How to be brands and influence people

Brands used to have it so much easier. ‘Build it and they will come’ was the motto of the day. Companies put their latest product into stores and into supermarkets, hired the team from ‘Mad Men’ to create a glitzy advert to persuade the masses to buy it, and before they knew it the tills were ringing.

How can brands stand out from the crowd?

Of course, things were never that simple. However one thing was certain: the brand was in control.

Fast-forward to 2013 and this world has changed beyond recognition.

Borders have broken down. Globalisation has meant that competition and choice have exploded. Want the latest smartphone? Pop to the Carphone Warehouse. Or pick it up whilst doing the weekly shop in Tesco. Or order it online and have it delivered via Amazon. Today the power lies firmly with the consumer. Compounding this, the Information Age has dawned. Consumers have never been more knowledgeable and more switched on. They can find out about and compare a brand in seconds. They can share their opinion about a brand with friends and strangers at the tap of a keyboard or the click of a ‘Like’ button.

As a result, the consumer will no longer settle for second-best. Brands have to work much harder to keep hold of customers and to win new ones, and now influence is becoming more and more the driving force behind maintaining customer loyalty and market share.

What is brand influence?

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”- Dale Carnegie ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People.’

Influence can be a tricky thing to pin down. There can be many different ways to influence that it can become complex and have multiple dimensions. Therefore to understand brand influence at its most basic level it can help to think of a brand as a ‘friend’, as cheesy as it sounds. You want a friend who makes you feel good, who understands you, who interests you and excites you. A brand is no different. People do not want to use a brand that they do not like or have nothing in common with. An influential brand contributes something meaningful to the consumer, be that making their life easier, more comfortable, more interesting or completely changing what they do or how they see the world, with a personality all of its own. And it’s something that few brands can consistently claim to be achieving.

Brands have always used influence to some degree and so this idea has not fundamentally changed since Dale Carnegie wrote extensively on the subject of influence in the 1930s. What has changed however is the criticality of a brand to have influence of some kind to differentiate itself against the tide of growing competition, converging markets, and homogenisation of the core product or service from one brand to the next.

How can a brand be influential?

“Merely stating a truth isn’t enough. The truth has to be made vivid, interesting, exciting. You have to use showmanship.” - Dale Carnegie ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People.’

It has become crucial for brand managers to understand what brands can do to build this meaningful relationship with their customers and figure out what will and won’t work for their particular brand.

Ipsos MORI reveals five key dimensions in order of importance that can define and drive brand influence. Brands which are seen to be doing one or more of these successfully are more likely to be seen to be influential.

• Trust. As with friendships, trust is the key quality required to maintain a strong relationship. The consumer needs to feel confident that the brand is reliable and has a consistent quality. Brands with high levels of trust are influential as they are more likely to be recommended to others and foster stronger loyalty from the consumer.

• Engagement. A brand can be engaging in a number of ways, but a true two-way relationship of engagement can be hard to achieve. This engagement could be a reputable source of information that the consumer comes back to time and time again, or it could tap into the ‘entertainment’ factor by producing content such as advertising which is shared and discussed with friends.

• Leading Edge. Brands which are seen to be ahead of their time and innovative are often influential brands as they shape consumer behaviour and can alter markets and create new ones. They are trend-setters and stand out from the crowd, and are the rare beacons which other brands follow and aspire to be.

• Corporate Citizenship. Most consumers aspire to be good citizens, and this moral ideal extends to the brands they choose. Brands can be influential to consumers by reflecting values of social or environmental responsibility and showing that they care about the world around them.

• Presence. A brand can use sheer muscle-power to gain influence purely by being ever-present in the consumers’ everyday lives either physically or through pervasive advertising.

Ipsos MORI have looked at the 100 leading brands in the UK to determine which brands indeed are the most influential. Turning to the UK population we have asked them about these brands, how they view them, how they interact with them and how they rate them on the dimensions which we know to drive influence.

We look forward to revealing the top 10 UK brands on 15 May.

Dan Spalding works in Ipsos MORI's Influential Brands research team

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