This is the question that every brand should ask as digital marketplaces become ubiquitous, consumer behaviors evolve and yesterday’s rules no longer apply. A look at four trends defining the landscape reveals what every manufacturer should know about the state of brand storytelling on digital marketplaces—and why it matters so much.
The missing brand
Consider a typical shopping experience on a digital marketplace. Whether consumers want a $40,000 luxury watch or a $4 bargain shampoo, the experience is shockingly similar. Every product detail page (PDP) looks the same. An uninspiring image of the product against a soulless white background has become the standard for almost all marketplace platforms.
This loss of rich, emotive content is profound. Brands have spent years and billions of dollars telling stories to create meaningful connections with consumers that drive sales and loyalty. But this content is invisible at the point of sale. The incredible value remains untapped. It is Nike without “Just Do It,” Gillette without “The Best a Man Can Get” or Nespresso without George Clooney. All product. No brand. This might not be such a problem if people were still consuming content on traditional channels and absorbing brand stories there. But they aren’t.
The Gen Z zeitgeist
Consumers are moving their shopping and media consumption online. Gen Z, digital natives born between about 1995 and 2010, is leading the charge. Unlike their parents and grandparents, and even their older siblings, Gen Z consumers do not engage much with traditional media—the place where brands have always been built. Sixty-one percent have completely switched to streaming services for media programming. As such, they have no historical context for a brand’s positioning or value. If the brand is not present on digital channels like marketplaces, they just don’t know it.
As such, all the equity that even the world’s most iconic brands have created in years of traditional campaigns is being lost on the fastest-growing consumer group. While the oldest Gen Z consumers are only in their early 20s, they already have massive purchasing clout. Those in the United States spend between $29 to $143 billion on themselves and influence $166 to $333 billion in household spending every year. And by 2020, Gen Z is projected to become the world’s largest consumer group. These “kids” with smartphones and Instagram accounts today are the ones holding tomorrow’s purse strings.
The surge of search
Gen Z consumers are not the only ones who have a different relationship with brands today. Digital shoppers are showing less brand affinity when searching for products. As Amazon Trends suggests, " … consumers are increasingly beginning their purchase journeys on Amazon, regardless of whether they ultimately make a purchase in-store, seeking everything from product details and price comparisons to customer reviews and brand credibility." As consumers search by categories, benefits and reviews, search has become the new brand. Almost 90 percent of product views on Amazon come from its product search function, not from merchandising, ads or product aggregators.
At the same time, disruptors are seizing search as an ingenious and proactive way to create new paths to quick market entry. Using data-analysis techniques, these nimble new entrants are mining search to fuel their R&D pipelines. It is a targeted way to create new products that meet unmet consumer demand. And in the absence of brand stories on digital marketplaces, it is how months-old, digital-born brands are beating century-old giants on the digital shelf.
These consumer and competitor dynamics are playing out in a landscape of overwhelming size and complexity. From global powerhouses with huge footprints to specialized platforms with niche audiences, digital marketplaces host millions of consumer-brand interactions every day.
When consumers visit these sites, they are engaging with brands, even if all they see is a no-frills PDP. So whether good, bad or indifferent, every impression reflects back on the brand. This is why brands must control digital assets (such as photos, logos and product copy) to ensure product imagery and messaging is correct and consistent. Internal divisions that separate brand, social, public relations and e-commerce teams make this difficult. What’s more, assets are mostly managed through manual flows and spreadsheet uploads, which is impossible to sustain in a world of unlimited marketplaces.