Let me tell you a story about how I came to know more about the brand Betron than I ever thought I would. BTW, before you click away because you’re not into consumer electronics and you thought this would be a post about planning, this IS indeed a post about marketing strategy. So bear with me.
Betron make headphones. I know this because about a month ago I started looking for a pair of in-ear headphones that would last me longer than the 2–4 months that my usual Skullcandies do. I did what my type of consumer would do, ruled out the initial consideration set based on price (any advertising for headphones I had seen was for products that sold above 3–400 GBP RRP; I am not a music buff so was only keen to pay under 50 GBP). I then moved on to the type of research we all know people do: search engine. Looked up top headphones under 50 GBP, quickly realised that was unrealistic so raised my search criteria to under 100 GBP and found over 100 sources with content on the topic. Read through the first 10 or so and simply could not find a single brand of headphones that was consistently mentioned for the same reasons.
By this time you will recognise something happening. My journey was driven only up to a point by what we call mental availability. Repeated advertising through mainstream channels played only a minimal part in my decision. Basically it helped me rule out things I did not want. As for physical availability, I’d say that’s gone out the window for some categories the minute Amazon came into the game.
You will say I am not a standard buyer and I would agree with you. Except evidence says otherwise. The sheer volume of articles serving my queries (“top headphones under 50”, “best headphones under 100”) shows that such queries are frequent (if you don’t understand how all of this content get produced, it’s basically through mining of high-volume keywords. Core concept: high-volume. People write so many articles on this topic because there are a LOT of people doing these searches). I, like tens of thousands of other people, wanted to make a decision about a product and went about making it in exactly the same way, I searched for the same predictable phrases.
But this is not where’re I’m going with this. The searching continued with a meta-search: I asked Amazon, after asking Google. Amazon surfaced three types of recommendations: Promoted products (paid), Most Purchased + positively reviewed (Amazon’s choice) and Lookalike recommendation (“People who bought this also looked at”). One brand in particular stood out: Betron. I had never heard of Betron but it had the best price to rating ratio and thousands of reviews. This is where I detracted from a “normal” consumer journey: I went and checked the brand name with specific electronics review websites. I wanted to see whether “reputable” sources had reviewed this product. There were none. I also checked the brand’s website and noted some spelling mistakes. I could not decide.
And then I found this:
6 years ago, someone else had had the exact same journey as me and came to the exact same conclusion as I had, they were not persuaded this was the best choice. And this person was not a marketing professional.
Now, as I mentioned, this is not about headphones. What this is about is the importance of formalising brand experience, and about a concept I want to start discussing which is “minimum acceptable brand experience”. Be warned, because I am a digital strategist, there will be a slight skew to this POV :)
My theory is as follows: to shift a consumer from consideration to purchase, you need, as a brand, to ensure that you’ve covered a minimum acceptable brand experience for you category. This minimum acceptable brand experience is different from category to category. It consists of the following things:
- that themes and topics your brand needs to actively engage with to drive purchase
- a correctly correlated set of touchpoints where your brand actively communicates and exists
I will break these down one by one:
- Themes & topics → you should be able to talk the talk your consumers want to hear. Whether it is on your website or on your packaging, if your consumers are interested in sustainability or zero sugar, you should have that ticked in as many places as possible. Again, this varies from category to category and I can speculate that it changes in certain circumstances (like when there is an emergency purchase or lack of usual purchase circumstances, i.e. on holiday or in a hurry). For my headphones example this is what mattered → nothing. I did not expect my headphones to save the world or give one pound for every headphone bought. But here’s another example: when I buy chicken meat, I want to see that the “conversation” on the pack is about free range animals or, even more importantly, about locally-grown (not as in “in Britain” but as in “by an independent farmer”). And when I buy fashion, well, then the conversation extends to much more (e.g. I stopped buying Abercrombie & Fitch when they questioned the need for diversity in their ads about 6 years ago; have not been swayed back since.)
- Active touchpoints: this is where it gets interesting and where the Betron example is essential. For a decision to be made in a category, a specific set of touchpoints need to be active at the same time to provide enough certainty to the consumer. In my headphones example, what I needed was a reputable source online and several consumer reviews. No ads. When I buy yogurt, I check website for nutritional sources and find in unusual if there is no Instagram channel. For fashion, I expect the brand to be on the list of the fashion influencers I follow. Try it for yourself: what does it take for you to buy a ticket to a play? How about a car? How about a watch?
The interesting part about this minimum acceptable brand experience is it tends to shift, as most experiences do, with the type of consumer. If you’re into music, your minimum experience expectation from a headphones brand is probably way more complicated than mine. If you’re lactose intolerant, you’re probably more likely to look for validation in multiple places before you buy anything dairy-related. Fundamentally, brand experience flexes but for any category one should have a sense of what the minimum brand experience feels like.
Why does this matter? Because:
- it’s not only about cool ads in cool places
- the entire experience needs to be considered
- things we don’t even pay attention to might sway decision the wrong way (when was the last time you worried about your Google Maps listing? Did you know that people are more likely to not come to your restaurant if you don’t include an actual interactive map and only provide the address?)
- mental availability is probably made up of so much more than we think about (read “not just ads”)
- physical availability is an interesting concept that needs to flex with your customers; the very word is confusing because Amazon IS “physical availability” for some categories so we need to stop thinking shelf first. Think digital shelf.
- Prof. Byron is quite often terribly misunderstood and most of what he speaks about holds even with the example I’ve provided, and we need to understand that what he’s provided is a very top level framework and it’s for us to fill in the details.
How do you determine your minimum acceptable brand experience? Well, that’s my lengthy next posts but let’s just say that I’ve seen Zenith do wonders when it comes to touchpoints and there’s nothing a good round of social listening won’t uncover. How you put those two together is, as I said, something to discuss further. How it flexes from category to category, very much the same.
I’m still mulling over all of this. This is by no means finished. I am pretty sure someone smarter than me has thought about all of this before. So I’d love to get feedback and see if people have a more formalised approach of talking about these things.
PS: I am not sure the name is right. It definitely cannot be “minimal acceptable brand experience”, nor can it possibly be “minimally acceptable brand experience”. If you have a better name, leave a comment.
PPS: I bought 1More Piston Classic In-Ear Headphones.