A manufacturer of sports shoes starts selling consumer electronics. A soft drink lends its name to a range of urban clothing. What’s going on? In simpler times, you knew where you were with brands. One brand name meant good-quality sports shoes, another a soft drink. No confusion. Today, however, big companies try to redefine brands as not so much a product, more a way of life, and stretch them into new areas. In the early years of the consumer society, a brand name on a box simply identified what was inside. People were looking for products that would improve their quality of life, and chose brads most likely to achieve that purpose. But as people in industrialized nations became more affluent and fulfilled their basic needs, brands acquired other attributes. The functionality of the product was still important, but people also started using brands to say something about themselves, for example, choosing a brand of cosmetics which would suggest that they were sophisticated jet-setters.
Now, we have entered a third age of branding, in which so many companies are making roughly the same product at roughly the same price that functionality rarely succeeds as a point of differentiation. Instead, companies are trying to make their brands stand out by emphasizing their emotional aspects, hoping consumers will identify with the set of values the brand represents.
One disadvantage of a product-based brand is that if the product goes out of fashion, the brand goes with it. This is a serious concern for manufacturers of breakfast cereals, who are struggling to counter weak demand for the products that bear their names. So far, their marketing efforts seem to be having little effect. The advantage for emotional brands is that companies can transfer their brand strength into other areas, increasing revenues and reducing their exposure to the lifespan of a single product.
The elasticity of brands seems to be related to their position on a spectrum ranging from those rooted in solid, tangible assets to those with highly intangible, emotional qualities. At the one end, you have train companies that tend to associate themselves with infrastructure and their ability to get you from A to B, and at the other end would be a leisure brand that positions itself on dreams and making people have fun. It is the latter which has the maximum potential for stretch.
But even emotional brands have a limit to their elasticity. The merchandise has to be consistent with the brand promise. Just to sell merchandise with your logo on it is a short-term, mistaken idea. From this viewpoint, the decision to move from sports shoes into consumer electronic makes sense. Most items in the range, such as the two way radio for hikers, are sports-focused, even though the products may be adopted as fashion accessories, and the sports shoe customers will probably snap them up.
When the move was made form soft drinks into clothing, however, it left the branding consultants cold. It was a difficult mental leap into clothing from the drink so closely associated with that particular brand name. On the other hand, the emotional attributes that youngsters seem to find appealing in the drink, like its heritage and global appeal, are fashionable at the moment, and in fact response to the clothes with the same name has been overwhelming. Maybe this just shows that an inspired move –and by all accounts a snap decision– sometimes pays off against the odds, leaving the manufacturer laughing all the way to the bank.
1. What led to a change in attitudes to brands?
A. the influence of consumers on each other
B. the personal circumstances of consumers
C. more sophisticated marketing
D. greater choice of products
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