Brand strategy: Mass market, the niche and Coke

Teachers, speakers, gurus and consultants drill into the minds of business owners the importance of targeting, segmentation and positioning. There is an abundance of advice available on why and how you shouldn’t try and target a broad group.

But playing devil’s advocate, isn’t it sometimes better, even more appropriate to cast the net wide? It works for Apple (especially at launch), Argos (the high street retailer with a  catalogue in 70% of UK homes) and of course Coca Cola.


Especially when you consider Andy Warhol’s famous quote:

   “A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than               the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same. Liz                 Taylor knows it, the President knows it and the bum knows it.”

Coke distributes 1.7 bn drinks a day and as a business is more interested in converting the 585m Facebook accounts that DONT currently subscribe to their page rather than the 25m that do.

Most companies claim to serve the customer. But don’t be fooled. These companies are in it for themselves. Coke’s global business strategy is to ensure that anyone, anywhere, can get their hands on a Coke if they want one.

Which begs the question are you concentrating on making a fantastic product and service that is delivered exactly the same to whoever buys it, or are you killing yourself trying to bespoke to niche customers over and over? Might just be worth thinking about.


How storytelling can enhance your brand

With a greater focus on content and context driving long term engagement with brands, I found this Slideshare by StoryBeats to be timely and relevant to the debate.

What I particularly like about it is the way they have drawn creative inspiration from a range of sources – in this example films and games – but have also fused some interesting b2c case studies into the presentation too.

Indeed, using strong characters, plots and scenarios to help create a point of connection with your customers – some common ground – is a powerful first step in developing a relationship.

I think using stories and values to position companies and their brands have never been in sharper focus. Companies that continue to differentiate themselves in this way will stand out from the pack.

Be interested to see what you think.

B2B Marketing Principles 6: Brand Value Systems

Building and raising brand awareness is often a hallmark of any B2B marketing plan but do you as a B2B marketer have a carefully constructed consistent and coherent system in place to measure the value of your brand?

We sometimes assume that if a cluster of prospects have some awareness of your offering, and can identify with it, this puts you in a more favourable light to secure their business. That’s why most B2B marketing plans include some form of advertising twinned with targeted direct marketing aimed to acquire and then retain customers.

If you’re going to invest in creating and promoting a brand, consider how you will measure effectiveness and value. Becoming, and staying ‘front of mind’ can cost a small fortune as companies compete to build a brand containing some intrinsic brand value.

Take a different view. One where you don’t own your brand and it is instead defined by those who come into contact with it. Think of all your brand ‘touch points’ – a trade counter, your call centre, a representative or engineer, your mail shots, your advertising, your exhibition stands, your seminars, your website, email, social media pages. All of these can offer a great experience and provide the opportunity to ask for feedback. And therein lies the rub: The only way to create a benchmark, and then measure brand value, is to ask.

The Cooperative asks questions on their Chip & Pin machines at the checkout. Linkedin, SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang polls can be quickly created and distributed. Email and website based tools can be effectively harnessed post transaction. In-store and direct marketing response offers can be deployed. Questions can be added to omnibus surveys. And at the most expensive but perhaps most focused end of the spectrum, you can utilise focus groups and tailored market research programmes. There are a wealth of online tools to monitor chatter and buzz about your brand online (to be covered in a future blog).

What is clear is whilst you may set a vision and a value proposition for your brand, it is the market that ultimately determines how your brand is perceived. Come out from the ivory tower, never assume your view is in the line with the market and always deal quickly with a complaint.

Put in place a regular, rigorous process for measuring the effectiveness of your marketing. Focus groups and online research panels together with quick fire surveys can give you a measure of perception together with partnership surveys created with relevant associations and institutions, trade publications and exhibitions.


Recession marketing

In an interview with Marketing magazine, Nick Smith at Accenture talked recently about the four key things that businesses should be focusing on in order to safely navigate the recession. They are value, innovation, expectation and organisational ethos. Here’s my take.

1. Value Fundamentally are you overpriced for what you offer? What do you stand for and offer? What service, experience, add ons and extras can you or do you provide that make your offer more competitive from a total package perspective?

How does your value proposition sit when compared with the competition and the perceptions of your customers?

2. Innovation Despite recessionary economics suggesting that we ‘regress’ and seek out brands that remind us of more prosperous times, there is a data supporting the proposition that we’re attracted to innovation and the idea of the new, exciting and different. There are countless examples of companies and products (including Apple) that start up in recessions, capture the imagination of an audience and ride it out.

Where you can innovate in your product/service without losing focus? Perhaps on value?

3. Experience/expectation Nick says high performing companies understand the customer experience. What is undeniable is the power of the Internet, broadband, the mobile revolution and the viral nature of communications now means that businesses have to think much more strategically about their marketing communications. Brands like Vodafone map brand touch points well to ensure consistency and clarity.

Have you mapped your brand touch points? How do customers find you, engage with you, convert and keep coming back for more?

4. Organisational ethos With the Internet at the heart of everything, non responsible behaviour, or poor or non-response when a brand is under the spotlight, is amplified. Strategy, speed, impact and a feel for emerging technology are all key if today’s marketers are to make the most of opportunities and to head off potential crises.

Is your organisation ahead of the curve or behind the times? Surviving the recession depends on it.


Why the Top 50 UK Brands survey does little for b2b marketing (and me)

Marketing Week’s ‘Top 50 British Brands’ made interesting and confusing reading to me over the weekend, not least because it was almost entirely dominated by consumer focused brands.

Drawing on the findings from the Brand Finance valuation survey, the list features the 50 ‘most valuable brands of British origin’ and suggests that British business is on the up as these companies have increased their combined brand value from £166bn in 2009 to £199bn in 2010.

The top five are Vodafone, HSBC, Tesco, Orange and Shell. Clearly the survey’s findings were developed before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as BP sit at 7th.

Call me a skeptic but don’t most UK marketers work in a business selling things to other businesses? Digging deeper, there are a handful of overtly B2B companies such as professional services firms PWC (8), KPMG (11), Deloitte (12), Ernst & Young (14), the mining group RioTinto (29), information and education provider Pearson (34) and security firm G4S (38), But I find the list and how it was created somehow disappointing from a B2B marketing perspective.

Why? Most of the remaining companies on the list operate in consumer and business markets, and muddy the waters with their marketing by trying to apply a common approach. Also, emotional scoring plays a big part in brand value metrics, and this is significantly more important in a consumer brand evaluation as opposed to the complex, multi tier, multi contact influencer approach required in business marketing. B2C and B2B brands should be treated separately.

When they’re not, we end up with a table that gives Vodafone and Tesco a much higher rating than Rio Tinto or G4S. But is this right or fair? Can we truly compare a business like Rio Tinto on similar metrics to a company like Vodafone and then rank them? Personally, I don’t think we can because they operate in different ways, delivering different needs to very different customers.

Expanding the argument further, here is the 2010 list of 500 ‘business superbrands’. How many are actually business superbrands, as opposed to ‘consumer with a business division’ to ‘true consumer/business hybrid?’ Again, I’m not convinced

Marmite sandwich box image courtesy of KitchenCritic

Doing it well or not at all

Launching a brand externally before you’ve prepared the company for the reaction…

Spending money on branding but letting regional managers do what they want with it…

Advertising your product but without  a compelling call to action…

Crafting the most enticing copy imaginable but using tired old stock images in your brochure ware…

Building a database but not using it effectively for relationship and business building purposes…

Sending direct mail but not following up by phone…

Building a beautiful website but not investing a little more in ensuring the world can find it…

Writing a blog but not using RSS, Twitter and your website to distribute it…

Taking space at a major trade show but failing to build an integrated communication campaign around it in advance to drive interest…

Everyone of these (and more) are a crime against marketing but are committed on a daily basis by businesses the world over. Is yours one of them? Isn’t it better to market well or not at all?

Blog Gold 2010: A funny thing called insight

Insight is the holy grail of customer relationship marketing.

Insight gives you understanding and perspective.

Insight allows you to differentiate.

Insight enables you to proposition.

Insight drives creative marketing.

Insight can help you add value.

Insight can ensure you are able to charge more.

And some agencies can charge clients vast sums of money for it.

Think, who is best placed to give me insight into customers, their perceptions, motivations and brand choices? And who has the relationship and ability to ask these questions of your customer? Whether you choose the direct or indirect route, one thing is sure, it will effect the number of zeros assigned from your marketing budget that might be better spent elsewhere.

Original posted 14 Sept 2009. Image courtesy of

Blog Gold 2010: Propagating your personal brand

Last November, I told you that you’re an expert in what you do.

To support your outward promotion of your expert status and the value you can add, you might have a profile on MySpace or Facebook. You’ve realised it is important joining the debate on Linkedin, using it as a way of building your credibility and reach.

You post the occasional blog, answer a question and contribute to some industry facing groups. It’s a little time consuming but in giving back and helping others, it positions you as a worthwhile and credible contact.

You may be using a Twitter account to raise your profile and to post links to content – whether its either your own, or stories and posts that you might want to be associated with.

If you’re more switched on, you might have some content lodged on sites like YouTube, Vimeo or Slideshare. They are great for posting video snippets, photo slideshows, animations and presentations.

But, are these rich and powerful sources cited on your business card? Are they in your email footer? If not, you’re missing at least two golden opportunities to propagate your brand and expertise.

Don’t settle for guidelines dictated to you by the corporate design police in your company. Extol the virtues and importance of these things to senior management and encourage their use.

Promoting your use of these technologies demonstrates your understanding, shows you are forward thinking as an individual, as well as a business, and that you are prepared to engage and enter into a discussion with your customers.

Original posted 20 Nov 2009. Image courtesy of Elaine Fogel’s blog.

Is branding all that matters?

I watched the first instalment of Jo Malone’s High Street Dreams on BBC1 where the retail entrepreneur mentored two food businesses and gave them the opportunity to pitch to major supermarket purchasing teams.

I had been looking forward to it but came away a little disappointed as the entire focus of the project in both cases was to get the brand and packaging right. Sure this is absolutely critical but when you’re starting out, as both were, the key thing is surely to drum up interest and some sales to convince anyone to take a chance.

Check it out on BBC iPlayer and let me know what you think. This link won’t last for long.

When developing a product, there has to be a need (a ready made market) or a strong perceived need for it, and there have to be some very clear benefits for why it will sell.

I just felt the programme glossed over some of the more important elements to creating momentum around a brand, and indeed the cultural and organizational aspects of moving a business from your own kitchen to supplying a high street operation like Waitrose or Asda.

And just to square the cirle, I went looking for Muddy Boots burgers in Waitrose on Saturday, but there was no sign, and I’m assuming that the programme was made some time ago. A massive promotional opportunity missed there by everyone involved.

It brings the topic of brand into sharper focus. GyroHSR, an international B2B agency, recently staged a well publicised event with the question of whether ”Brand or Demand’ is the objective of marketing at its heart. I think brand is important, but it is definately not all that matters.

B2B Marketing Principles 4: The B2B value proposition

The drive to write a blog series about B2B marketing came from a realisation that there remains little clear information and guidance on effective B2B marketing in the UK. There are few books on the subject (believe me I’ve checked Amazon), one magazine (B2B Marketing) and a few discussion groups in places like Linkedin. There are a small handful of agencies and specialists attempting to drive best practice.

I even approached the CIM about creating a B2B interest group (there isn’t one) and they are yet to get back to me.

I believe that, as a B2B marketer, you are looking for strategies and approaches to give your business the best chance of break through, the best chance to stand out from other commodities. So how can you standout in a B2B market?

Beating the commodity trap demands an appreciation of who are presenting to (target audience), understanding what they want (their needs), their concerns and trigger points (objections) and ultimately presenting yourself in the best most favourable light to secure the supply contract.

To provide the most favourable offer means being able to deliver what is expected and then some. It is often the ‘and then some’ that secures a contract win. But such an indefinable element means you have to think long and hard about your value proposition. In light of what you know about your customer, consider the following value propositions. Bear in mind the quality, speed, price conundrum; you can only really offer two of these.

1. Be the fastest – ProntaPrint provides on the spot print and collation services to businesses. It is priced slightly higher than other print providers because you can have collateral printed immediately at hundreds of high street locations.

2. Offer the most choice – Wolseley supplies the building and plumbing trades with product lines running into the tens of thousands through their nationwide network of Build Centres, Plumb Centres etc.

3. Provide the most customisation – Dell allows you to customise your computer purchase online, add a range of extras and add discounted peripherals and accessories. You receive a bespoke computer, though it does tend to take a while to arrive.

4. Be the expert – KPMG help thousands of businesses audit their accounts and ensure their financial affairs are in order and comply with financial and legal and requirements. As a professional service they are arguably unrivalled.

5. Be the largest – Microsoft support their global domination of the PC software market with accredited partner schemes meaning there are millions of Microsoft certified experts supporting businesses with their IT needs.

6. Provide the best quality – quality in the sense of design, performance, finish and process (ISO9001). This might be related to total product (Bentley, Apple) or individual components.

7. Provide the best service – service from a customer experience perspective. Is your website easy to browse and automated to the extent of Amazon. Are your staff fully conversant with brand values and company mission? How is your service delivered – instore, online or through channel partners and distribution?

8. Be the most informative – Google Adwords, whether you love them or hate them, have done a great job in advancing take up of the advertising scheme with Google University sessions and seminars at hundreds of events every year. They show the product in use, allow people to trial, ask questions and get a feel for it, resulting in much higher take up than might have been the case.

Business experts always say focus on what you are best at. Above all, avoid being the cheapest. Price differentiation positions you as a commodity proposition. Consequently, you provide little value and can be easily replaced.

What value do you add?