to the crux of the problem: The ability to influence this objective through communication and, most importantly, through media. It’s here that we are seeing a major issue, not just a minor glitch. The core question is: Can I influence this key figure in the short to medium term just by communication distribution, independently of creative, message, product or service? In other words, can media increase this metric on its own? To answer this question, I would like to broaden the perspective a little and take a holistic look at the role of advertising communication.
What advertising can do – and what it can’t
Advertising can reinforce existing product features or brand dimensions in the perception of consumers. Creative agencies pick up on these features and package them in a message or creative; PR and content agencies look for suitable content that underlines the winning features of a product or brand. And what does the media agency do? They make sure that the brand/product communication is visible to the target group, especially when a product is in particularly high demand there. The right media strategy ensures that the right touch points are triggered at the right time, making sure that the consumer receives the right information at the right time, and it choses environments and formats that fit the message that is to be conveyed. Even if all these tasks are fulfilled in the best possible way, it’s still important that the message itself is right, so that, by conveying this message, the brand relevance increases. Let me be clear here: media agencies have the seemingly smallest lever in the “mission consideration”, since they only have limited influence on WHAT is communicated; they only provide the appropriate means of transport to get the message to the right recipients on time, quickly and reliably.
It is not the communication itself but the perceived added value that increases consideration
Our research supports this thesis. Over the years, we have conducted a variety of analyses, from pure surveys to driver analyses to time series data modeling. All of the above were done with one goal: Finding out what exactly has a positive influence on the consideration of a brand or a product in the consumers’ eyes. The findings all point in one direction: it appears it is not to the communication itself; much rather it is the actual or at least perceived (added) value that an offer provides, when compared with competing offers, that directly influences consideration. The brand, product or service’s added value can arise at the rational level of the product (new functions, completely new product category) or at the emotional brand level (trust, purpose, etc.). The fact that even the perceived added value can result in an increase in consideration is good news for all marketers. The bad news is: To increase it, one must also be able to communicate a new added value message; a message that can credibly assure that there are good reasons to find the well-known brand, product or service even better now. This becomes especially clear when looking at new brands. In markets that see new brands entering with fresh, perhaps even disruptive offerings, results in awareness and consideration develop almost in parallel. Yet, this is only because the offering is new, and it satisfies a need that other market offerings have not been able to fulfill before. Thus, the dilemma is mainly when the product is well-known and the objective target is the only thing that changes. Unfortunately, this is more often the rule than the exception; especially when budgets are too tight to increase brand awareness further.
Increasing consideration cannot be outsourced
So, what can be done? If you are serious about this objective, you have to approach it the right way. The right approach means integrating all the company departments involved in the value chain (product development, sales, marketing), agencies and other partners such as research institutes into a multi-stage process in which the brand’s added value, product or service is carefully elaborated so that it can then, ultimately, be translated into credible communication. Yes, I’m speaking as a researcher here who, by nature, attributes an important role to research. However, even objectively judged, research plays an important role in this scenario. To identify the added value of one’s own brand in the eyes of consumers, you need to involve current and potential consumers in the process. The process often starts with qualitative research (focus groups, in-depth interviews, etc.), the findings of which are then placed on a broader basis by analyzing the data obtained from quantitative surveys, using suitable methods such as conjoint or driver analyses. Once you are aware of what the individual added value is, you then have to work with all the parties involved to translate these findings into a coherent, integrated communications concept that convincingly conveys this very added value.
All this has to happen before you write this objective into an agency brief without context. Then, however, you have a good chance of increasing that consideration in the medium term. And then we, as a media agency, would be happy to be measured against this common objective. The one thing that has to be clear, though, is that increasing brand relevance is not a task that can be outsourced to the media agency in an isolated way.
*S = Specific, M = Measurable, A = Achievable (or agreed), R = Realistic (or relevant), T = Time-bound