Critic’s Corner

06.09.16

TASTE AND REPUTATION IN THE LIKABILITY ERA

TASTE AND REPUTATION IN THE LIKABILITY ERA

There’s a lot of talk about the reputation economy nowadays, since online reputation already plays an important role for companies, brands and professionals, and is expected to play an even greater role in the future as a bargaining chip. In a world where virtual interaction seems set to predominate over physical interaction, reputation – i.e. what users say online about services, products and people – can make the difference since it’s often the only variable (or at least one of the most relevant) able to drive a potential customer to purchase. Digital reputation is often the outcome of a system of assessments and judgements (social rating) that exploits the virality of posts on social networks, more and more destined to replace the official information sources in terms of ease of access, effectiveness, and speed of consultation. The assessment – to all intents and purposes a "taste judgment" – and its shareability on social networks determines the influence of reputation ratings.
Nothing new so far, considering that Publilius Syrus, back in the 1st century BC, stated that "a good reputation is more valuable than money". But, during the centuries that separate us from this maxim of Sententiae, at least two socio-cultural factors have significantly increased the value of reputation, giving it a level of power that would have been inconceivable before the standardization of taste as a necessary condition for the democratization of consumption.
Starting with the first factor, "good taste," we can refer to the civilization process undergone by the notion of taste, which in the 18th- century debate – taste becoming more and more a metaphor, as opposed to being merely a sense – finds its epistemological foundation in aesthetics as a nascent discipline: postulating the a priori existence of a universal faculty allows one to discern and discuss taste as a normative univocality that excludes the de gustibus (in the plural) argument. So good taste comes to light, providing the middle class with a criterion for social recognition (besides money) to legitimatize the status of people of quality for a sphere of wealthy persons whose reputation (unlike aristocracy and nobility) is not guaranteed by rank nor blood anymore. As Luca Vercelloni wrote in his book The Invention of Taste, "consumers themselves became the sole measure of the common ground for taste and its communication" and "those able to exercise a comparative taste coincided […] more precisely with the select circle of those able to count on a special, refined sense of beauty. In other words, those with the experience to express judgment values". The aesthetization of taste guarantees a universal foundation for those "spiritual guidelines for appropriate behavior" upon which the reputation of the emerging bourgeoisie is based, allowing the middle class to assume as a transcendental value what is in fact just the outcome of social conformity.
The second factor takes us to our time, to the era of social networks and the potential e-democracy of taste, where it’s legitimate – or rather a custom – to become indignant about indoctrinations and bigotries, where everybody builds his own reputation (through self-branding or personal branding), where there’s no distinction between good taste and bad taste, there are just different opinions that anyone can express without restriction, quickly and for free through a global tool elevating each of us to the level of a professional critic: proof of this is the increasingly shared habit of posting and reviewing every experience of our public and private lives (from politics to restaurants to shopping). Is it the revenge of the de gustibus (in the plural) spontaneity? Or just an even more sophisticated means of conditioning taste socially and commercially?
In a New York Times article (Living in the Cult of Likability), Bret Easton Ellis states: "Facebook encouraged users to 'like' things, and because it was a platform where many people branded themselves on the social Web for the first time, the impulse was to follow the Facebook dictum and present an idealized portrait of their lives – a nicer, friendlier, duller self. And it was this burgeoning of the likability cult and the dreaded notion of 'relatability' that ultimately reduced everyone to a kind of neutered clockwork orange, enslaved to the corporate status quo. To be accepted we have to follow an upbeat morality code where everything must be liked and everybody’s voice respected, and any person who has a negative opinion – a dislike – will be shut out of the conversation".
Since Ellis’ article (December 2015) something has changed at Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg’s social network has finally confronted the frequent user demand for a dislike button: most social addicts have wanted, at least once in their life, to give the thumbs down in order to express opposition to a post, a picture, or a particularly infelicitous statement. How has Facebook responded? By introducing "feelings": love, laughter, surprise, sadness, and anger expressed via emoticons (Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, Angry). Zuckerberg claims they have intentionally avoided a thumbs-down button so as not to turn Facebook into a permanent survey. But, apart from the official explanation, aren’t those emoticons reminiscent of the process of "laying down the rules for sensibility" and of the emotional anatomy of the perceiver to explain the domestication of taste? Isn't the ability to record the posters' feelings only a slightly more refined tool for collecting user data by monitoring emotional responses more clearly? That is, quoting Ellis, aren’t they just an even more effective way to be "branded, targeted and data-mined?"

Author: Luisella Feroldi

Category: Consumer understanding

Tags: Reputation economy, Facebook, Taste, Likability, Relatability, Bret Easton Ellis

03.04.15

OBAMA RAY-BANIZED: THE MAKING OF A MILLENNIAL VIRAL MASTERPIECE

OBAMA RAY-BANIZED: THE MAKING OF A MILLENNIAL VIRAL MASTERPIECE

Recently US President Obama embarked on a marketing effort aimed at encouraging Millennials to sign up for his signature healthcare legislation, the Affordable Care Act. The challenge was to cajole them into signing up for the plan in order to cross-subsidize older folks (which is vital for the long-term success of the program), while at the same time implying via a casual attitude that it was "no big deal" whether they did or not.
The centerpiece of this campaign was a BuzzFeed video called "Things Everybody Does But Doesn't Talk About" in which the President poses in ways that recall the typical social media posturing of Generation Y without appearing to pander to this all-important demographic (being born in 1961, Mr. Obama is barely even into Generation X himself).
Alternating between a tone of self-effacement and self-congratulation both so common to the Selfie generation, Obama and a Gen Y co-star make cheeky expressions, pout, stick out their tongues and practice speaking in front of the mirror, all while facing the petty tribulations and minor irritations of their pampered App-driven world.
Other than the mobile devices themselves, there is only one consumer product featured in the video. A seemingly "random" shot of President Obama trying on a pair of sunglasses, presumably to look cool and apparently pleased with the results. They look familiar at first glance, but the make and model is not immediately apparent to any but the most devoted fans of this particular maker, and, perhaps, fashionistas who are knowledgable about eyewear trends.
Because this just isn't any random pair of sunglasses. First of all, they are Ray-Bans. Ray-Ban is the global leader in premium eyewear market and by far the best-selling eyewear brand in the world, still largely perceived as a quintessentially American mid-priced brand that is both approachable and aspirational and very much preferred by Generation Y. So, for sure, the choice of Ray-Ban was anything but random.
But what about the model? Caravans? Why not the more recognizable Wayfarers or iconic Aviators? or even last season's super hip Signets? Of course, the initial answers are in the descriptors themselves: too recognizable (obvious), too iconic (me too), too hip (gotta go). No, Caravans are the choice that combines the best of the other three: a classic style that embodies much of the Ray-Ban heritage (worn by the King of Retro Cool Jon Hamm in his portrayal of 60s Mad Man Don Draper), traditional style cues such as understated, sturdy metal construction (the "new" favorite of perennial Ray-Ban icon Tom Cruise) and even hipper than the too-light and too-new Signets, Caravans are currently the model of choice for such relevant Gen Y pop culture figures as Taylor Lautner (Twilight films), Jared Leto (2014 academy award-winning actor/lead singer of 30 Seconds to Mars), Pharrell (song of the year 2014 "Happy" known as a fashion icon with his Vivienne Westwood hat) and Andrew Garfield (new young Spiderman).
So what does our President embody and project with Ray-Ban Caravans? As in the best of choices, it depends on the eye of the beholder. For those who claim not to "care about fashion labels" they are just one sturdy, cool, masculine, confident, understated pair of active yet sophisticated frames that are stylish without being too unusual looking. Perfect. For those who do care to some extent, they can probably guess that the brand is Ray-Ban and, since he's the President after all, one can be sure they are a premium model with all the goodies. And for those who do know about Caravans? The biggest win of all. The choice connotes attention to detail, a mastery of style and substance, and the confidence to make the best choice

Author: Tony Blass

Category: Trends & Fads

Tags: Obama, Caravans, Millennials, Viral videos

04.09.14

COPY TEST OR CRASH TEST? TENSE CREATES TENSION BETWEEN WHAT IS AND WHAT COULD BE

COPY TEST OR CRASH TEST? TENSE CREATES TENSION BETWEEN WHAT IS AND WHAT COULD BE

Among brand equity studies devoted to exploring in depth brand values and essence, the following puzzle often must be confronted: advertising campaigns previously approved by regular copy testing turn out to be rejected within brand equity studies.
When put into a different mental context, the same advertisement is often interpreted and evaluated differently: in many cases more positively in a copy test and than a brand equity study, where advertising is examined by the same standards of other touch points, especially after having explored the brand perception in depth.
Since both approaches are methodologically well grounded, which of the two is more reliable?
First of all, I would say that they represent two complementary standpoints.
Regular copy tests tend to magnify the essential aspects of a commercial or a campaign, revealing weaknesses and miscomprehensions. They elicit improvements that in a more superficial examination wouldn’t emerge. In a copy test advertising is measured against an ideal, that is, in order to be effective it must be impactful, interesting, enjoyable, emotionally bonding, persuasive, and create an intention to buy. However, the real key is the time perspective: every new campaign must conjugate its brand speech in the future tense, because people expect always something new and not just repetition of what is previously known (meaningfully, the déjà-vu effect is the most feared result in a copy test).
Also the attitude of the interviewees is different: in a copy test, they are asked to legitimize how far the brand can move ahead of its current state, to what extent something new and unexpected can be said or shown about it, providing that consistency and credibility are granted. To do that, a copy test is forced to isolate the advertisement in its essential components like in a lab test. In such a condition it risks losing sight of the real life brand experience.
Advertising evaluation deeply changes in brand equity studies, whose goal is not to check its effectiveness but to consider it as a mosaic piece or a single facet composing with all others (mental map, brand values, brand positioning, brand persona etc.) the whole picture of the brand as consumers spontaneously live it in the present, and not in a possible future. In this case the interviews attitude changes: if in the copy test they were spectators (more reactive to entertainment stimuli), in brand equity studies they put themselves in consumers’ shoes and pay much more attention to what the brand represents for them and evaluate the advertising as a confirmation (or a disconfirmation) of their current feelings and expectations about the brand under examination. Within this context the key objective is to explore why, to what extent and on what conditions the brand is able to de accepted, understood and desired by the consumers.
However, this approach is necessarily anchored to the present. Especially in the case of a campaign which has not been seen or not seen enough to clearly convey its message, in which case respondents tend to reject advertising that clashes with their current brand experience as perceived in real life, or, perhaps even more importantly, in their currently imagined experience.
Far from purpose of a copy test, this kind of advertising evaluation could be more properly compared to a crash test or a torture test, i. e. to verify the possibility of a brand evolving through advertising, while nurturing and strengthening its perception and expectations, to present it under a new light vs. factors of inertia. So to return to our initial question (which result is more likely to be reliable?), I would venture this answer: copy testing assesses a possibility, whereas the crash test verifies its feasibility, in conditions that are closer to the real life brand experience. It can happen that a campaign passes the first step without achieving a similar result in the second. A really effective campaign is the one able to reach both goals: to re-launch the brand experience in a foreseeable future, while at the same time continuing to be accepted as an involving and rewarding brand representation in the present moment.

Author: Luca Vercelloni

Category: Consumer understanding

Tags: copy test, brand equity, crash test, adv evaluation

01.09.14

BREAKING BAD: THE TRAGICOMEDY OF THE AMERICAN DREAM COLLAPSE

BREAKING BAD: THE TRAGICOMEDY OF THE AMERICAN DREAM COLLAPSE

Just one year after Walter White was selected by Time Magazine as the most influential fictional character of 2013, Breaking Bad bested all the other blockbuster series at 2014 Emmy Awards including current favorites Game of Thrones (HBO), House of Cards (Netflix), Mad Men (AMC) and True Detective (HBO).

Both events are telling. Though mobster sagas have a long-standing and successful tradition on TV (Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Magic City), Breaking Bad is a story apart: it tells how an unpretentious John Doe can become a meth lord under the pressure of everyday stressful circumstances, such as finding the money to pay for serious medical treatment and, ultimately, providing for his family upon his apparently imminent death.

Of course, the paradoxical screenplay, the thrilling plot, the gallows' humor, the bravura performances (especially the stunning Bryan Cranston), and the masterful direction, all contributed to the success of Breaking Bad. But none of the individual achievements comes close to explaining the riotously visceral gestalt of this work and its deep connection with the American psyche.

Perhaps the key factor is the same that enabled Walter White to beat out the dapper Don Draper, the sinister Frank Underwood or the troubled Rust Cohle as "the most influential character of the year": neither the most charismatic, fascinating nor aspirational figure (in fact, too often Mr. White is grotesque, desperate and hopeless). Rather, he arouses empathy through his vulnerability, encapsulates the common needs and fears of his audience, and embodies their lost confidence in the future.

In the age of the Middle Class crunch, Walter White pleads the most traditional values (family, money, welfare), throwing caution to the wind and raising Holy hell (which is, according to series creator Vince Gilligan, the exact meaning of the term "breaking bad") to champion them. No matter how, no matter the price, the end is justified by any means necessary. Walter White claims to be a survivor but, in fact, doesn't survive. He imagines himself the last defender of the collapsing American Dream, but in fact reveals himself as more likely the first hero of the American Nightmare.

Author: Tony Blass and Luca Vercelloni

Category: Trends & Fads

Tags: Emmy Awards, TV series, influential fictional characters

26.08.13

THE MILLENNIALS: THE NEW WORLD IS LIVING NEXT DOOR (AND WE NEVER EVEN NOTICED)

THE MILLENNIALS: THE NEW WORLD IS LIVING NEXT DOOR (AND WE NEVER EVEN NOTICED)

They have been harangued as the Dumbest Generation, the Boomerang Age, iDisordered or even Peter Pan’s emulators. The recent issue of Time Magazine finally did them justice, highlighting an epochal evidence: that despite being so lazy, narcissistic and disconnected from «real» life (indeed, as if any generation could know finally what is real and what is not, especially in the beginning of their lives), Millennials represent with their a 80 million people, «the biggest age group in American history».

Despised, underestimated, misunderstood (both by politicians and marketers), this social group is in the running to become – after baby boomers – the new biggest generation of reference that, like it or not, will mold the future of the world through their dreams, expectations, self-representation and peer relationships. A social group that, beyond the geographical barriers and the discrepancy between the economical context in which they live – thanks to the unstoppable generational grapevine crossing the web – is more similar than any other global group in the world, making them simultaneously disconnected from the previous generations they happen to live with (parents, teachers, colleagues, older brother and sisters).

Let’s watch them, hear them (even better if eavesdropping on web conversations), learn to understand them. Because till now well-meaning adults have interceded to help postpone this group having to come face-to-face with its future. The truth is they have no intention of integrating with our worn-out society. Why should they? They will not accept the leading social and cultural paradigms of the past millennium. New myths, new rites and above all now communication technologies, were their nannies that allowed them to forge a completely new sensibility and mindset.

A new social phenomenon against which traditional marketing looks speechless and goofy. Everybody who is familiar with consumer research knows very well how is difficult interact with, understand and above all to engage the Millennials. As a consumer group, they are shifty and unreliable: disloyal, defensive, introverted, ready to fall in love with the latest fad and the day after to forget it. However, the coolness temperature is controlled by Millennials, since traditional marketing tricks (especially TV commercials) don’t work on them. Far from the herd, but prisoners of their peers, they are completely open to new suggestions, new imageries, new dreams. Clinging to the public stage of the self that social media provides, the mirage of memorable experiences, not important if virtual or real, prevails over Millennials, to relieve their everydayness dullness: «new experiences are more important to them than material goods», as Time Magazine properly argues.

No longer driven by the need for social climbing (the old myth of status symbols), no longer content with a prepackaged lifestyle (the blunt attraction of aspirationality), but instead desiring to live here-and-now, led by the uncontrollable compulsion to discover one's own self in the ephemeral gauge of the present, expanded as absorbing horizon of the desired experience: «Scale back your long hopes to a shorter period. While now, while we speak, time has already fled, as if it envied us!»

Author: Luca Vercelloni

Category: Trends & Fads

Tags: Millennials, Me me me generation, Social Media

17.08.13

WEB INSIGHTS AND DIGITAL WORD OF MOUTH

WEB INSIGHTS AND DIGITAL WORD OF MOUTH

In January 2012 Harry Styles, best known as one fifth of One Direction, the boy band put together from among contestants of the British edition of X Factor, tweeted: «Lost my Ray-Bans … did they fall in the toilet». This post was quoted, commented upon, shared and re-tweeted in every language for many months among hundreds of social network users, who in turn posted messages making Harry’s Wayfarers a trending topic, and for his devoted female fans, the odd misadventure became indisputable evidence of Styles’ coolness and charisma: «He throws away the Ray-Bans in the toilet. And after just 5 days breaks his iPhone 5. He goes to the Nike convention wearing Converse. He arrives in Italy to buy a tuna sandwich from the vending machine just to tweet it. He goes around in 50° temperature with short sleeves. He is the reason I breathe...». It’s difficult give a meaning to this phenomenon, or evaluate its impact on the re-launching of Wayfarer. However, it is impossible to overestimate the symbolic and contagious strength of these verbatims within the community of internet youth, who are often rejecters of classical advertising. The story of Harry’s daily foibles is a meaningful example of digital word of mouth, the viral power of the web that makes the spread of information infinitely quicker and more contagious. As with offline word of mouth, the digital one is endemic, it is a kind of blablabla that takes a life of its own, independent from the origin, the truth, the facts, and acquires relevance within the social group in which it is spread limited only by the strength of its lifespan and the size of its diffusion. However, the similarities end here. The subtlety and nuance that make such exchanges so intriguing in real life, are lost on the web. There people post messages to be read, liked, shared and re-tweeted. To post means to publish (i.e. to make public) a message that, differently from the ephemeral life of the spoken language, leaves a virtually indelible mark. While the traditional word of mouth happens without an intermediary, being accomplished through personal speech, digital word of mouth is a media phenomenon that due to the viral intermediation which transforms, revitalizes and popularizes what might have otherwise been a fleeting comment or idea into something of substance and importance. If the web is the virtual stage where we project our idealized identity, the digital word of mouth is the mirror of our narcissistic desire to achieve consensus and approval. Any conversation on a social network is always intentional, never neutral or disinterested, because it is imbued with the desired self-image. If somebody tweets about a brand or a product is because they are inscribed in the self-projection and as such they reveal meanings and values that these goods hold in the symbolic and social exchange. For this reason the digital buzz is a warehouse of insights, because the conversations are always emotionally charged being always subjected to self-expression desire. The digital buzz begins and spreads widely, spontaneously and contagiously, promoting products and brands through unconventional ways of diffusion. Indeed, sifting the web conversation via social networks, and following their proliferations within the web labyrinth makes it possible to get consumer insights which capture in a live broadcast the relationship the internet generations have with brands, fashion, fads, music, entertainment, lifestyles and emerging subcultures. They are insights that traditional marketing could neither hear, interpret nor even understand.

Author: Luisella Feroldi

Category: Trends & Fads

Tags: web insights, social media, Harry Styles

02.08.13

WHY CAMO IS BOOMING

WHY CAMO IS BOOMING

According to Marta Mull (www.purseblog.com) «for fall 2103 Camouflage is more visible than ever». The camo fever seems to have contaminated the most famous stylists, such as Armani, Prada and Valentino, but it started as a fashion of the street. Without warning Carhartt, a respectable company producing working uniforms for blue collars, manual laborers, game-wardens, woodcutters, became a fad among teenagers.

Basically because of its camouflage pants and shirts. But the brand DNA was meaningful as well: because Carhartt means zero degree of fashion, it is reputed for robust, functional, serious, sturdy, no frills kind of clothing, that the camouflage collection makes even more evident.

So the most intriguing question, from a sociological point of view, is not what why the fashion designers copied the camouflage trend, as the key theme of the season, but why the young people adopted it as a badge.

Indeed it was during the Rambo era that camouflage became popular, but between Rambo- influenced style and the current one, there are striking differences. Rambo style was military, masculine and encapsulated the American pride of winning of the cold war, while the Carhartt camouflage is unisex, lacks military evocation (nobody in the States wants America once again involved in foreign wars) and has a clear generational origin.

Millennials adopted this style exactly because it is the denial of the mainstream idea of fashion: if fashion means show-off, bling-bling, richness, exclusivity, sophistication, in one word everything is interwoven with the aspiring dream machine.

Aspiration has for a long time now been one of the key inspirational strengths of marketing: it conveyed or suggested the idea that by buying that product or that brand you were climbing the social pyramid. This supposed evidence pampered our self-esteem, reinforced our public image and revolved around the confidence in the future.

Unfortunately, aspiration is no longer an exciting concept for Millennials: the myth of increasing expectations is shattered, so the social pyramid is seen as a wall more than a ladder. Basically they don’t want be involved symbolically and psychologically with the stress of the future.

In this sense the camo stands for a rejection: the rejection of the ideals of their parents, lack of opportunities that they gave them, the naive belief that shopping for luxury brands can improve your standing.

Maybe camo has also a further implication: indeed it stands for mimetic, and mimetism is a classical topic of sociology. It means the need to be part of a group, be accepted by peers, hiding or downsizing your own identity. A typical attitude of Millennials.

Author: Tony Blass

Category: Trends & Fads

Tags: camo fever, Millenials, Carhartt

23.05.13

SURPRISING, CONFIDENTIAL AND CAMOUFLAGED: SPEAKEASIES ARE BACK

SURPRISING, CONFIDENTIAL AND CAMOUFLAGED: SPEAKEASIES ARE BACK

Traditionally, speakeasy bars were clandestine boozers during the Prohibition era in 1920s America. Now they are booming in London as the trendiest and coolest spots to drink good cocktails and have fun. Especially in East London, an area patronized by the young generation for innovative, cutting edge nightlife. 

The formula is quite simple: to exploit a camouflaged scenography to delivery memorable experience, conveying the feeling you are far ahead of the curve, far from the madding crowd. They are special venues, for sure, but due to the underground word of mouth and not to the exclusive (read: excluding) high prices (indeed they are more affordable than downtown classic cocktails bars).

From here on the most extravagant solution is the best: for instance, Evans & Peel mimics a detective agency and before the door is released, you must repeat the password “I have an appointment with the detective”. Then you are allowed onto the staircase, where another satirical interrogation takes place. Finally you are allowed into the bar hidden behind the bookcase. Whereas at Major of Scared Cat Town the clandestine entry is the door of a fridge placed in an unpretentious diner. Many others chose simple unmarked doorways: no sign out front, no boards, no door plate. According to the hard-to-find principle: or you know about it or you don’t come in. 

Once inside the inner sanctum, humorous play continues: cocktail menus hidden in books and alcohols served in tea cups or marmalade jars. But beverage quality is generally high and the choices are wide and original. 

Maybe it is just the latest fad, but it reveals a lot of interesting aspects of  consumer experience: in the long tail era, cookie cutters (predictable, mass marketed, stereotyped) are not desirable, even if upscale; the aspirational appeal – especially for the Millennials - is supplanted by the surprising, the unexpected, the unique; finally, more and more the habit makes the friar. 

Author: Luca Vercelloni

Category: Trends & Fads

Tags: night spots, cocktails and alcohols, London, Millennials

14.05.13

IS LIQUID SOCIETY LIQUEFYING MARKETING?

IS LIQUID SOCIETY LIQUEFYING MARKETING?

Liquid society is the formula that Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman popularized to describe the contemporary world, where personal experiences and interpersonal relationships are typified by increasing levels of uncertainty, volatility and fluidity. The recent economic recession and related booming of social inequality has made clear that liquid society has deeply redefined our sense of belonging and shared beliefs about the future.

Of course, all these events have had a tremendous impact on reshaping consumers' habits, preferences and aspirations. Longtail, low-cost and e-commerce are just the most striking examples of the increasing fragmentation and delocalization of shopping strategies and purchase decisions.

Liquid society describes the lack of reference points and the loss of a shared social identity that characterized the late capitalist society, in which the flow of desires became more and more voracious and omnivorous. Consumption as a fragile and temporary substitute for previous social values made everything shining, mesmeric and iconic, but also easily revocable, outdated, and ephemeral.

Modern marketing was designed to deal with that model of roaring capitalism, but today we face a completely different landscape, where increasing expectations of easy profits look like a fading vestige of the past.

It seems urgent to understand what liquid society rejects from the traditional marketing approach.

We stay liquid, orphans of stable frameworks and beliefs (impossible to imagine returning to our once assured past , everything is changing and passing by at a higher and higher speed), but the dynamics of desire have also jammed, due to the recession.

Is liquid society therefore liquefying marketing too?

Author: Luca Vercelloni

Category: Marketing & Business

Tags: Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid society, marketing, longtail, delocalization, e-commerce

12.05.13

AMAZON: PATCHWORK GIANT HAS ONLINE RETAIL ALL SEWN UP

AMAZON: PATCHWORK GIANT HAS ONLINE RETAIL ALL SEWN UP
From its humble beginnings as an online bookseller, Amazon could at first claim little more distinction than having the most comprehensive book library.  From there they expanded quickly into digital content distribution amidst the then very trendy auction sites and newly emerging "e-tailers."
They knew they had arrived, however, when their competition began trying to rip them to shreds.  In 1997, Barnes & Noble sued Amazon to stop them from claiming to be the world's largest bookseller.  They didn't stop because they were proven to be just that.  The next year WalMart sought legal remedy for unfair trade practices.  Bankrupted main street shops across the US couldn't help but smile at the irony.  If the world's biggest retailer couldn't stop Amazon, it seemed unlikely that anyone else could.

Without the restrictions of literary-related product lines like its book bound rival or the singular value stigma of America's low price leader, Amazon continued to grow by providing a pastiche of electronic products such as the Kindle Fire tablet, which functions both as content delivery device as well as another shopping tool.

In addition to their physical product ranges, Amazon aims to control and enhance the overall shopping experience in ways their bricks and mortar counterparts could only imagine.  Since Amazon Prime's US launch in 2005, the $79 annual fee (half price for students) not only gives their customers free, two-day or faster shipping of any qualified purchase, but also free, unlimited access to a huge library of streaming video content available through virtually any electronic device.

Not content to dominate merely home and office delivery, during the past year Amazonlaunched Locker, a product distribution service aimed at apartment or other dwellers without the ability to receive packages securely.  This revolutionary offering alerts shoppers via email or text when their packages arrive at an ever-growing list of Amazon Locker kiosks, helping them to avoid long lines at the post office or other traditional delivery locations while maintaining a wholly Amazon-branded experience.

The elasticity of Amazon's brand architecture continues to include not only their own product lines but virtually every type of merchandise that could conceivably be delivered, in some states including even wine and spirits.  "Fulfillment by Amazon" is a promise of comfort and security not only for Amazon products, but for those of virtually any retailer including formerly litigious adversary WalMart.

As a service aggregator rather than traditional manufacturer, retailer or distributor, Amazon can remain agnostic even to its own product lines by providing access to comprehensive consumer and commercial reviews, daily deals and deeply detailed product descriptions.  Amazon devotees are amazed, amused and ensnared by a dazzling array of merchandise, from those offered by used resellers all the way to top of the line branded versions of the same or similar products.

Amazon's tightly knitted retail quilt weaves itself into nearly every facet of the consumer's online shopping experience, offering tailor-made solutions that allow Amazon to become part of the tapestry of their lives.

Author: Tony Blass

Category: Marketing & Business

Tags: bricolage brands, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Kindle Fire, Amazon Prime, Amazon Locker, brand architecture

09.05.13

TOURISTS AND VAGABONDS ARE RESHAPING THE BRANDSCAPE

TOURISTS AND VAGABONDS ARE RESHAPING THE BRANDSCAPE

Zygmunt Bauman’s famed metaphor of tourists and vagabonds could help us to better understand the big shift that has occurred in the last decade within the realm of consumption.

Tourists are comfortable and self-confident, globalized consumers, hedonistic and whimsical, savvy web-explorers, sensation seekers and experience collectors. For them, citizenship has been dethroned by a sense of community. However, it is a virtual kind of community that has nothing to do with the ancestral meaning of community (homeland). It is rather a chosen and virtually boundless kind of community, joined by shared aesthetical feelings, values and lifestyles.

Though we are firmly convinced that most companies haven't yet understood nor efficiently managed rules and the potential of digital branding, it is pretty evident that a lot of brands benefited from the emergence of the tourist-type consumer. Love marks, brands pampering our look and our selves, brands promising (and delivering) an involving and uplifting experience are still the most successful examples.

Vagabonds are more difficult to reach. Survivors of the mass market age, they are on the move as well, but constrained by a lack of means which downgrades their quality of life, dreams, aspirations. They are experiencing discomfort and disenchantment, and the values previously attached to brands are being tossed here and there in a frustrating trade-off between hyper-choice and forced downsizing of expectations. Low cost and saving specialists, they are targeted by private labels, perpetual sales and off-price promotions.

Which marketing countermeasures will win them back? Currently most companies persist in using old, blunt tools, becoming less and less effective, as if nothing has happened in the meantime. Vagabonds will require a completely re-imagined customer experience that offers the prerequisite frugality while enhancing their self image as expert consumerists.

Author: Luca Vercelloni

Category: Marketing & Business

Tags: Zygmunt Bauman, digital branding, love marks, vagabonds and tourists, customer experience