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Sunday, 7 February 2010

Brands Are Now On "Digital Time"

CMOs: Your Brand Is On Digital Time
Allen Adamson, 02.02.10, 08:59 PM EST, Forbes.com
Brands that grasp today's "double-click mentality" click with consumers.

While the reviewers pick apart Apple's iPad, one unassailable argument remains: We are not just living in digital times, but on digital time.

From getting news to reading the latest best-selling novel, to watching reruns of Gilligan's Island, most of the content, products, information and entertainment we enjoy is available with a click. Consumers are conditioned to get what they want when they want it. I'm not sure this "double-click mentality" is necessarily a healthy thing, but it's real, and the reality has huge implications for marketing and media executives. People want things that are immediate and convenient. Woe to marketers--even bricks-and-mortar retailers--that don't get this. Double-click gratification is a table stake.

This is not just true of the most manifestly popular areas of digital life--the entertainment, product review or breaking headline sites--but of digital life at its most practical. In fact, it's when dealing with life's most mundane endeavors that double-click differentiation can separate one brand from another. This point was brought to life for me on a recent visit to Florida when I entered a CVS and watched a couple of savvy seniors swipe their CVS loyalty cards in front of the coupon kiosk inside the entrance to the store. The drug store chain, as these folks experienced through its digital coupon dispensers, provides instant savings offers and in-store specials based on each customer's purchase history.

Couponing, once considered a time-consuming effort practiced by fiscally astute homemakers, is no longer about scissors and little slips of paper. It's about highly developed digital technology and behavior. Given both the dismal economy and the digital tools now available, coupons and all manner of promotion have become critical initiatives in the quest for brand dominance and customer loyalty.

CVS is just one of many retailers that recognize that e-couponing, as it's known, is a branding tactic that helps distinguish its brand from others in the field. Another, Kroger, has invested in technology that helps consumers load coupons onto their cellphones. Shoppers then flash them during the checkout process for on-the-spot savings. Safeway, with more than 1,500 stores nationwide, also offers its customers the convenience of acquiring coupons through their computers or cellphones and automatically applying discounts at checkout. And Stop & Shop has gone so far as to arm its shopping carts with mini-computers that tally up purchases as customers shop and offer saving options from aisle to aisle.

This new technology not only makes special deals more accessible, it makes them more personally relevant, another criterion in smart brand building. As consumers download coupons and use QR codes to access exclusive promotional content from marketers, companies can collect data about their buying habits, making it possible to offer discounts on things that people want and need, not just what the company wants to sell that week. It's no surprise that the biggest package-goods brands, including Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Clorox and Kimberly-Clark have jumped on the fact that e-coupon redemption rates are higher and easier to track than paper coupons and have made it a branding priority to link up with both retailers and independent digital technology innovators, including Cellfire and Shortcuts.com, to ensure their brand names are front and center.

That the old ways of promotional initiatives must change has not gone unnoticed by Target. An early adopter of Facebook and Twitter, Target also understands that "double-click mentality" isn't just the digital means of providing consumers with instant and easy gratification. For example, I recently received a booklet of "Flip. Clip. Save." coupons from Target in the mail which, unlike traditional coupons of yore, were for specific categories of products, not specific brands. Rather than needing to remember if my deodorant, potato chip or soda coupon was for one brand or another, Target took away the obstacles and made it possible for me to buy the brand of my liking at a discount.

At a time when newspaper readership is sadly declining, and Internet usage is up, paying heed to the tenets of a double-click mentality is essential. Consumers have little, if any, tolerance for waiting and for complexity. They know they can get information when and how they want it. No matter what the activity, if people can't literally or figuratively double click and get what they need, forget it. It's a critical point of branding differentiation. Marketers need to operate with a double-click mentality or their consumers will click with brands that do.

Allen Adamson is the managing director of the New York office of Landor Associates, a brand consultancy and design firm. He is also the author of BrandDigital and BrandSimple.
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