Rebooting brand strategy for a digital age – Part 2

This is the second of two posts sharing highlights from our 10th annual research project: “Rebooting brand strategy for a digital age”. Last week we addressed the fundamental issue about how brand strategy is being neglected given the focus on digital and social media. In this post, we look at three key was to carry out this rebooting, with brand examples for each. These findings were published in a recent Campaign article here.

Search for truth

The most important success factor for brand positioning in the digital age remains deep consumer insight. This insight needs to be “holistic”, exploring the role of brands in consumers’ lives and popular culture, not just in their product categories. Digital technology can help generate the right insight, with data mining and social listening identified as the most useful techniques. However, marketing directors suggested that these complement rather than replace direct, real-life contact with consumers. As with branding in general, the challenge is to re-boot the insight process, blending the best of new, digitally enabled techniques with tried and tested ones.

Pot Noodle used this insight approach to revitalize their brand. Social listening revealed that the brand was stuck in the past: a quick solution for those too lazy to cook a proper meal. The previous major campaign in 2011, “Why try harder?”, reinforced this image, featuring a transvestite footballers’ wife living a lazy life of leisure. Back in the laid back 2000’s this felt pretty cutting edge, in today’s era of student loans and start-ups, less so.

When the team got out and spent time talking with students, initial feedback confirmed this negative brand image; most of them denied  using the brand at all. However, poking around in the same students’ cupboards revealed that the brand was in fact being used by them, although reluctantly. The product was a convenient, tasty time-saver but the brand’s image was a barrier to use. The new ‘You Can Make It’ positioning broke this tension, making the brand more aspirational for today’s ambitious and go-getting millennial consumer. The new campaign has delivered double-digit growth and dramatically improved levels of awareness, brand equity and social engagement.

Position with Purpose

Our research suggested that a clear sense of purpose about the broader role a brand plays in peoples’ lives and society is increasingly important. This reflects in part the growing desire and ability of connected consumers to learn about the companies behind the brands they buy.

Axe recently sharpened and refreshed its brand purpose, to ensure the brand remains progressive and provocative for today’s young men, as part of a move away from the brand’s ‘babes in bikinis’ image. Research with 3,500 men across 10 countries showed that they feel pressured by masculine stereotypes, with only 15% agreeing that they are attractive. On the other hand, nine out of ten women find men most attractive when they are themselves. This led to a to a brand purpose of “Helping guys to celebrate their individuality and be as attractive as they can be” and a new campaign, ‘Find Your Magic’.

Brand purpose should be authentic and integrated into the brand experience, rather than “bolted” on as an afterthought. In the case of Lynx, alongside a new grooming range and a distinctive new advertising campaign the brand has become the official partner of CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). This charity works to reduce suicide rates in the UK, as it’s the single biggest killer of men under 45.

Bring the brand to life

Brand positioning needs to be simpler and easier to understand, with one marketing director suggesting that “We are constructing long stories for a hashtag generation!”A final crafting process by a small team, not a committee, can help sharpen and simplify the positioning. Visuals can then provide extra inspiration, with alternatives to complex brand pyramids including brand magazines, brand story videos and even turning the positioning into a movie poster.

These simpler, clearer and more visual positioning outputs can form the basis of an inspiring creative brief. Here, our research highlighted the balancing act required for today’s digital age. There remains a need for a unifying big brand idea to orchestrate the larger number of agencies delivering the brand. On the other hand, clear guidance is also needed on how to adapt the message and tonality for different connection points, including social media.

A good example of a brand pulling off this balancing act is the recent re-launch of Purdey’s, the Britvic owned adult soft drink. There was a fear that the strength of the new brand ambassador, Idris Elba, would dominate and detract from the strategic objective. An old fashioned positioning document wasn’t considered suitable. A combination of video, impactful visuals and personal briefings was used instead. This seamlessly integrated campaign that resulted has driven +30% sales growth.

In conclusion, the key to creating growth today is not to overlook brand strategy, but rather to “reboot” it, by searching for deep insight and using this to create and bring to life a purposeful and inspiring positioning.