The concept of “product” and how it should be in this day and age differs massively from how it used to be even a couple of decades ago. Today, as a brand, the job doesn’t end when a product gets sold, it is essential to hold the attention of the customer as well. To adapt to this evolution, the brands must fathom that the products under its umbrella must create an experience like no other. This adaptation by the big brands has given rise to the idea of a brand ecosystem. Brand ecosystem, in general terms, refers to how a brand with its various interconnected products and services creates a seamless consumer experience. The idea is to simply engage the customer at various touch-points to create a sense of loyalty, therefore, causing customer retention. A good brand ecosystem can even turn loyal customers into brand ambassadors by providing them with the right experience. That is why brands must design themselves in such a way that the customer keeps coming back for more.
Brands to Invest in an Ecosystem
Before we move on to what factors must be considered while creating a brand ecosystem, it is necessary to understand the value of an ecosystem in the first place. Ecosystems are a win-win situation for both the customers and the brands. The creation of an ecosystem causes the augmentation of the portfolio of the products and services that a brand offers. This increase in the number of products helps to solve almost all the needs that a customer might have on a day to day basis. The expanded portfolio means that customers can now choose from a variety of options from a single brand, without having to look for other products. This, in turn, retains the customer to a single brand and prevents them from having to invest in competitor brands’ products. Finally, the expanded portfolio of products helps a brand to have a stronger brand image in the market.
Ecosystems Vs Extensions
Ecosystems and extensions are often misunderstood by brands that thwart in getting their desired results. Product extensions just increase the number of products a brand has, but it does not give the customer something to look forward to when the products are used together. That extra benefit is what differentiates an ecosystem from an extension.
Factors to Consider
While developing a brand ecosystem, the factor that must be given the most important is the convenience of the customers. For instance, Amazon sells products of the same categories of multiple brands along with their product lines, but amazon is known more for the convenience they are providing than those products. Amazon’s way of ensuring the customers are sticking around is convenient.
Ecosystems are useful as long as they can add some value to the lives of the customers. The idea is not to bring out products just for the sake of bringing them out, rather, the idea is to offer multiple products and services that can work simultaneously and seamlessly with each other to create an experience that no other product or brand can provide on its own. The better your products support and complement each other, the stronger your brand ecosystem grows in the eyes of the customers. These little intangible benefits will hook the customers to the brand and make sure that they not only retain their usage but also advocate the brand’s ecosystem to other non-users.
Exemplary Brand Ecosystems
Big brands, especially the ones in the world of tech have understood and implemented the idea of the brand ecosystem well. Three of the five most valuable brands in the world are tech brands that have an ecosystem in place. Ecosystems don’t just expand markets; they even create completely new markets for products. That being said, tech brands are not the only ones with a knack for creating ecosystems as Disney and Lego have proven over the years that even after being offline brands, it’s possible to create an ecosystem of products and services.
In terms of ecosystems, Apple probably tops the list for creating the most seamless experience with its products. Apple as a brand is innovative and it always shows when they come up with a new product. They don’t just launch a product just for the sake of launching it, rather, they always have a vision for each of their products and how that product can contribute to the experience that Apple as a brand creates. This ecosystem and the experience that it creates is one of the core reasons why Apple users are so loyal to the brand and are willing to pay exorbitant prices for Apple’s products. The Apple ecosystem’s journey starts from their best selling product, the iPhone. The iPhone runs on iOS which provides a completely different software experience from its counterpart, Android. The experience is so simple yet powerful that users get hooked right in. And, even if the users don’t get hooked right in, Apple’s peripheral products like Apple Airpods or Apple Watch make sure that customers feel what kind of experience their Apple device can truly give. Their laptops, the Macbooks are also the same in this regard. It’s not that these products cannot operate on their own. However, the real magic begins when you pair them up together. The Apple Watch performs significantly better when connected to an iPhone. The same thing happens when you use the Airpods with the iPhone, they get connected within milliseconds. If you are working on a file on your Mac, you can always AirDrop (Apple’s connectivity solution) to your iPhone and continue working on the go. Overall, these products work well when alone, however, when you connect them, the experience becomes unimaginably smooth and that makes the customers’ lives easier and difficult for them to switch from Apple.
Moving on from tech brands to offline brands, Disney is one such brand that has created a great ecosystem for its customers. Disney earns its revenues based on four of its wings, which comprises of its media networks, amusement parks, an entertainment wing, and consumer products. At first glance, it looks like Disney only produces TV shows and some movies. But if we dig deeper into Disney’s revenue sources, we can understand how the company functions. Disney owns rights to TV channels like Disney Channel, ESPN, and ABC television networks. It also owns rights to Marvel and Fox as well as a lot of other studios. These networks dish out entertainment programs and characters which are all under the umbrella of the Disney brand. To give these virtual programs and characters a real-life existence, Disney has come up with the concept of amusement parks and consumer products. In Disney’s amusement parks, especially the Disneylands all over the world, one can meet the classic Disney characters as well as take a tour of all the facilities that Disney has in its amusement parks. If a customer still wants more, Disney has them covered with exclusive Disney merchandise and toys. All in all, starting from giving the customers a treat for the eyes to allowing them to interact with their favorite characters in real life, Disney has created a strong ecosystem that has made millions of people a fan of the brand.
Building Your Own Brand Ecosystem
So, how exactly can a brand develop its ecosystem? The brands mentioned above have a few things we can learn from. Both the brands any brand that has successfully created an ecosystem knows that it’s necessary to listen to what the customers want. Brands must first think from the perspective of a customer and figure out ways to enrich the lives of the customer. The second step is to create products that can work individually but will work better when in tandem with other products of the same brand. Otherwise, it’ll just become a product extension and not an ecosystem. The reason why it’s hard to leave Apple or Disney is because of how interconnected the products in their universe are and how well the products complement each other. This also provides exclusivity to users, something customers always cherish. The final thing to do is to continuously update the ecosystem. Just because an ecosystem is working well now, doesn’t mean it’ll always work well. Changes in customer preferences must be taken into account all the time to push for updates that continuously make the customer feel satisfied and engaged with the brand. These are key steps to developing a brand ecosystem, no matter the industry.
To dive into the future of branding, building an ecosystem that gives ensures a better experience for the customers is crucial. Marketers and brand practitioners all agree that engaging the customer is as important as innovating product lines for any brand and there’s no better way to do so other than creating an ecosystem that touches the lives of the customers.
Abdullah Al Nahian