Scott Davis, Chief Growth Officer at Prophet, kicked off the 2015 BrandSmart conference, packing listicles and case studies into his 30-minute presentation, covering why brands have to be relentless to remain relevant, which brands exemplify relentless relevance, and what are the characteristics of those brands.
Setting a cheerful, lighthearted tone with a joke about how he can never wear nametags at conferences (the word “Prophet” under his name sets the bar too high), and how it’s possible to hire a faux Morgan Freeman to do commercial voiceovers for a fraction of the price of the real deal (“you can’t trademark or copyright a voice”), Davis first drew a lesson from his previous BrandSmart presentation from 2009.
Davis mentioned that in 2009, the hero brands he talked about were Nokia, Sony, HP, and Burger King. His reminiscence drew a laugh from the in-the-know crowd, which was well aware that these brands would likely not make his 2015 list.
The list of brands did indeed change, but before revealing them, Davis first defined his terms. He wanted to shift the term relevance, which he feels is static, to encapsulate what it takes to remain in that lofty space. The word “relentless” offers that broader context; it means to be constant, incessant, persistent, continuous, tenacious, unceasing, and unwavering.
For Davis, this constant drive to always be on top is the key to brand relevance, especially in a time when the consumer feedback loop can make or break a brand in moments. In fact, according to Davis, marketers no longer have a choice. To make our competition irrelevant, we have to create a category of one. What does it take to do that? Relentlessness.
Why do we have to be relentless?
- Leaders of companies that have relentlessly relevant brands know that it’s not just about a moment in time
Nobody can assume loyalty will be constant.
- Every brand needs to think like a challenger—take risks, be bold, test, and experiment
To remain relevant, brands should look to their peers and study which ones are going to shift the paradigm, who’s out ahead, who’s changing the landscape, and learn from their competition.
- You no longer drive preference, your target consumer does…and they define relevance as a result
The number one awareness driver is advertising (TV, print, and online), but advertising doesn’t appear in the top three purchase drivers. The top three purchase drivers are friends & family from whom consumers sought out opinions, friends & family who volunteered their opinion, and online research. As a result, brand preference is in the hands of other consumers.
- There’s a new generation of brands winning the relevance war through pervasive consumer participation and engagement
Legacy brands should take heed of the innovative ways younger companies are engaging their customers, through strategies like DIY empowerment (ZocDoc, FitBit), the shared economy (Airbnb, Waze), the on-demand service mentality (GrubHub), knowledge sourcing communities (Yelp, Trip Advisor), winning validation (Instagram), considerate choices (Tom’s, Warby Parker), and personalisation/customization (Fiat).
How does this match up with what consumers are actually saying? Davis said that the previous week, Prophet conducted a panel poll of 1000 consumers representing a broad swath of US demographics and found the following:
- Over 80% choose brands more for how they connect with the consumer’s life than for being widely known and advertised
- 80% more loyal to brands that continue to find new ways of being relevant in consumers’ lives
- 72% more loyal to brands they can engage with on their own terms
- 59% said their ability to interact with and change a brand is important to them when choosing what to buy
All this brought Davis to the crux of his presentation: how to define a relentlessly relevant brand. How can we do what those brands listed above do?
According to Davis, relentlessly relevant brands consistently inspire us and move us to action. They make smart, bold moves that amaze customers, push competitors out of consideration, and at times define entirely new categories and markets. They do all this while remaining unwaveringly authentic to who they are.
Beyond that, Davis says, relentlessly relevant brands engage, surprise, and connect with consumers. They delight, disrupt, and deliver. They’re restless. They push themselves to earn and re-earn customer loyalty—they define and redefine what’s possible in their categories and our world.
Davis then offered key characteristics of relentlessly relevant brands, along with examples of brands that exemplify those tenets.
- Obsessed with consumers (Netflix and their personalized data mining)
- Distinctively inspired (Fiat and the fact that they offer ultimate customization, but will reject consumer designs if they don’t meet their standards)
- Pervasive innovation (Google is constantly experimenting and offering new products)
- Ruthless pragmatism (Capital One spends $10,000 each year to efficiently experiment on getting to the right products, offerings, communications, etc to bring to their consumers)
Finally, Davis summed up his presentation by offering five tenets to driving relentless brand relevance.
- Know and love your purpose
Every brand has one, and exemplary brands like Dove and Zappos imbue everything they do with their purpose.
- Own category clarity
Davis commented that it’s no longer about simplicity or differentiation, it’s about being most clear in your category. He offered DollarShaveClub and HBO as examples: both define their category, and both are clear, intentional, and aggressive.
- Arm your communities
Give employees, influencers, and customers the tools they need to keep your brand relentlessly relevant. Leverage employees and loyal customers as allies, give them a reason to love you and provide them with the tools to influence others to do the same. Davis described a moment a few years ago when Home Depot’s employees wanted to be able to recommend branded tools—a Home Depot hammer rather than a hammer. The company listened, and is on its way to $5 billion dollars in sales.
- Create remarkable experiences
Give customers what they want, through any channel, in ways that make them remember and talk about you in remarkable ways. For example, Davis mentioned how Burberry has embraced new technology to provide extraordinary experiences that make the brand relevant to Millennials.
- Drive a continuous stream of bold moves
Even if Starbucks’ recent #RaceTogether campaign made you cringe, it was bold and it used a new model for engaging consumers. For Davis, the company continuously makes bold moves to remain top of mind.
Brook Rosini, Communications Strategist, Solomon Cordwell Buenz
Brook Rosini brings a wealth of experience in arts, culture, and design discourses to her role at architecture, interiors, and planning firm SCB, where she oversees and carries out branding, communications, and PR strategy for the firm.