Saturday, 10 December 2011

Confessions of a Londoner: aka the genius of the Duracell Portable Charger

Oh, the perils of the iPhone battery running out when one is away from home... Sophisticated and adaptable beings we may be, but being forced to survive in the midst of the the urban jungle without a GPS or Night-bus app (let alone voice calling) fills us with a primitive panic.

Sadly, as handsets become more indispensable – and therefore more used – so the time available before charging decreases. The problem isn’t limited to Apple fans: the majority of smartphone users will appreciate the inevitable compromise made between technological sophistication and battery life.

With the introduction of its branded portable charger, Duracell has identified and met a critical need among a small but rapidly growing proportion of smartphone users. In doing so, it has begun to extend its footprint beyond the declining category of alkaline batteries into a new category that’s growing as rapidly as technology is changing.

Full marks, Duracell.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Naked on the Shelf

From Stark Naked foods to Naked Smoothies to Naked Noodles – nudity seems to have recently flooded supermarket shelves.
Interestingly, even the visual language of these products has similarities – recurrent use of fluid, organic lines, child-like fonts, and vivid yet natural colours.

It is easy to see the thinking behind these brands. ‘Naked’ is the ultimate stamp of clean label – something that Innocent, the uncrowned king of the health beverage world, has raised the bar for. Yet apart from the health and transparency messaging, the term ‘Naked’ also works to give the brand an attitude and infuse it with a cheeky, urbane personality. A textbook case of functional/emotional benefit one might say.

However, as it becomes more prevalent, naming your product ‘Naked’ is no longer that differentiating, nor particularly interesting. Brands ought to look to new, original ways of communicating the health messages of their products in a sassy and catchy manner.

Undressed salad, anyone?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Understanding Consumer Identity: The Dangers of Ethnicity-Based Segmentation

Last week some fascinating new research was published by regarding the media consumption habits of African Americans, Asians/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics in the United States. The findings have serious implications for media planners, since they point to strong differences in behaviour amongst these ethnic groups.

Any research that points to consistent correlation between multiple variables is useful. Yet as an anthropologist I feel uneasy about an ethnicity-based segmentation in the 21st century – for reasons that have nothing to do with political correctness.

‘Ethnicity’ is a funny term and should not be used unquestionably. Like ‘race’ before it, it’s the kind of word that derives its power from the assumption that it is something physically engrained in us, passed down from our predecessors. But ethnicity is not inherent. Rather, it is part of our (also frustratingly fuzzy) ‘identity’ which is fluid, situational and constructed in our daily lives – in the way we dress, the food we eat, the language we speak and so on. It is through such practices that we come to identify ourselves as belonging to one group or another. 

If we start talking about how media and technology consumption affects identity we get into a whole new ball-game. There is so much you need to take into account – Facebook, online forums, Apple versus LG – the list could go on forever. What’s more – the phenomenal speed with which technology and media trends emerge and become mainstream means that the next big thing is just around the corner. For a young American of Chinese origin his iPhone and Twitter profile might well form a much greater part of his identity than his grandparents’ immigration story.

A good segmentation is typically predictive of consumer behaviour. If the present study helps media planners devise more effective campaigns, it will have fulfilled its role. My note of caution goes out more against the implicit assumption inherent in this research – that ethnicity is a concrete stable variable against which other variables can be plotted. Instead, both ‘identity’ and ‘ethnicity’ have never been as fluid and fast-changing as they are today, and media and technology consumption are central to our ever-changing concept of ‘self.’

Just as segmentations used to be based on demographic data such as age groups before we realised that needs and attitudes are often more indicative of consumer behaviour, so too ethnicity-based segmentations might fall behind with the times unless we really understand the effect that ‘ethnicity’ has on consumer ‘identity,’ and what effect that, in turn, has on behaviour.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Price is a Number, Value is a Benefit

In our cash strapped times all we seem to hear about is the need for competitive pricing and offering consumers good value for money. These deceptively simple phrases conveniently hide the fact that ‘value’ is a very relative term which is used – and interpreted – in very different ways.

The relationship between ‘value’ and ‘price’ is not a straightforward one. John Lewis and Waitrose are both premium brands which have managed to position themselves as offering customers ‘good value’ despite their price tags. Their offer is centred on great customer service and confidence in the origins and quality of their products, which goes a long way to justify the added expense.

For many consumers ‘value for money’ means investment. The initial outlay may be high, but the longevity of the product and little need to maintain it means that a saving is made in the long run. We can see this across a wide range of categories from white goods (Bosch: ‘Invented for Life’) to groceries (Florette: ‘Fresher for Longer’). And which one of us girls has not at some point tried to justify those expensive boots (bag/coat/etc.) by claiming that they will last for a decade longer than the cheaper alternative?

It is hard to pin down the value of something unique – which is why some brands use tailor-ability to add value to their offer. has pioneered personalised cards, whilst Nike ID enables customers to custom-make their own trainers. Such flexibility produces products that make consumers feel special, and this emotional feel-good sentiment is impossible to define in monetary terms.

Consumer need for ‘value’ but reluctance to pay more for it has recently given rise to some interesting communications.
In the context of current supermarket warfare ‘value where it matters’ is a strong tag line. If Sainsbury’s wants to keep its position as a somewhat premium brand, it cannot scoop down to merely price-matching Asda. Focus on ‘Value’ rather than ‘Price’ keeps customers thinking about the benefits of good food rather than their price tag.

British Airways are similarly at pains to defend their apparently higher flight costs in the face of budget airlines such as EasyJet and Ryan Air. Their latest ad campaign is an aggressive defence move which seeks to show how low cost flying fails to deliver on ‘value.’ Moreover, BA’s ‘value calculator’ demonstrates how EasyJet and Ryan Air’s potential extra costs can rack up the overall journey price in a way that actually makes flying with British Airways cheaper.
To conclude, some aspects of ‘value’ are emotional, whilst others – such as longevity – are rational. But whichever principles you choose to adopt to demonstrate the value of your brand do not forget:


Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Impulse and Barry M’s Treasure Hunt hits the spot

Brands are becoming increasingly adventurous in their use of mobile applications and location-based marketing technologies. Last week, Barry M and Impulse followed trend with the announcement of a location-based marketing campaign, which take advantage of the social networking site Facebook and the Barry M mobile application.

Under the campaign, co-branded handbags containing both Impulse and Barry M products will be placed at different locations across the UK. The target audience (16-24 year old women) will then be encouraged to engage in a kind of “treasure hunt”; using GPS technology, social networking sites and the Barry M app to locate the handbags. Since the number of goodie bags is limited, this treasure hunt has a competitive edge as well and we look forward to checking out the photos of young women fiercely fighting their way to get their hands on these cherished prizes (I personally have a bit of a Lynx-ad image in mind, but let’s see what happens!)
This campaign is a great example of using – and in this case merging – social networking sites, mobile marketing and location-based marketing techniques. Whilst many companies now have an app of some sort, too many of these are of little use and benefit to the customer, discouraging them from engaging with the brand in this potentially powerful way.
But now Barry M is ensuring that its mobile application offers a tangible benefit to customers, thus strengthening the role of this particular channel in the customer relationship.

Mobile marketing is not the only sphere of digital that often falls short on engaging customers. Facebook pages with hundreds of thousands of fans have often been seen as proof of consumer brand engagement and a successful end in itself, rather than as a springboard and opportunity to reach out to this keen audience.

Impulse and Barry M are making the most of their online presence and encouraging their customers to use the digital relationship to receive a fun and rewarding off-line experience. In doing so, they are creating a powerful multi-channel brand experience – precisely what brands should seek to do in this day and age.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Rise of the Rest: Brands from Emerging Economies

In the last few years a number of local brands in BRIC countries have not only strengthened their position in the domestic market but also begun exporting their products and services across the world. Bharti Airtel started out as an Indian telecommunications company, but now has operations in 19 countries across Asia and Africa. In fact, Business Week has ranked it amongst the top 6 technology companies in the world.

To turn to a starkly different category, Herborist is a Chinese cosmetics brand which is popular not only with Chinese women but also French, Dutch and other European consumers who buy it through the reputable distributor Sephora.
Sportswear is a particularly fascinating category in this respect, and China has become quite the battleground for a fierce contest between local brands Li-Ning and Anta on the one hand, and the international goliaths Nike and Adidas on the other. Whilst the two global giants had traditionally battled each other for market leadership, in 2009 Adidas slipped from second to third place as the local brand Li-Ning took off. In response to this unwelcome development, Adidas has revealed plans for an aggressive 2011 strategy in China – including opening of 500 new stores – in a bid to wrestle back their original second place. Anta, for their part, has recently signed the basketball star Kevin Garnett who previously endorsed Adidas. To top it all off, Li-Ning has quite literally parked its tanks on Nike’s American lawn - Li-Ning’s US store is just down the road from Nike’s global headquarters.
These challenger brands have quite a few advantages over the global Western ones. Firstly, they often have a far more efficient cost-base structure. Secondly, they’re well positioned to cater for other emerging economies (think Bharti Airtel in Africa). Finally, they are less likely to be perceived as ‘arrogant’ the way that some Western multinationals are – just think how hard HSBC has worked to differentiate itself from the monolithic, corporate, global Western banks.

Companies from emerging economies are no longer playing by the rules of the West – increasingly they’re calling the shots. This does not mean that Western brands are going to become extinct, but it does mean the end of Western dominance in the world of communications.