Europe: Pinning down an elusive prey

The development of online channels has not replaced face-to-face consumer/brand reaction, but instead has multiplied the opportunities available, writes John Shannon

Media fragmentation and expansion is being steadily matched by an increase in distribution channels and consumer brand experiences. As the US and UK have discovered – and as is rapidly becoming apparent in Europe – the development of online channels has not replaced face-to-face consumer/brand interaction, but instead has multiplied the opportunities available.

Consequently, brands now have to compete in many different arenas if they are to reach the increasingly mobile and elusive consumer at the right time and the right place. They can’t afford to be left behind or to miss an opportunity to enter people’s crowded and busy lives.

Marketeers need to ensure that the way brands are packaged, priced, distributed and sold corresponds to the broad spectrum of this new marketplace. This may mean global pricing, internet availability, home shopping, a new retail environment, and developing a continuing relationship with the consumer.

Similarly, in media terms a major packaged goods brand may produce a TV campaign, an editorial magazine inserted in a Sunday supplement, a website, a door-drop trial offer campaign and a café line extension, as well as major sponsorship and PR programmes.

The danger is that in its efforts to maintain mass, segmented and individual marketing, the company lets the brand itself fragment, and appear to be one entity in one channel and a completely different one in another.

Inconsistent brands with unco ordinated brand expressions will face consumer rejection. The consumer, now in much more demanding mode, will have no sympathy with brands that are struggling to grapple with the multiple opportunity market. If people see brands and choices expanding in unpredictable ways, they feel confused and become unwilling to devote time to working out what’s happening. Most likely, they will shut the brand out.

Advertising agencies have traditionally acted as custodians of brand values because of their understanding of consumers and their ability to create the primary brand communications with those consumers. In the current complex market this role is even more important.

The key point is to establish a unified core brand that doesn’t suffer from multiple personalities. Sometimes these will be global or pan-European brands where consumers in these market sectors are similar across borders, for example, luxury goods or high-level business people. At other times, the core brand will be similar but expressed in different ways in different countries.

Equally challenging is the need to make the communication of these values – in whatever form or channel – attractive and involving because in many areas, that communication will be the main representation of the brand to the consumer.

Branding ideas will have to be more involving, entertaining and rewarding than ever, otherwise the consumer will move straight to the next message that captures his or her attention.

John Shannon is president of Grey International

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