The touchstone of branded success and the one area that underlies any brand-building effort is relevance. A brand without relevance is like a house without a foundation.
Simply stated, relevance for a brand can be defined as the linkage of its equity, benefits, and emotive and sensory aspects with the needs of a specific group of consumers. Relevance captures and goes beyond price and quality. Relevance equals confidence equals loyalty. Relevance differentiates brands, and is the enduring reason people buy a brand. And it is what is missing in many brands. But measuring and understanding relevance and then staking a marketplace claim using this key measure seems elusive to many marketers. Why? First, in our accelerated day-to-day environments, we are all being asked to be more productive, to develop better strategies, to be more competitive. To do so with less resources, less staff and in half the time. There is simply a perceived scarcity of time for solid strategic thinking. So people just act without putting the actions against words. Second, there is less guiding information about our customers and brands. Notice I said "information." To be sure, we have more data. Call it "turbo data." What is lacking is the usage of today's leading-edge information management and decision-support tools that make sense of this data. Tools that relate it, clarify it and energize it. Tools that support and encourage inquiry-driven leadership, not time- driven reactions. When data comes at us in huge quantities and at an accelerated pace, our ability to understand what's going on is severely tested. More often than not, it's painful. The usual reaction is to back off and ignore the data. Pundits say there's no real differentiation between brands. I suppose that if marketers cease marketing, then this will be true. However, I believe differentiation between brands, all brands, strongly exists. Differentiation, and its associated relevance, however, is not obvious, and never was. Defining, and then establishing, true brand relevance takes old- fashioned hard work and old-fashioned marketing. True relevance requires real inquiry, digging well below the obvious, and an insistence on brand-building basics supported by these new information tools.
For sure, a few things are still true. People buy and will buy brands, whether they are national brands, store brands or private-label brands. People will exhibit loyalty and continue to buy a brand when that brand is relevant and exceeds the confidence threshold of the buyer. Understand, differentiate, then promote the relevance link between your brand and its best customers.
Robert Posten is managing partner of The Landis Group, a consumer research and marketing consultancy based in West Palm Beach, Fla.