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The case for brands as information services

Posted on: Friday 30th of November 2012

I’ve just had a big picture theoretical article on the nature of brands and branding published in a special edition of the Jourmal of Brand Management on ‘The New World of Brand’.

The article looks at developments in technology, in economics and economic theory, and psychology to examine marketing theories about what brands do and explains why ‘brand as information service’ strategies are becoming essential for most brands.

The article examines an oddity in the way marketing currently works. Companies work hard to make products that meet customer needs and that customers are keen to buy. They also work hard to create marketing communications. But these communications don’t even try to address customers’ information needs. At this point the mantra ‘identify and meet customer needs gets thrown out of the window to focus on meeting the company’s need – to persuade; to change customer attitudes and behaviours in the brand’s favour.

In fact, as the article shows, good brands do not need to ‘persuade’ to flourish. Indeed, the very attempt to persuade tends to be counterproductive, undermining trust and wasting both sides’ time and effort.

This model of marketing and branding is based on an outdated view of value creation. In the industrial age, we assumed that value is always embedded into a product or service that is brought to market, sold and ‘consumed’. The world is made up of ‘producers’ who produce and sell, and ‘consumers’ who buy and consume.

The information age is prompting us to step back and take a broader view.

Companies are specialist knowledge factories. They develop, extend and apply knowledge in particular subject areas to solve customer problems. They add customer value by placing this specialist knowledge in the hands of the customer in different ways. Sometimes they do it by crystallising knowledge and expertise into a product or service. At other times however, it’s better to turn knowledge directly into a tool in the hands of the customer in the form of information, advice or information-driven services such as apps.

For the customer, value is not restricted to consumption. In fact, often the most valuable thing for the customer is the ability to make a better decision or to achieve a goal more efficiently and effectively – to do stuff.  Both depend on better uses of information.

Together – the collapse of the persuasion paradigm and the growing importance of information services (‘help me make better decisions and get stuff done’) make the trend towards ‘brands as information services’ inevitable.

As the article concludes: “Brands as information services add new value by placing information and knowledge in the hands of customers, rather than treating them as a means of control. The empowered consumer is not a threat to the foundations of brands. It is by empowering consumers that brands will grow and flourish.”

Alan Mitchell