Friday, April 24, 2009

Every Little Helps - Especially Consumer Understanding

As millions of Britons congregate in the nation’s pubs this weekend, there’s no doubt that they’ll be talking about this week’s controversial budget as they quietly sup a beverage that cost 5p less just 7 days earlier. Whatever your political allegiance, it’s fairly obvious that no-one will be raising a glass to Alistair ‘don’t call me’ Darling – unless you’re a member of the marketing community that is.

You see, it’s been a refreshing week for many in the profession, for the simple fact that Labour’s latest financial fiasco allows marketers to focus on a budget that’s tighter than their own. This ‘enjoyable diversion’ is shortlived however, as it dawns that target audiences and consumers now have even less (a hard feat, admittedly) to spend.

One group of marketers that don’t have this budget-inflicted headache however, is the Marketing Team clocking in each day at Tesco HQ. On the same week that the Government announced a predicted 3.5% shrinkage in the economy, more tax hikes and unprecedented borrowing that won’t balance until 10 years have passed, Tesco published record profits – yet again.

So just how have the grocery giants managed this remarkable feat when all around them is falling away – or is that the precise reason for their latest set of figures? There’s clearly less competition than there was a year ago, and previously loyal consumers are now adding cheap CDs, mobile phones and insurance to a shopping basket containing a pint of milk and the daily paper.

But despite this astute expansion of lines, Tesco has got the fundamental basics of marketing in a recession right – quite simply, it understands its consumers. Over the past 6 months, Tesco shoppers have seen a range of discount brands hit the shelves, offers on staples and initiatives such as the ‘fruit and veg pledge’.

Unlike many of us, Tesco may not have to worry about their marketing budget, but money aside, it’s this intrinsic understanding of customers that drives them from one success to the next. Perhaps it’s time we started focusing on consumers once again, safe in the knowledge that someone out there has a worse budget than the marketing community…

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brand Ethics or Bottom-Line?

During these ‘tough economic times’ (surely the marketing community can think of a better moniker for ‘recession’ than this), one of the truly remarkable things is the miraculous recovery of the environment.

The hole in the ozone layer has grown back, endangered species are now thriving in their natural habitats and all produce sold in the UK is organic, natural and locally sourced. Or at least the absence of these once unavoidable corporate agendas would seemingly now imply…

Those of us who move in marketing circles will no doubt be fully aware that sustainability and green agendas have been noticeably swept under the carpet, no matter how discreet the corporate broom being used.

It seems that the days of lavishing big budgets on corporate social responsibility or building an ethical brand are long gone – or at least on hold until Brown and Obama smooth out this royal financial pickle we’re in.

Whilst this is an understandable reaction to constricting budgets, the abandonment of ethical agendas leaves the more loyal consumer wondering just how dedicated their favourite brands were to these itineraries in the first place – a dangerous game to be playing when every consumer coin is worth its weight in gold.

Many independent businesses have invested heavily to associate themselves with the ideals, values and ethics they hold in common with their target consumer groups, regardless of whether these beliefs are genuinely held or commercially motivated. This is all well and good when companies can afford to market lifestyle and image as opposed to product, but as marketing budgets shrink and brand ethics dissolve, so too does their perceived integrity.

This has already proved disastrous for many brands, as more and more companies are beginning to find out. Whilst no one would doubt the need to focus on the bottom-line during this recession, certain ‘ethical’ businesses may well end up seeing a plummet in brand advocates, as well as in profits.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Too Innocent For Their Own Good?

“We know that some people will always disagree and we respect that, but we know this […] is a great opportunity for Innocent.”

No, the aforementioned quote from Innocent’s Head of Creative, Dan Germain, doesn’t refer to a ludicrous new smoothie flavour (banana and beef anyone?), but the rather more contentious issue of the company’s recent and extremely ill-perceived activity on the stock market.

For those of you who have been avoiding the Financial Times in the wake of this economical apocalypse, allow the Gapster bring you up to speed. Innocent, peddler of expensive organic and natural smoothies, thickies and ‘veg pots’ (who cares if you’re paying £3 for a few bits of floppy broccoli if it’s got oh such pretty packaging) has sold a £30m stake in its ‘family’ business to Coca Cola - a company whose fame isn’t exactly built on an agenda of sustainability, fair-trade and green principles.

You can’t really blame the number-crunchers at Innocent for succumbing to the lure of the pound sign, especially in a recession. (The Gapster presumes any green principles not eradicated by the new shareholders will be choked by the exhaust from board members’ new Ferraris.) What Innocent failed to perceive however, was the intensity of the (albeit expected) backlash – cue an angry pitchfork-wielding mob wreaking PR havoc on the company website:

“You can't be innocent when you take dirty Coke money and have one of their execs on your board” rants Steve. “You have killed your brand forever” claims a disgruntled Ronan. “Would you take money from […] Robert Mugabe?” rants ‘Conor’ – wow! Even Andy claims: “I’ll finish the carton in the fridge, but from this point on, Innocent is just another name on the list of products not to buy as part of the killer Coke boycott.” (Glad you’re going to finish that smoothie before employing the principles you’re preaching there sonny…)

You see, what Innocent fails to realise is that when you build an ‘ethical brand’ with a unique selling point, your entire success is based upon these fundamental principles. Rome wasn’t actually built in a day and neither are brands – Innocent was started way back in 1998. However, a day is all it takes to damage a brand irreparably and this startled smoothie company currently has a lot of egg on its corporate face. (Potential new smoothie flavour anyone?)

The Gapster has no doubt whatsoever that the Innocent brand will live on – the financial clout offered by Coca Cola will undoubtedly enable the brand to expand (successfully) into new markets. What angry consumers are bemoaning however, is the fact that it won’t be the Innocent they’ve come to know and love. No amount of PR gloss will be able to cover up the fact that ‘righteous’ Innocent consumers have become victim to yet another example of spineless sell-outs and boardroom politics.

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