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World of Product Branding Changing — With Social Media

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“Branding is a business’ connection to its customers,” says Chiranjeev Kohli, professor of marketing at Cal State Fullerton. “You invest in a brand, built it and then use it to develop market share and to launch other products.”

Kohli, co-author of “Will Social Media Kill Branding?” in Business Horizons, explains that the influx of social media has brought a new dimension to traditional marketing practice.

“Traditionally, brands were built in the interest of the customer’s needs and wants, then the company flooded the airwaves — that was how you built brand and customer loyalty,” explains the researcher, whose consulting clients range from KFC and Taco Bell, to Autodesk, Canon and Verizon. “Marketers had lots of control and customers were far more passive. 

“Today, the paradigm has shifted: customers are no longer passive. They can add to or harm a brand, depending on where they stand.” 

Social media has given consumers both easier real-time impact and significantly magnified reach. While it is not the death knell for traditional branding,it does change how marketers think about building a brand, Kohli observes. 

“We buy brands not just for quality but as a reflection of ourselves. These days, social media forces marketers “to recognize the consumer, talk to them, understand them and give them what they want.” 

Social media is part of a whole marketing procedure. It’s more democratic but also a lot more chaotic. And it brings challenges — marketers don’t necessarily lead the way, they must grab onto it, such as the creation of Coke’s Facebook page. 

“It was created by its fans — not the company, who then agreed to work with its consumers,” Kohli says. 

The second challenge is control and staying on top. For many, the length of time they stay at the top of the market becomes much shorter. 

“It has leveled the playing field, allowing more and more new brands to come to the forefront. Some are successful and others are not, so therefore, it’s more disruptive. 

“Companies and brands can’t rest on their laurels,” says Kohli. “Marketers have to constantly stay on top … they need to address issues right away and be far more responsive to what is happening.

The smart companies are doing just that, he notes, pointing to how Oreo responded almost immediately when the lights went out for 34 minutes during the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII (2013). The social media team for the cookie literally created an ad on the spot, the marketing professor says. “And it was very successful.” 

Up and coming companies/brands can take heart from this.

“Its still an uphill battle, definitely not easy, but the fact is, the number of start ups have increased. 

“In the old days, very few corporations could capture 90 percent of national market share because it just was not possible to have every store in every state carry all of your brand products,” says Kohli. “But the big fact is in today’s ecommerce, all of your inventory can be almost immediately accessible. So, there’s more hope for smaller players. 

“And the blessing for small companies – they can get more sales and develop a following without necessarily having a blockbuster.”