Consumers are likely to view large FMCG manufacturers more favourably if they develop a prominent corporate or parent brand, according to research seen exclusively by Marketing Week.
For example, Kraft’s close association with its food products means that 63 per cent of all online conversations about the company are positive, the study by media monitoring agency Precise suggests.
The research identified all accessible English language social media conversations about three parent brands (Kraft, Unilever and Nestlé) and one product brand from each company (Philadelphia, Marmite and Kit Kat respectively) in the three months to 15 February 2013. Precise then analysed a sample of posts across the six brands for the type and sentiment of the discussion.
The results show that 92 per cent of product brand mentions are prompted by organic or ‘of the moment’ activities and impulses like eating or craving. By contrast, 52 per cent of parent brand conversations are the result of people sharing news about the company without any comment.
According to the research, Unilever mentions are the least unprompted at 16 per cent, potentially reflecting the fact that its name plays a less developed role in relation to its product brands. A sharp difference is seen with Nestlé, where 70 per cent of mentions are organic or unprompted. This highlights the extent to which consumers make the connection between the company and its snack products.
However, Precise also notes that most major FMCG players are working hard to raise the profile of their parent brands. Unilever is building up its corporate brand on social media channels through its Sustainable Living Plan, launched in 2010, while Procter & Gamble (not one of the test subjects) raised its parent profile through a major multi-brand campaign as part of its London 2012 sponsorship.
James Withey, head of brand insight at Precise, believes that a strong corporate brand delivers different benefits in different markets. “In developing markets, product quality might be an issue so corporate brands bring a degree of reassurance as to the quality, reliability and safety of those products,” he says.
“But in markets like the UK, that tends to be less of a consideration. However, there’s arguably still a value in building a strong corporate brand. The theory goes that the stronger the corporate brand, the more useful it will be as and when the company launches new products, so it’s a virtuous circle.”
Unilever brand vice-president Paul Nevett confirms that the company’s corporate brand has been a powerful driver of growth in emerging markets. For example, Unilever was the third most searched word online in Brazil as a result of cross-category promotions that were run during the company’s 80th birthday celebrations in 2009. “Some countries have already shown how effective it is to use the Unilever brand as an umbrella for promotional activities,” he says.
Similarly, P&G has used its parent brand to develop cross-selling opportunities for its products. In 2011, the company launched Beauty Recommended, an e-zine covering beauty tips and trends using P&G’s portfolio of brands. Last year, the company expanded this with a Beauty Recommended app.
P&G UK communications director Aimee Goldsmith says multi-branded marketing platforms provide a means of building on consumers’ affection for particular product brands. “It’s an opportunity to leverage the trust and loyalty that people have in one of our individual brands and help them understand that they can get the same quality from another of our brands – a Venus [shaving] product could be a link from the Pantene [hair] product they love,” she explains.
Despite these cross-selling efforts, the Precise research suggests the effect on consumers’ perceptions of products is negligible. The study finds that while close association to product brands appears to benefit the corporate name, there is little evidence that a close association benefits the product in the same way.
For example, it notes that while Marmite apparently receives a lower level of endorsement from Unilever than Kit Kat or Philadelphia do from Nestlé and Kraft, there is little difference between the product brands in terms of favourability in social media conversations. Marmite receives 70 per cent favourable comments, Kit Kat 84 per cent and Philadelphia 80 per cent.
“There are things that product brands do by way of marketing and communications that you wouldn’t expect the corporate brand to do,” says Precise’s Withey. “The corporate is there for investors but from a consumer point of view it can also bring reassurance as to authenticity, responsibility and ethics.”
Tony Bilsborough, head of external communications at Mondelez UK, agrees that consumers care more about product brands than their relationship to a parent brand. He points out that most consumers probably lack awareness of the existence of Mondelez – the snack company formed in October 2012 when Kraft divided its global operations into two businesses.
But Bilsborough also claims that despite any confusion over the new corporate structure, Mondelez’s product brands like Cadbury, Kenco and Oreo are thriving thanks to their standalone brand equity. “Mondelez is a company that makes and sells snacks and therefore it’s important to remind consumers how tasty they are. The best way to do that is through the power of those brands,” he says.
While each manufacturer will seek to manage its corporate brand in the way that suits its business goals, it is worth noting that P&G is looking at how it can build on the success of the Olympics-inspired ‘Thank You Mom’ campaign. Goldsmith says the campaign contributed to an average uplift in sales of between 5 and 20 per cent across 4 million stores globally and resulted in more than 600 million views on social media.
“It’s been a powerful mechanic but it’s also about us being transparent and open with consumers about who we are,” she says. “Through that they’ll decide whether we’re credible as an organisation and whether they want to buy our products.”
We ask marketers on the frontline whether our ‘trends’ research matches their experience on the ground
Global brand vice-president
We believe people should know who is behind the brands they use and should be able to see into those companies. Since 2002, the Unilever brand has become more visible to consumers, with our corporate logo appearing on the back of all our product packs. In the UK, we have been using ‘signature’ Unilever branding on advertising since 2009, which we rolled out to other countries in 2011.
In addition, since the launch of our Sustainable Living Plan in 2010, Unilever has been building a corporate voice in social channels such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
From our consumer research we know that consumers’ number one priority when choosing brands is, and always will be, to choose those that are best for themselves and their families – consumers don’t compromise on functionality. However, people increasingly want to know that the brands they choose are not only good for them but also for others and the planet.
They increasingly want to know whether the company behind the brands they buy is honest and trustworthy, and is not destroying the environment – and Unilever has a story to tell here.
Consumer preference also drives customer preference. Our customers want us to have a consistent approach to sustainability, which is an area most of them have publicly committed to drive. So there is definitely a space for the corporate voice to be heard more without overpowering that of the brands.
Head of external communications
With Mondelez, it’s virtually all about the brands – the brands will ensure that we are a successful snacking company, not Mondelez itself. Mondelez will be well-known to the business community and to investors but to the man or woman in the street it will probably mean little, and deliberately so.
Mondelez has an incredible portfolio of brands – some of the most famous names in UK snacking and it would be remiss not to trade on those names as much as possible. Cadbury, Kenco, Belvita and Oreo: these are big brands with huge emotional pull for consumers and it is those names that will continue to help turn Mondelez into a global success.
One of the interesting things about the London 2012 Games was that we were a sponsor through the Cadbury name. P&G didn’t sponsor through a particular brand; it was P&G sponsoring.
So where we use umbrella brands, it will be around key master brands like Cadbury and Kenco. These are brands under which a number of variants like Creme Egg or Crunchie will sit. There is a sense of the ‘corporate’ in that ifyou like.
But for a brand like Cadbury that isn’t really an issue because it stands on its own as a chocolate brand, almost as much as the best-selling products within it. So it’s about tiers of branding and using them in the best way.
UK communications director
Procter & Gamble
We brought the P&G brand to UK consumers for the first time in the run-up to London 2012 as we began the 10-year partnership with the Olympic brand. But for consumers around the world – in regions such as North America, Asia and Latin America, we’ve been marketing the P&G brand for a long time.
In today’s digital age, people are demanding transparency, openness and credibility and they want to know the company behind the brands they buy. They want to know what we stand for, our principles and our values and what we do for them and people like them.
For me there’s really no threat to this – people can make the connection themselves between our individual brands and the fact they come from one company. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to tell people about P&G, our history, our brands and what we can do for people everyday with the products we make and our [corporate social responsibility] work.
We’ve been doing it elsewhere around the world, and our partnership with the Olympics offered us an opportunity to really bring it to the forefront for UK consumers.