Benchmarking Brands without Features

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by: Mark Rogers

When you are selling a product with features – like a car or a piece of functional equipment – the conversations about your product are very useful and practical. I hate feature X. Why did they add all this new stuff? I can’t figure it out. Why can’t they do the same as product A? With service industries conversations are full of feedback about the minutiae of how the service is delivered, complaints about mistakes, but delight about good things.

Some products – like many consumables – have fewer features. They are delicious or they are yucky. There is no prolonged debate about them. They are what they are. You like or you don’t like. It’s Marmite. Benchmarking and making sense of conversations about these products is a totally different job to calibrating the features of a product. To some extent the characteristics of the product are defined not by the product itself – a packet of crisps or a bottle of fizz – but by the marketing of that product. One ad campaign for Sprite maintained: “Image is nothing. Thirst is everything.” This is a drink for the thirsty – as opposed to all those others who are selling not a drink but an image. The problem for Sprite is that if you are really thirsty, you’re going to drink water. All the other drinks companies know exactly that they are selling an image.

This leaves the company that does benchmarking for a featureless brand looking at creating something which is more of an emotional map. What are the product and media associations of particular words, concepts, products, pop stars? Can we associate our brand with them? It can be pretty arbitrary – as the hero in the TV series Madmen said about “Lucky Strike” tobacco. “It’s toasted.”

So admen need a different kind of media measurement, based not on concrete feedback but on affinity and emotion.

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