Fabric Brands

When you work on brands, shopping takes on a different angle. Take the food shop; rather than it being one of those in-and-out missions, each shop sees me become more like David Bellamy, snuffling around in the undergrowth in the weedy patch round the back of the shed. A new journey, re-surveying the terrain; discovering; getting curious, being – quite frankly – extremely nosy. If you are tagging along I understand how this can become tedious – but  *guilty pleasure alert* – not for me.
My most recent shopping snuffling made me realise how many brands on our shelves are old favourites, now unloved. Late in their life cycle; somehow deemed to be not relevant enough for Millennials, or Digital Natives or even, your Mum. Great brand names. Famous brand names. Brands with a store of goodwill and memories. Brands that are part of our identities. Fabric brands.Slide1

Fabric brands are those brands that have become part of the weave and weft of a society. They are part of the social currency, part of the culture, part of the thinking that societies and cultures can’t define themselves by intangible, virtual communities alone, but by real things. Material transactions, God Forbid. And fabric brand status should be something that most brands should be seeking to attain; yet it is not a term that is widely used nor understood. Fabric brands deliver functionally and emotionally, but they are rarely badges of exclusivity – the opposite in fact – fundamentally, they are about inclusivity. You can’t simply buy these brands and understand, you need to live with them, they with you. Knowledge of the brand; the associations with the brand, are so broad that an assumptive knowingness becomes part of the personality. Gaps need not be filled by the brand itself because they are often filled by its users. There is a common sense of meaning.  Many large brands could show these traits but fabric brands have something else: they have a shared cultural heritage with their end-user.

This is undoubtedly higher state of brand development – but it is far from unattainable – as supermarket shelves will attest. Indeed, they are littered with famous brand names, that seem to be connected only by their owners either being unable to justify the investment in them or diverting investment on to other priorities. Haywards or Maynards; Robertson’s marmalade or Gales Honey. Kiwi Shoe Polish or Lyle’s Golden Syrup; Rolo or Turkish Delight. Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers or R. Whites. Dettol or Mr Porky’s. And it’s not just in our supermarkets, but along the high street too, from Timpsons, to Waterstones, from Millets – even to M&S.

This is not, in an age of Brexit, about Britishness. The best fabric brands are most likely immigrants that we have taken to our hearts: Heinz Ketchup, Mars Bars, Kellogg’s Cornflakes. And this is not about being no longer relevant: A Rolo is as unrepentantly indulgent today as it was when I saved my last one for that special someone years ago. It’s not even that these brands have some higher-level purpose – most don’t. Nor do they necessarily deliver better functionally, relative to their competition – just ask people of a certain age to name which is best, HP or Daddy’s sauce, and stand back – but which is (was?) the fabric brand? No question.

What does define these brands is something simple yet difficult to attain. Fabric brands manage to make it to the top of the brand pyramid. Awareness is nailed. Associations with the brand are clearly mapped; Advantage is established, even if it is perceptual. Where they are different is that there is genuine affection. And the affection is two-way.  Consumers love these brands because they can offer a point of view that only those immersed in that culture would understand. They bond, not through relentlessly hammering home their point of difference (although they are likely to be reasonably large spenders), but because they get you and are part of you. They do what many brands struggle with; they bond and connect at an emotional level. Many brands aspire to be friends; but fabric brands become family. They can take the mickey without offending because we allow them to, indeed, we encourage them to.

But many are withering on the vine. And this is because the true fabric brands are never assumptive about their future status. They know that even family ties can be broken; they know that innocent flirting can quickly lead to divorce. They know that fabric status requires constant nurturing, remaining relevant by staying fresh (for example through innovation). They know that continued dialogue, honing their emotive appeal is essential. For the biggest risk for fabric brands is being commoditised through over-familiarity. Or the dreaded process of cost-optimisation undermines the product to the point where the premium, the love, can no longer be justified.

And this shines a light on the lie of the over promises of digital marketing. In a world of ever more personalised channels, fabric brands should be able to blossom – being relevant, of the moment, and immersed in your world. Yet it’s not happening. Many famous brands are struggling. They can’t seem to survive in the age of the Discount retailer or stringent advertising regulation. Because fabric brands are a part of the culture; to grow they need to impact culture itself. That means communication that is bold and impactful, not for one, but for many. Until we come to our senses, it’ll take more than a fabric plaster to solve that.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps identify the direct route to success for brands and businesses.  david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

© The Crow Flies, 2017

Generalisation Y?

Isn’t it strange how in this age of ever smaller micro niches of ‘targeting’, powered by digital ‘big data’ engines, and the promise of ever-more accurate psychographic profiling, that the use of the term ‘Millennial’ is still used with so much unthinking and carefree abandon. Ahhh…the intoxicating, beguiling whiff of pseudo-expert terminology. “Millennial”. It’s like it has some magic power – to impress, to confound, to enthral. Marketeers, despite their intelligence and above-average ability for rational thought, are swept into the alchemical vortex created.

In fact, ‘Millennials’ wear many cloaks. Echo Boomers, Generation Me, Generation We, New Boomers the Net Generation and possibly the most interchanged name, Generation Y. The one factor that connects them all is that they’re a generation, sharing nothing more than a birthdate somewhere between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. That’s a full 20 years. And that’s everyone born during that period – or approximately 14 million people in the UK alone. Yet somehow, they’re too often seen as a homogenous mass, sharing traits and attitudes and behaviours that somehow, make them a useful targeting profile. Generation Y? Generalisation Y more like.

Here are just a few of those Generalisations.

  • Millennials are confident and team orientated with a greater sense of civic duty and social responsibility than generations before them. They want to achieve; indeed, they expect to achieve, and they expect to do it in their own way.
  • Millennials are lazy and work shy, apparently, and more like to have narcissistic tendencies – either a high degree of attention seeking and a quest for power or more of a self-orientation, being defensive, idealistic and having a keen sense of entitlement.
  • In the work place, work-life balance is valued more highly; they’re likely to pursue creative roles, or possible multiple roles to fulfil their different life goals. Not bound by loyalty to institutions, they’re also much more likely to hop from job to job, like ambitious rabbits.
  • Millennials are supposed to be more liberal – both socially and economically – yet they are typically less politically active (witness Brexit, where ‘Millennial’ voter turnout was lower than all other age cohorts)
  • They are ‘always on’ these super-connected digital natives, not knowing any other way of living – using digital for getting the news and connecting with friends with social media habitually –creating alter-egos
    for themselves in the digital world vs. the physical world

Slide1I’m sure you know a ‘Millennial’ or two; indeed, you could well be one. You may recognise yourself in some of this – both positive and less so. But here’s the rub: you’re just as likely to recognise people who are older, maybe even younger – who share these traits. I don’t fall into the Millennial age bracket, but I’m socially liberal and fiscally conservative (a trait of Millennials apparently). I’m not lazy or work shy, yet neither are many younger people that I’ve worked with or mentor. In fact, I’ve not known a group of young people who have had to work so hard as this one: to afford to rent in London, to pay down student debt, or just to get or hold down yet another low paying internship for some much-cherished work experience. It’s as hard graft as the Industrial Revolution, just very, very different work – and slightly less grimy. And I’ve not known a generation who have been shown so little genuine loyalty by employers, many of whom are more concerned with metrics rather than real engagement. No wonder engagement is lower and little loyalty is shown.

Rather than targeting a whole generation, what’s more useful to brand owners and brand builders is striking the right balance between identifying a meaningful market segment – defined not by birth year, but by attitude and behaviour. One big enough and recognisable enough to the people you are targeting to actually move the needle commercially and ‘small’ enough to be differentiating and informative for targeting your brand or your marketing activities.

So, don’t think ‘Millennial’. Don’t think ‘Generation Y’. Think ‘Why Generalise?’ Why generalise when you can build a consumer targeting profile yourself. Why generalise when you can develop a whole consumer market segmentation if needs be – one that is more useful, more usable and more commercially valuable than crude brushstrokes.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260 © The Crow Flies, 2017

Winging brand positioning

slide1Not that long ago I was asked by a client to review different brand positioning models with a view to taking best practice and my, as a marketeer, what an illuminating way to spend a few days it was.  Whilst it was no doubt a lesson in metaphors and also surprisingly educational about amusing fruits, body parts and long-forgotten polygonal shapes, what was particularly striking were the commonalities (or lack of them): what great brand positioning statements need to have and where they slip up. Here at The Crow Flies we call this the ‘2 Wings and 10 Feathers’. But we would, wouldn’t we? The important point is that firstly, there are 5 critical building blocks of a positioning – the structure of what’s important to construct a compelling and consistent brand, and secondly there are 5 watch outs to ensure the way the positioning is constructed is sharp, meaningful and clear.

Wing 1: the 5 building blocks

Clarity of purpose: too often, ‘purpose’ is treated as a mandatory corporate tick box exercise (see here) and too often it’s confused with commercial goals. Being clear on what you want to be, for whom, by when is important – but not here. That’s for your plan.  Purpose is something else, higher level, heart-felt. It’s why your business does what it does, or in this case, why your brand does what it does.  It’s crucial – arguably the most crucial aspect of your brand positioning – because it provides guidance. It cuts off the options. It forces choice and sacrifice. It defines what you won’t do as much as what you will.

Defining who the target consumer is and their connection to your brand: it’s staggering how often the brand positioning models reviewed made no reference to the target consumer. None. Or perhaps a blunt socio-demographic description and a few random comments on what media ‘Jules’ likes to consume. Clarifying who the target is, in a way they would recognise, and more importantly what the problem is they want fixing, the need they want met or the simple desire they want fulfilled is a cornerstone of a great positioning.

Defining what the brand is and what the benefit is: your brand exists to fulfil a need. Your brand is in some way bought as a reward for fulfilling the needs, desires or fixing your targets’ problems. So of course, being clear on what your brand offers functionally and what reward it meets emotionally is critical. Identifying the underlying truth of your brand that matters is essential too – but you can only define this if you’re clear on who your target is and what they’re looking for. There’s a virtuous circle that both keeps you honest and helps you make great decisions.

Defining how it is recognised: great brands are instantly recognisable. Great brands own many mental pathways and one of those is a bundle of visual and semiotic cues. Colours, shapes, words.  These ‘anchors’ can be a curse if your brand has to change, but your greatest asset if you’re in good shape and looking to accelerate.

Defining the nature of the relationship: ultimately a strong brand is more than a product. It builds a friendship relationship with its consumers. Yes, it delivers something functional in a way that a product does, but how it communicates, and how it does so consistently over time, means that a relationship is built that is beyond transactions.

Wing 2: the 5 ‘watch outs’

Confusion – this first point builds on the foundations. What does each element do, why? It’s incredible how many of the positioning models reviewed bandy phrases around. Positioning, proposition, promise. Values, Principles, Traits, Personality, Tone of Voice; Essence. Lots of elements, but no order, no clarity.

Duplication – of words, sections, phrases. It’s a personal bugbear, but the repetition of phrases in multiple locations in a brand positioning is a clear signal that it’s not fully understood. Precision is key.

Compounding – why have one benefit when you can have ten? It’s so tempting –because your brand can offer many benefits, doesn’t mean it should. In fact, let’s not beat around the bush, it definitely shouldn’t.  As consumers, we are impacted by thousands of pieces of data every day. Our brain is effectively a big filtering system, and if it can filter something out, it will.  Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Your goal, your aspiration, is to be single-minded.

Fluffiness – whilst it’s tempting to unleash the inner poet or lyricist, most positioning statements suffer because, like a member of TOWIE, there are too many fillers, and not enough power. Don’t be tempted to crack your positioning in a day. Draft it. Write contenders. Get input and constantly, constantly, distil; which leads nicely on to…

Over-elaborate – as Albus Dumbledore so notably said, words have so much power they can become magical. It’s easy therefore to be tempted to scribe five words when one will do. Celebrate simplicity.

Great brand positionings? It’s a matter of two wings and no prayers.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, brand strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. If you’re looking for brand positioning help, drop a line to  david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

 © The Crow Flies, 2017

Mistrust

slide1There’s a tendency in business to always put a positive spin on things – somehow to be ashamed to face up to the big issues in plain speaking language and dress them in such polite terms that they lose their meaning. On Tuesday though, I gave a presentation at the annual Organic September trade briefing in London, hosted by Soil Association Certification, one of the themes of which was mistrust. In fact, it was the first point I made.

I was, I’ll admit, a little bit fearful about how it would land – would I be seen as a doom-sayer when actually the headline news is good (the organic market is growing by over 5% in a food market that’s flat and sluggish)? Because, although it’s a brutal fact, mistrust is all around us at the moment. I’m no political commentator, but take Brexit. ‘Out’ votes driven by fear, anger and mistrust of privilege, of politicians, of Europe, of faceless Bureaucrats, of ‘silly’ laws, of the status quo. And in food retail, what else drives the pervading mistrust of big food producers and big food retailers as horsemeat scandals, obesity crises (for whom the retailers, fairly or not, are blamed), mass-manufacturing, ever falling quality, increasing prices and the perceived weasel-words of products and brands that get found out (and increasingly easily get found out, at that)?

So yes, I was fearful that it was a downbeat message and no amount of delightful condiments on the ‘Praise Sandwich’ would obscure the truth.

Yet for every weight, there is a counter balance; pendulums swing both ways. And for every issue there is an opportunity. Of course, if you are connected with the Organic or natural products movement, either as farmer, a grower, a producer, a retailer or brand owner, then you have reason to be cheerful. Never has there been such a sea change in the mainstream market seeking out provenance, transparency of production, desire to know more about producers, dare I say it… craft – than now. And it’s only going one way. Look at the new channels appearing – online, concrete, pop-up, markets – the fragmentation of retail away from ‘the big weekly shop’ can only benefit these retailers. And look at the incredible array of entrepreneurs and small businesses, of all ages, all attitudes, backing their beliefs and bringing sensational new products to market. Many will fail – that is the way of things – but rarely have the tailwinds of fortune been so great. Never before have we seen so much consistent variety in high quality new product development. For someone interested in innovation, it’s like a premium version of Whack-A-Mole. One may fail, but three pop up.

This mistrust may seem to sting if you are in the volume end of the market, yet it is a nettle to be grasped. Take the big supermarkets for example; consumers squarely point the finger of blame at them. In our research we found that issues such as the ‘horse meat scandal’ became tipping points for their ire, electromagnets that once activated, attracted further critique, proving their fears, legitimising their concerns: ‘if they’re doing that, what else are they doing?’. Obesity crisis? That’s because the retailers force us to over buy because of their buy-one-get-one-free offers. The war on waste? Have you seen how much they throw away? Have you seen the over-packaging?

Yet this consumer mistrust really is an opportunity if a committed purpose is drawn up and big action is taken. Take yesterday’s theme, organic food. In the past it’s been seen as a middle class indulgence, yet now it’s being taken seriously by a broader church because of the natural and ever-increasingly innovative approaches being used, the scientific proof on nutrition being brought to the table, and of course, the willingness to adhere to – and be seen to adhere to – a higher standard of certification. Conventional or mixed farmers are taking note – so too should the retailers. And it is clearly not just about organic. This is about local; it’s about backing independent producers; it’s about knowing where our food comes from; it’s about breaking a crazy system that sees pork imported from the Far East somehow ‘cheaper’ than pork produced here. It’s about getting back some common sense – and commercial sense – and letting shoppers see it.

From a brand point of view it’s an opportunity too. The mistrust should spell the end of the silly era of ‘story-telling’. It’s not stories we need as consumers. If trust is wanted, truth is needed. Truth: plain, bare, simple.

(Coverage of the Organic September trade briefing can be found here:  http://www.naturalproductsonline.co.uk/soil-association-streamlined-message-make-organic-everyday-choice/)

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps brands find a direct route to long lasting success. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh.

 © The Crow Flies, 2016

Increasing your chances of innovation success

There are sticky myths surrounding innovation. Take success rate. Only 7 out of 10 launches work. Or is it 80%? 50%? Brand extensions. They always weaken a brand, right? Wrong?

Slide1Ultimately what is generally agreed is that innovation is for poker players. There are high rewards possible and they only come with high risks. But you will certainly earn nothing if you don’t put any chips down. Honestly, I don’t know whether 1 in 7 launches work or 3 in 17. What matters is understanding what we can do to increase our chances of success.

Over the past two years, our business has been taking developing a fresh perspective on this very question, looking at our own client practice, published case studies and primary research with innovation practitioners. Interestingly, before we even consider where to innovate or on what there are two foundations – cornerstones that determine the success of everything else that innovative businesses attempt.

The first is cultural. What innovation will the business permit? This seems an odd question but we’ve found a clear gap between what is said and what is done. Innovation enjoys its fair share of grand pronouncements (‘We will reinvent the future of our category’, ‘Innovation will become our DNA’), but what really matters is what gets approved when the rubber hits the road. Many publicly listed companies need to innovate for the long-term, for example, fundamentally changing the way they work, or strengthening their core brands. These are not overnight tasks by any means, but they struggle to do so in an environment where shareholders and analysts are breathing down their necks for instant success. The Board transmit this short-termism through the business whether they realise it or not. It’s not to say that businesses such as these can’t innovate, nor that the innovation can be successful – it’s just that the strike rate of success will likely be low and potentially the really thorny, knotty challenges won’t be faced up to. Innovation therefore must strike the balance between long and short-term needs.

The second foundation is direction. If the company’s purpose and it’s values don’t allow for, or perhaps it’s better to say, inspire innovative ideas, innovative behaviour and allow for the diversity of thought, style and personality involved to be innovative, then the chances of success reduce again. The tell tale signs are whether innovation naturally flows out of the company’s purpose – not the vision, nor the goals, but the purpose – that ‘why we get out of bed in the morning’ sense of being that high performing businesses work off. If innovation is just a ‘tool’ for delivering a gap in the plan – beware.

And it’s easy to write about these foundations, much harder to put them in place. They are fundamental though – and by definition therefore they are big beasts to wrestle to the ground. But wrestle them you must.

Only then, it is possible to start innovating. And where to start?

What our research has shown is that – somewhat counter intuitively – the place to start is the core of your business. Oh, I’ll grant you, it’s not a sexy as doing crazy new stuff but here’s the thing – innovation is about balancing short and long-term. The core is more short-term and this has some advantages. What you do will be on an existing brand so the chances of creating some impact and momentum are higher. The core is 80% of what you do: your staff will therefore understand why you are doing it more and feel the need. And critically, it buys you time and space to work on the ‘other stuff’. But it doesn’t mean do anything to the core. The question should be, ‘how can I make the core of my business feel contemporary, cared about and vibrant?’ This means investigating your target consumers’ unmet needs in-depth; it means drilling into adjacent product territories or areas your competitors are naturally strong and most critically it means dramatising the existing brand positioning through your innovation effort. A brand that does this superbly is Coors Light – a top 5 beer brand worldwide. Everything it does communicates the global positioning of cold Rocky Mountain refreshment. In every market where the brand is on sale, you’ll see innovation (and brand activity) bringing to life the coldness of the brand through innovations like temperature sensitive ink from the ‘Blue Train’ in the US to Damme Cold in the UK. And they do this relentlessly, year in year out. The most innovative idea? No. But an idea that impacts the core of their business.

Then businesses can focus on the really new – the 20% today which will be the 80% of tomorrow. Here the questions are about large segments we’re not in but could credibly compete, or transitional trends (trends that are becoming mainstream) – or even unlocking the potential in unloved assets by repurposing them …. as well as, of course, inventing. When we asked our clients and practitioners about innovation, it’s this effort that seems to define innovation overall (the crazy new stuff). Importantly though, the successful innovation companies also recognise that this takes less of the focus, effort and resource but is protected nonetheless.

The Crow Flies now offers one-day stimulus sessions on how businesses can increase their chances of innovation success, which build on the principles and findings here. It would be great to hear from you if you find yourself wrestling (or not wrestling) with some of the big issues at play.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

© The Crow Flies, 2016

Brand architecture…or just city planning?

At the start of the year, Coca-Cola went public with a piece of brand architecture work that will impact their whole range – what they are calling their ‘One Brand’ strategy. All brands will be united under a strategic sign off of ‘Taste The Feeling’.   This is not a branding revolution – far from it in fact. Many companies when starting out simply don’t have the financial resources to market multiple brands. Creating a single meaning is logical, commercially sensible and often quite desirable.

Brand Architecture.jpgWhat’s unusual in the Coke example is that often, companies move away from this single ‘architecture’ approach over time as they wrestle with multiple sub brands sharing a single meaning. How can a low fat, full fat, high taste, low taste, large size, small size, for the young, for the old range cohesively sit together. It’s not impossible, but it creates strain. And of course, Coke are not lacking in the funds to adopt a brand by brand approach – which is why over many years they haven’t. Coca-Cola brands – original / diet / diet Caffeine free / Zero have been connected by shared values and iconography, but have ploughed, very successfully separate furrows. Separate furrows in the same field, but separate nonetheless. Off the back of this, Coke Zero has been an incredible launch and Diet Coke – well, in overtaking original Coke has been a phenomenon. So why change?

Potentially, it’s competitive pressure. Coke can’t move without Pepsi or another challenger matching it; or indeed leading and putting them under pressure to respond. More likely, it’s pressure from outside soft drinks – from other drinks categories. But surely this is a matter of ensuring that the Coke range remains fresh, relevant and contemporary? How does making each brand share a single meaning help that – versus keeping each brand sharply targeted and focused on key needs, attitudes and consumer segments.

Perhaps then it’s Governmental pressure? Soft drinks are an easy target for obesity campaigners and the UK Government’s new ‘sugar tax’ is evidence of targeting the low hanging fruit. But again, how does a single brand architecture help?

So then, surely it must be the changing media environment? The fragmentation of channels and increasing personalisation of viewing and ownership of content by consumers. But again – it doesn’t wash. The whole point of our media landscape now surely, is that we can build more specific brand positionings for more specific audiences and needs? If anything, wouldn’t Coke be doing the opposite? Making individual brand positionings even more refined?

The confusing factor in all this is that as consumers we buy brands, not companies. Oh, there’s no doubt that how companies set up their mission and their principles casts a discrete halo on individual brands – but that’s different from owning a single minded thought in the mind of your target consumer. I may buy Diet Coke, but I wouldn’t buy original, yet when I want full flavour I may choose Pepsi Max. I love the flavour intensity of Taylors of Harrogate’s Hot Lava Java, but occasionally I just need the convenience of Kenco Millicano. Different needs, different occasions, same consumer.

Which makes the whole ‘One Brand’ approach a worry. If it’s not a response to competitive pressure, Governmental pressure or changing consumer usage habits and needs then it can only be one thing: intellectual neatness. It’s more like city planning – idealistic but difficult to deliver. Coke will find it tough precisely because they did such an amazing job building their individual brands and I suspect, it will quickly unravel (as reports suggest). Intellectual neatness is not always the commercially neatest thing to do.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

 © The Crow Flies, 2016

What marketeers can learn from gambling on Leicester

Why you need to throw away your brand story and write some non-fiction

In case you missed it, Leicester have won the Premier League – a triumph of the improbable – much celebrated because no one predicted it. In 2008-2009 they were playing in the third tier of English football, by 2013-2014 they were still only playing in the second and just a year ago, they were fighting off relegation from the Premiership. Everybody knew that the ‘big 4’, (Chelsea, Man Utd, Man City & Arsenal for those not in the know), were the only teams ever likely to win the league again. The bookies certainly knew. That’s why they gave Leicester odds of 5,000/1 back at the start of the season. That’s 10 times less likely than the odds you could have taken up on discovering the Loch Ness monster (500/1) and 5 times less likely than seeing the Queen (hat wearing monarch not perm loving rock band) release a single which makes it to Christmas number 1 (available at 1,000/1 if you fancy a flutter). Yet people did bet on Leicester. They lay down their hard earned cash to back a vision which inspired them. They had no control over the outcome, only a belief in the story and so they let the narrative unfold.

Red LeicesterThe future of marketing, I’d wager, is to take exactly the same approach. Indeed, there isn’t any other option. Consumers have never been more marketing literate, more aware of ‘marketing tricks’ and as a result, the only strategies which will succeed are those based on fundamental truths. The days of the ‘brand story’ are behind us because consumers want fact not fiction. Look no further than everyone’s favourite supermarket, Tesco. Their sheer scale has not only caused high levels of rejection from the populous, it has also seen their own marketing campaigns repeatedly questioned and, crucially, not just in marketing circles but in the national press: farms that aren’t farms, fair trade that’s not fair and, indeed, beef that’s not beef. This has had a profound and significant impact on which horse marketeers should now back. Simplistically, consumers do now believe that any football club can win the Premier League but they no longer blindly believe in your packaging, your campaigns or your messaging. They know that a piece of fruit on the packaging is no longer proof that the product is healthy, a story about the brand’s pioneering founder is probably invented and the word ‘premium’ on a label no longer really means anything at all.

But let’s not despair, this is the best thing a marketeer could have asked for. For too long, too many brand plans have been compromised by the demand to generate maximum awareness and availability at minimal cost. Too many businesses have forced marketeers in to taking short-cuts in delivering on brand promises. It is essential that marketing plans are built on sensible commercial principles and ROI should be at the heart of any strategy. However, pursued to the extreme (as many companies have) this approach relies on marketeers’ ability to outwit the consumer – to create the perception of authenticity, of naturalness or of countless other traits and principles without spending the money on actually living these claims. Any strategy built on the principle of deception deserves to fail and its time is done. This is the natural evolution of our art: we all perform the commercial – creative dance, but brands can no longer be built solely by investing in availability. The future is all about belief.

Brands can and will inspire consumers but only if they stand for something. The key to creating marketing plans which genuinely cut through is to create genuine marketing plans. The opposite of inventing farms and fabricating brand histories can be seen in Kenco’s recent marketing strategy. The brand has long had an ethical agenda, however by 2013, their competitors were starting to encroach on their principled territory. Their reaction? They took it to the next level, they built a campaign centred purely and completely around their ethical values: coffee vs. gangs. When everyone else was focused on investing their ATL budget BTL in availability, Kenco invested theirs in Honduras, creating a scholarship to take Hondurans out of gang life and train them to become coffee farmers. They had no control over the outcome, only a belief in the story and so they let the narrative unfold. Their TV campaign shared the idea, their packaging offered consumers the chance to get involved in choosing which charity campaigns to invest in and their website continues to tell the personal stories of those involved. The result? 37% value growth and a gain of 3% share. In a declining market. As a number 2 brand in the category.

Undoubtedly it takes real bravery to place a big bet, especially one on which your company’s profit rests. Kenco’s is a bold campaign which few would have dared to implement. However, the far bigger gamble is to mislead your consumer. The key for marketeers is to create brand plans which celebrate a purpose beyond making money and to do so in a genuine way that consumers can (literally) buy in to. Doing so requires you to relinquish a little control, to create something genuine and true but, if done the right way, this can lead to the biggest and best of rewards. This is the turning point not just in the Premier League but for premier marketeers. You have two choices: bet big and let the strategy live or flog a dead horse and put it in a burger.

Rob Parker is a Partner at The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. rob@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

© The Crow Flies, 2016

Why I’m Going To The Garden Centre For A Pint

How inward focused insight can kill innovation: what all brand builders can learn from managed pubs

Last week I took my family to a local pub which had just re-opened following significant investment. We were excited to see what changes had been made, how the money had been spent and the offer improved. We speculated en route, talking about the simple, obvious changes they would have made to improve the experience: a gate to prevent younger children from running out of the play area and straight on to the main road, a larger restaurant area, the development of the beer garden as a place to relax in the summer months. Maybe, given the number of very similar competitor businesses in the area, they would have gone further and taken the chance to differentiate and premiumise their offer: they might have invested in a pizza oven, added more natural and healthy options to the menu or improved the entertainment available to children – there was so much scope to enhance the offer and we couldn’t wait to see how the experience had been improved.

Unfortunately it hadn’t. Instead the investment and four week refurbishment had been spent in making it look even more like every other pub in the area. You know the look – most managed pubs look the same – a sort of toned down version of how trendy Shoreditch bars looked 5 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, it looks good. Pubs need ‘freshening up’ and my issue is not with the choice of furnishings. What frustrates me is what sits behind the decision: the issue that too many marketing strategies are being built on the wrong insight.

This issue is not limited to managed pubs. Indeed, some managed pubs get it beautifully right. The Revolution vodka bars are a brilliant example of a differentiated brand proposition, with a singular thought and focus which brought something new to the high street. The issue is that too many competitors now only look at what Revolution are doing to fuel their own offer development. What’s more, the problem is spreading. When you’re in your local managed pub, have a look at the drink brands ‘extending’ in to the spirit beer and cider categories and, if you fancy a challenge, try and work out what they’re bringing to the party that is truly different or better. If you’re struggling, order yourself a pulled pork burger while you think. It’ll be on the menu because it’s on everyone else’s.

Innovation, (and I use it to mean the development of the offer, be that a retail refurbishment, menu development, FMCG product extension or NPD), needs to start with the right insight and that rarely comes from looking only at what your competitors are already doing. It is well documented that pubs have been closing at an alarming rate and there are many reasons for this including the cost of labour, duty rates, macro consumer trends around wellbeing and so on. However, it is worth adding to the list that the industry has been too introspective, that the offer has not developed far enough and so consumers have voted with their feet.

Garden CentresWhere are they going? To the garden centre of course, a strange but relevant parallel. You can buy almost all gardening equipment more cheaply on line and a good range of plants from your local supermarket or DIY store, just as most drinks are almost identical but a third of the cost if bought from the off-trade. However, where pubs are shutting, the garden centre industry is thriving and is  forecast to continue to grow through to 2020. The reason? Their offer has evolved through external insight. They realised that they were competing with cafés, theme parks, shopping centres and, of course, pubs, for people’s leisure time and so they developed and differentiated their offer. When you go to a garden centre, the plant might cost more but you’ll be helped to pick the right species and told where to plant it. As a result, it will grow and so you’ll go back. Furthermore, when you return, you can shop in the craft store, take in a drink at the cafe, order a summerhouse, furnish it and, at Christmas, you’ll probably find one of the best Santa’s Grottos outside of Disneyland. And here’s the frustration – there is a much better place for that Grotto to be. A place where you could sit and wait for your turn in warm comfort, whilst enjoying a meal. A place that should be the beating heart of the community – your local family pub. But instead, they’re trying to sell you craft beer and pulled pork.

Doing things differently doesn’t need to cost more. It’s about choosing more carefully where to invest both time and money. My local pub could have committed to staff training and updated their range to offer food and drink discovery for the family. They could have spruced up the beer garden to create the optimal outdoor child-friendly space for the summer. They could, at the very least, have put a gate on to the main road to make the children’s play area safer.

So let’s step off the band wagon before it runs over a child or at the very least, before it leads to further poor strategy and ill thought through investment. Marketeers need not beat themselves up about it – nobody can reasonably be an expert in one category, immersed within their own business and simultaneously have the objectivity to look beyond it. However, look beyond it we must or the offer development that results will continue to disappoint.

At The Crow Flies, we help businesses to research, plan and develop compelling brand strategies and innovation pipelines – a process which starts with finding the right insights. If you have a brand or innovation challenge and would like some fresh thinking, give us a call – we’ll be in the garden centre having a pint.

Rob Parker is a Partner at The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that finds the direct route to success for brands and businesses. rob@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

© The Crow Flies, 2016

“You are the target market”

The boardroom table was packed with ‘suits’. Grey faced executives, tired from wearying international travel and delayed jetlag, early starts, late finishes and the effects of all day grazing on stewed coffee and day-old Danish pastries. Jauntily, the Brand Manager struts into the room and dims the lights. The lamp from the lectern illuminates his keen eyes. He introduces the new advert. Stresses that it’s not quite finished yet and a little post-production is needed. Reminds the room who the target audience is and when it will be launched. He plays it. 60 seconds of cinematic brilliance. A new Swedish director applying his talents to toilet rolls for the first time. Edgy. Contemporary. Challenging. The tonic this brand needs.

Silence.

Stony silence.

The executives shuffle slightly. One or two look at each other. Another frowns.

Then the Chief Executive pulls his finger from the dam. They don’t understand it. It lacks energy and pace. Is it supposed to be funny? Why is it so different from the last ‘new campaign’ a year ago? Will it shift boxes? They doubt it. The Marketing Director attempts to parry: remember, she says, “that you are not the target audience”. “We need to think about the needs and attitudes of Millennials here”.    But it doesn’t stand up. The tidal wave of criticism washes over the new advert, which sinks without a trace. The Brand Manager leaves the room, with a grey face, tired and weary.

Who knows in this fictional situation (inspired by real events) whether the new advert was any good? It may have been ground breaking or may have been clap-trap. But how we could we re-imagine the Marketing Director’s defence? What if we really could put our senior stakeholders in a situation where they really understood the target audience?  Here are a few techniques that are illuminating and fun.

Picture this! You need to start by constantly reminding your stakeholders who your target audience is (or are). What are their attitudes, their needs, their frustrations? How do these relate to your product category? You may choose a series of pen portraits, some voxpops, a short film or even a comic strip – however you do it, best to be clear who your audience is and be sure to bang on about their needs relentlessly.

ShoesMethod Act: get your critical stakeholders to wear the shoes of your target, to really be them. Is your brand a healthy snack? Get them to live on 2000 calories a day for a week. Or to only snack on unprocessed ingredients. Or to cut snacks out for a few days completely. Is your brand targeted at people who go clubbing regularly? Get them to work behind the bar for a night, or go out with a group of clubbers (release their inner pogo-er…)

(Sofa) Safari: it’s amazing what you can do from the comfort of your sofa or desk nowadays. Use resources to hand to find out about your consumers’ world. Targeting farmers? Go on to DEFRA website; read Farmer’s Weekly, organise a trip around a pig farm. But do it with a purpose: go back to your definition. What are the frustrations? What are the problems we need to try and solve? Do we know enough yet? Keep on immersing yourself in their context, their world.

Wingman: looking to target the gluten free market? Find some friends who have food intolerances or are coeliac. Interview them. Prepare a meal with them. Go shopping with them. Find out what makes them tick. Hear about their frustrations. And not just them: speak to their partner, friends or family. What are the impacts on them? There’s something illuminating about getting alongside your target and watching how they live their life.

Just watch out for variety and breadth. If it’s your Board you are going to immerse in the world of your target audience, ensure it’s everyone on the Board, and that they experience a range of situations. One may be broad in scope – a safari for example, getting them out and about, another may be tight (for example, living on a vegan diet for three days), one may be relatively short, another more extended.

What we’ve found with our experiences at The Crow Flies is that an immersion programme such as this starts our seeming like a major effort for the senior stakeholders, even a distraction. How can we fit around already busy diaries? Surely they don’t want me to do this – isn’t this what they should be doing? But once the benefits are seen, once the connections start to happen then reality bites. A safari, Consumer Connections – call them what you will – are quick and incredibly engaging ways to build stakeholder understanding and alignment by getting them to put their feet in the metaphorical shoes of their consumers.  More than this, they’re a way of getting brilliantly useful stimulus into the execution of your brand’s plans (including your expensive TV advert).

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

© The Crow Flies, 2016

Time and brand planning wait for no man

On the news the other day, there was a report about two American sailors who have to be rescued 9 times by various coastal rescue services – just on their journey from Norway to Cornwall. They still have their trans-Atlantic crossing to make in a boat, ‘Nora’ that looks clinker built and is, well ‘romantic’ more than seaworthy. At the same time and on a seemingly unrelated path, I have been wrestling with a recurring challenge on innovation projects: why do great ideas get ditched so quickly?

The analogy of an ocean storm is what draws the comparison here. The ‘storm’ is the annual round of business and brand planning. Like a Force 12 storm blowing in, it approaches fast; it swirls and blows – disrupting normal events; the waves are big, awe-inspiring in fact and it demands immediate action.

If a brand plan is a good one, out of this maelstrom come the annual action plans, innovation being one of them. Teams set off, get briefs written and engage various partners. Insights are articulated and challenges expressed. Ideas are generated and validation kicks in. Yet, more often than not both client and agency are left disappointed: clients because the ideas aren’t ‘breakthrough’; agencies because the great ideas get left behind.  Why? There seem to be a number of recurring themes.

The ideas generated in the here and now always seem the best – they’re owned by that team; they have a senior sponsor (or perhaps originator), they seem fresh and new. But newness doesn’t make them the best ideas nor the right ones to move the business forward. Just as it’s important to test your ideas vs a competitive control, so you should also test your ideas against existing ones. Are we moving forward? Are we taking learnings and applying them for better results?

Breaker.jpgAn idea’s support and sponsorship is fleeting – there’s a purple patch for ideas. You love it; you present it with passion; you engage the Board, everyone’s excited. But depending on how you go about taking innovation forward, it can quickly wane. Rounds of iterative fettling; focus groups and quantitative testing if lingered over can sap the momentum. It’s important to be single minded, test and verify with urgency and get on with it. If you lose the momentum, whilst the idea may, in consumers’ eyes, still be a good one, you’ve probably lost the battle internally.

Great ideas don’t just spring out at brand planning time – we’re increasingly realising that great ideas are a jigsaw – a jigsaw of structured planning at a point in time, constant curiosity and spontaneous creativity. Put it this way: you are less likely to be successful if you set up an old meeting room with a few fairy lights and post-it notes than if you think about your physical environment for innovating all year round. More than anything else: capture thoughts and ideas whenever they arise and display them. Ideas attract interest like moths to a flame, but only if the flame burns brightly.

It’s never now or never – the market opportunity may be now or may be in the future, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell where you are with an emerging trend. Keep the ideas from the past and don’t be afraid to dust them off, tweak them and put them to consumers again. (And yes, a ‘Three Strikes And Out’ rule is sensible, but only over the course of years, not months).

Fine ideas are like fine wine –young white wine you may think is best with fish, but a bit of age and you realise it’s sublime with chicken. So too with ideas – and the insights behind them. New ideas can be a bit rough and ready whereas some time, some thought applied, some prototyping can put a sharp point on your idea. Think about how you nurture and protect ideas with potential beyond the one year window.

Like a big ocean storm, if a concept doesn’t make it through in time, then the next wave swamps it, even if it is a crackling idea. And this push, this desire for short-term winners means we risk losing the wild cards and the potential higher risk but high reward game-changers.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

© The Crow Flies, 2016