Which brands will be around forever? Can having a social purpose boost a brand’s lifespan? And, how come all the brand love in the world can’t stop a brand from dying out? These are some the questions debated by a gathering of marketers and marketing experts at the Immortal Brands Breakfast roundtable hosted by Southpaw as part of its Brand Mortality study.
The roundtable, which was chaired by The Drum editor Stephen Lepitak, included Fever Tree’s global brand director Vince Lawson; Artemis Argyrides, Europe brand manager at Pizza Hut; Rude Health marketing manager Rosie Gordon Lennox; Amy Fisher, Dairy Crest’s shopper marketing controller; Tara Smith, global marketing manager at GHD, Camille Beaufils, Head of social at Diageo; Steve Kearns, managing director at Cawston Press; Seamus O’Farrell, customer behaviour expert; Niki Macartney, strategy director at Southpaw; Tom Poynter, Southpaw’s managing director; and Ria Campbell, head of content at Southpaw.
The topic was especially timely as it took place, coincidentally, on the same day that the news broke of the sad demise of fashion brand Orla Kiely. The roundtable panelists reminisced about brands they loved growing up which have since disappeared. Many alluded to the tragic demise of Woolworths; a brand associated with many a happy childhood memory. Other fallen brands fondly remembered included C&A, Tammy Girl, Pan Am and Altavista.
Why brand love alone can’t save John Lewis
Brand love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as Orla Kiely has unfortunately discovered. It’s easy to assume a beloved brand like John Lewis, with its iconic status and world famous Christmas ads, would be invincible. Yet, as Southpaw's Campbell points out, its profits have just taken a major hit, falling 99% recently. “I don’t think any brand is invincible,” Campbell says. “Consumer love, whether or not it exists, doesn’t save a brand if its back is against the wall.” Fever Tree’s Lawson argues that, regardless of whether consumers love a brand or not, the key to a brand’s existence is its relevance to consumers.
The panel agreed that to secure its future John Lewis needs to raise its game against online fashion retailers like Asos. Creating online communities, a more personalised online offering and improving the in-store shopping experience is key to attracting the younger generation and future-proofing the business, the panel said. But O’Farrell believes that, despite having challenger brands on its heels, John Lewis is not facing an existential threat. “John Lewis has suffered a death by a thousand cuts, but all these little cutters aren’t going to be in business for very long,” he said. He advised John Lewis to “stick to its knitting” and continue to pursue its strategy of increasing its marketing spend and rationalising its product base (along with improving its ecommerce offering). “I think John Lewis and Waitrose are going to be stronger and stronger each year for the foreseeable future,” he predicts. Diageo’s Camille Beaufils highlights the importance of the in-store experience for retail brands. “You’ll find a product online through social and then you’ll actually go in store to experience the product or the ethos of the brand,” she says. She also cited Lululemon and Bonobos as examples of ecommerce brands that are nailing the in-store experience. The panel also assessed the chances of survival for Tesco’s new budget brand Jack’s, concluding that success will depend on it becoming front of mind for consumers.
To compete with the likes of Aldi and Lidl, Tesco will have to make a huge investment in above-the-line advertising, O’Farrell pointed out. Fisher said having as many store locations will also be crucial, as convenience and proximity will be another key driver.
The biggest health hazard for brands? Obsessing over the next big thing
One of the biggest threats to brand health, according the panel, is an addiction to the next big thing. Cawston Press' Kearns believes this ‘fear of missing out’ has become a major stumbling block for brands who can end up neglecting the core part of their business as a result. In the retail industry, the high turnover of retail buyers is to blame for this, he said. “Buyers all have a fear of missing out,” said Kearns. “They believe in next big thing and they want to be on the front line of that. Rather than looking at 98% of a category they look at 2%.” Campbell adds that brands risk their business by bouncing too far ahead of the consumer. In the grocery sector, retailers continually put pressure on manufacturers to provide them with something new or exclusive because they want to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Dairy Crest’s Amy Fisher tells the roundtable that this can cause manufacturers to lose sight of their core products. “There’s a lot of pressure from retailers and the bigger manufacturers are losing out in that fight,” she explains. The dominance of Amazon was flagged as a threat to many brands across sectors. However, Seamus O’Farrell points out that Amazon has only just started to turn a profit. He noted that there is a lot of hyperbole around the retail revolution, adding that while we’re constantly told by the press that people are shopping differently, not much has really changed in the past ten years. A decade ago, the average person did around 256 grocery shopping trips at supermarkets in a year, and this year that figure is about the same, he said. The key difference, he explained, lies in the fact that we are doing more top-up shops and fewer larger shops. “I’m interested in what doesn’t change in a world of change,” he adds.
Stop binging on content
Based on the results from Southpaw’s Marketing Decision-Makers survey this year, McCartney revealed the four most common mistakes by marketers that put brands at risk. These include an obsession with the next big thing; addiction to short-term marketing; decision-making based on fake marketing industry news (such as false pronouncements around the death of TV); and content overload. “People are being bombarded with millions of pieces of content everyday,” Macartney warns. “What people do want from content is for it to be entertaining, informative, useful and rewarding. If it’s not doing any of that, don’t do it - don’t put it out there.”
The challenge of attracting the next generation
The panel also tackled the thorny problem of engaging the notoriously fickle younger generation. Pizza Hut’s challenge lies in trying to lure young consumers away from rivals like Nando’s and challenger brand Franca Manca. “We are a 60-year-old brand. We have to keep relevant,” says Pizza Hut’s Argyrides. One way of doing this, she says, is to focus on the in-store experience. “We’ve got to appeal to that younger generation that just wants that ease.” Another challenge lies in the fact that Domino’s tends to be front of mind for consumers when it comes to pizza delivery, she added, despite half of Pizza Hut’s business being devoted to delivery. She reveals the brand is moving away from product innovation (like hotdog-stuffed crusts) to focus on its core products. The panel advised that Pizza Hut should take on board healthy eating trends and re-examine its brand purpose in its bid to attract younger consumers.
Can brand purpose extend your lifespan?
GHD’s Smith claims that that the haircare brand have benefited hugely from re-establishing what it stands for and defining its purpose. “Not only has it given a boost to everyone internally, it’s given us a point of difference,” she says. Rude Health’s marketing manager Rosie Gordon Lennox also found that pinpointing a brand purpose has made a big impact. Not exploiting anxiety around food and healthy eating is a core value for Rude Health. “That for us has given us internal alignment,” she explained. “It’s made decision-making so much easier.” It has also meant that, unlike competitors, Rude Health does not put any health claims on its packaging, which, she said, helps the brand stand out. O’Farrell argued that there is no real evidence to suggest that social purpose has any commercial impact on a brand. “It might be genuine that Patagonia wants to save the world, but it’s not why most people buy Patagonia,” he said.
He maintained that CSR is used to “make marketers feel good about themselves”. Amy Fisher countered that Skittles’ ‘Give the Rainbow’ campaign in support of Gay Pride showed that brand purpose can also be lucrative. “From a commercial perspective it was very smart,” she said. Lawson said that although Fever Tree’s brand purpose is distinct from the causes it supports (namely its work with charities fighting malaria) he feels it’s important to use its power as a brand to drive awareness for good causes. “Every brand should be doing something good for society,” he stated.