The Importance of Experience in Brand Perceptions

In this week’s Thursday Night Insight, Carol-Ann Morgan highlights some important differences between branding in consumer and b2b markets.

If you ask me what I think about Nike, I can tell you. In fact, I can wax lyrical for some time, expressing my words of wisdom. I can engage in a conversation about Nike, I can tell you where I think they are, how they got there and where I think they are going. I can even sound extremely knowledgeable.

That might be down to many factors but it is certainly not down to any direct knowledge or experience of Nike products. I have never actually purchased or worn a pair of Nike trainers or a piece of Nike clothing in my life. My experience of the brand is purely vicarious, and my knowledge picked up through the press, adverts and word of mouth.

I purport that this is the case for the majority of high profile consumer brands. We do not have to actually experience the brand first hand through usage or purchase in order to have a view of that brand (often a pretty strong view at that!).

This is where I have observed a key difference between consumer and business-to-business branding. Through many B2B branding research projects, it has been apparent that direct experience of the brand is critical to having a perception. Consequently, loyal customers who have not used alternative suppliers often have very “thin” perceptions of competitor brands, particularly by comparison with the “thick” perceptions consumers can hold of brands with which they have no direct experience.

Branding to consumers uses techniques which give the impression of the experience without actually having to have the experience; a form of brand virtual reality, where brand visualisation is the objective as opposed to the personal experience. Through these realities, a virtual relationship is created, enabling a pervasive brand message to extend to those who would not normally have any emotional or experiential relationship with that brand.

However, when it comes to business-to-business branding (particularly downstream), the experience is all, and marketing messages need to be more closely related to experience; case histories and testimonials can be very powerful tools in personalising the message of usage, producing the “feeling” of the experience.

These approaches are most effective when the proximity between the “case presented” and the “recipient” is closest. Thus, investment in ensuring tailored case histories which enable the recipient to identify closely with the case will have the greatest impact. Key factors which induce the feeling of identification, however, do not necessarily have to be sector specific; always a problem when trying to break into new business sectors. Case studies which hit at the heart of key needs, such as security, partnership, communications, etc, are therefore far more likely to have broad appeal and represent better value for the marketing pound.

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