Monday, 28 July 2014

Engaging thoughts

All posts tagged: branding

Howdy partner – can brands really work well together?

Mon, 4 Jul 2011

Although brand partnerships have been around for years – some successful, some less so – I was intrigued by the news that Heineken and the relatively new national newspaper i are launching a joint hybrid app that will gives readers the chance to read the paper's content in selected pubs and bars.

The initiative forms part of Heineken's Hub initiative, which kicked off in April and involves providing superfast broadband in selected premium bars and pubs across London and Cardiff. The brands will also offer monthly competitions with prizes such as new gadgets and technology.

Brand partnerships in FMCG can work nicely if you are a brand that goes together, although often this is retailer-driven, unless you are Unilever or P&G and you can cross sell your brands by giving freebies or vouchers of one onto another. In the media sector, publishers often bundle magazines to encourage trial but ultimately the partnership has to offer a degree of synergy and consumer benefit.

What’s interesting is that this particular example seems to buck the trend of many brand partnerships, which often adopt the safest route by pairing two brands which have an obvious synergy:  luxury and luxury, indulgent and indulgent, active and active. The tie up between Apple ipod and Nike works because there is a direct and beneficial link between the brands through the offer, whilst the link between McDonalds’ McFlurry with, say, Smarties is based on them both being – allegedly - yummy products.

But perhaps more impact can be achieved if you have a surprising juxtaposition but one that works. So i and Heineken – apart from Heineken getting into media relationships that other beers can’t reach -  may both benefit from the initially surprising fit. Heineken appears a little more intellectual, but not too heavy – the Volvo/Audi of beers - whilst “i” cements its “more rock n roll than its parent” image.

But who knows where this might lead? After Marks & Spencer threatened Ann Summers with legal action for adapting its “Your M&S” logo and slogan for a promotional deal on lingerie and other goods, I suspect we’re still a way off of M&S joining forces with Ann Summers to launch an S&M range. Or are we?

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Is Twitter helping to define brands of the future?

Thu, 9 Jun 2011

Unless you’re Ryan Giggs, it would seem, most celebrities are big fans of Twitter.

Many are active not only in informing their adoring followers of every new development in their lives but also in interacting in a way that previously would not have been possible. Twitter makes our celebrities (and our brands) more accessible. It has become the forum for interacting with consumers as well as the playground of the famous; the sniping and counter-sniping between VIPs in the Twittersphere is feeding the media with content in a way that once only ‘exclusive’ interviews in celebrity magazines might have done.

I wonder, though, if this emergent behaviour in media shows us the way that brands and marketing may begin to go generally. We are moving towards a position of sharing a brand with consumers, who will purchase on an increasingly pragmatic, needs basis. If this is the case, it places a greater onus than before on how to customise products and involve consumers in your “brand”.

In the mass-market, people are increasingly turning away from the physical to the online and this is perhaps the defining move of the new digital age. Fewer and fewer people are buying ‘physical’ music any more, books are increasingly digital and our lives are lived online. What does this mean for the consumer and the brands of tomorrow?

The music sector is already embracing this quite effectively. For their new album, Kaiser Chiefs have made 20 tracks available and when fans buy the album they can choose which ten tracks they want to be on their particular version of the album. They can set the track listing, and choose the album. If fans then sell their particular ten track album to others, they will receive a £1 commission for each one sold.

From people I’ve spoken to, I can see that many consumers are already wrestling with the implications of this and it’s not necessarily split down age lines as one might expect. The suggestion is that a book or a vinyl record has more inherent value that the digital copy of the music or the e-book which is merely reproducible content. This may be down to cost but also down to markets splitting between products of either actual or perceived high added value versus those that are seen as functional commodities.

So there seems to be an ever-growing divide between consumers who still want to own physical product and people who really don’t care anymore as long as they can access the actual content; a divide between the niche “haves” and mainstream “have nots”. Consumers battle between their heads and their hearts, where the heart says physical but head says digital. The key for brands is to learn the lessons of this development and be on the right side of that battle.

Fighting the food price flak: how customer insights can assist in winning consumers over

Thu, 2 Jun 2011

Whether it’s perception or reality, I’m not alone in thinking that food prices are rising. When I reach the checkout in my local supermarket, notwithstanding the buy-one-get-one-free offers, the extra points on my loyalty cards or the promotions to feed my family for a week for only £50, the money in my wallet doesn’t seem to be stretching as far as it did twelve months ago.

But who is the consumer going to blame? Whereas the government, and to a lesser extent the oil companies, seem to be in the eye of the storm over petrol and diesel prices, are the latest promotions from our leading supermarkets a way of deflecting consumer anger that they are making higher than necessary profits at a time when some families are struggling to put food on the table?

The multiples would argue, not without some justification, that their ranges have adapted to suit the changing economic circumstances. Whilst the prestige own-brand ranges continue, they have also broadened their ranges of value or basic products. Even stores with a perceived higher-end clientele have adjusted, with Waitrose extending its Essentials range and Marks & Spencer re-running its Dine In for £10 promotion.

Perhaps the highest profile bid to wear the “we’re on your side” crown has come from Sainsbury’s with its Feed Your Family for £50 campaign. More interesting than the microsite with meal plans, recipes and nutritional information, is the way Sainsbury’s is using social media not only to extend the reach of the promotion but also to engage with consumers and reinforce the perception that they’re on the customer’s side.

This is evident in the video application on the microsite which encourages consumers to film their interpretations of the meal plans, with some being featured on Sainsbury’s advertising during ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent.

It is even more evident on the Sainsbury’s Facebook page. What is more interesting than the slightly gushing comments about the recipes (“it was delicious, much tastier than I expected,” according to Dionne, and “lovely, lovely” according to Russell) is the fact that Sainsbury’s has fronted up to some negative comments and is engaging with consumers to resolve their issues. To do that in a public forum is a sign of a confident brand.

But that confidence will not have been arrived at by accident. Using customer insight and knowing the issues that concern its customer base, Sainsbury’s has taken a calculated risk that this promotion will not only protect it against any flak that may fly over food prices, it will encourage loyalty among its price-sensitive consumers and support the company’s ongoing financial performance. But, given the research that would likely have supported this strategy, Sainsbury’s will already know that the risk is low.

Good luck... on your business overhaul

Thu, 19 May 2011

Earlier this month, Clinton Cards, a mainstay of the British high street, posted a 3% decline in year-to-date like-for-like sales. It has announced a number of new initiatives and store improvements in order to turn trading around, including a new smartphone app, a loyalty card which will appear this autumn and an in-store web-based kiosk which will allow customers to design their own cards. The company has also been working with a branding and store design specialist on four redesigned stores.

But will all that be enough? Can Clinton tempt customers back to its shops, or is this a case of traditional bricks and mortar businesses being usurped online for good by the likes of Funky Pigeon and Moon Pig?

Customer insight will be key to helping Clinton’s pursue the right path. Research will help them understand what people want from a card and what a card can do like no other medium – so that they can leverage the physical equity of sending something tangible and understand what the card needs to convey. They can explore specific card occasions and behaviours around them, understanding what separates heavier and lighter buyers of cards so as to encourage heavier buying.

Clinton’s will have explored buying behaviours (ad hoc vs stocking, planned vs impulse) so that offers can be tailored to maximise purchasing, as well as reviewing what other lines can be offered (for example, cards and wrapping paper) and what role they can play.

They will also be very aware of their position relative to the competition. Brands that do well tend to really stand for something in the consumer’s mind. If Clintons’ positioning statement is  ‘Cards for all occasions’, where does that place them in the context of  WH Smith, Marks & Spencer or Funky Pigeon? Where is their point of differentiation?

Consumers want, as much as ever, to connect with each other and to express how they feel, to share, to gift – all the things that Clinton’s is about. But they have an infinite virtual world of possibilities with which to do this; so success for bricks and mortar businesses is all about embracing the multi-channel world. Ongoing consumer connection and insight is absolutely essential to deliver the innovation in store that is needed to bolster the business.

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London's not the only show in town

Tue, 10 May 2011

London is, without question, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world; more than 300 languages are spoken and there are more than 50 non-indigenous communities. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, as of 2006, London’s foreign-born population accounted for 31% of the total, and it has no doubt risen again since then.

This cultural melting pot, for all its strengths and benefits, poses a challenge to marketers. How do you target your product effectively to a population this diverse? And does this make London a special case in the marketing mix compared with your approaches to populations elsewhere in the country with less multi-cultural demographics?

In one sense I’m asking: is there any such thing as typical Londoner, any more so than a typical New Yorker? And for brands, is there a disparity between this and how they might market their product to a typical Huddersfield or Grimsby resident, for example?

In the aftermath of a royal wedding that placed the capital as the focus of world attention and with next year’s Olympic Games and Diamond Jubilee still to come, is there – or could there be – such a thing as Brand London?

I’m not sure. I believe that the sheer size and complexity of the London population makes it impossible to have a single London strategy. Experience would suggest that brands look closest of all at the buying habits and tastes in the capital, and research can play a role in determining opinions and attitudes of consumers in the capital compared with other parts of the country, but this appears not to be on the basis of diversity or ethnicity.

There are marketing communications agencies in London that specialise in targeting diverse communities – catering to brands looking to align themselves culturally with a particular group. There are a few brands that are so all-encompassing that they transcend national or cultural boundaries, but for others niche targeting can be a way to introduce your product to a group previously resistant, and research delivering customer insights is critical in preparing the path for this.

We have seen instances of products being launched in cities or towns perceived as “cool” or “diverse”. Beyond that, though, there seems little evidence at present of London-centric planning. Brands may focus on needing or wanting to be seen in a cool context to give them the kudos they need, whether that is in London or anywhere else. For grocery products, the emphasis is different. Their sales volumes do not come from being in cool places but from being bought regularly by people in regular places: familiarity and availability are key wherever in the country you happen to be.

The flip side of this is an over-interest in London at the expense of other areas. Brands that are based in London, managed and marketed by people who live (and may always have lived) in London can often act as if what’s right for London is right for everywhere else. In a city with restaurants of every origin, the concept of exotic food, for example, is not the same as it would be in a small, provincial town and getting that messaging and positioning correct for both audiences can be something of a balancing act.

London 2012 – brand marathon not a brand sprint

Tue, 3 May 2011

Did you book your Olympics tickets? Are you concerned that you might actually get the £10,000-worth you ordered and will have to pay the whole hog? Or are you heartily sick of the whole thing with more than a year still to go?

Given the minor furore over the ticketing process for London 2012 – namely the fact that you could only purchase tickets online with a Visa card – are you as an ordinary punter ready for the sheer bombardment that your senses are going to receive from sponsors over the next twelve months in what could easily become the most branded Olympics ever?

It’s the brands themselves that perhaps need to be most concerned. In the enormous advertising and sponsorship noise of the Olympics, with all its commercial cacophony, the effectiveness of individual brands’ activities and voices are bound to be diluted.

Brands which simply hang up their running shoes for the duration of the Olympics will inevitably come nowhere but brands which adopt guerrilla tactics rather than carpet bombing, stand a chance of prevailing over bigger spending brands like Visa and have the potential to make more of an impact, especially in a modern media and communication landscape. So I would recommend adopting a more subtle strategy than compelling people to use your brand or dominating consumer consciousness by sheer ubiquity. This way brands can still enjoy the benefits of a mass heightened attention to the Olympic shared spectacle but retain personality and integrity.

The key for non-sponsoring brands is to carefully plan their activity for maximum impact. It’s not only how loud your voice is, but what you’re saying that is going to be important. And research has an important role to play, exploring how off beat and subtle communication strategies might work, co-creating ideas that will enable brands which haven’t bought their place on the podium to punch above their weight against heavyweight and heavy spending rivals.

And as for Visa and its monopoly on online purchasing… this seems to me to be an oddly one-sided conversation for any brand (especially a financial services brand) to be having with consumers at the moment. They seem to be sailing close to the wind in terms of balancing the benefits of being the sole credit card voice with the danger that they might be seen to be telling consumers what to do. After all, in the Olympics proper we won’t be cheering an athlete for winning the 100 metres by virtue of being the only competitor on the track.

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Back To Basics - Social media offers nothing if you don't get the fundamentals right

Wed, 13 Apr 2011

Simon Carter, marketing director of Fujitsu’s government arm, was quoted in Marketing Week as saying that marketers are becoming lazy by over-using social media and ignoring the skills and disciplines traditionally learned by marketers.

And we think he may have got it right. The Internet explosion and the seemingly exponential growth in social media provides enormous opportunities for brands to connect and engage with consumers. But at the end of the day it is just another channel to market – a powerful one – but just another one. Getting the most effective use out of social media requires the fundamentals of marketing strategy to have been conducted first.

This means identifying achievable commercial objectives and appropriate demographic groups, arrived at through effective customer insights, which are then used to inform strategic marketing planning. Only once the strategic building blocks have been put in place can you look at the tactical roll out and which channels or communications tools are going to be used to bring your proposition to market. Leaping right in with your social media – or indeed your PR, your direct marketing or your advertising – is like building something on shifting sands. It’s not secure and you can never be absolutely sure it’ll be there in the morning.

Some brands are so eager to leap on to the social media bandwagon that not enough consideration is given either to the synergy with the brand or product or whether the form of social media being used builds a bridge with the consumer.

We think that it’s important that social media is used as a natural part of an integrated marketing programme. Marketing this week reports on how Comparethemarket.com has almost defined the way to use social media with its ‘Meerkat’ campaign. Although the social media campaign was successful, this was only because it formed part of a well thought-through and well conceived marketing campaign brought to life by iconic television advertising.

Craig Inglis, director of marketing at John Lewis, is quoted in the same article as saying: “You should not let the channel dictate the communication. Start with the big idea then the media channel comes second.” He’s spot on!

Carter believes that social media has made some marketers less concerned than they should be about accuracy and targeting. Some marketers, he says, no longer worry about even getting email addresses right. “If something goes wrong it’s like ‘so what, we’ll send another batch of 10,000”.

True marketing, though, is all about targeting and messaging – it’s not always a case of reaching the highest numbers full stop. If you get the fundamentals in place, you’ll reach the numbers you need and your message will be more relevant and accurate for doing so. And that’s the key route to achieving brand cut-through – social media or no social media.

Supermarkets are failing to use their loaf

Wed, 30 Mar 2011

In a survey a couple of years back, baking bread was recorded as Britain’s second favourite smell, just behind fish and chips. Apparently the aroma of bread, lovingly prepared by hand and freshly baked, is comforting and evokes fond memories of childhood.

So, whilst not many of us have the time to bake our own these days, how fantastic it is that all of our major supermarkets, it would seem, have invested in their own in-store bakeries. Or have they…

We were drawn to Rose Prince’s interesting piece in the Daily Telegraph this week, The truth about your supermarket loaf, which in its opening headline asserts that the said loaf is made with flour that’s been shipped across the globe, then frozen for up to a year before you buy it.

According to Rose, we all need to wake up to reality. “That crusty loaf on sale at opening time in your local supermarket may not have been kneaded, shaped and proved by a real baker, but brought in deep-frozen from a plant hundreds of miles away, defrosted and “baked-off” by staff who only need to know how to throw a switch.”

If that’s genuinely the case, we’re not ashamed to admit we feel a little bit violated and are ready to scurry off back to our local independent bakers. Because this is another example of big supermarkets using smoke and mirrors to give the impression of one thing when the reality is quite different. They might argue that the loaves and the cakes are, technically, being baked in-store. But the concept of an ‘in-store bakery’ conveys more than the technicality; it gives off the concept of freshness and all that is encapsulated by bread being prepared from scratch on the premises each and every morning.

But is this even important? We think so, because when brands play fast and loose with the truth and start using huge amounts of artistic license, the consumer’s belief in them as a truthful and trustworthy brand becomes severely tested. The consumer doesn’t like to be treated like a fool!

We know this from quantitative research we conducted last year around the whole issue of healthy labelling of food.  In the research consumers told us that manufacturers had deceived them in the past with marketing strategies that lead them to believe products were healthy. Consumers were clear; they wanted honesty. Now this issue of baking in-store would seem to be the flip side of the same coin.

The game, it would seem, though, may soon be up. The Telegraph reported that a change in European law will require retailers to identify all foods that have been previously frozen. This means that the “thaw and serve” will be revealed for what they are and, perhaps as importantly, the hood they have been pulling over the consumers’ eyes will be lifted once and for all.

Doing something funny for money? Is Comic Relief's relationship with brands going too far?

Mon, 14 Mar 2011

It’s that time of year again. The Comic Relief bandwagon rolls into town this week with Red Nose Day 2011 and your chance to do something “funny for money”.

But increasingly it feels like the tagline should be: “Buy something funny, slightly funny or only vaguely connected with the event…for money”. Red Nose Day – like most major charities – has become intrinsically bound up with major retail brands.

We’re not knocking Comic Relief. Far from it. It’s a fantastic charity doing amazing work and we’re sporting our own red noses as we write. The association with major brands and retailers is logical; it spreads the word about the event and, through mass product marketing, adds significantly to the charity’s coffers. And, at a time when charities are suffering because of the economic downturn, we understand that perfectly. Indeed, where there has been a long term association with a brand – for example Sainsbury’s and TK Maxx with Comic Relief or Tesco’s ten-year support for the Race for Life – the relationship seems perfectly natural.

But more so than ever this year, it seems, there are Comic Relief products on our shelves that make you question the extent of genuine altruism and the extent to which there is a rush for any brand to link itself to Comic Relief. Has the charity reached brand overload this year and does the consumer see through that?

So far this year, I’ve eaten my Jimmy Con Carrne and Stephen Fry-up crisps for Comic Relief, munched on my Kellogg’s Comic Relief Rice Krispies Squares with edible noses, supported the Mini Babybel and Comic Relief Guinness World Record attempt for the most jokes told in a one-hour relay, washed my clothes with a special pack of Ariel Liquitab, eaten some Carte D’or Chocolate Inspiration Comic Relief ice cream, spread Comic Relief Flora Buttery spread on my bread to have with my salad – and that’s dressed with Hellmann’s Balsamic Salad Dressing, with a proportion of the price going to Comic Relief. I’ve even sprayed myself with Impulse True Love Body Fragrance and seen 5p from the special pack donated to Comic Relief. You have to question whether any brand is really recognised for its association with the charity in such a crowded field.

This in itself isn’t inherently wrong. Comic Relief is a great national event, a time for everyone – brands included – to come together in a combined endeavour.

But there is a risk here for brands. The more crowded the charity association, the more likely it is that brand will be perceived to be associating simply to avoid being seen as not associating.

Charities and brands should be a natural fit, but it may sit better with consumers for brands to build their alliances with charities with which there isn’t such an obvious commercial clamour. The brand still fulfils its CSR obligation, a needy cause still benefits and yet the brand creates some stand-out from the crowd and becomes a leader rather than a follower. Plus, and I say this still wearing my nose, there are other causes worthy of brands’ support.