Friday, September 11, 2015

Brand Accessibility

Accessibility is one of the five drivers of customer brand insistence in our proprietary BrandInsistence brand equity measurement system.  How does accessibility contribute to customer brand insistence? First, accessible brands insure that brand preference is converted into brand purchase. Why wouldn’t I purchase my preferred brand if it were completely accessible to me? If it were inaccessible, I might purchase a substitute product or brand or perhaps nothing at all. But I am getting ahead of myself. First let’s define accessibility. Accessible brands are brands that are easy to find, purchase and use.

What makes something accessible? Distribution. When a brand has broader distribution, it not only increases its accessibility, it also increases its awareness, one of the other five drivers of customer brand insistence. So increased distribution can increase customer brand insistence in two ways.

If a brand is ubiquitous, there is no excuse not to purchase it if it is your favorite brand. McDonalds, KFC and HSBC strive to be ubiquitous worldwide.  One of the key pillars of Coca-Cola’s success is distribution. It talks about pervasive penetration and being within an arm’s reach of desire.  And, at least in my town, Dunkin' Donuts seems to be opening locations every few blocks, competing with Starbucks for ubiquity.  Hallmark’s closing stores around the country certainly demonstrates that it is in trouble.

The Internet is changing the importance of physical distribution a bit because it enables people to research and purchase products 24/7 from the comfort of their homes. This works better in some categories than others. For example, physical distribution is still important for many articles of clothing because unless you can try the clothes on and see how they fit, look and feel on you, you don’t really know if you want them. Online retailers have innovated many approaches to overcome this limitation, but it is still a limitation.

But, what other than distribution can increase accessibility? If you think about the two most important scarce resources in people’s lives, they tend to be time and money. So anything that takes less time or costs less money increases accessibility. A somewhat counterintuitive corollary of this is that if you can make the experience more interesting, educational, entertaining, exciting, nurturing or otherwise positive, often people won’t mind spending more time. The same thing goes for money. If the higher price is a signal of social status or good taste or some other positive self-expressive quality, a person may not be as put off by the higher prices.

Time and money also relate to the value brand insistence driver. Value has a numerator and a denominator. In the numerator are all of a brand’s benefits – functional, emotional, experiential and self-expressive together with the values it shares with its customers. In the denominator is how much time, money and perceived effort it takes to purchase and use the brand.

High prices can make brands inaccessible to many people. For instance, not everyone can purchase a Tesla automobile. And even fewer people are able to purchase a Maserati or a Bugatti.

I often use the example of choosing a college or university to illustrate the concept of brand accessibility. If a high school student has a strong preference for a specific college, but that college does not accept him, what is that brand’s accessibility to him? How about if the college puts him on the waiting list? Or, if the college defers his admission for a year? What if he is accepted to the college but, after financial aid, that college will cost him ten thousand dollars more a year than the other colleges to which he got accepted?  So price (or cost to the customer) affects brand value and can affect brand accessibility too.

Limited store hours, nearby road construction, overcrowded parking lots, exceedingly long lines or only accepting cash as a form of payment can also reduce accessibility.

Accessibility helps brands grow through increased sales to existing customers and acquisition of new customers. Research has shown that larger brands have many advantages, even beyond the economies of scale and network effects. They have greater awareness, market penetration, popularity, and perhaps surprisingly, customer loyalty.

Even brands that have exclusivity as part of their mystique must be accessible in some way to their target markets.  For these high-end products and brands, price may be the best accessibility limiter. Price will be an issue for most people but not for the target customers. However, there still needs to be some sort of easy distribution method. The Internet is one option. Rodeo Drive (CA), The Mall at Short Hills (NJ) and other upscale shopping districts and centers is another. But how about selling the products at polo matches, equestrian events, yacht races and other targeted events.

Hopefully, this has shown that accessibility is an important driver of customer brand insistence. The other two drivers I mentioned in this article are awareness and value. The two brand insistence drivers that I did not mention (until now) are relevant differentiation and emotional connection. But, I will talk more about those in other blog posts.

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