THE RETURN OF MICROSOFT

Microsoft is making a huge comeback. The software giant has been going through a rebranding effort of late; updating its logo for the first time in 25 years in an effort to streamline its brand experience, and attempting to challenge Apple even further with the continued expansion of its retail stores. Now Microsoft is unleashing an onslaught of ads to promote the release of its latest operating system, Windows 8.

Sure Microsoft always rolls out a robust marketing campaign to support the launch of each new operating system, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that there’s something quite different this time around. In particular, with this ad promoting the Windows 8 picture password feature, it’s obvious that Microsoft went back to the drawing board with a strong focus on reimagining its most popular products, and delivering fresh product marketing ideas to go along with them.

After some problematic product launches in the past, it appears the Microsoft team now recognizes that marketing is only truly successful when the brand and product experience is equally as innovative. Only time will tell if this wave of product launches and colorful advertising will translate into increased sales for Microsoft, but it’s certainly great to see the software giant taking a bold approach to its marketing communications efforts.

IS BRAND LOYALTY DEAD?

Brand loyalty is dead, or at least that’s the conclusion Bobby “Hundreds” Kim, Co-Owner and Creative Director of LA-based streetwear brand The Hundreds, came to in a recent post on instagram. While Bobby Hundreds is a key influencer in the world of street culture and urban fashion, he switched focus to the consumer electronics industry and spoke candidly about his recent experience with one of the world’s most beloved brands, Apple.

In particular, after years of being accustomed to the “sensation of cool design, innovative features, and of course, progressive technology,” his disappointing product experience with both the latest iPad (with retina display) and iPhone 5 resulted in a brand switch to Samsung.

Bobby Hundreds’ experience mirrors that of many customers today (myself included) when brands fail to meet consumer expectations. After 4 years of being a proud BlackBerry brand loyalist, I recently made the switch to Apple due to a repeated decline in product quality standards in Blackberry smartphones.

Up until recently, if anyone told me I would leave BlackBerry for any other brand I would have been hard pressed to believe it, but when even the most beloved brands repeatedly fail to meet consumer expectations they leave us with no choice but to seek out competing brands that at the very least maintain, if not exceed, their promise to customers.

Brand loyalty assumes that people buy from the same company over and over because they believe that company makes superior products (Stuart et al 2006: 142). However, as evidenced by my experience with BlackBerry and that of Bobby Hundreds’ with Apple, once levels of consumer satisfaction fall below acclimated standards, there is very likely to be a change in brand preference.

Brands are facing a new age of fickle consumers who are constantly in search of the next best product or brand experience. As such, the traditional idea of wooing consumers as early as when they’re toddlers, and cementing brand loyalty for a lifetime is hardly an effective or sustainable brand strategy.

Brands owe it to their customers to keep pushing the envelope, always staying a step ahead of expectations, because as a recent Interbrand article on the future of brand building points out, “purchase decisions are becoming more fluid, better informed, and dynamic.” An internal failure to innovate, or simply poor product or brand experience, is a problem that even the best marketing won’t solve.

Brand loyalty isn’t dead, but it’s certainly a concept that needs some rethinking and rekindling. Brands need to give consumers a reason to believe in them; as with any relationship, trust must be earned and maintained. As Seth Godin plainly puts it, what’s needed today is brand humility:

“Brand humility is the only response to a fast-changing and competitive marketplace. The humble brand understands that it needs to re-earn attention, re-earn loyalty and reconnect with its audience as if every day is the first day.”

Despite his earlier remarks, Bobby Hundreds’ comment at the end of his post, particularly about missing his BlackBerry smartphone, actually reveals that brand loyalty can in fact be re-earned, and is quite frankly desired by consumers.

MORE THAN A PAIR OF JEANS…

The ongoing “Go Forth” campaign by Wieden + Kennedy for Levi’s has played an instrumental role in enabling the brand to reclaim its iconic status in the US within the last few years. In particular, the latest spot in the series exemplifies how brands ought to communicate with consumers today.

Rather than attempt to tell its own story, here Levi’s makes a conscious decision to tell the story of its customers. While admittedly a bold move, this strategy strikes up a more personal conversation with Levi’s customers. It resonates, it works, and here’s why.

Consumers today are all too familiar with brands hurling mass marketing messages at them, and quite frankly they are tired of it. They see through it like clear glass. Consumers want to know that brands understand them; their beliefs, desires, fears, and aspirations.

In a recent article marking the launch of the Best Global Brands 2012 Report, Jez Frampton, Global CEO at Interbrand, addressed this shift in consumer attitude and highlighted the new challenge for brands today:

“Today’s customers are skeptical, vocal, savvy – and have everyone competing for their attention… In order to succeed, brand owners must become more sensitive to the needs and desires of informed and discerning customers who demand high degrees of engagement – and consistency.”

With this “Go Forth” spot, Levi’s is boldly accepting the challenge. By cleverly integrating itself into its customers’ story, Levi’s is able to communicate in a way that connects, empowers, and inspires. Ultimately, this enable’s Levi’s to stand for more than just pieces of denim sewn together, but as Jez Frampton says, “a living business asset”, woven into the very fabric of its customers’ lives. Or better yet, as the narrator in the ad proclaims, “It’s the thread in your seams that’s tied to your dreams.”