Anne Rayner asserts that as audiences become more connected marketers need to seek the ideal options

A young woman in South Korea recently spent most of her day browsing an online shopping site during breaks at work, over lunch and whenever she had free time. A further two hours checking the different products on offer resulted in her buying only a tiny fraction of what was on offer.

Though this seems like a startlingly inefficient virtual shopping spree, her actions are not all that unusual. Consumers worldwide spend far more time browsing products on e-commerce sites than they do buying them.

Does this mean that the sites are failing in their primary purpose? Or could it be that consumers are using them in a very different way to how marketers expect? And are e-commerce sites as much about providing brand experiences and seeking brand inspiration as they are about driving sales?

The young woman’s online window-shopping reveals how people are increasingly taking control of when they want to be engaged and inspired by brands – and in many cases, they are opting for touchpoints that aren’t traditionally considered as being brand-building channels.

If they are to continue building effective brands, marketers need a new definition of what constitutes a brand-building opportunity.

 OPPORTUNITIES Brand channels used to be defined by their ability to reach target audiences on scale. But reach is no longer a differentiator for any media platform. When the same consumer can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, TV, outdoor ads and more, the ability to reach them isn’t the issue – it’s what happens when you do that counts.

So brand opportunities are being defined by the state of mind of the audiences rather than their presence.

This is apparent in growing evidence that suggests reach no longer correlates with the quality of engagement. A recent Kantar TNS analysis of equity for an FMCG brand is fairly typical; it demonstrates that the touchpoints where it competed most effectively – such as TV and print ads, and word of mouth – were also those where it underperformed in terms of engagement.

The context in which this brand outperformed its competitors was less conventional. It turned out to be the occasions when celebrity chefs used it as an ingredient in their recipes, providing a unique endorsement, relevance and credibility.

What offered this brand its competitive edge wasn’t merely the ability to reach more people; it was its ability to create more unique and influential brand memories.

BE SELECTIVE Marketers can’t create memories by simply chasing their audiences across the internet. This quickly exhausts resources, budgets and organisational energy. And as importantly, it can exhaust the audiences’ interest and attention.

Marketers need to be intelligently selective and focus on how brand memories are formed. People don’t remember every encounter with a brand; they remember encounters that flood their brains with emotion, and align with their motivations and priorities at the time. Effective brands know how to select the touchpoints that do this most effectively – and they know that the right choice of touchpoint depends on both the brand and audience.

Gatorade decided that the most effective moment for creating memories during last year’s Super Bowl wasn’t to be found in a TV ad break. Instead it created a sponsored Snapchat lens showing Serena Williams (whom Gatorade sponsors) being ‘dunked’ by a barrel of Gatorade – and inviting the Snapchat audience to create their own versions by virtually dunking themselves and their friends.

This campaign bore the hallmarks of great occasion-based advertising. It was inherently relevant since the dunking of victorious coaches with giant barrels of Gatorade is a Super Bowl tradition. Fun goes a long way when creating powerful brand memories. The 160 million impressions for Gatorade’s Snapchat lens suggest it created quite a few of them.

For the Dollar Shave Club, the opportunity that could launch a whole new brand and business model for its category did not involve a TV ad either. It knew that its male target audience turned to YouTube for edgy, funny entertainment and so it was provided – with a delivery of its brand proposition that doubled as stand-up comedy.

It was neither an extension nor a roll-out of a TV ad campaign because the main impact of the advertisement came through a line that couldn’t possibly be telecast on television. Instead it was designed around the specific need to grab and maintain the viewer’s attention in a matter of seconds, which was crucial for YouTube’s audience.

This doesn’t mean that every brand-building opportunity in the new multi-touchpoint landscape occurs away from a TV screen. But it does mean that the brands that are making the most effective use of TV are those who know why television is the right brand-building opportunity for them.

John Lewis is one such brand. Its annual Christmas advertising expertly leverages a moment when the store’s broad audience is perfectly primed for the family-oriented emotion the brand excels at generating.

These three brands have succeeded by being selective, choosing the contexts and experiences that would most suit their ability to build influential memories among their target audiences. But the creation of initial brand memories in this way is only part of the journey that brands must take in the multi-touchpoint landscape.

STAY SELECTIVE Memories don’t remain fixed like a video recording of our past experiences. They’re recalled and reshaped every time another relevant experience comes along. As they are presented with more opportunities to interact with their audiences, it’s never been more important for marketers to remember this. Every encounter will either reinforce or undermine the memories formed by their previous brand activity. So they must select their touchpoints carefully.

Marketers need opportunities not only where their audiences are open to engaging with them but also where they can deliver the same emotional promise with which their brand is already associated.

This was relatively straightforward for Dollar Shave Club as a brand that was creating its subscription-based customer journey from scratch.

It was able to reinforce the iconoclastic comedy of its launch video through witty welcome emails, packaging wrapped in deadpan humour and special offers like manly wet wipes that were wholly in character.

For legacy brands and business models, it isn’t so easy. But by focussing on the moments that matter, marketers can stay in control of brand memories and exert more consistent influence over their audiences’ choices.

KEY TOUCHPOINTS The e-commerce sites our South Korean shopper visited are one such opportunity – a powerful one at that.

These are environments where consumers expect to encounter brands and are open to engaging with them, often over long periods of time. To take advantage however, marketers need to learn how to build branded experiences within the constraints of the e-commerce platform itself. This involves working far more closely with their colleagues in shopper marketing.

Marketers need to break down the internal silos and pool insights from across the organisation to make smart choices about the touchpoints through which their brands should be building memories. They then need an integrated approach to deliver experiences through those touchpoints.

Building brands across channels and devices is no longer simply a creative challenge or media-buying exercise. It’s also an exercise in organisational change. Brand marketing isn’t what it used to be – and the departments that deliver it need to change too.

The writer is Kantar TNS’ Global Director of Communications Research