Your allergies are running rampant, so you reach to grab a tissue. Though, you probably call it a Kleenex.
The laundry is piling high. But don’t worry, you have a package of Tide pods handy.
You turn off your camera on your latest Zoom meeting because you’re so fatigued from video calls and the COVID-19 pandemic.Zoom is the latest in a long line of brands to become a household name for consumers across the country. Meetings in corporate America — held virtually as companies transitioned to remote work last March amid the pandemic — are now synonymous with Zoom.
It’s definitely not an accident, said Anjala Krishen, professor of marketing at UNLV. But Zoom, like other brands that have come out on top during the pandemic, capitalized on a unique circumstance, and could encounter some pitfalls when the pandemic finally ends and people are back to work in person.
Even now, news headlines refer to “Zoom burnout” or “Zoom fatigue,” with one company calling for “Zoom-free” Fridays as pandemic-related fatigue continues to build. Another recent news headline boasts of a “Zoom Escaper” tool created by an app developer.
We caught up with Krishen — via a virtual “Zoom” call — to examine how a brand like Zoom is able to achieve this notoriety, become a household name, and also, what’s required to keep it.
It seems like Zoom is the new "Kleenex." Everyone is now referring to online meetings and video calls as "Zoom calls,” similar to how people call tissues by the brand name, Kleenex. How is a brand able to achieve something like that today and capitalize on it?
There’s a marketing strategy theory called pioneer advantage. It essentially means being first in market, or early in market, and that’s usually the first indication that a brand can become an icon, or a leader in a category.
Another one, which is a newer concept, is age of acquisition. When people acquire a brand name at a younger age, it stands out more and is more likely to become a brand icon. A third theory to consider is the theory regarding consideration set formation. It’s essentially what happens when you say a category — such as detergent — and ask someone to list the first three brand names that come to mind. If a brand is the very first one every time — for example, the detergent Tide, then that also is a predictor of that trademark becoming a generic label for a product category.
When it comes to Zoom, even though Skype was in the market earlier in many cases, Zoom became more popular because it was the first one to really sell the group video idea. Whereas Skype was used for calls, it wasn’t necessarily used for group video meetings, or large group meetings.
There’s linguistics research to consider, too. Brands do so much research around choosing a name - they get focus groups together, they have people practicing the language and viewing the icons (like the Nike swoosh). They work on striking a balance between finding a name that’s unique, but not so unique that people can’t spell it or pronounce it. Take the brand name Xyience, for example, which is interesting and different and grabs attention. And in today’s world, it also has to translate all over the globe - it can’t be something that only works well in the English language. So I really think Zoom did their research in this area. Zoom really has become the easiest way to refer to video calls and meetings.
What are some examples of other brands that have been able to become household names? Do these theories apply in all cases?
Zoom, Kleenex, FedEx, Band-Aid, Velcro, the Apple iPad — these brand names all have something in common. These are brands that became well known early on in a category, or initiated a category.
Take the iPad for example. When it came out, everybody thought this is such a weird product - who needs a tablet? But often good marketing research reveals needs and wants before individual consumers realize them. And when a brand figures out - through extensive market research - what a consumer wants or needs, the consumer is happy. I always say that there are no accidents. So now, when someone says “I want an iPad,” it doesn’t always mean Apple - maybe I want a tablet made by another technology brand.
There are other factors to consider, too. With Band-Aids, the brand has really penetrated the market, and it’s a well-known brand particularly among children. Other branding tricks include catchy icons, like Geico has the gecko, Charmin has the bears. Michelin with the Michelin Man. Brands can become household names when they create really effective jingles, unique mascots, high quality products, and creative advertising campaigns for their target markets.
If a brand like Zoom has become a household name, how do they keep that top spot in the market?
Once a brand becomes a somewhat generic name for a brand category, it’s never a one and done. Early exposure matters, but product quality will matter in the long-term. If products do not deliver quality, and value, they will eventually hit a road block. There have been many big names (like Xerox and Fuji) which had to rethink their entire set of offerings based on late movers in their product categories. Competition is always a big factor.
Brands also need very effective integrated marketing communications – advertising on multiple media, promotions, and electronic word of mouth (eWOM). Essentially, if a consumer Googles: “make a video call,” what kind of options pop up in their search engine? Zoom is likely at the top of that search because of excellent search engine marketing and a characteristic of a trademark brand.
Innovation is also key. Brands have to be first to market for any kind of new innovation in the video calling space. It’s not over for Zoom - not by a long shot.
How has the pandemic helped Zoom to achieve its current status in the marketplace and will Zoom be able to keep their hold on the market once the pandemic is over?
During the pandemic, brands that were able to provide something that people were lacking found some level of success. For example, people were lacking connection and belonging, and needed the emotional connection that they cannot always get from a phone call or text. So brands that stepped up to the plate during that time — including Zoom — got extra love.
There are also other brands that consumers have never really seen in three dimensions or experienced in a brick-and-mortar environment. These brands with high-quality customer service and unique selling propositions with accompanying marketing strategies worked well in the pandemic. For example, Betabrand — a company that makes leggings that look like dress pants. Their branding is amazing, the quality is excellent, and the customer service is spot on. During the pandemic, with people working from home and quarantining, this type of product gained more attention. Brands like Betabrand or Zappos don't even exist except for on our digital devices — and yet they’ve become household names.
But there’s a danger in being at the right place at the right time. When people get off of their computers, when they can go outside and do activities and they no longer have that need to connect online, are they still going to be shopping as much? Are they still going to be making video calls and attending video meetings?
Many companies have been able to profit during our confinement. The challenge and the opportunity for these brands is to stay innovative and offer value once the pandemic ends.
While Zoom has had great success throughout the pandemic, the brand has also become associated with “Zoom fatigue” and general fatigue related to the pandemic. Is it possible that people will associate the brand negatively with the pandemic once the pandemic ends and how can Zoom combat that?
Absolutely it’s possible. One example of an issue is the stagnation that is often associated with video calls. Can Zoom combat this stagnation with some sort of innovation or co-branding opportunity? In their case, if their value proposition is lowered, creating more costs than benefits, they’ll need to re-strategize. If I join my calls throughout the day, but they end up negatively impacting my health, I’m not benefiting.
I believe for any brand (or any institution), transparency is key. With Zoom, it’s probably to their advantage to be open and honest about some of the pitfalls associated with video calling and video meetings.
One advantage that Zoom has over their competitors is that their market is not very easy to enter and involves complex infrastructure. Even then, they have fierce competition — Microsoft Teams, in particular, is a valuable option. Other competitors off the top of my head include Google Meet and Cisco WebEx. The key thing to remember is that it’s never really over for Zoom. They need to stay ahead of the game, and have a clear strategy.
I think when brands innovate ways to combat the potential negatives to humanity, they can achieve long-term success. For example, firms should be asking, “How do we make humans better? How do we provide them with a service that can help them without hurting them?”