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Will all brands of the future be a service?

As our consumer habits change, so do our expectations of brands. To survive brands need to go beyond pure product... and it's not always that easy. Google, Deliveroo, Starling Bank and Adobe wrestle with this evolution

"I struggle with the idea that everyone is going to become a brand advocate," says Nishma Robb (pictured), ads marketing director at Google UK. "What’s required," she explains," is a way of making a genuine connection; one based on something the brand can do to improve the customer’s life."

Increasingly, consumers value experience. There's a demand for personalisation, a trend away from pure product, people expect brands to mean more than their simple, transactional offering. This new business model has allowed brands to move to a subscription-based relationship. And consumers are increasingly apathetic towards advertising: brands must offer something extra. Even brands that cannot move to a subscription model, may find themselves evolving to become a brand experience.

On this basis, Campaign’s global editor-in-chief Claire Beale hosted a Merkle-partnered panel with leading marketers from Google, Deliveroo, Adobe and Starling Bank to establish how brands can become and stay essential.

Authenticity is the key
Robb used Fenty Beauty, Rihanna’s make-up brand as an example of a brand doing something different and becoming integral to lives. Launched in 2017, with a clear USP catering for a broad range of skin tones, Fenty produced custom content for a range of different demographics and use cases. It went out of its way to be genuine, using real-life consumer stories and case studies. The result was €500 million worth of sales in its first year.

Aida Bejgane (pictured), head of paid acquisitions at Starling Bank, pointed to Google’s excellence and ubiquity as an example of how a digital brand could become an integral service-layer in consumer’s lives. "Google is a great example of a brand as an experience. It’s always there, no matter which device you’re using, answering your questions and making sure your life just runs smoothly."

Alice ter Haar (pictured), senior EU marketing manager at Deliveroo said authenticity is key to building a brand as a service but it needs to be everywhere: "We have to go beyond, to demonstrate the brand’s values and purpose. And that purpose has to be real and it has to permeate every brand touchpoint. Otherwise, people will know. They just know."

Brand-as-a-service is the future
"Over the next five years, brands that can build interactive services around their products are the brands that will win in the marketplace," said Michael Komasinski, EMEA president, Merkle. "For that to happen, senior marketers must oversee much more than just advertising. They need to be in charge of customer service, customer experience, marketing – the whole customer journey."

Erin Violi-Meehan, global alliance executive at Adobe, referred to research by Adobe, which found that consumers will buy an unknown product over a known brand, if the customer experience is good enough to overcome the uncertainty of making the switch. "This makes it more important than ever," says Erin, "that brands build convincing services around their products."

Personalisation is key to the brand as a service. But to personalise, you have to know who you’re talking to.
You need reliable data on the individual consumer. But, argued Komasinski, data must be used in the context of a brand ethos that sees the customer as an individual, not just an aggregation of different variables. "We need a business model that has data about people, but also people themselves, at its heart. Then we need the right practices to bring that to the fore of every customer interaction."

"The days of lazy marketing are over," said Violi-Meehan. "And data is more important than ever to building a great customer experience".

Robb agreed, but injected a note of nuance: "Data needs to become much more part of the creative process. The quality of the data we collect today, gives us much better contextual clues as to people’s needs and aspirations. We need to use that to shape our campaign content. We have a responsibility to use this data to bring joy and delight to the purchase process."

Both Robb and Komasinski (pictured) emphasised the importance of an omnichannel approach. "While media is still planned in channels," said Robb, "there is a gap that makes it more difficult to successfully plan and measure your marketing activity." Building on this Komasinski talked about the need to build models that allowed accurate attribution across channels. "To really succeed at people-based marketing, you have to get data from the first interaction on, right across the customer journey."

People drive data drive product
"It's no coincidence that you have a lot of tech brands around this table," said ter Haar. "At the heart of what tech brands do is data. All of us are investing millions of pounds in engineers and data scientists. In marketing, for instance, we have a dedicated analytics team that enables us to build a picture of customers and create a very personalised service."

"[Data analysis] is a really powerful way to make what we do relevant and identify new opportunities. For instance, we recently launched Deliveroo Editions. By looking at the data, we saw there were pockets within cities where there weren't enough restaurants to meet demand. So we created a new market in the gap."

Deliveroo’s Editions sites provide kitchens which are for delivery only, allowing restaurants to set up in new areas at lower cost.

How do you build your brand into a service?
Komasinski said you need to "be agile in your approach". "Start with something, build a little analytics team, build a small data platform, just do something to get started." Then learn from mistakes and try to scale.

"Be authentic in your values," said Bejgane. "If you’re not, customers will find you out."

Violi-Meehan stressed the importance of tracking and measurement. "Develop your analytics capability." 

"Get the right people," was the advice from ter Haar. "You’re only as good as your people."

"Listen to your customers," advised Nishma Robb. "Google does its best work when it listens and feeds what it learns into continuous innovation in the service of consumer’s real-world aspirations."

The panel…

This session was in partnership with Merkle, a global data-driven performance marketing agency. Merkle helps brands use data to achieve measurable outcomes across the broadest range of business goals, from driving conversions to building long-term loyalty.


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