A product is an objective reality. But brand is an entity of the subjective realm. A brand is a product translated. A well defended product inside the marketer’s space can be a defenseless pariah in the crowded world of so called brands. Brands apparently are entities of the physical world but don’t mistake these are only concrete shadows of intangible realties of consumer’s mind. Brand requires concrete investments in creating something abstract and incomprehensible to many but perfectly apprehensible for its target.
It is quite interesting to observe how people shop sports shoes. A shoe meant for sporting activity is a performance enhancing device. It must provide traction, flexibility, cushion, bounce, air, stability and a whole lot of other performance enhancing feature. If this assumption is correct then sport shoe retailing cannot follow the same model followed in leather formal shoe retail. But major companies like Adidas, Nike and Reebok, and Puma adopt almost similar retail format for most of their stores. ‘Performance’ is probably diametrically opposite of ‘looks’. Therefore instead of mirrors the store ideally should have mini courts. But people instead of taking mini trials look into mirrors. How about aesthetic elements the colors, lacing pattern and upper design? Observe people only to find a lot of attention is focused on the ‘looks’ of the shoe. Then conversation between the sales person and potential customer is rarely focused on performance. Is it that a sport shoe ceases to lose its manufacturing logic just as it begins its justification in consumer space?
Often brand building is misconstrued as an exercise in imprinting customer’s mind with images. There is no denying that a brand is indeed imprinted image but imprinting image is no branding. Brands are ‘commissioned’ by customer for some purpose and the product must perform within the constrained imposed by the purpose. It is impossible to think of a product without functionality. Functionality is inherent to a product but often it loses it centrality in its quest for relevance from customer’s perspective. Sometimes even the functionality needs to be adapted or created depending upon what a customer commissions it for. Observe again the customer in a sport shoe store. There is no unanimity customer about what they want these shoes brands to do for them. Sports shoe brands derive their pull from being on the body of top sports achievers but customer commission these for not the same purpose as a player would do. Learning what target customers would like to commission a brand for it key to brand building.
Observe again what customers in the showroom do? They all look, try and buy shoes. Observe again what is happening in their inner world. Customer may want sports shoe because he commissions shoe to protect his joints. Another customer commissions his shoe to help him look cool. One may pick sports shoe to last long. For others it may be the comfort of wear. Sport shoe may also be commissioned to work as formal shoe for certain ‘worker’ jobs. And then there is one who commissions his shoes to help him perform better in court. The differences mentioned above are not to throw light on inter- segment variations rather to focus on intra segment differences in what customers may want a brand to do for them. Brands are launched by the marketers but they are actually created when they become missions in sync with customer vision.
Often marketers improve their products in ways that are irrelevant from customers’ perspective. Hence brands which seek to help customer do irrelevant things better do not help. Christensen, Cook and Hall propose customers hire product to get a specific job done. Therefore the job not the customer should be fundamental unit of analysis. The focus should be on the job that they try to accomplish. Brand’s instrumentality must be established in a job’s context. Consider how Arm & Hammer baking soda was ‘hired’ by customers to do different jobs: to deodorize refrigerator, to whiten teeth, to augment laundry detergent and freeing carpet of smells. A brand must find a purpose for which it will be commissioned by potential customer. It is job that justifies the brand.
What purpose do you commission your sports shoe for? Is it sports or something else? Does the marketer know that?