Al­pha ver­sus bet­ter

Chest-beat­ing CVS that boast about high-risk repo­si­tion­ing strate­gies sit at odds with the slow-nur­tur­ing sub­tlety that would ben­e­fit most brands

Campaign UK - - PROMOTION -

Iwas the mar­keter who repo­si­tioned the cat­e­gory brand leader. I was the mar­keter who mas­ter­minded a global chal­lenger re­launch. I was the mar­keter who – pick your favourite high-testos­terone verb – trans­formed/dis­rupted/ re­de­fined an en­tire in­dus­try. On a se­nior mar­keter’s CV, as they move briskly up­wards from one brief stint to the next, th­ese are the claims that power the climb. They sound strong, they sound de­fin­i­tive, they sound al­pha.

And so much more im­pres­sive than this sort of thing: I was a mar­keter who built on my pre­de­ces­sor’s suc­cess. I was a mar­keter who min­imised risk and achieved steady gains. I was a mar­keter who con­stantly re­freshed and kept rel­e­vant a long-term brand po­si­tion­ing – and still am.

But what sounds heroic on a CV is not al­ways the same thing as what a brand most needs. Brands don’t al­ways re­quire he­roes; they don’t al­ways re­spond to al­pha mar­ket­ing. Mostly, what they are cry­ing out for are canny nur­tur­ers who un­der­stand the depth and re­silience wo­ven into the fab­ric of the brand and who meet the chal­lenges of mar­ket dy­nam­ics and con­sumer be­hav­iour with sub­tlety and pre­ci­sion. In­creas­ingly, it is not what they get.

If the ob­jec­tives of mod­ern mar­keters are at odds with those of the brands they man­age, the fin­ger of blame can be pointed at the ever-shorter ten­ure of the pro­fes­sion­als who run mar­ket­ing de­part­ments – nearly half of them have been in their job for two years or less, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent in­dus­try sur­vey (see panel).

It’s as if the short­ness of stew­ard­ship needs to be matched with a sharp­ness of achieve­ment: “Been there, changed that.” And brevity en­cour­ages hero­ics by ab­solv­ing the would-be hero of the down­side risk: they don’t stay around long enough to have to glue back the frag­ments shat­tered by the law of un­in­tended con­se­quences.

A tell­tale char­ac­ter­is­tic of the al­pha mar­keter – one that I’ve no­ticed more in re­cent years – is the ten­dency to go for a full brand repo­si­tion­ing when a brand re­fresh would have been the saner course.

Repo­si­tion­ing is a pow­er­ful but volatile piece of mar­ket­ing ord­nance. It em­braces noth­ing less than a com­plete over­haul of what the brand means and stands for – and usu­ally im­plies changes to much else be­sides, from tar­get­ing to in­no­va­tion strat­egy.

De­spite the in­her­ent risks of toss­ing away decades of care­fully crafted brand eq­uity, there are times when the tac­tic is jus­ti­fied – usu­ally when a sen­sa­tional new op­por­tu­nity beck­ons or where the cur­rent one is ir­re­vo­ca­bly stag­nant.

That’s why Lu­cozade is the clas­sic case: it fea­tured both, mov­ing from a dead-end role as a sick­ness re­cov­ery aid, at a time when ail­ments such as the flu were in re­treat, to the cre­ation of the main­stream en­ergy-drinks sec­tor. It’s an in­spir­ing story. There just aren’t that many Lu­cozades out there.

Brand re­fresh looks less dra­matic on the ré­sumé but is usu­ally the more jus­ti­fied op­tion in re­al­ity. The brand stays true to its long-term mean­ing and role in peo­ple’s lives – but makes changes in the way th­ese are ex­pressed that are suf­fi­cient to jolt con­sumers, em­ploy­ees and the trade into pos­i­tive reap­praisal.

There are many kinds of re­fresh – al­though, as with most things in mar­ket­ing, they can merge a bit and you can em­ploy more than one at once.

There’s “rein­ter­pret­ing roots” – as Burberry did when it re­fo­cused its cre­ative ver­nac­u­lar back on the clas­sic trench. There’s the “rel­e­vance hike” – used by Mat­tel when its Bar­bie doll fi­nally gained some eth­nic va­ri­ety and mod­i­fi­ca­tions to her im­plau­si­bly slen­der body. And there’s “rais­ing the stakes”, bril­liantly ex­e­cuted by Per­sil, which rein­vig­o­rated its tired “dirt is good” po­si­tion­ing by show­ing that to­day’s kids spend less time out­doors than pris­on­ers.

In all of th­ese cases, the brands were in enough trou­ble for an al­pha mar­keter to have called for a com­plete repo­si­tion­ing. But bet­ter mar­keters held sway and reaped the re­wards: a near-tripling of sales for Burberry, dou­ble-digit growth for Bar­bie af­ter ten quar­ters of de­cline and a 12 mil­lion up­surge in washes for Per­sil.

Qui­eter, saner, stead­ier mar­keters are out there. The ones will­ing to build on the work of oth­ers rather than bury it, re­spect brand her­itage rather than dis­own it, and re­fresh the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s most pre­cious as­set rather than rein­vent it.

Per­haps they are also the ones who tend to stay longer in their roles – be­cause, in the race for that next high-pro­file as­sign­ment, when it comes down to the wire they lose out to the al­phas: the guys whose ca­reer his­to­ries, cap­tured on their pul­sat­ing CVS, are just that bit more im­pres­sive.

Or are they?

HE­LEN ED­WARDS The PPA busi­ness colum­nist of the year has a PHD in mar­ket­ing, an MBA from Lon­don Busi­ness School and is a part­ner at Pas­sion­brand @he­lenedw

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.