Selling the Neighborhood: Quick Thoughts on Branding

Around this time last year, I was assigned a theoretical brief to promote LG in the Hong Kong mobile market. LG sits behind major competitors such as Apple and Samsung, and its marketing at the time focused heavily on new product features, such as curved screens (“Thrilling!” said no customers).

I spent a lot of time thinking about this brief, because it was given to me as part of the hiring process for my current employer (Spoiler: I got the job).  Around the same time, I was thinking about moving after my lease expired, which was about six months away. Starting the process, I spent most of my time thinking about which neighborhoods I would like to live in.

I realized then that mobile phones and apartments are very similar in terms of buying behavior. Not everyone is in the market for an apartment, but that doesn’t stop people from “shopping” different neighborhoods.

  • “I want some place quiet, but I have a limited budget.”
  • “I need to be at the center of things.”
  • “I want to be near public transportation and have a view of a nearby park.”

Mobile phone customers are the same way. If someone buys a mobile phone every two or three years, then the majority of product-specific advertising they see will be completely irrelevant, no matter how interesting it is. Most customers realize that the product will be out of date by the time they are in the market for a new phone.

This is why branding for companies selling high involvement, low frequency products is so important. Customers are frequently shopping for neighborhoods (i.e. brands) rather than for specific apartments (i.e. products). The next time I buy a phone, it might be an Apple 6, 7 or 300s, but since I have no way of knowing what that product will be, I first settle for the neighborhood (Apple) and then when I’m ready to buy, I do so based on existing brand preference.

Frequently CMO’s must meet certain objectives for individual product launches, so they are hesitant to engage in any meaningful branding at the expense of product-specific campaigns, which are only relevant to a particular audience, and are quickly forgotten by everyone else. It’s a common problem, but one that will certainly not go away as phones become increasingly commoditized. Customers only care about processor speed or screen size up to a certain point. When the market becomes saturated with such features, all that is left is branding. The Apples and Samsungs of the world are left in a good position. But what about the LGs and HTCs?

Would you buy a great apartment in a bad neighborhood?

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