Everything is a brand today. Brand experts even tell us that we must build our own personal brand. Everywhere we look we are being attacked by brands. We are lucky to get through a day without being bombarded with over 5,000 brand messages (Yankelovich study) of which only about 12 get any brain attention. There is over 4 million new brand names every year added to the brand shopping list. There is a serious problem of brand overload. Is it really important to have over 50 different shampoo brands and hundreds of specialized types to give you the perfect bouncy, curly, wavy, shiny or smooth tresses?
The biggest problem facing companies today is the world is running out of pronounceable brand names. We are making it almost impossible for consumer to keep up. The World Intellectual Property Organization report that in absolute terms, trademark demand quadrupled from just under 1 million applications per year in 1985 to 4.2 million trademark applications by 2011. In developing countries such as China, India and Brazil the rise in trademark applications is exploding. In the last four years there has been approximately 16.8 million new trademark applications.
Are we reaching a point of saturation where the proliferation of brands are doing more harm than good? Our memory banks just can’t keep up.
Barry Schwartz, PhD, a Swarthmore College psychologist and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less explains “there’s a point where all of this choice starts to be not only unproductive, but counterproductive – a source of pain, regret, worry about missed opportunities and unrealistically high expectations.”
Have we reached a state where a brand is no longer able to differentiate itself from other brands? How many deep brand relationships do we really want or can handle in our busy lives? A Gallup research study (2004) suggests that on average, Americans say they have about nine ‘close friends’ and the older you get the number maxed out to 13 close friends. Can we expect any more from a consumer concerning a meaningful relationships with brands?
The Beginning of Brands
We can blame Japan for starting some of the world’s first and oldest brands such as Kongo Gumi which was established in the year 578 and Hoshi Ryokan founded in 718 according to William O’Hara book Centuries of Success. Kongo Gumi is a construction company that built Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and castles. But after surviving 14 centuries (1,428 years!) as a family business it closed its doors in 2006. There wasn’t a huge demand for building temples anymore which occupied 80% of their business focus. Hoshi Ryokan is a Japanese inn located in Komatsu for over 1300 years. You can book a room today on booking.com. In a study conducted by the Bank of Korea they discovered over 3,146 companies that are over 200 years old in Japan, 837 in Germany, 222 in the Netherlands, and 196 in France.
Brands Come & Go
But brand age doesn’t guarantee brand success. Jim Collins, a co-author of Built to Last—Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, says brands must follow a set of unchanging and sustainable principles of who they are, yet constantly change in what they do and how they do it. Today, we have many examples of brands who knew who they were but didn’t have the courage to change what they did such as old favourites as Kodak, Blackberry, Blockbuster, Nokia and Hummer. Check out the article Lessons from the Brand Graveyard.
If you go back to the Fortune 500 in 1955, 88% of those brands no longer exist on the 2014 Fortune 500 list. Brands continually get destroyed by mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies or break-ups. There is a healthy churn in brands coming and going. Steven Denning reported in Forbes that fifty years ago, the life expectancy of a firm in the Fortune 500 was around 75 years. Today, it’s less than 15 years and declining all the time.
That being said, there are about 250,000 new brands launched globally each year which keeps the world’s advertising agencies very busy. Lynn Dornblaser, an analyst at market research firm Mintel who tracks new products, says the typical failure rate of new product launches can be anywhere for 85% to 95%. That’s a lot of new business cards and advertising wasted. Schneider Associates and research partners SymphonyIRI Group and Sentient Decision Science did a consumer survey (2010) that found 45% of participants couldn’t name a single new product brand.
The Virgin of Everything
But all of these setbacks in launching a new brand hasn’t stop brand extension and introducing new products.
Many brands have tried to extend their brands from the classic offering to capture new markets and target groups – some successfully and others with less clarity. I call it the “Virgin of Everything.” Sir Richard Branson has taken the irreverent and fun Virgin brand and has stretched it across 350 different products from life insurance to lingerie. David Taylor blogger on Brand Gym said in his article Virgin: the worst or best of brand extension? that this was a “brand ego trip, where the brand gets too big for its boots.”
Then there are sub brands of brands with unique attributes, quality and value levels. For example, Coca Cola with its line of Classic Coke, Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Coke, Caffeine Free Diet Coke, etc. Nothing is simple today. Too many choices.
Everything in life is moving faster and faster. Nothing is predictable and digital technologies are changing everything except our brains. Humans still have only so much memory power and capacity to retain and process information. Bob Nease, behavioural scientist and author of the book, The Power of Fifty Bits explains that the brain can process 10 billion bits of information each second but when it comes to the “decision-making part of the brain [it] only processes a maximum of 50 bits per second.” This is a major bottleneck in the decision making process that won’t change anytime soon. Just think, we have a bandwidth issue in our brains. The proliferation of brands and branding messages means fewer chances that new brands will find a permanent place in a consumer’s mind. Steve Jobs said on his return to Apple in 1997 that “For me, marketing is about values. This is a very noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. So, we have to be very clear what we want them to know about us.” Almost twenty years later Jobs’ comment is even more relevant today. A simple route to the consumer’s head and heart doesn’t exist anymore.
We can get a new product brand to market faster and more efficient than ever before. We have more channels to get our message out than ever before. But the resulting complexities has created brand apathy. As we continue along this path of madness, brands have less of a chance to be successful. Aldo Cundari, CEO of Cundari agency, explains in his book Customer-Centric Marketing, “The new customer behavior has serious implications for all brands. If organizations don’t commit to meeting their customers’ expectations today, customers will go elsewhere tomorrow.”
What Cundari says isn’t revolutionary thinking but the warning signs are everywhere–consumers are reaching a point of brand overkill. It’s like a stadium full of brands all screaming to persuade potential customers to reach for their brand. The noise is deafening.
Put our branding feet into the consumer’s shoes for a day. They truly need our support.
Help them manage the daily complexities, simplify the burden of choices and reduce the cognitive load. Be where they want your brand to be and be relevant. Solve their problems even before they become problems. Take away the need for them to have to make another decision or remember another brand name.
Automate to eliminate repeating issues or tasks. Make them feel good even when your brand isn’t about feeling good. Help them navigate a simpler life. Stop yelling and start listening more.
Your brand will be rewarded for its simple solutions and not for more choices. Remember less is more and always be empathetic and relevant.
Just be human.