Brand Premiumisation …and The Second Law of Thermodynamics

“Change in inevitable. Change is constant” wrote Benjamin Disraeli. And more famously, Charles Darwin penned the now classic lines, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent… It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. And ‘Change Management’ is almost a field in its own right nowadays, with ISO standards, higher education and degree courses, specialist training consultancies – the lot.

Second ThermodynmicsIt’s a shame about all those cheesy Pinterest Quotations, or the pseudo-motivational nonsense that does the rounds on LinkedIn, because change is fundamental – really fundamental (for alas, ‘fundamental’ is also a word over-used in these days of corporate claptrap). Ultimately, change is constant, and it’s described by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says – stay with me here – that any natural system effectively breaks down further and further, ultimately reaching (or attempting to reach) a steady state – or the highest state of entropy. A complex system – a building say, ultimately will become dust and dirt and component elements again if it isn’t nurtured. Living beings, ultimately die and are recycled. Change truly is inevitable – you cannot run and you cannot hide. So, as a brand marketeer we can only conclude that how brands are born, how they’re used, perceived, and finally how they die, is in fact, all to do with quantum physics. Don’t let anyone tell you that marketing isn’t science.

What the Second Law means for brands is that highly complex systems (brands) will undertake irreversible processes that will move them towards a state of higher entropy (counter-intuitively, this means simpler, more basic, more steady – in the course of time, more dead). Unlike pure natural systems though, the life path for brands, from creation to death, isn’t linear – witness the product life cycle. Through the intervention of sentient beings – us – we can influence and direct the life path of a brand.  They will crumble back to dust eventually, but not without some fireworks and fancy dance moves wearing spangly dresses along the way.

The question therefore is how to respond to change. Effectively, what any brand stewards should be aiming to do during their tenure is to increase the complexity of the brand. To be clear, in no way does this mean to do complex stuff – but rather, broaden, strengthen and deepen the network of positive mental pathways and holloways in the target consumers’ brains. Create new sparks between those precious brand-related synapses in the old grey matter. Build, in effect, brand fortifications that can resist the denuding effect of time and other influences. To protect the brand ‘entropy’.

What’s important here is that a brand’s strategic response is not limited to one strategy or one set of options. It’s not limited to premiumisation. True, you’d be forgiven from thinking that it was given how often the term is mentioned in brand plans and around the planning table, but rather there’s a range of responses that are rooted in the brand’s current state and its desired future*. That relationship between past and future is the critical one: too often, in the rarefied and rather whiffy air of office political machinations, huge strategic leaps seem eminently possible: today’s commoditised brand is tomorrow’s luxury marque. That’s a real watch out: brands exist in the mind, and how far you can credibly move them from where they are now will be a large determinant of future success. The more established it is, the more effort, energy, money and time will be needed to shift it.

Broadly, there seem to be four primary tasks to protect a brand’s entropy:

Retain specialness: if the brand is positioned as premium but may be in risk of losing its sheen, then a specialness strategy is appropriate. Premiumise all the touchpoints; remind consumers of the underlying product truth; invest in a consistent experience. Give the brand a tune up, and a good spit and polish.

Retain distinctiveness: if your brand is a mainstream brand (you know, the sort of brand that consumers really like but the Board keep on banging on about premiumising the damn thing), then actually, your strategy is more likely need to focus on articulating distinctiveness. This could be from core brand values, from personality or tone of voice, from the central positioning or even from the insight that connects the audience to your brand. Whatever it is, you’ll need to find the hot spots and ensure that activity is built on something really interesting and compelling. Don’t try and please everyone.

Rebuild differentiation: commoditisation in increasingly common when we live in such tough competitive times. Commoditisation of course is very much a process of a change in entropy – it’s you feeling the effect of your brand being eroded. For everyday brands, that are struggling to balance their added value features in a competitive world, strategies should focus on your points of difference; squaring off your corners, proudly sticking out your shoulders and saying ‘look at me, here’s how I’m different, here’s how I’m better’.  New product development can help here: reminding people about the difference at the heart of the brand family – even if that innovation is sacrificial to prompt core brand re-appraisal.

Retain cost or price advantage: it’s incredible how often a budget positioned brand is touted as tomorrow’s premium brand. And of course, it could happen, but frankly it’s unlikely unless consumers adopt and take it there themselves (Pabst Blue Riband, perhaps?). More realistic is to consider how a price advantage strategy can be leveraged to the brand’s advantage. What are the essential points of brand value that need to be bolted on and what is non-essential. This is not about being lowest cost, there’s own label for that, but it is about understanding what functions or services are the tie-breakers that a brand can offer better.

If your brand is faced with change – and it will be – don’t knee-jerk to premiumisation. Think about its current state today; where your target market actually map and it, and where it’s desirable, and possible, to move to. You may not be able to change the laws of Physics, but perhaps you can delay the inevitable by a few hundred years.

 

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that finds the direct route to success for categories and brands. Want to know more, then just wing over an e mail to david@thecrowflies.co.uk or call on +44 (0) 1283 246260.   You can follow The Crow Flies on Linked In (http://www.linkedin.com/company/the-crow-flies-ltd?trk=company_name), on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/thecrowfliesltd). Or just send a carrier pigeon and we’ll intercept mid-air. © The Crow Flies, 2017

 

 *In fact, in a pleasant circularity, concepts such as past, present and future are also described by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Effectively time is asymmetrical – what’s happened in the past cannot be reversed and everything will keep on trucking on until we reach a total steady state in the Universe (it is argued). I don’t think we’ll be worrying about premiumisation strategies too much then.

Market research… and the holiday spirit

And so the holiday season draws to a close and as we return to work, most marketeers are struck by the same thought: why don’t I become a pool cleaner and then I can be on holiday the whole year around? For most of us, this is swiftly followed by the realisation that we don’t know anything about cleaning swimming pools and so instead we focus on two very important tasks: planning the big projects that are going to step-change brand performance and planning the next family holiday to a pool somewhere sunny.

AUGUST HOLIDAY CROW 2Let’s be honest, as we get our feet back under the table at work, the latter often takes precedence and the first thing we do is to immerse ourselves in the research for it. Every source and anyone of value to the decision is engaged: friends and family, consumer reviews, pricing comparisons – the lot. By using them, we maximise our chances of finding the perfect holiday and minimise the risk of disappointment and wasted money.

Yet ironically, and increasingly, for big marketing projects research is questioned. It may be because of experience of researching a project to death (which inevitably leads to inaction) or receiving an overly researchy, non-commercial answer (which often leads to a recommendation to do more research!) or just a general sense that the research has merely described the past. It’s so easy to listen to the research naysayers who belittle its value and instead advocate riding with the white knights of ‘big data’, off-the-shelf industry reports, or frankly, personal intuition and a survey cobbled together on Twitter.

At The Crow Flies we’re not curmudgeons, advocating that you should simply do what you’ve always done and damn the consequences. But at its best, we see the value in well constructed research, when engaged consumers and engaged clients are brought together over the right questions to uncover commercial solutions to commercial opportunities.

The Crow approach to managing research powerfully is to think about The Nest and The Egg…. ‘The Nest’ is the research framework. Neither too broad in scope nor too shallow in depth and focused on fuelling decision making. ‘The Egg’ is how research participants and client stakeholders are immersed, involved and fully engaged in incubating the project to deliver results that can be leveraged with scale and impact.

Get this balance right and research can significantly increase your chance of delivering commercial success on those next big projects before you head off on that very well researched family holiday…

The Nest focused, usable, scalable

  1. The critical 5%
    Research is typically around 5% of your budget – but it’s the most critical 5%, everything else hangs off it. Give it focus; give it attention, immerse yourself in it and it will deliver.
  1. Ask for your answer
    Too many research projects don’t go far enough. Uncovering consumers’ unmet needs is only the start. Finding out how your brand can solve them should be the output – which brings us on to…
  1. focus on the interface
    Brands are not built on research alone, nor on research strategy, planning or innovation…they are built at the interface of the four. Set-up your research and all the parties involved to ensure the outputs directly inform action.
  1. Methodology blah blah
    We know people find new research techniques interesting and exciting but often they promise more than they deliver. Focus your brief first and foremost on finding the unmet consumer needs that unlock commercial success and don’t fret about the technique.
  1. Usable utility
    Elaborate videos & complex segmentation models are of no use if they don’t build shared understanding & uncover new, usable insights. Prioritise outputs that will help the marketing team to make decisions and the sales team to scale up your brands, profitably

The Egg immersive, informal, impactful

  1. De-objectify the process
    Consumers are real people. They’ll only tell you what they really think if they feel comfortable & relaxed. Informal is the new formal and releases real truths.
  1. Go long
    Longitudinal and dialogue techniques will cast light on how consumers actually behave over time. These fresh perspectives can unlock real value.
  1. Get engaged
    Time is short & attention spans ever shorter. Put engagement at the heart of the process – give quant studies personality, reduce the length of interviews. Focus on what’s essential to learn.
  1. Raw not just scrambled
    There’s a role for the formal debrief but raw can be better. ‘Live’ debriefs the night of research, open dialogue & discussion for big opportunities at pace.
  1. Sunny side up
    Consumers are marketing savvy and love to get creative. Don’t just ask them to tell you their frustrations, involve them in creating the solutions. It’s amazing what they come up with

It’s time to reconsider the very real commercial value that research can unlock and to be a little more sceptical about research naysayers – ultimately there’s an agenda behind it. For a different approach to market research and brand building that maximises your chances of delivering commercial success, get in touch.

 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, 2017

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