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 295100.

© The Crow Flies, 2016