Revolutionary Measures

Brand safety in the age of Trump

Marketers are all aware of the impact of social media on brand reputation. Issues can quickly go viral as consumers share complaints on Facebook and Twitter – and with the press continually monitoring for social stories, before you know it you are on the BBC News or the front page of a newspaper website.

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Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

However, what has changed in the last twelve months or so has been the impact of celebrities, including Donald Trump, on brand safety. A tweet from the US President complaining about a company can damage reputation, and even survival. Take the case of Chinese telecoms equipment maker ZTE. Convicted of breaching US sanctions on Iran and North Korea, the company first looked doomed to go out of business when it was banned from buying US components, and was then resurrected through a supportive tweet from Trump.

All a bit Thameslink
It isn’t just Trump – a tweet from author Eric Van Lustbader about food poisoning at a branch of US restaurant chain Chipotle (already reeling from an e.coli outbreak), caused its stock to fall. And in the UK, rail company Thameslink was threatened with legal action from Poundland for comparing its poor service to ‘Poundland cooking chocolate’. The retailer added that it if it ever fell short on customer service, they’d describe themselves as ‘a bit Thameslink’.

What the Poundland experience shows is that brands are now fighting back against what they see as unfair attacks. Nowhere was this more visible than in the Roseanne Barr case, where the TV star blamed sleeping pill Ambien for her racist tweets. Cue its maker Sanofi to respond (brilliantly) “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

Whereas in the past they may have ignored social media mentions or only responded weeks later, brands are now wising up to the protecting their online reputation. However, I think they need to balance speed with the following three factors:

1.Be polite and engaging
It would have been very easy for multibillion dollar drug company Sanofi to respond to Roseanne with a dry legal statement or to launch an attack of its own. Instead, it balanced politeness with cutting wit, simultaneously undermining her point and demonstrating its good corporate citizenship.

2.Don’t get personal
When a celebrity, particularly one with millions of followers, tweets about you it is easy for things to descend into a personal slanging match that actually further damages your brand. Try and take the moral high ground, state the facts and think before you tweet. After all, there are likely to be brand advocates who will defend you aggressively, letting you focus on your key messages.

3.Take a joke
Brand safety isn’t about jumping on every negative, throwaway mention of your company and overreacting/threatening legal action. Decide what is important, what can be handled by a simple denial, and where it makes more sense for your brand to play along and show that you have a sense of humour.

The past few weeks have shown that marketers are now taking positive steps to protect brand reputation online – they clearly have the monitoring systems in place to intervene early, but they need to make sure they don’t become too corporate if they are to actually enhance their reputations rather than adding to online damage through ill-thought out responses.

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June 6, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Asbury’s or Sainsda? Will the Sainsburys/Asda merger work?

The proposed merger between Sainsbury’s and Asda promises to shake up the grocery market in multiple ways. It will create a new leader in terms of market share and, the companies hope, give them the scale to tackle the rise of discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.

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Looking at it through a marketing lens, there are three things that stand out:

1          Slick PR (to start with)
This is a deal that has been discussed for several years apparently, and it shows in the careful messaging behind the announcement. Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe has pledged that there will be no job cuts or store closures and that the combined entity will lower prices by 10%. Clearly this is disingenuous on a number of levels – the Competitions and Markets Authority is likely to force some stores to be sold, naturally reducing staff numbers, while any savings for consumers are likely to come from squeezing the combined supply chain of the new company. This will impact the profitability and potentially staff numbers at suppliers, who employ more people than Sainsbury’s/Asda itself. So there are likely to be job losses – just not at the company itself.

The main fly in the PR ointment has been a classic bit of spokesperson inattention. While waiting for a broadcast interview Mike Coupe was captured on camera singing “We’re in the Money”, from the musical 42nd Street. The overall impression (apart from that he should stick to the day job), was that the whole deal was about enriching management and shareholders, at the expense of customers and suppliers. Cue a hasty apology, but it has highlighted how there’s no such thing as off the record (or camera).

2          A complex brand balancing act
One of the attractions of the deal is that there isn’t that much crossover between the demographics of Sainsbury’s and Asda shoppers. That should mean that you won’t lose any customers, and if you can trim supplier costs you can generate large efficiencies. This is something highlighted by Sainsbury’s, which commissioned research that showed Asda customers value “fair prices” most and Sainsbury’s are attracted by “great fresh food.”

That’s all very well in theory, but achieving sufficient synergies while keeping things separate enough in practice could be more difficult. While other organisations (banking groups, airlines and consumer goods holding companies) manage multiple brands, somehow a supermarket feels different. People have a strong relationship with their supermarket of choice, probably because of the basic importance of food to their lives, so anything that is seen as weakening brand values is likely to upset consumers.

3          The competition won’t stand still
While Sainsbury’s wants the merger to happen quickly, something this large will need regulatory approval and will take time. And while both Sainsbury’s and Asda will no doubt stress that it is business as usual in the meantime, it will take up a lot of management time. Rival grocers will no doubt aim to take advantage of this, particularly as they know about the two marketing pillars (fair prices and fresh food) that the two brands will embrace going forward. Companies such as Lidl, Aldi and Tesco are already aiming to push both messages, now they’ve seen the potential Sainsbury’s strategy they’ll be redoubling their efforts to attract customers away from the merged organisation.

Due to its sheer scale in years to come the Sainsbury’s/Asda merger is likely to make it into marketing and business textbooks. The big question is whether it will be lauded as a well-executed and well-branded master stroke or listed with flops such as Bunnings takeover of Homebase? Initial marketing has been positive and pretty assured, but there’s a long way to go yet.

 

May 2, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marketing in the rental economy

When I was growing up it was common to rent a TV – they were expensive items and not everyone could afford to pay for one up front. But as prices dropped renting became the preserve of students and then seemed to disappear.

However the whole idea of a rental economy is back, just rebranded to on-demand. Take TVs again – given the price of a high end one, and the speed at which new innovations are coming through, renting provides the flexibility to always have access to the latest model without spending thousands. Why amass a collection of CDs when you can essentially rent them via Spotify or other streaming services? Looking at transport, many cars are now bought on credit deals that essentially mean you are paying a monthly rental to the manufacturer – and that’s before you look at the likes of Uber and Lyft. There are even websites in the US that let you rent high end furniture for your house or office.

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Speaking as a hoarder that wants to have that physical CD or book and to know they are mine (even if they then sit on the shelf after being digitised or read), I see limits to the rental economy. But I know I’m increasingly in a minority and a combination of the flexibility of on-demand and the fact that major purchases such as cars and TVs are often outside the budgets of many people mean rental is here to stay.

So what does this mean for marketing? I think there are three main things to focus on:

1.Need to keep customers loyal
Brands know that customers are now more demanding and less loyal than in the past. But the on-demand economy means that rather than simply switching supermarket or type of toothpaste they can equally change every brand that they deal with. Therefore you need to continually focus on keeping customers satisfied and consequently loyal – otherwise they will simply head to the competition.

2.Use the data to innovate
Digitisation means that brands in the on-demand economy have an enormous amount of data about their customers. Whether that is Uber knowing where you have taken cabs or Netflix having a record of what you watched, this information is all available. Rightly customers are wary about what brands do with this data, but surveys show that if it is used to improve the service and products they receive in ways that benefit them, it makes them more loyal to a company or service. So analyse this big data and use it to innovate and differentiate against competitors.

3.Brand is key
There are many factors that affect why consumers choose particular brands, including price and the choice of products that they offer. However in the on-demand economy, where the majority of interactions are digital, brand is a key part of the decision. For a start if they’ve not heard of your company they aren’t going to consider buying from you – and more importantly still if your brand gains a poor reputation sales will suffer. Uber is the perfect example of this – well-publicised scandals at the company led many users to switch to rivals, hitting its market share and revenues. Such is the pace of the on-demand economy that pretty much every company has a rival, often selling similar services at similar prices, meaning that building and safeguarding your brand is crucial to long-term success.

Digitisation is radically changing how we buy and consume products and services, with many moving away from outright ownership to a rental model. Brands must change how they focus their marketing efforts if they want to win, and more importantly retain, customers – or they risk being left behind by on-demand competitors.

August 23, 2017 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Turning an Easter egg into a marketing crisis

In today’s climate, it isn’t easy being a mainstream politician. At a time when populists are gaining ground across the world, from Spain and France to the White House, the danger is that traditional parties are seen as out of touch and unreflective of popular opinion. In the UK, the memory of the parliamentary expenses scandal, where one MP claimed for a duck house for his country estate and for having his moat cleaned, are still fresh in many people’s minds.

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By Donar Reiskoffer (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

No wonder that politicians think they should get themselves involved in low level debates that burnish their populist credentials. Witness David Cameron claiming to love Cornish pasties – but then being caught out when quizzed on when and where he last bought one.

Now Theresa May has got herself involved in the furore over Cadbury and the National Trust dropping the word ‘Easter’ from the title of their chocolate egg hunts. What were previously called ‘Easter Egg Trails’ at 300 National Trust properties are now being referred to as ‘Cadbury’s Great British Egg Hunt’. Interviewed by ITV News while on a trade mission to Saudi Arabia, she described the omission as “absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know what they are thinking about frankly.”

Personally what I think is ‘absolutely ridiculous’ is the current Prime Minister, who is dealing with Brexit, the biggest change in the country’s position in the world since World War II, spending her time criticising how organisations market themselves and their products. Clearly, someone in Cadbury’s marketing department has had the bright idea of trying to link to either the mood of nationalism or more likely, the Great British Bake-off, and removed the word ‘Easter’ to make space in the title. Easter is mentioned plenty of times elsewhere in promotional material for the events, so they felt that they had all their bases covered.

However, this does demonstrate the potential dangers to brands and their marketing campaigns. Thanks to social media we seem to live in a particularly touchy time, with people quick to jump to conclusions and complain, with issues snowballing as more and more people Like or Retweet them. It then becomes a story that politicians feel they have to become involved in. So what can brands do?

1          Check everything
Marketers need to balance new ideas and being creative with an eye on potential repercussions. The danger is that you worry so much about the tiniest chance of offending someone that you become too scared to actually do anything. So strike a balance – run new ideas past your wider team and test them with your target audiences before going ahead. At least that way you’ll pick up major issues before launching a campaign.

2          Be prepared
As I’ve said in previous blogs, the risk of a reputational crisis is there for every brand. Things go wrong in even the best run company due to the speed and complexity of business today. So make sure you have a crisis plan that is ready to swing into action when necessary. But don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut – adopt a proportional response to an issue, rather than rushing your CEO onto the Today Programme at the merest hint of trouble.

3          Be engaged and keep listening
The best way to avoid lasting damage to your brand is for it to be strong in the first place. If you don’t have a good reputation people are likely to be harsher critics when there are issues. Witness TalkTalk’s drubbing when it suffered a cyber attack – it was already seen as a company that was not particularly customer-centric, so had no real brand capital to fall back on. Cadbury is in a similar, but slightly stronger position – since it was bought by US multinational Kraft Foods and then spun off into the Mondelez confectionery conglomerate, it has been seen as ‘not really British’. Therefore it is not given the benefit of the doubt when a story like this comes up.

Personally, I think the whole Cadbury story is a storm in an Easter egg cup that will blow over and won’t either damage the brand or the number of people who turn out for the egg hunts over the holiday period. However, its prominence, and the involvement of politicians, shows that marketers need to be prepared for even the most innocuous activity to turn into a crisis overnight.

 

April 5, 2017 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apple, Antennagate and brand

The new Apple iPhone
Image by Victor Svensson via Flickr

The public and media storm about the iPhone 4’s antenna issues is an object lesson about changing brand perceptions and how companies need to evolve.

Like most companies, Apple has created some duff products in its time. And many of them have been down to design winning out over substance. The perfect example is the round mouse shipped with the iMac and Power Macs. Design wise it looked gorgeous and fitted in completely with the style of the product. However it was virtually impossible to use, leading to a storm of complaints and forcing customers to buy replacements.

But at the time it didn’t really matter. Macs were a niche product and users (mostly designers) weren’t going to defect to Windows over the issue.

Roll forward to the iPhone 4 and again a gorgeous design compromises the ability to actually use the product. But rather than just affecting a relatively small number of Apple fanatics, we’re talking about millions of mass market consumers. Big difference, hence Apple’s eventual issue of protective cases and heartfelt apologies.

But it took a while for Steve Jobs to stand up and admit the mistake (sort of). As it moves more and more into the mainstream Apple will need to learn to react faster if its brand is going to retain its lustre and appeal. Oh, and checking that the antenna works before shipping would also be a good idea…………

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July 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment