SA Brands in Tough Times – Heidi Brauer
‘It helps if one was raised to tough it out’ is the expression offered to explain the idiomatic or slang use of the word ‘tough’. And if brand builders weren’t raised this way, with resilience and strength, this economic climate is going to wreak havoc on their brands. With inflation rates back into double digits and other metrics (whose acronyms disable me completely) predicting further gloom, the time is now to up the game and engage in innovative and creative marketing strategies and tactics.
Tough times can be a result of product or consumer scarcity and whilst the latter is challenge du jour, both must equally cause us as marketers to sit up and really think about where the bucks are going. And where the buck needs to stop, literally and metaphorically.
In the 2008 Top Brands survey, there is evidence of some destabilising of established brand strongholds, although I am not so naïve as to suggest that it only takes a few months of economic instability to wobble a brand. Measuring first spontaneous awareness, followed by trust and confidence and finally, differentiation, the story we derive from the measures is consistent. Yes, brands that spend big bucks on advertising have the highest awareness levels (data based analysis, not gut feel), but the correlation between ad spend and strong trust and confidence and differentiation simply does not exist. Now is the time to focus efforts on the brand customer interactions that will best enable strengthening of these two critical ingredients. The time for delivery on promises is now, the time for consistency in experience is now, the time for leveraging differentiation and uniqueness is now.
Given that in this context ‘tough’ means cash pressure, the temptation is often to look at pricing and to make an effort to engage and connect with customers in a price/value zone. I know a smart man by the name of Bill Caskey who points out that “Value is always tied to pain.” This suggests that the new-age way of dealing with this is to articulate what pain or problem your brand can address and then to creatively engage the customer in that space. Business trends offer incredibly inventive opportunities to face the perils of maintaining and building brands in tough times, so that the temptation to chop, slice and retreat can be overcome. In The Hummer and the Mini, trend guru Robyn Waters causes one’s mouth to literally water at the opportunities that lie waiting for a savvy marketer to pounce on by embracing contradiction, paradox and extremes. For every trend there is a counter trend; no longer is it a given that if big is in, small is out, or if luxury is in, simple is out and so on. Tough times create a space for sussed marketers to mine the potential in ‘extremes marketing’. However, reactive tactics aren’t always the best idea, boldly tackling the new trends and opportunities should be a year- round thing.
Mining long tail spaces, where ‘less of more’ is the contra to mainstream mantras that demand ‘more and more’, requires lateral thinking, impeccable insights and immense bravery. New-age environments ache for new-age approaches to marketing and the benefits are being reaped in all spheres of new and traditional business. Let Gen-X and YYY’s into the strategy planning room – they know stuff.
Peppers and Rogers have been on about mass customisation for years. Sincere, genuine, authentic mass customisation has got to be the most generous and underutilised gift to marketing in the new economy. Learning more and more about our customers, implementing those learnings, maximising the plethora of digital and cost effective channels that are being invented on a daily basis are critical to ensure connectivity with markets in all economic conditions. Financially efficient ways to maintain this essential connectivity are paramount when all manner of economic indicators are heading south.
The imperative for marketers to be astute business people and to hone their ability to work in the boardroom with the financial people has never been more essential. Whilst we continue to wage war against some of Matt Haig’s Seven Deadly Sins – brand ego, brand megalomania, brand irrelevance, brand deception, brand fatigue and other potential derailers – tough times like these can be the space in which to not only maintain, but also to build new and existing brands in new and exciting ways.
To do this, we have to be raised to be tough.
Heidi Brauer is Deputy CEO and director of Marketing for Ipsos Markinor, which she joined as a senior researcher in 1997. She led the 2003 strategic rebranding of Markinor with Interbrand Sampson and co-developed the Anatomy of a Brand series with Gordon Institute of Business Science.
Brauer developed and implemented a marketing strategy that ensures Markinor retains its reputation as the strongest research brand in South Africa. She was also co-initiator of the Ipsos Markinor-Vega Brand school partnership.