Editor’s note: Jeri Smith is president and CEO of Communicus Inc., a Tucson, Ariz., research firm.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s just coming a bit earlier and lasting longer than expected.
Welcome to the year of the “Christmas creep,” as described by Stuart Elliott’s October 15, 2014 column in The New York Times. Retailers have holiday displays up before Halloween. Brands are sharing holiday shopping wish lists earlier than ever before. Consumers are receiving e-mails, mailers, ads and a variety of “shop here now” marketing missives.
Why? It’s all about the competition for consumers’ share of mind, share of word of mouth … and, most importantly, share of wallet.
Every year there is fierce rivalry between top brands. And the longer shopping season means that advertisers are likely buying airtime, print and online placements for a longer period of time. As a result, brands are investing more money in advertising, which raises the stakes to ensure the advertising is delivering a solid ROI.
Most brands focus on how their advertising is cutting through the holiday advertising clutter to reach and persuade shoppers – and at a time when their competitors are likely increasing their ad spend with conflicting claims and messages.
But getting at this answer only scratches the surface. Another important consideration is the extent to which your competitors’ advertising affects how consumers perceive your brand. Our research has found that cross-brand impact occurs quite frequently, and not just when the advertising is making direct competitive claims.
Do you have a brand that has a platform of providing great fashion at an affordable price? Or of being the cool choice for leading edge Millennials? What if a competitive brand is trying to seize that ground? Shouldn’t you find out how successful they are both in positioning their brand but also in unseating yours?
By analyzing changes in brand perceptions that occur over time among three groups – those who’ve seen your ads (but not theirs), those who’ve seen their ads (but not yours) and those who’ve seen both – key insights into what’s really going on in the mind of the consumer can be gleaned.
If ads are persuasive in isolation but the brand deteriorates among those who see their ads, it suggests that building a stronger reason to believe (RTB) may be necessary. Or perhaps your team needs to focus on developing additional communications or promotional strategies that really drive home the brand claim.
If there is ever a time to take on this type of research initiative, it’s now. The all-important purchase decisions are vital around the holiday season, where “sales in November and December can account for as much as 30 percent of a retailer’s annual sales,” according to NRF Foundation’s Retail Insight Center.
As a result, around the holidays, brands are furiously competing for the consumer’s share of wallet via advertising and competitive claims.
But where do you start? Let’s look at a real-world example. One of the fiercest battles this holiday season (and beyond) is in the mobile phone industry – Samsung vs. Apple. In fact, the ad campaigns employed by these two brands use a range of approaches to attempt to win market share.
Our recent study, The Mobile Device Path to Purchase, found that more than half of all kids, tweens and teens specifically ask for Apple iPhones, with pre-K children not far behind as 43 percent ask for iPhones. Samsung only attracts 25 percent of kids’ smartphone requests, with numbers dwindling to 9 percent for pre-K youth.
Why do kids prefer iPhones and what can Samsung do to try to establish stronger preference? In its advertising, Samsung is using a blend of assertive claims (in which they talk about their own features) and hard-hitting comparative advertising and (in which they ridicule the iPhone and – by extension – those who choose to purchase iPhones).
As Samsung studies the impact of this advertising, it will be important to take into account the impact of iPhone’s advertising on perceptions of Samsung devices as well. Conversely Apple brand managers would be wise to study the effects of the Samsung campaigns on perceptions of and purchase intentions for the iPhone. Through this analysis, insights can emerge to help these brands to succeed with the youth demographic.
While the Samsung vs. Apple battle is a prime example of how brands and advertising can influence perceptions, the mobile phone market is just one industry where this type of analysis can lead to strategic and competitive advantage. In fact, this methodology is helpful for any brand which has competitors who advertise to any meaningful degree, as competitive campaigns are undoubtedly affecting perceptions of their own brand.
Brands that are fighting for a similar position are particularly vulnerable to the effects of competitive advertising. Likewise, conducting a cross-brand impact analysis is vital when a competitor has launched a new campaign that includes a solid RTB that may cause consumers to question the claims of the established brand or product.
Even though the holiday season is often the busiest for brands and retailers, when a company takes the time to conduct a thorough cross-brand/advertising analysis, the findings can be leveraged to craft new messaging strategies to improve advertising effectiveness and ultimately brand preference.
The better brands understand the overall category within which they compete, the more they will be able exert positive control over the ever-changing and highly competitive landscape … regardless of the season.