Campaign UK

‘Peo­ple see brands as their prop­erty – mess with them at your peril’



“Lead­er­ship at ev­ery level” is the first thing I was told on my first day at Proc­ter & Gam­ble, and it has stuck with me ever since. As mar­keters, our job is to act as busi­ness lead­ers and, no mat­ter how ju­nior or se­nior, drive share­holder value. I’ve learned many lessons on my jour­ney. Here are a few that may res­onate.

Don’t throw away what made your brand fa­mous in the first place. The temp­ta­tion when you start work­ing on a brand is to try to make your mark and change ev­ery­thing. But I’ll never for­get what my first gen­eral man­ager at P&G told me: “Our job is to care­fully shep­herd the brands for­ward and hand them over to the next gen­er­a­tion – not change them be­yond all recog­ni­tion.” Con­sumers see brands as their own per­sonal prop­erty – mess with them at your peril.

We are the guardians of very iconic brands at Premier Foods, some of which have been around for more than 100 years. Oxo, Bisto, Bird’s and Am­brosia have been en­joyed through two world wars and con­tinue to be loved by Bri­tish con­sumers to­day.

Brands are an in­trin­sic part of con­sumers’ mem­ory struc­ture. Spe­cific brand as­sets and cues can trig­ger as­so­ci­a­tions to im­por­tant fam­ily rit­u­als, fond mem­o­ries and favourite mo­ments.

For Oxo, there was some­thing pow­er­ful in what made it fa­mous in the first place. When we looked into it, we found rich cues that un­lock brand love and there­fore com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage. These in­clude vis­ual as­sets, as well as moods and feel­ings that can be con­veyed in ad­ver­tis­ing – the cube, “the crum­ble”, the Oxo fam­ily and, above all, Mum cop­ing with what­ever’s thrown at her. Mov­ing back to these cues in ad­ver­tis­ing, pack­ag­ing and in store has cre­ated a win­ning for­mula. Do you know what mem­ory struc­ture the con­sumer has about your brands? Don’t walk past the ob­vi­ous be­cause it doesn’t feel clever.

Brand pur­pose will win out. How do we modernise her­itage brands when we need to cling to core brand as­sets to un­lock mem­ory? The an­chor point has to be a strong brand pur­pose. Stay true to the brand story but evolve it to an ex­e­cu­tion that has mean­ing with modern con­sumers. Bisto has al­ways been about bring­ing peo­ple around the ta­ble for a fam­ily meal. In to­day’s Brexit en­vi­ron­ment, this has be­come even more im­por­tant as con­sumers hold even more firmly on to rit­u­als and fam­ily tra­di­tions.

In the 1980s, Bisto ran a cam­paign called “Pledge”, which was all about pledg­ing to get home on time to eat a meal with the fam­ily. To­day, the brand pur­pose of to­geth­er­ness re­mains but the tone of voice and plat­form have evolved to be­come the Bisto To­gether Project, fea­tur­ing real peo­ple’s sto­ries. Con­sider the ‘three kings’. Con­sumers are not loyal to in­di­vid­ual brands any more but to a range of them. Our job is to be­come the more ha­bit­ual choice for con­sumers. I be­lieve in the “three kings”: 1) Men­tal and phys­i­cal avail­abil­ity of your brand; 2) Pos­i­tive af­fec­tion; and 3) Speed/ease of recog­nis­abil­ity.

Brand aware­ness is not just the re­mit of me­dia – in-store range, space and lay­out play a huge part. Con­sid­er­a­tion must be given to avail­abil­ity across con­sumer-need oc­ca­sions and there­fore chan­nels.

Em­brace ‘near-in’ in­no­va­tion. And what role should new prod­uct de­vel­op­ment play in driving brand love and be­com­ing peo­ple’s ha­bit­ual choice? In­no­va­tion is ex­cit­ing but re­mem­ber: when sig­nif­i­cant habit change is re­quired – such as a new cook­ing method – sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket­ing spend is also needed. So only go there if you have the means to go all the way.

My ex­pe­ri­ence has shown that trial and ac­cep­tance are faster for in­no­va­tion that is “near in” – in­no­va­tion that is closer to the core. The best ex­am­ple would be prod­ucts that do the same job but in a health­ier, more con­ve­nient, more in­dul­gent or tastier way.

Fi­nally, I re­turn to my orig­i­nal point. You can’t achieve any of the ar­eas I have out­lined with­out great lead­er­ship. Nur­ture your team – em­power them to de­liver lead­er­ship be­hav­iour. Give them clear strate­gic di­rec­tion and pro­vide a frame­work for ac­tion. Then demon­strate your be­lief in your team, ex­press con­fi­dence in their abil­i­ties and give them the free­dom to be as strong and suc­cess­ful as they can be.

Warren-piper is mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor of the gro­cery di­vi­sion at Premier Foods. She was pre­vi­ously at Proc­ter & Gam­ble for 15 years and has also worked at United Bis­cuits.

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