Think Short – part 1
Short-Term Brands Revolutionize Branding
מאת: ד"ר דן הרמן
In recent years, consumers exhibit an unprecedented readiness to try new brands and a preference for brand-variety over brand-loyalty (even loyalty to a consistent repertoire of brands), resulting in damage to brand survivability. To cope, marketers now need a supplemental tool to that of the familiar Long-Term Brand (LTB): the methodical creation and management of profitable Short-Term Brands (STB). In this e-booklet, I will clarify the need for STB, I shall define and describe the concept and finally, provide you with some guidelines for managing STB.
Short-Term Brands (STB)
The Psychological and Social Usefulness of Brands
The Psychological and Social Usefulness of STB
STB Constitute a Possible New Path to Customer Loyalty
Managing Short-Term Brands
Assume that you are about to introduce a new product into the market. If it were a new version of an existing branded product, for example a new flavor of a beverage, the inclination would be to extend the brand. Conventional marketing wisdom has it that the introduction of a new product under a familiar brand name will stimulate more consumers to try it, thus saving marketing efforts. When the task is to create an entirely new brand (which usually implies a new product launch, as well), the same conventional wisdom encourages long-term thinking.
'Conventional marketing wisdom' is a system of assumptions and beliefs, so widely accepted that any other possibility seems unthinkable. Is it possible that this way of thinking will lead to failure? Accumulative data, in the US and in Israel alike, indicates that we are bound to draw these conclusions because of a new reality in the marketplace. Deep changes that have taken place in consumer behavior that limit the scope of the present brand theory raising questions regarding some of its basic 'truths' (1,2). I have studied these changes thoroughly and as a result, developed new concepts, methods and tools. I am happy to say that I have already implemented successfully the emergent branding approach that I am about to share with you as it proved extremely fruitful.
Brands In and Out (?) of Crisis
Experts of competitive strategy (3,4,5,6,7) have observed the new reality of market frenzy and wild competition for more than a decade. Early in the nineties initial data was published signaling that one of the characteristic of the turbulent marketplace is the damage caused to the survivability of brands, the pinnacle of modern marketing.
The damage became manifest in:
- The shortening of life expectancy of brands, even those successful in terms of sales volume.
- The success of lower priced private labels of retail chains, at the expense of established brands.
- Shrinking of the 'premium' the consumer is willing to pay for an established brand.
For some reason, 1994 was a focal year in this process. In this year, The Economist, The Financial Times and The Independent among others, all published articles announcing that brands are in trouble. Gabriel and Lang summed up this outcry by declaring, "It is now being argued by certain commentators that one hundred years of brands may be drawing to a close".
Surprisingly, in spite of these glooming prediction brands regained a renewed popularity and commanded even more vigorous interest. Branding agencies flourished. New concepts have been put forth like: Brand Experience, Emotional Branding, Brand Culture, and Brand Community to mention only a few. Brands seem stronger than ever. May we conclude that our ability to develop and manage brands is now satisfactory? Can we truly assume that the crisis is over? Not really.
In the fall of 2000, the consulting firm Copernicus and the research institute Market Facts undertook a joint research project. The study encompassed a nationally representative sample of 615 men and women, age 18 or older, randomly chosen from the Market Facts' Consumer Mail Panel. The study investigated the performance of 48 pairs of leading brands and 51 different product and service categories – both Old and New Economy businesses—in terms of differentiation.
In his report, titled 'The Commoditization of Brands' (3), Dr. Kevin J. Clancy, Chair person and CEO of Copernicus, comments:
"We conclude that a majority of brands in a wide range of categories are becoming less and less differentiated, and more like commodities where price is the primary factor in the purchase decision".
The crisis may not be over yet, after all.
Is Consumer Loyalty a Disappearing Phenomenon?
Common brand theory maintains that we build brands for the long-term and that Brand Equity results mainly, both directly and indirectly, from customer loyalty. More than 80% of the interviewees in the 2001 online survey of 'best practices in brand management' conducted by the consulting firm Prophet (3), chose customer loyalty as the most important factor influencing brand strength. Unfortunately, it seems that consumer loyalty (even loyalty to a consistent repertoire of brands) is a disappearing phenomenon.
Researchers at the Leo Burnett advertising agency (3), published the results of a comprehensive research. During two years in the mid-nineties, they observed brands in the American market. The main findings were as follows:
- Most of the brands (60%) lost market-share.
- Only 15% of the brands enjoyed loyalty of the majority of their consumers (according to Leo Burnett's Buyer Strategy Segmentation system).
The research utilized store scanner data for a combined panel of consumers of two leading research companies: Nielsen and Information Resources Inc. It encompassed 28,000 households. The research examined 1,251 brands of packaged goods of different 14 consumptions categories. Excluded were brands introduced to the market during these two years and brands discontinued.
According to data(3),, accumulated by the management consulting firm Bain & Co. on average, US-based companies lose over half their customers every five years. I often hear estimates by senior executives that the rate of annual churn in categories like cellular phones and credit cards, in Europe and the USA, is about 25% of the customers. The Customer base of such a company changes every 3-4 years.
Oddly, customer satisfaction has little to do with it. Customer satisfaction is no guarantee of customer loyalty. Moreover, retention rate does not seem to improve even when utmost attention is given to customer satisfaction. A study of 20 companies that scored well in the 1988 and 1989 federally sponsored annual Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award competition, showed that satisfaction increased yet retention levels remained the same or actually decreased (3),. Bain & Co. found that only 40% of Satisfied to Very Satisfied customers are generally retained and that 60 – 80% of customers who defected had said on survey just prior to defecting that they were Satisfied to Very Satisfied. In a study by the consulting firm Juran Institute, out of 200 large US-based corporations, only 4 (!) were able to show that the improvement in satisfaction achieved by their programs actually increased sales or profits.
The above trend is only a partial description of the current situation. Simultaneously the continuing strength of established mega-brands is evident. Global Brands – Such as McDonald's, Nescafe, Nike, Microsoft, Sony and others – unite consumers' way of life worldwide. Nonetheless, Landor and Interbrand(3), show repeatedly that most of the brands occupying positions in the top 100 list have been there for at least 25-50 years, suggesting that mega-brands are becoming a rather exclusive club. It seems that creating even modest Long-Term Brands, has become more difficult and the chances of success have been reduced.
Some Widely Accepted Explanations
Several explanations have already been offered in an attempt to understand the reasons for the brand crisis:
- The markets in the USA and Europe have matured and are saturated. The growth rate of the market represents the natural growth rate of the population. Attempts to introduce additional brands cause 'brand explosion'.
- The results of the crowded competition lead to communication overload for the consumer. This situation erodes the images of existing brands. New brands often fail to gain enough impact.
- The fact that products are similar in characteristics and quality makes consumers feel that trying a new and unfamiliar brand is risk-free.
- The competitive pressure leads manufacturers to offer a large variety of products and products versions in an attempt to answer preferences of ever-smaller groups (e.g. variety of car classifications) resulting in an inability to continually support (by advertising, for example) the entire range.
- Media fragmentation has increased the price of reaching consumers through advertising. Thus, many US marketers resort to data base marketing. Alas, direct media (like mail) are often less effective in creating brand image than mass media (like television). Interactive media may be creating a new reality in this respect.
- Price competition and intensive use of promotional sales have made companies reluctant to allocate funds for image advertising.
An Additional Factor: Consumers Have Changed
The aforementioned explanations emphasize the behavior of marketers and its results. Although these explanations are valuable and call attention to valid factors, I am about to add another complementary factor: The fundamental change in consumers' preferences and behavior. There is now, an unprecedented openness to try, both new products and new brands manifested in a sweeping preference of brand variety and novelty over brand loyalty. This change interacts with the factors described above together creating the new situation in the market place.
An Israeli survey I conducted in February 1999 (5) demonstrates the following preferences:
- 54% think that whoever does not try new products is 'out of touch'.
- 58% like to try new products often.
- 64% think that whoever does not try new products loses.
Most consumers use the terms 'product' and 'brand' interchangeably.
Much of my data originates in the Israeli market. Is such data relevant for other countries as well? Repeatedly, comparisons between Israeli data and data from the US and from western European countries, demonstrated that the Israeli consumer is very similar to consumers in other developed economies in terms of demographic and socio-economic distributions, general lifestyles and attitudes, brandscape, available retail formats, consumption patterns, buying behavior and brand affinity. Recently, multinational companies such as Gillette have started using Israel for market test of new products.
An additional survey I conducted in January 2001(5) further evidences considerable level of acceptance (Completely Agree and Tend to Agree') of statements expressing willingness to try new products. This survey also unearthed a new pattern of collecting product information continuously rather than when contemplating purchase, motivated by Social benefits stemming from being up to date on such matters. For instance:
- 'New products are often a conversation item with friends and family' – 75%.
- 'I keep abreast of new product introductions even without any specific intention to purchase' – 70%.
- 'I like trying new products' – 66%.
Consumer loyalty, discussed above, is weakening, because consumers constantly move on to new products and brands. This is evidenced by the rapid diffusion of new products and brands. Ironically, as a result, nowadays marketers often experience nowadays a delusory ease in launching new brands and success stories are amplifying the interest of the business community in brands. "A process that once took decades now gets done in a few years", wrote Court, Forsyth, Kelly and Loch of the consulting firm McKinsey summing up the findings of a research program in which they interviewed 5,000 consumers and covered 130 brands. "Our research reveals that an average retail lifecycle fell from 12 years in the 1970s to 5 years by the early 1990s"(5). Following are some examples from the Israeli market corroborating these conclusions.
'Actimel', Danone's probiotic yogurt drink, was introduced into the Israeli market in December 1998. A survey performed the same month showed that about 15% of the adult population tried the product within a few weeks.
In the coffee category, in which the consumer is assumed to have lasting preferences, 44% of the instant coffee drinkers have tried Elite's (Israel’s leading manufacturer of sweet food products and coffee) new 'Aroma' brand within five months of its launching in February 1999(6).
Whoever thinks these swift and sweeping changes are unique to the food market should consider the almost immediate entry of Gaba's 'Meridol' toothpaste to the 19th place on the financial rating of non-food brands' sales in 1998 according to Nielsen Israel. Meridol is now the second most popular toothpaste brand, after Colgate, in a category renowned in the past for its stability due to consumers' firm habits.
'Strong umbrella brands' may often be an optical illusion. A survey I conducted in August 1999"(6). suggests that 58% tend to try yogurt with fruit in new flavors introduced under the brand names Danone and Emmi, at least from time to time. 81% of them stated they would have tried such new products even if marketed under different brand names. They constitute 92% of those who try new yogurt with fruit flavors Usually or Always (those who try Usually or Always – 33%). These findings are consistent with Nielsen's evidence from other countries as well, that umbrella names have little influence on the success of new products.
In December 2001, Yoplait entered the Israeli market launching their yogurt with fruit up against Danone, a strong market leader enjoying 67% market share. Within one week (!) 47% of all buyers tried the newcomer (totally unknown previously to the Israeli consumer)(8). Six months later, Yoplait had over 50% market share. The diet product line was introduced to the market in June 2002. It reached a 41% market share in the sub-category during the first week(6).
How about more durable and costly products?
South Korean cars were introduced to the Israeli market in the mid-1990s. In just two years, their combined market share was more than 15%. In 1999, Hyundai was the second best selling brand of family cars and most of these brands did quite well. Examples are ample in most, if not all, consumer goods and service categories.
Seth Godin agrees. In his 'Unleashing the Ideavirus(9), Godin observes that: "It took 40 years for the radio to have ten million users. … It took 15 years for TV to have ten million users. It only took 3 years for Netscape to get to 10 millions, and it took hotmail and Napster less than a year". He concludes: "While early adopters (the nerds who always want to know about cool things in their field) have always existed, now we've got more nerds than ever"(9),
Another aspect of the tendency towards new products and brands is 'The Replacement Cycle' defined as "The rate at which customers replace their products/brands". I would like to emphasize that while technological improvements often drive replacement cycles in industries such as personal computers and wireless handsets, these cycles are also affected to a considerable degree by a socio-psychological factor relevant to other industries as well: the feeling that 'it is time to move on'. Social approval resulting from the rapid market penetration accelerates the process, at least for "network goods" where the total benefit that a consumer derives increases with the number of consumers who buy it.
Underlying Processes of Psychological and Social Change
We can view the changes in consumers' attitudes and behaviors within a wide context of Cultural, Psychological and Social processes of change that occurred during the 20th century. These changes are characteristic to Western opulent societies.
An individual's life in modern society, our lives in fact, is typified by several characteristics worth mentioning:
- We face a huge variety of choice options. The revolutions in transportation, communication and information are rendering the world more accessible. We are free to choose among different places to visit or live in. We encounter a large variety of people, cultures, worldviews and life styles. We face rich assortments in every aspect of life, including consumption. Furthermore, we are bound to make more and more life shaping choices: our leaders, spouses, and professions. Even the responsibility of shaping our identity is largely ours. We have the right and even the obligation to 'discover', define and develop ourselves. We choose from a wide Social-cultural 'menu' of identities. Social mobility through education and entrepreneurship is without precedent. The resulting development of human capability and the ability to cope with such a large variety and to choose from it what seems right for every individual (as well as the legitimization to invent new possibilities) is the most important and radical change of our time.
- The exposure to various possibilities evidently undermines our belief in absolutes, 'an incontestable truth' or 'the right way'. This is the basis of post-modernity. Together with other processes, this fact has weakened Social structures and institutions as well as authorities. It gave birth to a new openness to the different, the other and the new.
- Due to the weakening of institutionalized sources of legitimacy, the individual faces 'culture', 'society' and even 'the world', without the mediation of a community. Our community is no longer unitary and significant. We define it in a flexible and changing manner. We take part of groups that are disconnected from one another and some of these communities are abstract or virtual. Our affiliation is temporary, in many cases.
- We have grown accustomed to a much faster tempo. "Technology has been a rapid heartbeat, compressing housework, travel, entertainment, squeezing more and more into the allotted span" writes Social historian Theodore Zeldin(9),. In 1999, Agnieszka Winkler coins the term 'Time Compression'. She notes that -"We are living in a sliver of time during which 10 years has redefined the concept of fast food from a drive-through McDonald's to a 30 second microwave meal; nail polish dries in 30 seconds; photos are developed in one hour; and money comes out of street corner machines instantly. We have not said the word 'computer' yet! We no longer think of FedEx as a big deal. Even faxing is cumbersome. …".
- The fast pace of changes during the 20th century has eroded the status of tradition and 'elderly wisdom' in exchange for admiring novelty and worshipping youth. This is especially true in light of technological developments and the possibility of Social and Economic success at young age (in hi-tech or the stock market, for example). "Routinely, most of the truths a person over 40 grew up believing, are now questioned", writes Judy Lannon (10).
- Authors depicting the postmodern era claim that we live in a perpetual 'now' in which the past loses its value and the future is unknown. The focus is on the present, to which we are required to adapt quickly, emphasizing immediacy.
- Some theorists in psychology questioned the notion of one integral self. According to Gordin and Lindlof: "Destabilization of the self, is one of the characteristics of post-modernity… individuals may find that they no longer need a central core with which to evaluate and act" (10). Therefore, they can afford to be a somewhat 'different person' each time, with different people, in different contexts. Kellner says: "Identity becomes more mobile, multiple, personal, self-reflexive and subject to change and innovation". Radical theoretical approaches (11). describe a coalition of sub-personalities as an alternative model to the common concept of unitary personality.
Furthermore, let's not forget that life expectancy has increased. "When life goes on for almost a century" writes Zeldin, "it is time to reconsider whether man wants to dedicate all of it to riding the same bus." (11).
Enters the Fear of Missing Out (FoMO)
These developments and process forge a consumer (person) living in a new reality who has developed new characteristics. The emerging portrait is that of a person swept by an intoxicating abundance of options. A new basic motivation is leading this person: the ambition to exhaust as many possibilities as he/she can and the fear to miss out on something. I have been researching The Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) as a socio-cultural phenomenon, as a motivation and as a personality factor for the past four years. I have studied it's implications for marketers and have come to believe that this motivation might be one of the main causes of the brand crisis described above.
As a motivation, the FoMO has five major manifestations discernible in most of us in varying degrees:
- We strive to make the best use we can of our limited time while 'having it all'.
- While in past decades we usually accepted that there is a trade-off between pursuing a career and devoting oneself to family life and that one has to make a choice, nowadays many try to achieve both plus Social activities, hobbies, fitness training and more. This leads to a rather hectic schedule and raises the need for more efficient time management.
- Advertising agency Publicis researchers spotted a new consumption phenomenon of the 1990's: unification of contrasts or the era of 'this and that too'(11). Consumers want uncompromising combinations of gourmet taste and low calorie content, they want beauty and comfort, low price and high quality. They are willing to accept combinations of science and nature, conventional and holistic medicine.
Analogously, we see a wave of '2/3/4…in 1' products: shampoo and conditioner, tooth paste and mouth wash. Fusion in the kitchen, design, music and lifestyle – has become fashionable.
- We have learned to do several things simultaneously. We are 'Multitaskers' as James Gleick describes it: "These days it is possible to drive, eat, listen to a book, and talk on the phone, all at once, if you dare. No segment of time – not a day, not a second – can really be a zero-sum game". We often 'Zap' between television channels to view at least two programs in parallel.
- Many people have more than one career during their working years and certainly work in several organizations. Consequently, there is a preoccupation in both literature and media dealing with 'second career' and there is a multitude of routes available for retraining. Even 'IDF 2000', the multi-annual planning of the Israeli army up to 2010, heralds the transfer from long-term and safe careers of professional army personnel to short and worthwhile careers that can compete with civilian positions. During the last decade or so, gold watches received by veterans of two, three or four decades of loyal employment in one company have become a term of derision.
- Many live in more than one family unit during their lifetime and surely have more than one meaningful intimate relationship.
- We witness an ever-growing population of singles experiencing difficulty to commit to one partner 'forsaking all others'.
- We aspire to be as multifarious as possible.
- People who have a wide range of interests and occupations, who make changes in their appearance, whose clothing style vary and who exhibit openness to explore new concepts, designs and cuisines, are considered more 'interesting'. They tend to serve as models for imitation. It is especially 'Bon Ton' to encompass elements seen as contradictory in the past. Combinations such as computers, painting, the stock market and yoga.
- We legitimize and socially reward, a wide, even contradictory, repertoire of behaviors and the ability to change and adapt ('flexibility'). For example: Many people take pride in the ability to be tough and bossy at work, sensitive and affectionate with their close family, macho with their friends in the pub and sophisticated while entertaining business associates visiting from abroad. It may be worthwhile remembering that in the not so distant past it was desirable to have 'a character', consistent and persistent.
- During past decades several theoretical and research approaches were developed to segment and describe consumer groups according to values, attitudes, and lifestyle characteristics ('psychographic' descriptions). During the last few years professionals claim that these segmentations are no longer valid since many consumers of our times 'belong' to different classifications on different days of the week and even during different hours of the day.
- We try to be as up to date as possible.
- We attempt to keep abreast with news, new concepts, new fashions, new gadgets, technological novelties, etc.
- We often value trying out new restaurants and travel destinations over having 'our usual place' or returning year after year to our favorite summer resort (this, of course, is a sharp departure from past preferences). The phenomenon of 'been there, done that' has an enormous impact on brand loyalty.
- We want almost constant availability and immediate communication so as not to miss any opportunity.
- Our cell phones are usually switched on.
- We check our e-mail boxes often.
- Due to all these communication devices, we are more connected than ever to other people, communication is far more frequent and news travel fast.
- We seek immediacy and instant gratification.
- We demand 24/7 service.
- New channels featuring unceasing live coverage of world events, the likes of CNN, Fox News and BBC Worldwide, enjoy considerable popularity. A recent addition to the Live Coverage is the use of simultaneous scrolls of more information in text and numbers.
- More than ever before, we now consume fast food and microwave dinners ('Eat and Run' is a witty description used by James Gleik). On the street, we have coffee-to-go, and at home, instant coffee is by far the most popular kind of coffee drink.
- com's 'One Click Ordering' is a great success.
- The 1983 volume titled 'One-Minute Bedtime Stories' comprised of traditional stories in a condensed format. The Amazon.com catalog now has more than 160 books that have the expression 'One-Minute' in their title.
Missing out is physically inevitable. The Fear of Missing Out, on the other hand, is an emotional reaction. FoMO can be a good thing. It drives us to lead richer and fuller lives. However, to benefit from it we face several challenges:
- Develop the ability to deal with a wide variety and to choose.
- Lead complex lives and manage efficiently our attention, time and resources.
- To 'Know what we want' and to avoid the potential harms of FoMO such as indecision, lack of focus commitment or persistence, stress, frustration and chronically being late.
My January 2001 survey showed that approximately 75% of adult Israelis experience FoMO to various degrees. 28% cope well (using the criteria listed above). The ability to cope well with FoMO positively and significantly correlates with financial success, Social success and high levels of life satisfaction. One can only speculate regarding the direction of causality.
Marketers Change Their Behavior
Once we understand the contemporary consumer and the reality of his life, it is easy to identify the limitations of the present brand theory. A prolonged commitment of the consumer to a brand appears less likely. Having said that, let me emphasize that I do not claim that Long-Term Brands are becoming obsolete, far from it. Later on, I shall elaborate on their current roles in the consumer's world. Nevertheless, we can justifiably claim that the common theory of brands does not yet provide a comprehensive enough solution to address the new behavior of consumers. Therefore, brand theory is in need of a rather radical revision.
When trying to delineate what such modification should be, it may be wise to note that some of the marketers have already adapted their behavior to the new reality. We can distinguish two types of changes:
- Changes in the Management of 'regular' (long-term) brands
Two well-known versions of Long-Term Brands evolved during the history of brands in addition to the original model (a product that does not change):
- 'Evolving Brands' – introducing improvements and innovations in the product or product line without altering the brand name. A perfect example is the Power Rangers brand introduced to the market at the beginning of the 1990's. Recently, a new generation was presented. Similarly, there are many examples of 'new and improved' products or even completely new products under the same brand name (tablets instead of powder for dishwashers).
- 'Variety Brands' – a wide variety of product versions under the same brand name (Samsonite, for example). Many brands have expended their variety in order to fulfill a wide range of needs, to offer different market segments products that are specifically suited to them specifically ('light' and 'medium' versions of cigarettes), while offering the consumer choice and renewal without having to 'abandon' the brand. On top of that, brand extension to additional categories is a common practice, of course.
- Brands Planned for a limited 'life expectancy'
According to common brand theory, a short 'life span' brand (when compared to brands of the same product category in the past) was considered a failure. Recently, however, in many cases, a brand is an unmistakable success in terms of its sales volume, but its success is short-lived. In children's entertainment, for example, characters such as Lilo and Stitch now succeed for one or two seasons in contrast to Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck in the past. In fragrances, most brands are now expected to succeed for 2 – 3 seasons, unlike Channel 5 and Poison. In cars, brands such as Clio are supposed to succeed for 5-10 years in contrast to Ford Fiesta or Renault 5.
The following is a list of examples of brands that were successful for a relatively short period. The categories are extremely diverse. They include clothing (safari suits), food (frozen yogurt); toiletries and cosmetics (Gillette Sensor, Yves Saint Laurent's seasonal 'looks'); diets (Slim-Fast); toys (Tamaguchi, Furby); entertainment (Pocahontas); music (Disco); vacation destinations (Palma De-Majorca); exercise (Ski Machines); technology (Windows Me); cars (Fiat Punto, Chevrolet Corsica, BMW Z3, …); drugs (Prozac); management theories (TQM); and there are many more.
You may recall that in all of these categories, consumers behaved more consistently ('brand loyalty') in previous generations. Although it may not seem obvious at first, many of the start-up companies we have witnessed during the high-tech boom of the late 1990s, (some of which invested heavily in branding efforts) were designed for the short-term and intended to be bought by large corporations and eventually merged into them.
Naturally, there is a great variance in life expectancies of brands across product categories.
Many marketers have begun to introduce brands anticipating that their life expectancy be limited. Changes in management of such brands, are intuitive, lacking an organizing term and a Short-Term Brands methodology, and are often done in an atmosphere of resignation to reality. The 'Blockbuster' approach to the introduction of new drugs in the pharmaceutical industry is a notable exception where the opportunity in STB is more readily recognized.
Even branding professionals adopted some new practices appropriate for the new consumer reality, without acknowledging it. As little as a decade ago, we used to carry out changes of logo gradually over time, so that the process will be almost unnoticeable to consumers. Now, we execute such changes rather abruptly because consumers have no problem adapting to them instantly.
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