Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Eat more fruit!

I am sure I have remarked before on the preponderance, still, of independent butchers, bakers and candlestick makers in Germany compared to the UK. When my son was young, shopping was never a chore, as it seemed that just about everywhere we went, he'd be offered something to nibble on.

A little packet of Gummibärchen in the Post Office, an apple at the greengrocer, a corner of currant bun at the baker and a slice of sausage (indeed, sometimes a whopping great chunk of sausage) at the butcher. I can imagine the shock-horror reaction to that last one in health & safety-allergy-obsessed UK.

This all reminded me of my own childhood shopping trips, when greengrocers had brown bags proclaiming Eat More Fruit! and extras were always slipped in over and above what showed in pounds and ounces on the weighing scales.

This was all brought back to mind on a recent trip to Tesco in the UK, where I saw a tray of free fruit for kids:

This initiative, launched in 2016, has been a huge success for Tesco and they reckon they've given away 50m pieces of fruit since its launch. It's part of an overall renaissance for the retailer, since its low point in 2015. Since then they're on their ninth consecutive quarter of growth.

The principle is so simple: put yourself in the customer's shoes - and why not take a lesson or two from retailers down from you in the food chain, for a change. The kind who haven't got a high and mighty Corporate Purpose Statement on the boardroom wall, yet know their customers personally, and put purpose into practice every day, in all they do.

It could be a case of: An Apple a day keeps the losses away.

Friday, 18 May 2018

The Internot

I read a fascinating article this week in the HBR, entitled Marketing in the Age of Alexa. The article charts the rise of AI platforms and voice assistants, painting of a picture of a life where the skilled digital assistant accompanies its human owner? partner? master? slave? 24/7 in home, car, mobile device and so on and so forth.

But hang on. Voice assistants may become increasingly skilled, through AI, I don't debate that. However there will be some aspects of our lives that they will never have information about, unless we so choose. And that includes most of what happened or was made more than, say, 10 years ago.

Spotify won't have a clue that I may decide to dig out old vinyl from my teens and play Iggy Pop at full blast from my 1980s sound system. Or set up my wind-up gramophone from the 1930s outside on a sunny day and listen to 'On the road to Mandalay.'

The are furniture items, books, toys, crockery, photographs, letters, bicycles, bedknobs and broomsticks that will never be connected to the internet of things (unless we want them to be.)

Beyond that, there is the whole of nature, which grows without a code or chip.

And beyond that, there is the future.

The AI platforms have no connection to this world and don't "know" - as far as they can know anything - that it exists.

Maybe it's one strategy for rebel brands today to plant themselves firmly in the world of the internot.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Change happens. Get over it.

One of the core questions for marketing people has always been centred around how to adapt and transform in an ever-changing world. There's an interesting and useful analysis here by two authors from the agency Flamingo, who have examined change in a wide variety of fields, and constructed a simple model showing four strategic directions a brand could choose - Guide, Translate, Create and Pivot - along with good examples of brands who have used those different strategies.

I like this analysis, although it does tiptoe into an area that seems to be, in my mind, rather over-played currently: that of the VUCA world "out there."

There can be few readers who haven't heard about VUCA from some source or another, but in case you haven't, the acronym stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

This acronym didn't come from some marketing consultant, but from the U.S. Military, in the context of Afghanistan and Iraq in the 1990s.

Is this really how we want to see the world we're operating in? Are our brands weapons in some kind of war?

I don't think so.

What if we thought of it this way:

For 'Volatile', read 'Spontaneous'

For 'Uncertain', read 'Surprising'

For 'Complex', read 'Diverse'

And for 'Ambiguous', read 'Enigmatic'

Because it's not us against them, there is no world "out there", "external" and "internal". We are all part of the world.

It's the role of brands not to provide stability in the sense of stasis and resistance to change, but rather to provide a clear purpose and direction as part of a wonderful, multi-facetted, animated, rich and mysterious world.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

The Curator's Egg

Photo: Tyler Orehek

Today's post leads on from my last one, as well as picking up a theme a looked at over 5 years ago: curators and curation

Since I wrote about Brand Curators (which on balance, I still think is a good idea), the use of the word and its variants - curated, curate as verb - has exploded. it's almost as omnipresent as the dreaded "journey" - in fact, "curated journeys" abound.

Curation is a good and necessary thing in the present day, with digital overload, and it does suggest a degree of discernment, skill and knowledge. But have a look at a typical brand activity - I've picked Amazon - which involves "curation."

Amazon Prime's Book Box Service is one of those ideas that it feels a little churlish to criticise. I do take the points about encouraging children to read and love books and all the rest.

But. The books are described as "hand-picked" as well as "curated". Does that mean a human being is doing the choosing? But how much is that human being aided and abetted by algorithms? And does this kind of "curation" involve an aspect of "nanny knows best"? The word "curate" does come from curare - "to care." 

Where does curation stop and censorship (of a gentle sort) begin?

Is it the curators who have their knives at the ready to dock the long tail?  

Friday, 27 April 2018

Is the Long Tail being docked?

Twelve years ago, a book came out which celebrated the almost unlimited choice enabled by the internet: The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson. Four years ago, I questioned the notion of choice: were we maybe living more in an age of pseudo choice, where increasingly, the internannies Google, Facebook and YouTube were knowing better what we were looking for: Did you mean ...?

I'm still irritated by Did you mean .....? as in most cases, no, I didn't. If I looked up something obscure that 99.9% of people would never search for, the chances are I did it on purpose. But in the four years since I wrote that post, the internannies have become increasingly sneaky, manipulating what we might or might not like to see behind the screens.

And, reading this excellent article from Contagious, about Voice. It's estimated that, by 2022 55% of US homes (48% of UK) will have a Smart Speaker in their home. And within two years, 30% of web-browsing will be done by voice.

Of course screens won't disappear, in the same way that bricks and mortar shops won't disappear, or TV advertising, but imagine this: if you search for an item on amazon via your device, you'll probably look through a largish number of the options presented. You can process visual information pretty rapidly.

But if you ask Alexa, how many options are you likely to want to listen to? Not many. Processing of auditory information takes far longer.

Whether you dock a dog's tail is a matter of choice and fashion, but I can't say I particularly like it.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Drinking with Purpose

Brand Purpose seems to be the 21st century equivalent of Brand Positioning - everyone wants to have one, and for good reason. There's maybe a tendency, though, for Purpose to be confused with Doing Good, in that what used to be called CSR activities are now labelled as Purpose.

It's probably the subject of another blog, but ideally, Purpose should drive the entire brand, with the 'Doing Good' activities stemming from it. But Purpose itself does not have to be about saving the world single-brandedly.

Still, whether its an overall Purpose, or activities that stem from that, it's important that these are true - and unique - to your brand. It's only too easy to look at something like the UN Sustainable Goals and pick something you like the sound of or is flavour of the month in the media.

To be true to the brand, the Purpose or activities should:

- reflect the brand values and beliefs
- connect in some way to the products
- be motivating for customers
- be relevant for what's going on in society.

A great example of a very simple brand "doing good" activity is the tonic water brand Fever-Tree which supports the eradication of the disease malaria via Malaria No More UK (since 2013) as well as recent lobbying of Commonwealth Heads of Government via Malaria Must Die. So Millions Can Live.

The connection is very simple: the ingredient that gives tonic water its bitter taste is quinine, derived from the Cinchona tree, known as the "fever-tree" - hence the history with the colonial time in India. This may be an association that is not particularly desirable these days, but it is great that the brand hasn't shied away from this, rather turned it around to look to the future and doing good.

It would be great if they had an underlying brand purpose, too, from which a wider range of activities could stem - or maybe they have already?

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Jam today and jam tomorrow

Carrying on from last week's post on the subject of Great (New) British brands, I'll turn my attention this week to a couple of British brands born on the other side of the millennium.

The received wisdom is, these days, that it's all about 'Experience' and 'Story'. Something the brand Colman's Mustard did, I feel, most admirably with the Mustard Shop & Museum in the Royal Arcade in Norwich. Sadly, it seems that this wonderful emporium closed down last year.

But just a little further south in East Anglia, Tiptree jam is opening up another tea room, this time in Chelmsford.

This tea room is slightly different from the brand's previous forays into retail and gastronomy in that it's in a rather more modern setting. It's easy to design an English tea room when you have a quaint country cottage or ancient mill at your disposal, but with a modern building, the designers have to think differently. I think they've succeeded with their blend of the past and the present:

Let's just hope that Tiptree isn't the next to be taken over by Unilever.