Thursday, June 07, 2007

Consumer Education for Brand Engagement: Context without Content?

I have earlier discussed about Engagement marketing and Media Engagement in detail. Another facet of Engagement Marketing is Brand Engagement, which I briefly mentioned earlier.

Just to recap, Brand Engagement is the last step of Engagement Marketing (From Media Engagement to Ad Engagement to Engagement Marketing to finally, Brand Engagement). It ensures sustainability and loyalty towards the advertised Brand.

This happens when the messages and experiences blend into a combination culminating into a strong association with the brand per se, and not only the communication [previous post]

An article at Marketing Profs “Brand Engagement: Teach Your Customers Well” by Nick Wreden , published last week focuses on a specific component of Brand Engagement – Brand Education and its various forms and methods.

According to the article, Brand Engagement and Wikification have replaced previous models like “positioning” and have emerged as the “two great trends reshaping branding today” (as defined, wikification implies that brands are defined by customers—not companies—based on their own and others' interactions)

A critical component of Brand Engagement is Brand Education. Nick describes this brand education as having two components – Contextual Education and education on brand-usage. According to him, companies are doing great in the former, but failing in the latter, i.e. they have innovated wonderfully when it comes to promoting the experiences around a product, but have chosen to consciously ignore educating the consumer on the product usage and its benefits.

To understand this, let me go back to the definition of Engagement covered in my post on Engagement Marketing – “Engagement is defined as turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context..to make the brand more personally relevant and palatable to the consumer.”

In effect, what companies are doing is that they are focusing on the second half of the definition – enhancing the surrounding context in order to promote the purchases. Thus, enhancing experience has become one of the focus areas. The brand idea is covered, but is not sustainable, since there is no depth in understanding the product specifications and its benefits. Consumers merely engage with the contextual factors for the sake of impression management, or “status skills”*, as it is termed, and discount product knowledge per se.

Nonetheless, Product knowledge still holds paramount importance, as compared to focusing on creating and experience. As Nick mentions,

“One study claimed that 20% of consumers who learn a skill based on a product will buy that product, 65% will buy that brand again, and a mouth-opening, eyebrow-raising 96% will tell a friend about the experience.”

What the statistics reveal is a phenomenal impact of imparting product knowledge to the consumer. However, what is the impact of giving him an experience around the brand? Agreed that he might go and talk to his friends more about the experience and not about the brand per se, but the fact remains that this might translate into sales, even if the experience is what the consumer is looking for, and not so much about the product benefits per se.

Moreover, as I had presented a research input earlier, the process of consumer purchase is “Feel, then Think, then Do”, i.e. consumers process a lot of new information, including ads, on a subconscious, emotional level first, and later engage their rational mind to lead to action. So, a marketer should focus on raising stimulus to sensitize the consumer, to seduce the consumer, than provide fact-based push factors.

Thus, though Brand Education should be given priority, and cannot be compromised with, it is imperative that marketers move towards “Experiential Marketing” and context is factored strongly, too.

The article has some nice tips to offer, vis-à-vis imparting brand education, along with contextual education, like ensuring comprehensive product knowledge to the sales force and understandable consumer-educating tools (like website, manual, reports, white papers, etc.) and encouraging comprehensible training ensuring high involvement, which in turn would entail high absorption. Another nice input, worth quoting,

“Develop a virtual brand university: Go beyond product tutorials to offer online courses in material relevant to your brand. Proctor & Gamble has a "virtual university" for consumers. Sony offers online classes in digital photography and scrapbooking. Atkins has offered classes in nutrition and exercise. Financial services companies regularly offer e-courses on investing and retirement planning.”

Finally, C2C education also comes handy is the most effective form – education generated by the consumer, for the consumer. A few spaces have been mentioned in the article, like WikiHow, VideoJug, etc that focus on the “consumer-to-consumer education” route. Though these new avenues have their own ups and downs, i.e. on one hand, they act as the strongest testimonials, while on the other they run the risk of misinformation and negative WOM. However, they give a totally new dimension to designing the marketing strategy for the brands and a medium of providing education to their consumers – worth exploring once.

To summarize, to engage the consumer with the brand, marketers need to not only promote the experience to the consumer and provide incentives vis-à-vis the brand’s context, but also provide comprehensive education on the product behind the brand, and its benefits. For this, comprehensive product knowledge should be available to and at all touch points, with appropriate communication strategy complementing this initiative.

Else, chances are that the consumer would remember the celebrity promoting your brand, would recall the malls where it is available and the nice music the mall plays, would appreciate the schemes running on your brand, but when it comes to the product behind it, he might mumble his way off to sales….. ;-)
[via Marketing Profs]

* “Status skills” is coined by Reinier Evers, of Trendwatching.com, - using a brand in a way that improves their status / context in the community.
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