Defining Relevance: Part 2
What factors matter most when it comes to building brand relevance?
Hi. Hey. Hello. This is the twelfth edition of The Other 90, a blog about strategy from Quick Study. If this is your first time, welcome! Feel free to check out the archive. You can also view this post on our website.
Let’s start here:
In part 1 of this Study Guide we learned a lot about how folks define relevance, and how they identify it in brands. We saw that more people connect relevance to their personal feelings than broader cultural movements, and also that a brand’s usefulness or convenience is just as likely to make it relevant as the perception that the brand is trendy or cool. Finally, we learned that ultimately there are not many brands that people see as relevant to their daily lives, and that almost a third of people we surveyed couldn’t name one brand that stands out to them as relevant today. That’s just a quick overview, so if you missed part 1 I recommend going back to it. But now, on to part 2!
Today we will be discussing learnings 4 and 5:
Relevance is about me, not we.
Being cool or of-the-now doesn’t necessarily make you relevant.
Most brands aren’t top of mind to everyday consumers.
Quality & cost are still the two most important factors when it comes to making a brand relevant to consumers in a sustained way.
Top funnel relevance comes from a combination of factors, not just one.
After dissecting some of the learnings from part 1, we wanted to push further on why people see certain brands as relevant instead of others. To do that, we followed up with 200 of our respondents under that age of 35 and made them choose the two factors that are most important when it comes to making a brand feel relevant in their life. We gave the respondents 7 options to choose from based on some of the learnings from part 1 and also on other definitions of relevance we have seen in the wild:
The overall quality of the brand’s product or offering
The cost of the brand’s product or offering
When the brand shows up (time of year, special moments, etc)
Where the brand shows up (TV, social media, etc)
How often the brand shows up (frequency at which you see them in your life)
Who the brand’s message is coming from (the brand, influencers, celebrities, experts)
The language the brand uses when it shows up (the voice, tone, general way it speaks to you)
Again, we forced respondents to choose their top 2 from this list, and then looked at the responses spliced various ways.
Learning #4: Quality & cost are still the two most important factors when it comes to making a brand relevant to consumers in a sustained way.
I suppose one might look at this learning as a “no duh” type situation, but I think it’s important to unpack. 49.5% of the respondents listed the quality of the brand/product as one of their top two choices and 41% listed cost. They were the clear top two factors as chosen by respondents.
At Quick Study, we talk a lot about the relevance flywheel. We believe you can kickstart a brand’s growth by building relevance around it before the product is in people’s hands, creating trust in the product or offering through authentic, clear, and consistent messaging. Then, once the product is in people’s hands, its quality makes repeat buyers out of the consumer, giving it more relevance and deepening the brand relationship over time as the flywheel continues.
While relevance may be the lynchpin of this flywheel concept, quality of the offering is the foundation. Without quality, it is impossible to maintain sustained relevance. This result is a healthy reminder that no amount of genius storytelling can paint over what lacks in your offering (maybe for a hype drop where a sustained audience is unnecessary, but not when you are building brand loyalty long term).
We talked a bit about cost in part 1 - particularly that when asked to name brands relevant to them, 9% of respondents specifically named brands for their low costs during a time of economic difficulty. Seeing cost comfortably sitting in the top two factors in our follow-up survey reconfirmed its importance. I’d love to run this survey again in 5 or 6 months to see how consumer perception around the recession and inflation conversations shift the importance of cost up or down the list.
At the end of the day, quality and cost are the stuff that will make or break the final conversion decision and also determine your ongoing relevance over time. If your product or offering pricing is misaligned, consumers will need help from other factors to help justify it. If they do purchase, and your product doesn’t meet quality expectations, it puts more pressure on other aspects of relevance to make up your trust gap in the future.
Learning #5: Top funnel relevance comes from a combination of factors, not just one.
But before consumers can judge your product quality, you have to get on their radar. And instead of finding that single comms lever that will help create relevance beyond quality and cost, we find ourselves looking at a situation where relevance is the sum of all parts.
These responses being so close tell us that relevance is a very well-rounded calculation - not a hard choice of who/what/where/etc. It’s also worth noting that geographic location did not make a large difference in responses - totals were close to the same for respondents in rural, urban, and suburban areas.
That all being said, there were some areas where the rankings changed demographically, so let’s look at those a bit.
According to our research, younger people are:
More likely to care about who is delivering a brand’s message.
Less likely to care about what something costs.
More likely to care about how frequently a brand shows up.
The delivery of the brand message is happening less and less directly from the brand itself these days, and the decision of who is speaking seems to be something young people care about deeply. 41% of 18-20 year olds said this was a top 2 factor when it comes to making a brand feel relevant. That number drops to 30% of 21-24 year olds, and drops even further to 18% of 25-34 year olds. Many studies have shown the outsized influence that creators & influencers have had on young people, so choosing the right messenger to speak to them is crucial.
In fact, who is delivering your message to people in their late teens might be even more crucial than your cost. Only 23% of 18-20 year olds listed cost as a top 2 factor when it comes to making a brand feel relevant to them. This number goes up to 30% of 21-24 year olds, and to 47% for 25-34 year olds. Initially this result felt counterintuitive since someone in their late teens and early twenties may typically have access to less income as they establish themselves in adulthood, but there were multiple factors of relevance that finished ahead of cost for this age demographic. There is also the very real possibility that many 18-20 year olds are still being funded by their parents, which would make cost less of a priority.
The factor that ranked higher than any other when it comes to establishing relevance with young people was frequency. 45% of that age group said that frequency was the top factor in creating relevance from a brand. This stood out to me as an acknowledgement of the hype train - young people respond more to brands that inject themselves more often into culture. We learned in part 1 that hype doesn’t necessarily equal relevance, but this data shows us that for young people it matters that a brand is showing up with a higher rate of consistency.
Moving away from age, we also were able to split the data around shopping habits. For example, we found that respondents who identify as the primary clothes shopper in their household care more about quality than those shopping for other items. 55% of them said quality was a top two factor. This stood out to me as a push against the rise of fast fashion and its well-documented quality concerns. Separately, when it comes to cost, more hardware & tools shoppers ranked it in the top two than any other type of shopper. So if you’re marketing any new power tools, make sure to keep that in mind.
With the exception of a few cases noted above, very rarely did who, what, where, when, or how often stand out remarkably from the other factors that create relevance. All of these are things that will unlock the relevance flywheel, but they’ll do so in concert, not alone. It’s not enough to just have a cool influencer creating content, or launch a campaign on a special holiday - the full story you are telling needs to be considered equally.
Relevance is personal, not communal. It doesn’t require your brand to be cool, but it does help to consistently show up in the lives of your consumers and show how you are useful. There is no silver bullet for how relevance drives trial - instead you need to equally consider how you speak, how often you show up, who is speaking for you, when you show up, and where; together, those factors act as the gateway to initial relevance. Once you have initial relevance, the best way to extend it is through quality and pricing that keeps the consumer coming back.
Hopefully these learnings have been as interesting for you as they were for us. It’s been nice to have some hypotheses confirmed, and also to see some differentiation in how people think about brands fitting into their lives. At the end of the day, it’s all about value - whether that value comes from cost, quality, usefulness, the cool factor, or others, a clear, consistent message expressing your value is the best way to build relevance with your future customers.
The Other 90 is written by Rob Engelsman, a former baby model and now Co-Founder & Strategy Partner at Quick Study. You can find him on Twitter, Instagram, & LinkedIn. You can also email him at email@example.com.