Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Buying in: Why we desire brands

Buying in: The secret dialogue between what we buy and who we are is the latest offering (in book form) from NYTimes consumer columnist Rob Walker.

In his talk, Walker sought to give his view of why we (as consumers) desire some brands over others. And while no definitive answer emerged from his talk or the questions that followed, he did articulate rational and emotional elements that he beleives influence people's attachment of an idea to a thing (aka branding):

The 4 (and a half) rational qualities that impact consumers decisions include:
  • Price
  • Qualtiy
  • Convenience
  • Pleasure...
  • and maybe ethics (provided it doesn;t require a sacrifice in the first four).
Where it gets messy is, of course, the emotional side of the equation. Walker beleives from his interviews and research that the ideas being attached to brands today are so much bigger than ever before. Not merely content to have 'the highest quality soap' as an idea, we attach ideas about body image or global sustainability. 

The marketing world of attaching ever bigger ideas to everyday consumption has created an arms race of ever increasing clutter of ideas. Which leads to another change: a lack of rules is what makes a brand succeed in this environment. Rules about media mix, demographics and the like have to be thrown out or at least deviated from for success. 

At the end of the brand, people make it their own, regardless of what the marketers would like it to mean (e.g., Pabst Blue Ribbon)

To support this notion, the speaker cited several examples of the handmade/authenticity movement or, as he repeatedly referred to it, the 'scene'.

In this scene, big companies cozy up to small ones to get credibility...think Kohl's and Tony Hawk or methamphibians and counterculture-friendly sneakers. Other examples include the handmade marketplace online at ETSY.com

The web didnt make these people creative, they were already that way ;-) It's just enabled them to reach a small, economically viable audience for their work. Freedom of the press no longer being limited to those with the ability to afford one.

Rob submits that consumers don;t want to talk about your brand, they want to talk about their own brands. A term he calls 'murketing'. More on this is available at a site he publishes called Murketing.com

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