Today, offering innovative products or memorable brand experiences is no longer sufficient to engage with modern volatile consumers. Marketers rethink traditional approaches of value creation: value creation through product utility is complemented by value creation through different kinds of brand services or content – it could be a free DIY atelier or a blog that gives useful tips for consumers.
This approach is commonly known as brand utility or utility marketing. It is aimed at creating consumer attachment and brand preference. Brand utility is also commonly used to differentiate from competition by creating unique services that reinforce USP. Most importantly, brand utility offers brands new opportunities to fulfill their purpose.
One of the triggers of the brand utility trend today is “Mobile Digital shift”: increasing usage of Internet on mobile. Today, this device embraces a role of personal assistant and opens new opportunities for marketing innovation trough different kinds of services and content.
How can brand utility create value for consumers in a context of this “Mobile Digital shift”?
After analysis of a wide range of different brand utility initiatives, it’s clear that brands can benefit from this “Mobile Digital trend” creating three kinds of value propositions:
– Empowerment:services that simplify daily lives of consumers by making things easier and faster to do– let’s call these services “enablers”.
– Social connection: services that connect consumers and favour communities building – let’s call them “social bond enhancers”.
– Entertainment: services that are aimed at entertaining consumers – let’s call them “hedonistic services”.
The most common approach is to create value trough consumer empowerment services or services “enablers”: allow people to do something that they want to do, allow them to do it faster, better and/or more easily than they had expected.
Today, different kinds of apps & digital brand services emerge to facilitate everyday consumer’s life: banks offer apps that help consumers plan their monthly budget, FMCG companies propose digital tools that ease meals planning and grocery shopping, DIY chains offer coaching sessions on Youtube. Thanks to a great anchorage of these kinds of services in the everyday life, brands may create more proximity with consumers and build a more trustworthy image (personal advisor, personal coach…)
The BabyCenter pregnancy tracker by Johnson & Johnson illustrates this approach. This app allows expectant mothers to track their pregnancy week by week up to their baby’s birth. The app is rich with information, videos and education, guiding the user through this special time in her life. The company also developed a free Internet service BabyCenter offering personalized advice and interactive forum and blog. Hence, Johnson & Johnson embraces a role of “personal advisor” helping track pregnancy in a more convenient way.
Another way to create value in a digital age is to offer services we could call “Social bond enhancers”. It is a great opportunity for brands to rely brand utility and tribal marketing strategies: create branded digital platforms that connect “consumer tribes” – a group of individuals with common tastes & interests but often heterogeneous in terms of socio-demographic criteria.
To be more specific, let’s take an example. Today, there are a lot of urban tribes that form around passion for running, skating or rolling. However, very often, these tribes lack means to connect, especially on a more global level (city, country). Sportswear brand Nike managed to take advantage of this phenomenon and created several social platforms that connect these urban tribes of runners & skaters. For example, Nike+ is aimed at running lovers. Similarly to social network website, members of Nike+ can create their profiles and connect with each other, set mutual challenges and track their personal records (pace, time, distance). Dedicated to skateboard lovers, Nike SB app works in a similar way. This strategy helps Nike not only reinforce brand attachment but also drive conversions. This is also a great example of brand utility that fulfills and materializes brand purpose: the brand helps consumers “to find their greatness” thanks to tangible services that encourage consumers to exceed their limits.
Beyond that, there are other types of “social bond” brand utility concepts that may create a strong value proposition:
– In pharmaceutical industry, the creation of online platforms connecting chronic disease (or disorders) sufferers may have a positive impact on patient’s quality of life. One of the greatest examples is Sanofi Instagram-like platform dedicated to Diabetes sufferers “Diabetes emotions”. Thanks to this platform, diabetic sufferers may exchange photos expressing their feelings and emotions related to this disease. This service helps diabetes sufferers to alleviate their emotional burden.
– Or, it could be “social bond” services that capitalize on sharing economy trend: services connecting people in quest of more responsible, ethical consumption. For example, Decathlon created a social platform/marketplace Trocathlon, that is aimed at connecting consumers who want to sell or buy used sports equipment.
Finally, another way to create brand utility for consumers in a digital age is to offer entertainment services. Today, mobile has become a “casual leisure partner”: when consumers have some small slots of “me-time” (a small pause at work or free time waiting for their bus or riding a metro), they often use mobile to self-entertain: they may check Instagram, Facebook or play games. Brands may offer entertainment services such as advergames. One of the most successful initiatives is Milka Biscuit Saga app. This brand initiative values social aspect of the game: it connects 1 to 9 players thanks to interconnection of smartphones in the same geographic area. This initiative enabled not only to drive conversions but also fulfill brand mission and communicate on the brand DNA: sharing (make technology a source of sharing).
Now, let’s try lo look forward: thinking about new opportunities for brand utility strategy online, we imagine that with further development of technology (sensors, Internet of things), there will be even greater opportunities for brands to create value and fulfill their brand mission.
At the same time, consumers become more mindful regarding the impact of these kinds of digital services on their lives: consumers get dependent of their smartphones, computers, tablets. All these “personal assistants” finally disempower consumer in their capacity to do things on their own. Will “Digital detox” trend become a new dada of modern consumers hence making brands to rethink their On-line Brand Utility strategy?