Shaken & Stirred - Influential Brand Profiling and Positioning

9 ways FMCG brands can remain relevant … by Niki Macartney, Southpaw

By Niki Macartney, strategy director at Southpaw

Grocery brands face many challenges in these fast-moving digital times; they need to think fast to combat the pincer movement of competitors and changing consumer behaviour. Reviving a brand is an option for those found to be in decline.

It’s vital to recognise, however, that many comebacks fail simply because the expectation is that marketing alone can be the saviour.

Download Southpaw’s Fading Brands report here

The best turnarounds are the result of more fundamental changes. With this in mind, here are a number of steps FMCG brands can take to rise again:

1. Stay relevant; don’t lose meaning and purpose

Shoppers are always looking for reasons to believe and buy. When household brands lose meaning and purpose, sales suffer and consumers become disenchanted. The risk of a short-term focus on sales is that equity imbued in the product erodes. Certain brands outside of FMCG, such as Apple, do an exceptional job of storytelling to create enchanting experiences that consumers leap to be a part of. When brands start with ‘why’ consumers will foster an innate understanding of a brand’s higher purpose. This leads to a two-way conversation, enabling brands to create lifelong brand advocates.

2. Rise to the challenge

Skoda, Domino’s Pizza and Dove have all staged spectacular comebacks by diagnosing the brand’s problem and tackling their critics head on. By becoming aware of the fact it was the butt of many jokes, Skoda developed a feisty campaign that directly challenged people’s misconceptions by adopting an “it’s better than you think” strategy. The line ‘It’s a Skoda. Honest’ was a turning point, together with a radically improved manufacturing strategy.

Dove, meanwhile, chose to subvert the often ridiculously unattainable aspirations of toiletries advertising and the rest is history. And perhaps one of the bravest examples we’ve seen is from Domino’s. It built on its ‘cardboard pizza’ reputation to deliver the ‘Pizza Turnaround – oh yes we did’ campaign.

3. Face the future

Complacency is a killer. Just because something worked in the past does not mean it will work in the future. Far too often, brands rest on the laurels of their heritage. The most successful consumer goods brands continuously innovate while keeping one eye on today and the other on tomorrow.

Looking to other sectors like retail, it’s become clear that even those once dearly loved organisations aren’t safe. BHS and Woolworths are stark examples of this new truth.

Nike, Apple and Red Bull are three brands that have been far from complacent. They share a clear proposition that is consistently and coherently communicated over time. Know what made your brand successful in the first place; these are a brand’s foundation. Divulge information from staff and loyal customers to keep your brand fresh. British Airways did exactly this with its return of the ‘To Fly. To Serve’ brand-led marketing campaign – its strategy has renewed the nation’s bond with the flag carrier.

4. Know your brand inside and out

Become better acquainted with your brand, its strengths and weaknesses. Drawing on real-life snippets from customers, the wider public and your own staff, you can keep on top of your brand. Use your instinct, set a hypothesis and prove it.

Core strengths include: better product, different promise, experience (see Airbnb) or price. Defining this will help shape your marketing strategy. ITV developed a year-long programme of research to understand its core strength. The broadcaster put audience insight front and centre in developing its new brand strategy and communications. The resulting ‘The Heart of Popular Culture’ positioning came about through an understanding of the brand’s true promise: ITV tells stories we all care about that we want to share and talk about.

5. Avoid fixating on one audience (too niche)

Segmentation can be a blessing and a curse. Brands can fall prey to a hyper-focus on one niche audience that neglects wider customer wants and needs. It’s important to wriggle out of the strait-jacket this creates to capitalise on wider opportunities.

Shreddies, for example, needed to move beyond targeting hungry schoolkids and their mums several years ago. By talking about the enjoyment of breakfast and relating the occasion and emotional connection through nans (rather than the product itself), the brand saw a marked increase in sales in previously stagnant demographics.

6. Don’t ignore 55+ audiences

The point above is particularly relevant when it comes to the burgeoning 55 and over age group. It’s the fastest-growing market and also has huge spending power. As these individuals become increasingly tech savvy, more and more are turning to third-party reviews and fellow consumer feedback to inform purchases. To resonate with this audience, it’s crucial to deliver the right media mix. Planning and creative must work cohesively to speak to people in the right place, on the right device at the right time.

There are myriad ways the shine can come off a brand. It’s vital to dust off the cobwebs on a regular basis or the problems may become too hard to fix.

7. Treat consumers like human beings

Look beyond your product’s functional abilities and play on a deeper emotional need – look to Coca-Cola for cues here. Millward Brown once highlighted that being ‘meaningfully different’ enables brands to justify higher prices, which will eventually allow faster growth.

The ticket is to feel more and think less. Hovering over the ‘buy’ button or standing in front of the fixture, deep in the moment of purchase, consumers rapidly recall brands with the strongest memory structures, and emotions triumph.

Thinkbox’s emotive ads have delivered results to rival rational campaigns over several years. Furthermore, emotional stimulation encourages engagement. Unruly is a living example of how establishing that connection can drive video shares.

8. Never stand still

In order to remain truly competitive, brands must constantly evolve to remain relevant to their customers. To make peace with even the most fickle of markets – 16- to 34-year-olds – strategists should consider collaborations and the use of popular culture phenomena. Cue ‘Wall’s Wall’sie. Onesies you can wear down the shopsies.’

9. Invest

Staging a comeback and turning around a brand’s performance requires investment. But results won’t come flooding in overnight, having a little unflappable determination will give you a healthy advantage to keeping the beating heart of a brand going.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, every brand turnaround needs a leader. Someone needs to stand up and be counted, believing in the essence of the brand and guiding it to a brighter future. Who’ll be the brand hero in your organisation?


Download Southpaw’s Fading Brands report here


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