Building brand foundations through opinion leaders and communities

Unless one wants to position the brand in a niche at the very high end, high market shares and sales will come from a mass market positioning. However, paradoxically in order to influence the mass of the market, the people less involved with the brand, the ‘switchers’, a brand must be carried by a smaller group of opinion leaders. Consumer behaviour relies too much on an individual approach to consumer choice, using the paradigm of a person deciding in a social vacuum. But everyone belongs to a network, a group, a tribe. Building a brand means getting closer to these groups, which are mediators of influence (see Figure below).

Proximity to opinion leaders

In all groups there are influencers, also called opinion leaders. The concept of opinion leadership is not new, but its significance has been hidden by an over-reliance on advertising. In fact, to build a brand one of the first questions to ask is, what group(s) will carry the brand? Here we do not speak of the market segment, but of the group(s) who will influence the market segment.

A brand alone cannot convince. It needs relayers, committed relayers. Modern taste makers belong to tribes: microethnic, cultural and geographical groups. These groups need proper identification and a programme of continuous direct relationship. They must experience the brand, its values, and eventually interact with it. The brand must understand them, and present itself as being on their sides, sharing the same values.

Who are these influencers? Who are the opinion leaders? The two concepts need to be distinguished. Recent research (Valette Florence, 2004) suggests that opinion leaders combine three necessary traits. They are perceived as experts, are endowed with charisma and have a desire to be different from others, and have a high social visibility. Not all experts are opinion leaders: they are influencers, as are salespeople or prescriptors.

Influencers can be professionals. Canson would not have succeeded without the close ties that it is permanently weaving with the teacher community. Pedigree (pet food) relies on professionals too. L’Oreal relies on hairdressers, La Roche Posay on dermatologists.

They can be hobbyists. T-fal, positioned as tools for the successful cuisine, develops ties with cookery schools and with all the professionals engaged in developing a high level of skill in cuisine.

They can be the persons most involved in the category: all consumers are not equal. Some are more involved, more interested in all that concerns, not the product itself, but the need. They read more, use the internet much more, participate in chats and forums. For instance, mothers with more children play an influencing role.

Opinion leaders are to be found in specific community groups. We stress the word ‘groups’ because one should now speak of trend-setting tribes. As a result, the goal is to interact not with a sum of individuals, but with preorganised groups, be they formal or informal. These groups can be met at specific places.

Groups are organised, so it is easier to organize events with them. Salomon is obsessed with increasing the level of interaction with surfer groups all around the world, for they are trendsetters. Absolut Vodka succeeded because it came to be available at all the parties of the New York gay community. Bombay Sapphire gin did the same in Los Angeles.

To reach these groups, direct contact is needed and virtual intimacy on the net is necessary. One does not create strong ties at a distance. The goal is show that the brand is becoming part of their world, by means of participating in occasions that show the brand and group share the same values, in some way or another. Eventually the brand should be creating these occasions.

Creating a hard core of ambassadors

As soon as the brand is launched the reflex must be of creating a hard core of supporters, involved in the brand. Clarins, a very small cosmetic company when it started in 1954, facing giants such as Estée Lauder and l’Oréal, was extremely innovative in that respect, but it went unnoticed up to the point when market research showed to its competitors that the small brand was getting bigger, and that it experienced a high rate of loyal and even fanatical clients: with each product there was an invitation to write to the company and to Mr Courtin, its founder. One-to-one and CRM were already there, far before these became ‘musts’ for management.

There are many frameworks that have shown how consumers can be segmented on a dimension of closeness of the relationship to the brand. Typical segments range from hell to paradise, with a mix of behavioural and emotional dimensions:

  1. Those consumers who dislike the brand, even hate it. It is really not part of their world.
  2. Those who are not consumers because they consider the brand is underperforming on a sought attribute.
  3. Those who simply are not consumers, without a specific reason (simply the brand has nothing salient to their eyes to induce trial).
  4. Those who would like to buy but cannot (no availability, no accessibility, price problem).
  5. Those who buy from time to time, switching between brands.
  6. Those who buy more often.
  7. Those buyers who are involved, engaged with the brand, its ambassadors.

As soon as the brand is launched everything must be done to create and identify consumers in segments 6 and 7, the heavy buyers and the involved consumers.

Asking for identification is a sure way to build the precious database that will enable the organisation to give VIP treatment to these forerunners: specific tips, a specific code number on the website, specific invitations, specific offers, PR events and online sales. There is another way of creating a hard core of supporters.

It can be summed up in one key phrase formulated 50 years ago by Paul Ricard: faites-vous un ami par jour (make a friend every day). Of course, this is easy to say if you happen to be – as Ricard was – the man who created what is now the world’s second-largest spirits group. But the phrase deserves closer examination:. He did not say ‘make a customer every day’, but ‘a friend’. Service, free gifts, responsiveness, personalised relationships, attentiveness and the sharing of enthusiasm at small and large gatherings alike are the rungs on this upward ladder.

Creating word of mouth, buzz

Status is not granted by oneself: it is given by opinion leaders, experts, and the press. Virgin, although it is one the very few brands known throughout the world, hardly spends a dime on advertising. However, everybody has heard of Virgin, or will hear about it. Paradoxically Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin galaxy, is not an extrovert. However, he knew that by seeking publicity he could avoid spending a lot money on advertising – money he did not have in any case.

Branson has become a man of public relations: he knows how to create events that will become widely broadcast and diffuse the buzz.

Consumer empowerment provides opportunity for bonding

Word of mouth should not however be seen as an alternative to advertising. Advertising is surely not dead. Brands have two feet: shared emotions and renewed products.

Advertising remains a fantastic tool to shape these common, shared imageries, or to create instant knowledge of an innovation. How can one create the buzz, this modern, fashionable word for word of mouth, or positive rumours (Kapferer, 1991, 2004)?

The first approach is to make plenty of time for the press and media. Naturally, it is a good idea to recruit a specialist agent, but journalists will be flattered to be welcomed by managers themselves. This is where the work of making friends should begin: it is crucially important to know how to assist a journalist (for whom, as we all know, time is in short supply).

We should also remember that everyone deserves attention, from the bigname television reporter to the freelancer from the small trade journal. The highpowered editor of the future is sure to be lurking among the dozens of freelancers you meet.

The second approach – which should become a discipline – is to do nothing without considering the press fallout. As the adage goes, every dollar you spend on public relations requires another to promote the fact. A buzz has to be activated and energised: it does not always start on its own.

The third approach is always to look for the difference and disruption in everything (Dru, 2002). It is said that in the world of PR, it has all been done before. This means that your job is to surprise, because surprise is what gets people talking.

This is why brands create their own events, engage in street marketing, tie up with celebrities, invest in sport or music sponsorship and so on.

Strategic Brand Management Related Practice Tests

Strategic Management Practice Tests
Brand Equity In Question What Is A Brand? Differentiating Between Brandassets, Strength And Value Tracking Brand Equity Goodwill: The Convergence Of Finance And Marketing How Brands Create Value For The Customer How Brands Create Value For The Company Corporate Reputation And The Corporate Brand Strategic Implications Of Branding What Does Branding Really Mean? Permanently Nurturing The Difference Brands Act As A Genetic Programme Respect The Brand ‘contract’ The Product And The Brand Each Brand Needs A Flagship Product Advertising Products Through The Brand Prism Brands And Other Signs Of Quality Obstacles To The Implications Of Branding Brand And Business Building Are Brands For All Companies? Building A Market Leader Without Advertising Brand Building: From Product To Values, And Vice Versa Are Leading Brands The Best Products Or The Best Value? 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Brand Diversity: The Types Of Brands Luxury, Brand And Griffe Service Brands Brand And Nature: Fresh Produce Pharmaceutical Brands The Business-to-business Brand The Internet Brand Country Brands Thinking Of Towns As Brands Universities And Business Schools Are Brands Thinking Of Celebrities As Brands The New Rules Of Brand Management The Limits Of A Certain Type Of Marketing About Brand Equity The New Brand Realities We Have Entered The B To B To C Phase Brand Or Business Model Power? Building The Brand In Reverse? The Power Of Passions Beginning With The Strong 360° Experience Beginning With The Shop The Company Must Be More Human, More Open Experimenting For More Efficiency The Enlarged Scope Of Brand Management Licensing: A Strategic Lever How Co-branding Grows The Business Brand Identity And Positioning Brand Identity: A Necessary Concept Identity And Positioning Why Brands Need Identity And Positioning The Six Facets Of Brand Identity Sources Of Identity: Brand Dna Brand Essence Launching The Brand Launching A Brand And Launching A Product Are Not The Same Defining The Brand’s Platform The Process Of Brand Positioning Determining The Flagship Product Brand Campaign Or Product Campaign? Brand Language And Territory Of Communication Choosing A Name For A Strong Brand Making Creative 360° Communications Work For The Brand Building brand foundations through opinion leaders and communities The Challenge Of Growth In Mature Markets Growth Through Existing Customers Line Extensions: Necessity And Limits Growth Through Innovation Disrupting Markets Through Value Innovation Managing Fragmented Markets Growth Through Cross-selling Between Brands Growth Through Internationalisation Sustaining A Brand Long Term Is There A Brand Life Cycle? Nurturing A Perceived Difference Investing In Communication No One Is Free From Price Comparisons Branding Is An Art At Retail Creating Entry Barriers Defending Against Brand Counterfeiting Brand Equity Versus Customer Equity: One Needs The Other Sustaining Proximity With Influencers Should All Brands Follow Their Customers? Reinventing The Brand: Salomon Adapting To The Market: Identity And Change Bigger Or Better Brands? From Reassurance To Stimulation Consistency Is Not Mere Repetition Brand And Products: Integration And Differentiation Specialist Brands And Generalist Brands Building The Brand Through Coherence Defining The Core Identity Of The Brand Confirming The Presence Of Brand Core Facets In Each Product Identifying The Role Of Each Product Line In The Construction Of The Brand Graphically Representing The Overall System Of The Brand Checking The Coherence Worldwide The Three Layers Of A Brand: Kernel, Codes And Promises Respecting The Brand Dna Managing Two Levels Of Branding Growth Through Brand Extensions What Is New About Brand Extensions? Brand Or Line Extensions? The Limits Of The Classical Conception Of A Brand Why Are Brand Extensions Necessary? Building The Brand Through Systematic Extensions: Nivea Extending The Brand To Internationalize It Identifying Potential Extensions The Economics Of Brand Extension What Research Tells Us About Brand Extensions Avoiding The Risk Of Dilution Balancing Identity And Adaptation To The Extension Market Segments Assessing What Should Not Change: The Brand Kernel Preparing The Brand For Remote Extensions Keys To Successful Brand Extensions Is The Market Really Attractive? An Extension-based Business Model: Virgin How Execution Kills A Good Idea: Easycar Brand Architecture The Key Questions Of Brand Architecture Type And Role Of Brands The Main Types Of Brand Architecture The Flexible Umbrella Brand The Aligning Umbrella Brand (masterbrand) Choosing The Appropriate Branding Strategy New Trends In Branding Strategies Internationalising The Architecture Of The Brand Some Classic Dysfunctions What Name For New Products? Group And Corporate Brands Corporate Brands And Product Brands Multi-brand Portfolios Inherited Complex Portfolios From Single To Multiple Brands: Michelin The Benefits Of Multiple Entries Linking The Portfolio To Segmentation Global Portfolio Strategy The Case Of Industrial Brand Portfolios Linking The Brand Portfolio To The Corporate Strategy Key Rules To Manage A Multibrand Portfolio The Growing Role Of Design In Portfolio Management Does The Corporate Organization Match The Brand Portfolio? Auditing The Portfolio Strategically A Local And Global Portfolio – Nestlé Handling Name Changes And Brand Transfers Brand Transfers Are More Than A Name Change Reasons For Brand Transfers The Challenge Of Brand Transfers When One Should Not Switch Analysing Best Practices Transferring A Service Brand How Soon After An Acquisition Should Transfer Take Place? Managing Resistance To Change Factors Of Successful Brand Transfers Brand Turnaround And Rejuvenation The Decay Of Brand Equity The Factors Of Decline Distribution Factors When The Brand Becomes Generic Preventing The Brand From Ageing Rejuvenating A Brand Growing Older But Not Ageing Managing Global Brands The Latest On Globalisation Patterns Of Brand Globalisation Why Globalise? The Benefits Of A Global Image Conditions Favouring Global Brands The Excess Of Globalisation Barriers To Globalisation Coping With Local Diversity Building The Brand In Emerging Countries Naming Problems Achieving The Delicate Local–global Balance Being Perceived As Local: The New Ideal Of Global Brands? Local Brands Can Strike Back The Process Of Brand Globalisation Globalising Communications: Processes And Problems Making Local Brands Converge Financial Valuation And Accounting For Brands Accounting For Brands: The Debate What Is Financial Brand Equity? Evaluating Brand Valuation Methods Brand Valuation In Practice The Evaluation Of Complex Cases What About The Brand Values Published Annually In The Press? Strategic Brand Management Interview Questions