Prime Suspect - Brand Marketing | Clear Channel

Prime Suspect - Brand Marketing: Dead or Alive?

30 Jun 2022 / Opinions
By Clear Channel UK View Author on Twitter
Prime Suspect, a Clear Channel investigation header

Brand building and activation have traditionally been the bedrock of any successful marketing strategy. But is this still the case?

By Lindsay Rapacchi, Research & Insight Director, Clear Channel UK 

Rumour has it that the events of the last 24 months saw the death of brand marketing, cut down in its prime at the hands of e-commerce and performance marketing. 

Eyewitness testimony from Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern (an esteemed New York business school) suggests that:

“The summer of 2020 saw the Brand Age’s end… the losers in this transition are the media companies that provided platforms for the big and bold brand-building advertising of the brand age.”

But something about the case just doesn’t feel right, something’s off. For the UK, at least, I can’t help but think that the death of brand marketing is a red herring. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the events of the last couple of years have made building and maintaining a strong brand with “bold brand-building advertising” more important than ever and here’s why…. 

1. Because rational choice is knocking at the door 

A significant increase in e-commerce means we now have more information readily available to us right at the crucial point of purchase. As easy as it is to buy with the touch of a button, it’s equally as easy to access the latest reviews and compare the specific attributes of one product over another. For me, that’s a problem. The ability to quickly analyse the benefits of one brand over another, results in a very rational purchase decision. A situation that could spell danger for any brand that’s simply not the best on paper or whose price doesn’t match their offering. 

How do you avoid this trap? With marketing campaigns that seek to build and maintain a strong brand; creating a set of mental structures that predispose consumers to choose your brand over others - regardless of what the more rational, informed decision may be. 

2. Because mental availability isn’t a given 

I’m a firm believer that mental availability plays a vital role in product choice. Brands that quickly come to mind are more familiar and less likely to get red-flagged and over-analysed during the purchase journey. However, that mental availability is, I think, more difficult to come by these days. Over the last 24 months we’ve been through prolonged periods with limited access to shops, meaning we also spent significantly less time viewing products and building mental availability. Couple that with the fact that many of us have been forced to swap brands (perhaps due to price or lack of availability), which in turn means some brands no longer occupy a space in our daily lives. As if this wasn’t enough, the rise in e-commerce and the nature of the way we shop online means we naturally see less of some products. Where I once waltzed down an aisle with every cleaning product known to man in my vista, now that I shop online, I see just one or two, opting instead just to select from my pre-existing favourites list. 

How does a brand overcome this? The answer of course is to fill this void, to rebuild mental availability with advertising that can offer consumers a frequent visual reminder of a brand as they go about their daily lives (OOH anyone?). 

3. Because there’s more to life than e-commerce 

While I have suggested that the rise in e-commerce is a key factor in the increasing need for strong brand work, I am concerned that we’re all in danger of succumbing to an availability bias. In other words, that we’re placing too much emphasis on the subject because of the recency and volume of information we receive. If the number of e-commerce related reports, webinar invites and articles that I receive is anything to go by, I suspect it’s probably the only thing I should be concerning myself with. However, I’m not too convinced that this is actually the case and I worry that if we focus too much on it, we risk missing out on a bigger prize. 

According to the latest Kantar data, a whopping 83% of UK adults made an online purchase in the last six months, so without doubt it’s something we need to consider. However, while great swathes of the population may be buying products online, for some sectors it’s bricks and mortar that still take the bulk of actual spend. For example, take the retail sector. According to the Centre for Retail Research, online retail spend increased by a whopping 9% between 2019-2021. That’s huge considering that the average annual increase over the last 10 years had never topped more than 2%. However, despite that increase, in 2021 online sales still only accounted for 29% of all retail sales - the lion’s share (71%) still continued to flow through good old-fashioned bricks and mortar. 

So, whilst we certainly shouldn’t be ignoring e-commerce and the continued use of cleverly targeted digital performance ads, let’s not forget that this isn’t the only store in town. By building a strong brand through broadcast media, we can ensure we’re priming as many potential market buyers as possible, regardless of whether the final purchase ends up on- or off-line.  

And of course, let’s not ignore the opportunity to activate all those in-store shoppers too, perhaps with those nice-looking digital screens that sit right outside the shop! 

Here we’ve looked at just three reasons why brand building is still an essential marketing activity for 2022 and beyond. However, rest assured, there are many more, all of which you’ll be able to explore in our brand-new research piece, Prime Suspect. Uncover more about the investigation here.