More Signs of Decline in Brand Relevancy

Last week I was shopping for a new Bluetooth headset for my phone after my trusted Motorola  betrayed me in the middle of an important call with a client. It did not quite dropped dead, it just “ceased to be”, in the words of Monty Python parrot salesman, but a replacement was in order. That brought me to Amazon, searching for a set with the highest customer reviews rating.

Personally, I do not put a lot of trust into any product reputation ratings unless it has at least 50 authentic customer reviews. Lack of authenticity in paid reviews is pretty easy to spot. However, the higher the number of reviews provided by customers about their experience with a product, the more difficult for “idiot” marketers to manipulate the product’s reputation. The list of headsets that met these criteria was quite surprising since only 30% of these best rated products were from the brands that are expected to dominate this market segment – like Plantronics and Motorola. A skeptic would point out that high customer reviews’ ratings do not guarantee high volume of sales, however we have studied in the past the correlations between the number of reviews and the number of products sold. They suggest very strongly that high product reputation score, coupled with high number of customer reviews,  is predictive of strong sell through numbers for the product.

Use of these correlations for quick calculation reveal that :

  • LG, not a well known brand in the headsets market, sold an estimated 39% of total units
  • The best known brands sold only 31% of total units
  • Brands, I have never heard before, sold 30% of total units.

Can you recall any advertising that mention Kinivo or SoundBot in any context? I cannot. And yet, each one of these “un-brands” managed to outsell a premium brand like Motorola at very similar price levels. Together they outsold the former king of the segment (in terms of units sold) – the mighty Plantronics – by 7%. The Google search by their names finds very simple websites that list their products and a few retailers where you can find them. I could not find any fancy designs and mission statements commonly associated with the big brands marcom either.

This is not a new phenomena and it is not limited to any specific market segment. The authors of the book “Absolute Value” gave a number of examples where experiential information, provided by a product’ customers, propelled totally unknown “brands” to very significant sales numbers at the expense of well known and respected brands. There are also quantitative studies that help to understand the dynamics of brand value debasement by publicly available customer feedback.

Brands are falling

Certainly not every market segment is equally affected by this erosion. Specific market segment intelligence studies can quickly assess whether your brand is under attack and what are the monetary implications. Ongoing monitoring of the competitive landscape is commonly done by many brand and product managers, but most efforts are focused on basic sentiment analysis of a brand’s mentions found in social media, which is rarely insightful or actionable.

A highly disciplined approach to the management of data, containing unsolicited customer feedback, is required to produce meaningful sets for analysis. Deep analysis of such data sets, when focused on customer experience as oppose to features and functions, can help to understand patterns and dynamics of consumer perceptions. Such knowledge is imperative for competing in today’s markets because nobody is safe anymore to hide behind mighty brands of the past.

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