We talk a lot about the pressures on brands to perform and about the difficulties of staying competitive in huge and rapidly changing markets. Nevertheless, global brands experienced a 12 percent increase in value in 2014 – and there are powerful lessons for all those responsible for brands in how they did that. If demand generation is part of your role, here are eight things that you can be doing in 2015 to retain reputation, stem decline and make the most of upswings in economies and consumer preferences.
1. Be part of a rising category – According to Millward Brown, the top 10 apparel brands, for example, grew by 29% last year. If you have brands in this or another of the rapidly growing sectors, that’s a clear prompt to be investing to meet what is clearly increasing interest. If you don’t yet have brands in one of the rising categories, are there ways that you can naturally (and quickly) extend your brand into these burgeoning categories through acquisition, partnership, licensing and/or co-branding?
2. Be part of a resurgent economy – If your brand is spread across diverse regions, it makes sense to focus on those areas of the world where there is inherent economic growth driven by rising consumer confidence. To ride the wave, look for ways to get a foothold through an agency arrangement or work with an established player to increase their stock range. Also introduce premium lines to take advance of rising aspirations.
3. Tackle social issues – A number of sectors are fighting reputational issues at the moment. Brands in areas like fast food and soft drinks need to directly address their social impacts or risk being disrupted by healthy challengers. Equally brands with potential ethical issues – environmental, social, health-related, behaviour based or that involve processes that people feel strongly about such as animal cruelty – are going to need to show that they are actively minimising the downsides of what they do. Addressing reputational issues won’t necessarily mean growth, but it will help arrest declining sales.
4. Increase “share of life” (Millward Brown’s phrase) not just share of market by integrating and extending ecosystems. Apple are the masters of this approach, closing loops between product and content in order to retain control and to encourage consumers to stay and shop within their universe. By diversifying into new areas of interest and maximising brand equity as they do so, brands can look for smart ways to be more involved in every person’s every day. As Nigel Hollis observes, “. Apple spans our needs for entertainment, music and productivity. Amazon fulfills our need for convenience with effortless one-click shopping and relevant purchase recommendations for stuff we never knew we wanted. Nike, with its Nike+ Fuelband, has transformed itself from a mere apparel brand to a companion and coach for runners.” They do this through that they offer and what they socialise.
5. Be more convenient – By deftly and increasingly merging digital and physical interactions. Seamless experiences also cut the friction that slows down sales and/or distracts consumers into going elsewhere, particularly as digital tools play an increasingly important role in consumer journeys. According to McKinsey, “Digitization is steadily becoming the main pathway for consumer journeys. The number of digital touchpoints is increasing by 20 percent annually as more offline consumers shift to digital tools and younger, digitally oriented consumers enter the ranks of buyers … [But] The greater number of touchpoints before purchase increases the odds a consumer will encounter a deal breaker along the digital highway.”
6. Personalise and localise – By bringing brands back to a vicinity that people know and turning up the sense of individualism, even the biggest brands in the world can find ways to make themselves much more immediate to consumers. This doesn’t have to be high-tech. Coke’s simple and highly effective named labels, part of its hugely successful Share a Coke campaign, showed how enhancing the sense of high-touch could transform people’s sense of ownership. Global brewers have also found that introducing niche, craft products tailored to individual markets and tastes has allowed them to tell a counter-story to their many micro-challengers. Sometimes the biggest thing you can do as a global brand in a specific market is to act small.
7. Beautify – Fashion never sleeps. We live in a highly visualised world where our eyes are used to a rapidly changing aesthetic. Continue to review and adjust the design and style of your products and your advertising so that your brand feels “now”. This is hard, but not impossible, for brands with long lead times – but it is also relative, and chances are your competitors face the same logistical issues that you do. By continually checking the appeal of what you offer, you can introduce your brand to new segments – as Heineken did, when they added a longer neck to appeal to younger drinkers – and resist the downward pricing pressure that inevitably accompanies products that feel “tired”.
8. Break the boring – Find simple, simple ways to make life more interesting. People feel time-poor but simultaneously they are bound by habit, ritual, expectation and what technology allows them to do. Simple things like all-you-can-eat upgrades on phone plans enable consumers to work with what they know but derive greater value and pleasure from doing so. All of these initiatives will, if they are successful, be matched. The secret is to bring them to market alongside a personality that people engage with, look to, and champion.
Photo of “Ski jumper” taken by uwdigitalcollections, sourced from Flickr