Monday, 31 March 2014

How to make brands portable across borders

Expanding into new geographical markets can be a minefield for brands.  History is littered with stories of successful brands that have failed miserably to convert their brand promise to different markets. Tesco’s recent foray into the USA being a case in point.

So, can brands be ‘portable’ across borders? The answer has to be a qualified ‘yes’. 

News reports today would indicate that fashion brand New Look has successfully broken into the mammoth Chinese market, following on the heels of Zara, H&M and Marks & Spencer. It’s done so by applying some basic, yet fundamental, marketing principles:
  • Know your target market inside out:  New Look has did extensive research into what Chinese consumers expect to find on the high street before opening its first stores.
  • Adapt your offering to meet local needs and cultural differences: armed with the research, New Look has adapted its range to suit Chinese tastes and requirements.  This has meant a focus on bright colours and clothes that cover shoulders, for example.
  • Do not lose sight of your heritage: New Look has focused on its fashion-conscious, design-led approach but stressed its British heritage through the tagline “Designed in London, styled for China”.
  • Stick to what you know and do best: in New Look’s case this is fashionable clothes at reasonable prices.  And for the time being it’s sticking to ladies wear, reflecting the strength of this sector for the brand in its home market.
There’s no rocket science here – it’s about applying a common sense approach to each market, while not losing sight of the core brand proposition.  It’s something that brands like McDonald’s, with its subtle cultural differences in menu, have known about for a long time.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Open source branding - 5 ways to manage the process

We're living in the age of "open source branding".  Gone are the days when brand managers could focus on well-crafted advertisements to build and protect brand reputations. Today, the health and wealth of your brand is determined by what your customers are saying in social media. Customers are defining brands now, not marketers.

While the dynamics may have changed, it doesn't mean that your brand has to be thrown to the mercy of vociferous commentators on social media. Here are 5 ways in which you can support and enhance your brand reputation online:

  1. Understand that social media is a conversation.  Too many organisations see social media as the opportunity to disseminate brand messages and fail to understand the need to engage in a dialogue with their customers online. Great brands engage in the conversation, pose questions and respond to feedback.
  2. Encourage brand communities. Recognise that your brand advocates may want to sing your praises in their own forums or communities and support them when they do so. While building your own brand communities may be the optimum approach, recognise that attempting to control other communities can damage brand reputations.
  3. Listen to and respond quickly to complaints. Monitoring customer sentiment online is essential but achieves little if you're not prepared to react. Respond quickly to both positive and negative comments, encouraging your critics to engage outside social media to get to the root of the problem and then ask them to return to social media when you've resolved their issue to express their satisfaction.
  4. Avoid corporate speak and know when to step back. The well-crafted corporate response to criticism or complaints can stand out a mile if you're normally chatty and engaging when dealing with positive feedback. Maintain your tone of voice throughout. And recognise that repeating the same message in the face of a barrage of criticism may simply fan the flames and shows you're not really listening or understanding. 
  5. Continually check that your service or product is aligned with your brand messages. Use the feedback you get through social media to identify and address issues in service delivery, product quality or customer service. This means being the voice of the customer internally - something marketing professionals should aspire to as a matter of course.
Whether we like it or not, social media presents customers with the opportunity to comment quickly on brand experiences. Protecting a brand means adopting similar behaviours and engaging in the debate.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Four simple rules to build a following on social media

Every day, including weekends, I receive unsolicited requests to connect on LinkedIn. "Since you are a person I trust" they say, "I'd like you to join my professional network".  Really?  We've never met.  And besides, I strongly suspect you're trying to sell me something.  Or, worse still, one of your key metrics is the number of connections you have on LinkedIn.

What's even more surprising is that many of these new 'friends' profess to be marketing, digital or social media experts.  Yet their very actions in seeking to connect with me in this way show the degree of their expertise: diddly squat.

Of course all individuals and organisations are interested in building effective networks.  That's where sales are made, recommendations offered and ongoing engagement ensured.  But please, please, please if you want to connect with me - and I suspect any other potential customer - follow these simple rules:

  1. Make it a no-brainer to connect with you.  Share something with me; show me you know something I should know or might find useful; give me a compelling reason to invest in networking with you.
  2. Be transparent.  Tell me who you are, what you do and why you'd like to connect. What's in it for me?
  3. Show you understand something about me.  Even if it's that I'm in marketing.  Even better, show you've read my blog or LinkedIn updates.
  4. Ask about me.  What am I really interested in?  What's my view on content marketing? Have I used marketing automation?
Hang on a minute, aren't these some of the very basic rules of effective marcoms and sales? Knowing your audience, tailoring your message and listening. Shame on you so-called marketing, digital or social media "experts" who think it's fine to simply try and connect.

While on the subject of LinkedIn, has anyone noticed how the curse of the cute kitten photo has managed to spread from Facebook to LinkedIn? Does this mark the dumbing down of the network? Or should I learn to relax more on a Friday afternoon?

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Great brands instil emotional connections

Research out recently ranks UK brands on happiness and how they instil an emotional connection with their customers.

According to the study by advertising agency Isobel and Cog Research, the happiest brands are Cadbury, Andrex, Google, Fairy, Nivea, You Tube, Amazon, Mars, Walkers and Heinz. Brands were rated on five core characteristics: whether they were playful, happy, trustworthy, generous or optimistic. Amongst those in the bottom of the rankings were most of the red top newspapers, Ryanair, the three main political parties and, perhaps unsurprisingly, several retail banks.

While the research was undoubtedly designed as a PR exercise for Isobel, it does emphasise the importance of building a brand around an emotional connection with customers.  A well crafted visual identity, snappy straplines or flashy advertising simply isn't enough to win customers' hearts, minds and share of wallet. The brands that did well in the research came out as more 'human', were consistent in their delivery and offered value for money.

So, what should the average business take from the research?

The key message has to be that if you want your brand to achieve standout and resonate with customers, you need to be clear about the emotional reaction you want to instil in them.  It's about being clear what benefits you deliver, how you want your customers to feel and the value you offer. And then ensuring that your product/service, promotional activity, customer experience and people are fully aligned.

This isn't just an FMCG issue. In fact, most service brands have failed to understand the importance of emotional engagement, preferring instead to focus on functional and rational attributes. This is why so many of them are indistinguishable from each other or, in extreme cases such as recruitment, estate agency and banking, seen as 'necessary evils'. Not an emotional reaction to aspire to.

More information on the research can be found here:

Monday, 3 March 2014

Why not all brand extensions make sense

The Social Market Foundation (SMF), a cross party think tank, has called upon Transport for London to apply for a banking licence for its highly successful Oyster card.

SMF argues that the trusted pre-paid Oyster card, used to pay for rail, underground and bus journeys throughout London could become a real competitor to the retail banks.

Transport for London (TfL) has given the proposal a chilly reception, arguing that while Oyster is a tremendous success, its focus is on ‘making the journeys of our customers better’.

TfL is ruling out a significant brand extension for its Oyster card and cutting off a potential source of revenue by declining to seek a banking licence.  On this occasion I think TfL has got it right.

TfL’s primary purpose is to facilitate the travel of its nine million customers across the capital.  And, let’s face it, it has some way to go before it can rightly claim to have solved all the issues commuters face.  To seek to extend the Oyster brand might well look attractive on paper, but TfL has rightly concluded that it should ‘stick to the knitting’.

While Osyter might well be a convenient way for commuters to travel easily across London, TfL must be well aware of both the limitations of its own reputation and, perhaps more importantly, the reputation minefield that getting into retail banking entails.

Some brand extensions – where brands seek to leverage their reputations to move into new categories - make great sense.  The Virgin brand has successfully embraced air travel, financial services and health.  While Nescafe has used its strong heritage in the coffee market to move into coffee makers.  But both brands have a strong core reputations and values and have a loyal customer following.

In this case, TfL is right to draw the line