Making brands matter is all the rage nowadays when it comes to brand strategy, and rightly so: contemporary consumers are evermore adamant that their consumption be underpinned by a deep emotional connection with the brands they engage with. But how do you create the best “make-a-brand-matter” strategy? At Fresh Squeezed Ideas we call this a “Brand Gravitation Strategy”.
The idea of “mattering” is made up of two key considerations: 1. Understanding what a category means to consumers (ie, what kinds of things do consumers speak to each other about when discussing a particular category), and 2. What consumers value about that particular category (ie, which category-specific meaning is the most or least important to consumers). Many “make-a-brand-matter” strategies only end up engaging with one of these considerations.
Let’s use the coffee category as an example. We all know that coffee means multiple things to different people. For some, coffee is a powerful stimulant that serves a very functional purpose. For others, coffee is a social lubricant that creates the ideal emotional scene for catching up with old friends. These are examples of the different kinds of meanings that coffee can have to a consumer. The beauty of these different meanings is that because they are embedded in a context of shared meaning (ie, culture), two people within that same cultural setting can understand why someone might see coffee as a social lubricant while they themselves see it as a stimulant. The fact that this conversation is embedded within a particular cultural setting also means that these meanings can be arranged into a value hierarchy in which some meanings have more cultural capital than others.
There are two necessary paths of exploration to understand both the meanings and the value hierarchies associated with coffee. One explores the psychological constructs that people use to understand a category – such as the type of coffee being drunk (drip or French Press) or the coffee’s flavor profile (bold or milky). The other explores the larger cultural trends that impact the way people perceive the category. We call this “decoding” of the complex cultural codes that consumers use on a day-to-day basis to conceptualize both the meanings and values of a consumption category.
For example, how would you go about describing the flavor of coffee? Most mainstream consumers will use a term like “weak” or “strong”. Here, “weak” and “strong” function as binary opposites of one another, providing us with an example of how two codes, when paired together, gives us an understanding of how mainstream consumers understand the flavor of coffee. But although we use these codes in everyday language, it’s actually very difficult for consumers to come up with these codes on the spot. A combination of bottom-up behavioral science methods and top-down anthropological techniques within a research engagement allows us to uncover as many codes as possible. We can then visualize these codes because the more codes we collect, the more we begin to notice that they can be grouped. With coffee, one cluster of codes pertains to the occasional benefit of the coffee, while another pertains to the consumption experience, and a third pertains to the “coolness” factor (cultural capital) to be gained from drinking a particular kind of coffee.
These groups can then be organized to create what we call a “CodeScape”; a comprehensive visualization of all the key codes, meaning making spaces, and cultural forces that determine how people are currently thinking about a category like “coffee”.
From CodeScape to Brand Gravitation Strategy
How can we now use the CodeScape to create a meaningful brand strategy?
What the CodeScape is depicting is how people create meaning within the coffee category. Therefore we need to analyze the CodeScape so that it gives us a better understanding of a) how these meanings are valued by consumers, and b) what this means for brands.
If you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll recognize that not all meanings are equal in terms of their value to the consumer. One of the other key outputs of the CodeScape is a set of primary and secondary codes that reflect which codes consumers value most for any given category. We can then condense these primary codes to form two axes that capture the most dominant value-determining codes within that particular category.
The axes can then be used to determine the positioning of various brands by analyzing both consumer perceptions of these brands as well as their general communications strategies. The visual below represents what this space looks like for the Canadian coffee market, where brands have been organized based on a) how much cultural capital a particular brand is endowed with, and b) whether it is perceived to be providing more of a functional or social/emotional benefit to the consumer.
You may notice that there is one distinct “value-space” in the bottom right hand corner that is not nearly as saturated as some of the other value spaces. If, for example, a brand currently positioned in the bottom left hand corner wanted to redefine itself against its main competitive set, we could use the coded logics of our axes to build a sustainable branding and communication strategy that would allow the brand to ‘gravitate’ towards the bottom right hand corner. Hence why this is called a “Brand Gravitation Strategy”. These coded logics can be used to determine a strategy for any kind of gravitation, no matter how big or small.
By using the CodeScape and the Brand Gravitation Strategy as visual depictions of how brands matter (both now and in the future), you can have a powerful and flexible tool for category exploration, consumer segmentation, white space identification, brand purpose development, and marketing optimization.