Brand-Focused vs. Customer-Focused Content

Extend your marcomm portfolio with consumer-focused media

EyeManaging a brand requires focus: communicate the brand identity, rinse and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. As you accrue brand equity, you can then broaden the relationship with consumers by carefully extending your brand offerings. By “carefully,” I mean that you must assess whether a new product at least reflects – if not strengthens – your brand’s image and values. If you sell drain cleaner, you probably wouldn’t introduce a line of branded dessert toppings.

(“Gimme a cup of chocolate ice cream with whipped cream and Drano® Bits.” I think not.)

Conversely, if you market a prestigious sports car brand, your customers might welcome sleek, high performance home appliances that reflect the brand’s image. It doesn’t matter that you may know nothing about manufacturing or marketing vacuum cleaners. You’ll hire experts or you’ll learn to do those things yourself. What’s important is that you understand consumers’ perception of your brand and then, through your design, packaging, and communications, you reinforce the positive associations and minimize the dissonance.

(I can picture the TV spot now: “Porsche Vacuums Really Suck!”)

The sports car/vacuum cleaner example illustrates how a brand extension can reflect a brand’s image without depending on manufacturing or marketing core competencies. A successful brand manager is not constrained by core competency, but by brand alignment. If Saab had focused exclusively on its first product line, there would be no Saabs on the road. (The company began as – and remains – an aircraft manufacturer.) More recently, we can look at Richard Branson’s $7.2B Virgin mega-brand. Virgin began as a student magazine and mail-order record company and has grown to include entertainment, travel, soft drinks, and more. The brand identity – which happens to reflect Branson’s singular vision and values – is independent of product category.

We can also apply this notion of brand extensibility to marketing communications such as branded magazines, websites, and events. While marketers often think of branded content as strictly derivative of their products or services (for example, an SUV brand magazine for its SUV customers), it’s possible to serve consumers with content that’s brand-aligned without being about the brand. For example, in a bit of consumer research we might find that Jeep Cherokee customers enjoy hiking and other wilderness activities. We could envision Jeep Outdoors, a publication that conveys the brand’s image without being about the brand itself. With articles about camping gear and wilderness destinations, the publication could engage Jeep customers outside the context of a traditional seller-buyer interaction.

Brand-focused content has its place, and I won’t recite all of its well-known benefits here. But compared with consumer-focused content, it has significant shortcomings in producing marketing value.

First, brand-focused content by definition covers a narrow range of topics. It appeals to consumers who are already predisposed to it and falls short of attracting new consumers who were not looking for it in the first place.

Second, brand-focused content addresses consumers from a marketer’s perspective. Consumers perceive the content as a kind of advertising and perceive less value from it. The perception of value is critical because it’s this value that earns consumers’ attention and inspires them to share the content with others. The greater the value to the consumer, the more time the consumer spends reading/viewing and sharing. With this additional time and attention, you can then delivery multiple marketing messages including the top-line branding, brand and product advertising, customer service information, partner advertising, and corporate messaging.

Independent publishers and media companies focus almost exclusively on maximizing the consumer’s perception of value. (Subscription sales and ratings depend on it.) Using surveys, interviews, and other research methods, they gather information about their audiences’ interests and habits. They then use the data to maximize the value that they deliver. Marketers can apply this lesson by putting consumers’ interests first as well. By delivering useful and enlightening consumer-focused content, you can maximize both the time consumers spend with your brand and their receptiveness to your other messages. END

Custom Publishing Review: The CostCo Connection

The Costco Connection

Sidebar to Brand-Focused vs. Customer-Focused Content

As a long-time Costco member, I’m well-acquainted with The Costco Connection, Costco’s brand community publication with print distribution of more than 5 million (and a website).

Positioned as “a lifestyle magazine” for Costco’s business and executive members, The Costco Connection features a delightful goody bag of features and departments. The July 2005 issue featured wine, remodeling tips, popular books and more, along with monthly fixtures such as David Horowitz’s “Consumer Connection” and Suze Orman’s “Financial Connection.”

With a colorful, jam-packed format, The Costco Connection engages members with lively content while at the same time it unleashes a barrage of product placements, advertisements, and customer service pages (such as listings of Costco gas station locations). This approach certainly reflects the Costco brand, which exudes an enthusiastic but utilitarian consumerism that shouts: “Do NOT leave the warehouse without spending at least $200!”

The Costco Connection goes a long way in achieving the potential of brand community media. It’s a fine publication. But in the continuum from brand-focused to consumer-focused content, it falls somewhere in the middle and as such it leaves some marketing value on the table. Considering the vast number of copies it distributes, Costco selects its editorial content for broad appeal and easy reading. This makes it a quick read, and for me personally, less engaging than it could be. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing about The Costco Connection! As a flagship promotional vehicle, it works.

Instead of changing The Costco Connection, to engage members at a deeper level I would design new publications crafted for specific segments of the Costco “audience.” A Costco Small Business magazine could focus on productivity and office technology. A Costco Enterprise magazine could focus on management training and global commerce. Customer surveys may reveal other interests, such as health and fitness, environmental issues, and travel. For each of these topics, there’s a potential Costco-branded publication not to replace the Connection, but to supplement it. With greater consumer focus in the content, Costco could engage its members in deeper relationships. This would reinforce its brand image and provide opportunities to customize offers for higher value/higher margin sales.

The Costco Connection (external)

Sidebar: An Exchange of Value

Today’s consumers have a justifiable concern about their privacy. The ability to amass data, and then to target offers can both annoy and alienate the very people that marketers depend on for their success. We’re witnessing the effects in both response rates and in a regulatory backlash against email- and tele-marketing in particular. If you consider author James B. Twitchell’s claim that a consumer sees between 2,500 and 3,000 advertising messages every day, it becomes clear that marketers must work harder than ever to earn the consumer’s attention with an exchange of value. The power of brand community media is in delivering that value. In the Costco example, Costco commands a slice of the member’s attention in exchange for interesting articles in The Costco Connection. The marketer’s challenge is to increase the value and consequently the time that the consumer spends with the brand and its offers.-David M. Kalman

David M. Kalman is the president of Terrella Media, Inc.