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Brand owners and marketers have some adjusting to do... Stereotypes will no longer cut in when it comes to messaging. Image Credit: Ador T. Bustamante/Gulf News

It seems brands in the Middle East have been trapped in a web of time travel to the past ... while the consumer has moved forward in terms of expectations. At least a third of brands in the region lack differentiation in their respective categories, and thereby seriously hampering their prospects.

It is not uncommon to find brands showing their caring, sensitive, approachable and friendly sides to strike an emotional chord with current and prospective consumer base. This tendency highlights the inherent need of brand owners to align with the social fabric of the region.

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However, there are huge opportunities for brands to (re) connect with the consumer if they are willing to get out of their comfort zones and be disruptive in thinking and execution.

As humans, we are unified by universally shared hopes and dreams, which are the blueprint for our psychology and, as such, underpin all our behaviours. The same way we share a physical template, we also share a predetermined psychological template that can guide brands on what they want to stand for and how they want to differentiate from the competition.

Strong brands invariably pick up an archetypal space — affiliative or assertive, extroverted or introverted — and align their messaging to resonate with the emotions driving that space. Just as individuals along more with certain type of people, we also tend to use brands that have a certain type of personality and help evoke specific feelings after interacting with them.

Kantar’s work in this space, across multiple categories, reveals key learnings that brand custodians can implement when building their brands’ credentials.

Acute gaps in differentiation

Brands in the past had limited channels to connect with their consumers. Brand alignment meant a consistent message on TV and print, along with delivering product and packaging in tune with the brand promise.

However, as brands scramble to add more touchpoints, they are doing so by sacrificing alignment across these.

While being relevant with changing times and showcasing the right momentum is imperative, this cannot come at the cost of certain basic brand tenets. Some of the world’s most successful brands have evolved — but they have also stayed the same in some sense.

‘Emotion’ is this glue that binds every element of the brand; what varies is the context and its execution.

Risk of sameness

With growing pressure on the bottom line, there is a tendency to forego long-term brand building to get short term sales. This means trying to sell your brand to every individual who is in the market to buy. While this may sound obvious, the result is that the brand loses its identity.

Unfortunately, it is not only the small brands with limited budgets that are ending up undifferentiated. Even market leaders have erred in a bid to maintain their pole position, ending up being generic and hence vulnerable to more sharply differentiated competition.

Target right emotions

Kantar has tracked the evolution of the region’s consumer over the past three decades. The study concludes a trend of moving away from conservatism with the codes of bonding, belonging, warmth reducing significantly in size. and a clear emergence of more expressive, higher energy and extroverted consumer emotion. Along with a need to feel more in control of one’s life.

Our database of past work also reveals that each of the consumer emotions is sizeable enough for marketers to target their brands with. While the emotion around affiliation, receptivity, warmth and reassurance is still the main one, marketers have a huge opportunity to tap into other archetypal personality segments to drive differentiation and relevance.

Forget about stereotypes

The protective mother, a caring wife, a macho man and an intelligent kid are no more than stereotypical portraits of our protagonists in brand communications. While these are still found, brand owners also need to recognise that there is a carefree mother, an independent wife, a metrosexual man, or a bratty kid that feels disengaged when the creatives are glorifying the stereotype.

Research shows that advertising effectiveness increases if stereotypical portrayal is avoided. Most women are tired of watching the traditional images of women in advertising.

It’s important that brand owners un-stereotype their brand’s portrayal so as not to antagonise its consumer base. If you are a brand owner and are thinking to show a happy family enjoying the bonds of togetherness in your brand’s communication, then think twice.

While churning out this creative could be the fastest and cheapest way, it might as well be the fastest way to an undifferentiated, stereotypical and a generic brand promise.

Strong brands create their unique competitive advantage by tapping into fundamental human emotions that are universal and timeless. And if it means moving away from the norm, it might be worth the investment in the long run.

— Chirag Buch is Director at Kantar Insights.