It comes as no coincidence that both my letterbox and media feeds are sending me all sorts of catalogues and top tips on gardening… it seems that now is deemed to be THE time in the gardening calendar to get it ready for next year. That, coupled with turning my attention outdoors to a much-neglected garden during lockdown, has obviously put me on the mailing list radar.
Whilst sifting through all this mail what struck me was that the parallels between Autumn brand planning and the Autumn gardening activity calendar both serve to make the right preparations for an impressive performance starting next Spring. After all, there’s nothing like getting the year off to a good start to make the hard slog to the end of the financial year so much easier. Plus there’s the feel good factor and confidence in what you are doing to bolster the commitment for the rest of the year – without the need for any budget cuts!
So, how to make the most of Autumn brand planning? Here are five things to consider:
Review your performance over the year. It has been a testing year for all but by taking the time to take stock of what has worked well, what has failed, and sifting past the big macro-level factors that have impacted everyone to find the deeper underlying reasons of why for your brand, is time well spent between the trading peaks of Summer and Christmas. Too often marketing teams talk about but then don’t spend time unearthing the real truths behind performance: why new launches failed, why new distribution opportunities didn’t quite deliver, why redesigns fell flat or flew.
Mind the gap! Where have other competitors performed well when you have struggled to make your mark? Has your brand been overshadowed by new market entrants? Were you waiting in the wings, hoping things would get better when other brands were stealing the march and confidently pushing forward. Gap spotting is such a critical part of understanding your brand’s opportunities.
Perfect your positioning. Be really honest. Do consumers, customers, stakeholders and colleagues truly have a shared understanding of the brand, what it delivers & how it delivers it? Is it consistent, distinctive and differentiated? If it isn’t, now is the time to get under the skin and review.
Try something new. When the stakes are high, risk is often avoided but sometimes when the market is stagnating, breaking away with new ideas and approaches is what is needed to invigorate growth. How brave are you?
Land the brand. A great plan needs the support of the business. an insight is nothing if it doesn’t grab people. A strategy is nothing if it doesn’t create action. Innovation is nothing if you can’t bring the ideas to life. A brand plan is nothing if it doesn’t inspire. Focus time on creating the tools that will sell your brand and your plan not only to customers but also internally, to stakeholders and sales teams. Buy-in is everything, don’t leave it as an after-thought.
Now more than ever is the time to get your brand back on people’s radar – start planning!
Gael Laurie is Brand Building Director of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps brands find a direct route to long lasting success. firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 (0) 1283 295100; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh
As the Government begins to ease us out of the lockdown, we’re getting a fair few enquires about what brands can and can’t do in terms of research.
As well as working on a number of online research projects through the pandemic, we’ve been listening to and contributing to different debates in the research sector and there are a few clear themes:
The pandemic is not having an adverse effect on recruitment quality (assuming you plan with care)
Yes, people have time on their hands, but there are no real issues with a rise in non-representative or ‘hobby’ participants
Quality of responses remains high (there was a fear that we would get people taking part to fill their time – turns out time is precious even during lockdown)
Face to face has stopped temporarily and will likely be slow to start up.
Research approaches A number of enquiries worry that Online Qualitative research is just a ‘Poor Man’s’ version of face-to-face. As with most things in life, balance is required: there are clear similarities online research needs to be seen as an additional yet slightly different tool in our armoury for understanding people’s behaviours and attitudes.
Face-to-face Groups (also Connections / Mini Groups and so on) There are two factors often overlooked in ’traditional’ face-to-face qualitative research which underline its real value.
Firstly, humans are a social species and Groups give the opportunity to observe social interaction – bear in mind, copying behaviour is enormously important in people’s lives and therefore understanding where there is agreement, dissonance and influence effects that change views, is incredibly valuable.
Secondly, and related to this, as we begin to understand more about the non-conscious pre-eminence (System 1) in our behaviour, so Groups give us the opportunity to study non-verbal behaviour and interaction as well as visual ‘ evealers’ of beliefs, values and behaviours – things like metaphors, for example. They allow us to get deeper understanding in a way that is not immediately obvious and a sense of how heartfelt or deep views are held.
But when can face-to-face start up in a safe way? Well, not yet, clearly but soon – and here are some of the things we’re planning for groups in the coming months:
run smaller groups so we can allow more space – think shorter, mini groups and more of them rather, than larger, longer groups
use well-ventilated spaces
allow longer for recruitment (the recruitment pool will temporarily shrink and we’ll need to reassure about participants well being during the process)
allow participants to bring their own food (no handling, no sharing platters!)
provision anti-bac hand wipes / sanitising gel
advise against sitting behind the mirror clients (who will want to sit in a confined space anyway?) – viewing in room, smaller numbers watching only, or potentially consider remote viewing / streaming too.
As the situation develops we’ll amend our guidance and advice – and obviously, widely available tests / vaccines will make a massive difference.
Online Focus groups, conducted in real time (synchronous) These are run using video conferencing software. They are particularly useful for observing instinctive reactions from participants to stimulus materials, and for verbal engagement between participants. In practice they are best run in a mini-group format with 3-4 participants. Whilst not welcome, a byproduct of the pandemic is making more people familiar with technologies such as Zoom and Teams, which means barriers to using video conferencing are falling (although this shouldn’t be overstated). And we’re learning a lot about the best way to set the calls up to ensure we can see people and their body reaction, not just hearing what they say (avoiding ‘Half A Head’ syndrome!).
The watchouts are that it requires more set up and time to ensure that the participants are comfortable, not distracted and ready to focus on the discussion. Stimulus is also trickier and we’ve been developing a few interesting ways to introduce stimulus and use it to good effect over the last few weeks. So – don’t think of online groups as a poor relation – they have clear differences and advantages which make them a worthy consideration depending on the project objectives and the timelines.
Asynchronous Online Focus groups and Bulletin Boards
‘Asynchronous’ is surely a high scorer in Scrabble, but all it means is that people respond in their own time, rather than in an immediate conversation with the moderator. We prefer the name ‘Bulletin Board’ for this reason – you post a message on the fridge door and they respond when they see it
These are run over several days, with participants spending 15-30 minutes each day answering the questions and replying to questions and further probing. They’re not ideal for group interaction, but they can produce good results when this is not needed; they’re great for individual reflection and they are a little more cost effective and faster (end to end) than real-time online groups or face-to-face Groups. At The Crow Flies, we like them, but generally would recommend that they support other methods. They’re particularly useful when used with ‘top and tail’ dialogue approaches for example, a video / face to face interview to kick off; then the online group and perhaps an interview to close.
Qualitative Online Surveys Sometimes people talk about ‘quali-quant approaches’ and they can seem either like a pragmatic badge of honour or a hybrid – somehow, there are methodological compromises. Well, Qualitative Online Surveys are a great reposte to that. If you do not need group interaction these online surveys may be something to consider: this method uses time controls and plausibility checks to elicit good quality answers, both instinctive and considered. It can also include probing, using a Virtual Moderator (which is a predictive AI tool that runs in the background). We can even build in IAT methods too (implicit attitude testing) to grab that initial ‘purchase moment’ reaction.
The depth of the qual findings isn’t as pronounced as in a Group of course, but they are really useful for identifying the fundamentals of what people are looking for – their immediate needs; the instinctive appeal of concepts or ideas (or lack of appeal!) as well as a good level of richness about what territories hold potential and why. There’s another inbuilt advantage – they give a bigger sample size than qual – 150 – 200 would be perfectly feasible here.
Digital Diaries / ethnographic
If you’re interested in how a pandemic affects daily life, or affects your brand / offer in real time, this is the way to go – a longer-term digitally-led approach. Here of course, people’s everyday behaviour has changed markedly through lockdown – this may make these approaches more or less valid.
Intercepts With the right permissions in place, intercepts are perfectly possible. Social distancing is fairly easy to implement and the presence of wearing a ruddy great mask may also help! Bear in mind, that strike rate is likely to be lower as people remain nervous (if you could see our hair at the moment, you’d be nervous too…)
Broadly speaking quantitative research continues as normal – the only thing we’re finding is that for longer surveys, drop-out rates are better – probably fewer distractions. Our development focus on quant is to push into understanding System 1 responses as much as System 2 – Implicit Attitude Testing, Find Time testing are good examples of this.
To chat through in greater detail, feel free to drop us a line.
One of the most difficult aspects of brand building is delivering a consistent experience. It can be tricky because perhaps yours is a product-based brand where the experience feels like a less significant touchpoint; or it can be tricky because you’re maybe a retail brand where controlling all the variables seems nigh-on impossible. It can be tricky too to define which aspects of the brand experience should be focused on: the process of consideration and buying; opening; using; consuming? It’s complex… yet crucial.
This was brought home to me recently when I went for a coffee at a local café for a business catch-up. This is an award-winning café in fact, with courteous staff, a chilled ambience and thoughtful product selections across both drinks and food. The groundwork of their offer had clearly been thoughtfully considered too – the foundations to build a powerful brand experience all in place. The coffee, for example, is delivered in signature crockery, with a biscotti and sugar that looks like rock-salt, served to one side. You know, all a bit la-di-da, yet enjoyable all the same; little touches that justify the premium.
I ordered a coffee which was shortly brought to the table but… wait. No biscuit. ‘First world problems‘, I thought to myself and let it pass – it was, after all, just a biscuit. I put it out of my head and carried on with my meeting. Two or three minutes later, a waitress came to the table and apologised for forgetting the biscuit before placing them, unprompted, on a small plate in front of us. Mild disappointment swerves through 180 degrees to delight. They spotted the problem, then over-corrected. All good – a little slither of positive brand equity is accreted into the brand ‘goodwill bank’.
Sometime later, a second coffee was ordered. Again it was brought to the table a few minutes later, and again, no biscuit was brought with it. Only this time, no corrective action was taken. And you might think that ultimately, it doesn’t matter. After all, it’s only a biscuit. It’s not even a particularly posh or special biscuit.
But in truth, the biscuit is a vital part of the mix. Indeed, it’s not really a biscuit at all. Rather, it’s an essential strand of the delicate web of expectations that weave together into a fragile whole that makes up the brand experience. It’s one of the small, yet disproportionately important, parts of the brand which together add up to more than the sum of their parts. And like a spider’s web, removing just one thread can weaken everything.
Would I refuse to go back to the café again because they forgot the biscuit? Of course not… but here’s the thing. This small, almost imperceptible mistake creates a much bigger seed of doubt. It opens up a chink in their armour such that next time you’ll be less forgiving and be much more open to going elsewhere. One reason politicians worry about tactical voting is because they know that when a voter does it for the first time, they’re much more disposed to doing it again.
What does all this mean for brands? Well, for one, brand experience isn’t easy nor forgiving. “A brand is a living entity, enriched or undermined cumulatively over time – the product of a thousand small gestures” is how ex-Disney CEO, Michael Eisner put it. Be thoughtful and rigourous in defining what is critical to your brand experience. Don’t overlook the small details if a consumer perceives them as vital to your delivery. Build up a clear picture of what is core to your brand experience and focus your resources, your time and your training around delivering that, time after time, and especially when you’re bored of doing so. And experience isn’t just about experiential brands (like retail). How a brand is presented; the materials used; the tone of copy; how it is opened, or used; how it feels; how it sounds… everything matters in the web of sensory touch-points that makes up the brand world.
Yes, brand experience can be difficult, yet consistent delivery is one of the big prizes of brand stewardship; one of the golden threads that runs through your brand and connects with your target’s emotions.
As we approach the middle of January, these words do start to lose their resonance. Unlike Christmas, there’s no accepted cut-off, no Twelfth Night, to guide us. There’s a fair chance that this is the last time you’ll hear them, for a year at least… New Year’s Resolutions usually follow the same timing plan. By the middle of the month, many a ‘Dry January’ is already looking decidedly moist, gyms are getting emptier and houses return to their less tidy, but more homely, natural states. Even newly converted plant-powered Veganuary-ists may be waking up to the smell of bacon.
Saying that, as the world turns on its axis and the daylight hours extend, it’s as good a time as any to consider what changes are needed to step-up brand performance – and never more so than when you’re responsible for a team of people, accountable for their commercial performance and central to the culture they live in 5 out of every 7 days (and often more). Reflecting on the changes needed over some slightly stale mince pies, we realised that the answer lies with Call the Midwife.
If you’ve never watched it, it’s about a group of midwives (no, really!) in London during the 1950s. In most episodes, nothing happens and then it snows. Yet on Christmas Day it was the fourth most watched programme and is the biggest new drama series on BBC One since records began. Or there’s Downton Abbey too, set around the 1920s where ‘those upstairs’ flirt with ‘those downstairs’. And before both we had Heartbeat, the ITV police drama set in 1960s Yorkshire which used the same plot for every single episode for 18 years.
But what has this got to do with your marketing resolutions?
As it turns out, everything, really. When you consider why these programmes are so popular, you uncover the heart of so many frustrations with the current status quo. The gentle nostalgia appeals because it paints a picture of a period in time when communities mattered and people cared. Policemen were respected, midwives were magical and jobs were for life. Contrast this with the return to work for many in January 2018: huge commutes, little job security, the globalisation of industry set against an international political framework of growing extremism: you can understand why many are questioning just how far we’ve come in the last 60 years. We may have ‘Smart Homes’ and technology at our fingertips but now we also have armchair ‘experts’ & professional sceptics in all areas of life…why trust your doctor when you can diagnose yourself on the internet before you go to your appointment and then check whether the doctor gets it right?
In business terms, the impact on marketing teams is greatest of all as they sit at the very centre of the business: everyone is now a marketing expert. Performed well in sales? Have a crack at marketing. Done a great job as a management accountant? Try being a brand manager. Don’t expect to be one for long though – you’ll soon be moved to a role in customer marketing. Actually, do we still need brand managers? We don’t need to worry about brand positioning any more, this is the age of ‘big data’ and personalised marketing. Forget about long-term strategy, let’s build followers on social media NOW!
Extreme perhaps. But working across different client companies and sectors we see it as a consistent pattern. Unsurprisingly, the discipline of marketing itself is being undermined bit by bit. Brand success is not delivered within a calendar year regardless of resolutions. Brands are built over time, the product of a thousand small gestures – we all know this and yet too often we don’t create cultures in which such success can be delivered. So a break with the past is required. This year, make five OLD Year resolutions that will transform the happiness of your team, the approach they take and the commercial success that you deliver together. Here are our contenders.
OLDIE #1:Work Less Marketing is not a science, it’s an art and it needs to be treated as such. Brand-changing ideas are seldom created in windowless meeting rooms however well thought through your agenda might be. To get the best out of ourselves, we actually need to think differently about the working day. The human mind can focus on any given task for 90 – 120 minutes, then a break is required. Instead of worrying about time spent in the office and what can be achieved in any given day, switch the focus to ‘what can be achieved in a 90 minute session?’ Can’t be done in your working environment and your culture? Not true: challenge yourself. Create the physical & emotional space needed for creativity. Structure in time out of the office or undistrubed time for focused effort. Stop multi-tasking. Spend time with customers and consumers in the real world. Less time and more focus will transform productivity.
OLDIE #2:Market Marketing Marketing expertise needs to be respected and specialisms should be celebrated. This applies equally within businesses, within marketing teams and within the wider marketing communities of agencies, suppliers and clients. A great customer marketing manager should be allowed to flourish within their specialism, not pushed to also become an innovation expert. Agencies must also take note. Great advertising is born of great positioning which relies on solid research but no agency can claim to have expertise in all three. Marketing is wide-ranging, complex and critical to commercial success. It’s time to give the discipline back the respect it deserves.
OLDIE #3:Get Personal “Business is business, it’s not personal”. What a daft saying. Your career is not separate to your life, it’s a core and intrinsic part of it. It should be personal. When it comes to building brands, personality is absolutely everything: most purchase decisions are made subconsciously and great brands succeed by building intense emotional connections with consumers. Of course, marketing teams need to retain objectivity but this should never be at the expense of personality. A marketing team culture in which everything is a bit more personal – for the brand and the people working on them is no bad thing.
OLDIE #4:Focus On Your Foundations Modern technology is incredible and the pace of its development creates a myriad of new opportunities for brand building. However, despite the claptrap you may read, technology has not changed the fundamentals of marketing. Brand positioning is critical, consistency of activation is imperative and a brand without a purpose is never going to inspire. Start the year by making absolutely certain you’ve got your brand foundations in place – if you’re not executing consistently against a clear positioning built on unique insights then all the Twitter followers in the world and that lovely app that works with an Amazon Echo are not going to move your brand forward before 2019.
OLDIE #5:Be A Wolf There’s many a marketing regulation in 2018 that would have prevented the most famous advertising campaigns from existing had they been in place for the last 60 years. But that doesn’t mean that 2018’s marketing campaigns need to be timid. Brands have to be talked about. If not, they’re just products. Be bold and push boundaries, it’s the only way to be heard.
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.
What’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. email@example.com; +44 (0) 1283 295100.
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.
The 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. firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 (0) 1283 295100.
Today, it’s perfectly reasonable to challenge the assumption that the future of British manufacturing is abroad. A conversation with a former colleague, now working in the pottery industry confirmed this.
It’s a subject very much alive and relevant when you live in a county that to a large degree defined the Industrial Revolution: Staffordshire. Stoke-on-Trent was and is synonymous with pottery of course. Through the trade network of the British Empire, it supplied the world. The Five Towns tend to get talked down and are seen as a victim of deindustrialisation nowadays. The truth though is that the pottery industry is not on life support; the pot banks still fire, they’re just a different shape from the ones of old. And beer came from Burton-on-Trent, still a town shaped by its malty legacy and still the home of one of Europe’s largest breweries, the majestic Burton Union sets at Marston’s and a small crop of craft brewers – but like Stoke, Burton too has seen decline and deindustrialisation as its rather scratty appearance is testament to. And this is to say nothing about the nails and screws and rivets and tools from the Black Country’s ‘workshop of the World’.
Why then is there hope – and why are skilled brand builders at the heart of this?
Added value skills – the base to work from. Whilst there is always of risk of losing skills during deindustrialisation, British manufacturers are getting their heads round relearning the added value skills. We may not need ale conners (*beer quality inspection officials) or saggar-makers bottom knockers (**the ceramic case used for protecting the fired pottery) any more, but there are skills that can’t just be outsourced and commoditised. Designers, brewers, painters…
And an onerous responsibility lies with these individuals. The responsibility to create the sustainable value that allows manufacturing to stay at home. Take Emma Bridgewater. You can argue, it’s just a range of pottery. Yet it is so much more. The brand value is in the consistent application of an appealing look, values you aspire to, a fit with your lifestyle. And where is the Emma Bridgewater range made? Stoke-on-Trent. And there’s an increasing range to choose from Denby, Portmeirion, Burleigh (located at Middleport, home of ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’.)
The future is bright, the future is branded. In our “Millennial” infatuated marketing world, there’s a tendency to think that only products that eschew ‘marketing’ and tell an authentic story are the ones that will win. No. Brands that decide to use their truth in their positioning and communicate it single-mindedly have the better chance of winning. At the end of the day, the brand is where the value is. Take Camden Town Brewery, only 6 years old, but just sold to brewing giant Anheuser-Busch Inbev for £86m. “Brewery”? Well not really, for Camden Town doesn’t have a significant brewery at all – just some small mash tuns and fermenters under the railway arches, with the rest of their beer made in Belgium. Does that diminish it? Of course not, because it’s the brand that’s been bought. An instantly recognisable brand and tone of voice rooted in London (the larger brewery in London is to follow). A brand expandable here and highly exportable too.
Beyond the green and pleasant brand. British brands often struggle to use ‘Britishness’ domestically, yet it’s a real asset internationally and according to a recent piece in The Telegraph, there’s a premium of £2.1bn to be had by more clearly marketing a brand as ‘Made in Britain’. And it’s the brand that’s important: the quality conveyed by being manufactured in Britain is important, but it’s a point of parity, it’s expected. Today, we have so much more than just our ‘green and pleasant land’ perceptions of Britishness to leverage abroad. There’s more to how we’re perceived, brands like Mini have a contemporary edge that’s informed by our past yet fired up by our present, the edge from our music and creative industries – from our very culture in fact.
Category reinvention. Beer paints a stark picture of how British brewers failed to leverage their native beer styles to their advantage. It’s not that long ago – 15 years, no more – that British ale was a holed ship, sinking fast with the rats exiting at speed. It’s the reinterpretation of British beer styles – Pale Ale, India Pale Ale (IPA), Porter, Mild, Brown Ale, Stout – by American craft brewers that’s rekindled the brewing scene over here. IPA is now the second most widely consumed and recognised beer style after lager globally. The US craft brewers have shown that it’s possible to reinvent categories in a relatively short period of time – and with it, even towns, regions. But bravery and imagination are needed. The bravery to inspirationally re-purpose the past and the imagination to paint a view of what the future can be.
In this post-industrial world, where we increasingly define ourselves by what we buy and consume, it’s these brand-building skills that can fuel British manufacturing again.
The potential acquisition of South African Breweries (SAB) by their larger rival Anheuser Busch Inbev (ABI) has got many commentators gasping for breath: not at the audacity of it – that was reserved for when InBev (as was) took down Anheuser Busch – but rather the implications of the sheer scale. The scale, both of the deal (the fourth biggest corporate takeover) and the ultimate beast it will become (who we shall call ABSAB).
Interestingly, a stock response of commentators is ‘Don’t Panic Mr Mainwaring!’ The deal, as these deals do, will create opportunities for smaller operators. Drinkers, reviled by the deal and the inevitable consolidation / loss of brands in the shake-up, will vote with their wallets and support the little guy. New market niches will open up, too small for a goliath like ABSAB to spot, yet alone exploit. David will win the day! Fleet of footedness, quick decision-making will out!
And there will be some of this. Of course there will. But on balance, it’s a romantic notion and one that, in truth, isn’t borne out by precedent.
The first issue is growth. In most western, mature consumer markets beer is flat-lining or declining. Drinkers are drinking less. This pressure rolls through to licensees: what to stock; how much space they can give to beer and ultimately what brands end up on the bar. What licensees want is a range of guaranteed strong sellers and a ‘something interesting’ selection. ABSAB (Stella, Peroni, Budweiser) can fulfil one side, craft can fulfil the other (in fact, increasingly, ABSAB can fulfil this other side too). In less mature markets, there is underlying growth in beer consumption – in central and South America for example – and that growth is driven by brands. Big brands; famous brands, foreign brands; often American or European: brands that are a status symbol. ABI and SAB are getting together because growth in their core markets is slowing (or has stopped). They’re getting together because in emerging markets it’s about brands. The deal allows more consumers to access their brands in more markets, efficiently and cost effectively. And most consumers won’t react negatively. They won’t even think about it.
The second issue is craft. Craft beer, however you define it, is exciting, interesting and inspiring. It’s been brilliant for beer in many markets. But craft beer is, what? At best 10 – 15% of market volume. Most of us, most consumers, simply aren’t in the franchise or drink it infrequently. Most of us, in short, drink the sorts of beers that ABI and SAB make. Now, clearly there is growth and clearly craft is slowly, steadily impacting consumer perceptions of the market. But if we assume that the basis of the ‘Innovation-Adoption Curve’ is correct, then most of us are fairly unadventurous. We’ll follow. And what will this mean in terms of brands? It won’t mean opportunities for spontaneous fermented wild beers hitting the mainstream. It will mean the likes of Blue Moon, Goose Island, Meantime, Lagunitas, Kona becoming more widely available, and if we’re lucky the larger – independent – craft brewers – Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn, Boston Beer will be available too. But the real opportunity if for the crafty beers under the umbrella of brewers like ABSAB. They offer the rationale of differentiated choice, with the convenience of a single and efficient point of supply.
What ABSAB appreciate is that currently global brewing is over-supplied. There are two responses. One, consolidate to ensure supply over time reduces and is done cost effectively. Two, build brands. This deal does both and will be successful.
For smaller brewers, given that they can’t consolidate to the same level, the real opportunity is the second option. To build brands. Take the UK beer market. There are now 1,700 breweries. The UK is the most breweried-per-head country in the world. Yet the beer market has been declining at about 4% a year since 2005. Per capita consumption of beer is falling, despite the noise of craft. There will be a fall out, even with the UK Government’s small brewer duty relief (perhaps because of it). Now is the time to build brands not supply product. Look at Camden Town, only three years old, but already widely available throughout the capital. Why? Good beers (with broad appeal); tremendous branding. Look at Beavertown. Good beers (with more challenge to them), impactful branding.
No, the opportunities presented by ABSAB getting together are twofold. For consumers, it’s in the truly niche operators, who make more complex, highly differentiated and challenging beer styles that they can supply effectively to the market. For small brewers who don’t, the real opportunity is to build your brand. And the real money is to be made when the likes of ABSAB buy them from you.
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. email@example.com; +44 (0) 1283 295100.
On a recent trip Stateside, I got a real flavour of one of the retailer’s major dilemmas. The store was a large Publix on the Gulf Coast of Florida – certainly as big as a large UK supermarket. As always, I was spending more time looking for stimulus for work than actually doing the food shopping … and then I turned down the beer aisle. Now, my figures will be slightly out but close enough to be both defensible and illustrative. In the US, the market has two major brewing players – Anheuser Busch Inbev and Miller Coors who control about 80 – 85% of the market’s supply. And then there are the craft brewers, alliances of craft brewers and speciality importers.
Yes, craft beer is likely to be more profitable on a unit basis than big beer, but to command well over 50% of the space? Commercial craziness, no?
That’s the dilemma for the retailer, particularly if you are mainstream / mid-market. How do you optimise your range and space and how the hell do you decide which brands to back, to underspace, to overspace?
Going back to craft beer (or increasingly snacks, spirits, bread, cheese…) it would be easy to argue both sides. For the big boys, it would go something like this: ‘Hey, you’re crazy. I know there’s all this craft beer hype, but just look at the rate of sale and the market share… and times that by the price we command… you should be overspacing us not underspacing us!’. If you’re a craft brewer, equally, you could say, ‘Consumers are tired and dissatisfied with the same old beer choice. They’re individuals not ‘consumers’ and a craft beer range caters to them, shows that you are a specialist and ….well, look at the profitability’.
There’s no right or wrong here, but there seem to be some common denominators.
How appealing is the category: craft beer is over faced because consumers care; it is increasing in both household penetration, frequency and basket size. Authentic beers, with interesting stories are cutting through with shoppers when all big beers can offer in return are new can sizes or bottle shapes. Essentially, research is showing that when a category can drag shoppers off their habitual shopping trajectory, then it’s worth backing.
Brands count: craft beer in the US isn’t stocked out with hopeless chancers. There are strong emerging brands. Brands that are working either because they are genuinely different (say, Dogfish Head), local (say Cigar City Brewing from Tampa) or frankly growing in fame and appeal (say Sierra Nevada, Stone Brewing, Sam Adams, The Bruery). Over in the UK, with Tesco for one aiming the gun at these long tails, it’s the categories where no brands exist, where own label can do as good as, if not better job than the branded alternative where attention is needed.
Principles matter: many of the craft brands in the US have managed to grow in value off the back of their founding principles, principles which they have stayed true to. Jim Koch of Boston Beer is a divisive character because he unapologetically popularised craft beer by owning the agenda, by being in the face of big beer owners and drinkers. ‘Here is a better choice’ he would say, when not dunking himself in vats of Boston Beer. But equally, Fritz Maytag saved Anchor; Keith Grossman built up Sierra Nevada on the back of kit he beat into shape with old ball hammers and welding kit. All of them wanted to drink better beer, so they did something about it. Brands of conviction, attract.
The competitive space is changing: in Chris Anderson’s book, ‘The Long Tail’*, he talks about how retailing will change because of the impact of the internet. Look at Amazon: online bookshop becomes frankly, anything they can sell that they can store and transport; no stores, no range reviews, no square footage to overly worry about. Want a rare Dutch flower arranging book (yes, Mum, I’m referring to you), they’ll get it. As consumers we understand that that might not be the case for a Sainsbury’s or an Asda or a Tesco – but for how long. Internet retailing allows us not to worry about big brands, the Number 1s and 2s, but any brand that takes our fancy. Until food retailers abandon their mega sheds, any strategy will be a compromise – we’ve got a big range, but…..
Interestingly it seems to open up opportunities at both ends. At the ‘endless choice’ end of retail will be the likes of Amazon; at the other, quite insightfully, will be the focused retailers who recognise that as shoppers our brains can only handle so much choice. Reduce the range, reduce the choice, watch sales grow: take Lidl or Screwfix.
And so it turns out, that was my dilemma. Standing in front of this amazing beer fixture; looking at all the choices, reading labels, thinking ‘Oooh, I’ve never had that..’ but totally unable to make up my mind.
*Chris Anderson, ‘The Long Tail’, Hyperion, 2006
David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that discovers the direct route to success for categories, companies and brands. firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 (0) 1283 295100.