Brand ties that bind

Technology and electronics companies are ditching their gadget-led campaigns and instead taking their brand values to the consumer. Their aim is to capture people’s hearts and win their loyalty, as car makers and FMCG brands have done before.

Achieving high brand awareness, and getting people to choose your brand over a rival’s has always been a major challenge for marketers, especially in the electronics sector, which has traditionally focused marketing on the products on offer. But times are changing, and a majority of key players in the sector are shunning product in favour of brand-led campaigning.

The need to get a prominent position in showrooms and to make ranges stand out has meant that the electronics and technology sector has historically relied on product-focused marketing. Previously, communications highlighted to consumers the benefits of product features if they chose this brand over another.

But a shift is occurring. Samsung, for example, is refocusing its marketing strategy in a quest to gain more brand preference and loyalty. Its marketing director, Mikah Martin-Cruz, says it is “evolving its marketing into a brand-led consumer centric approach” (see expert view, below).

Samsung is shifting its focus onto the brand for its new campaign to launch the Jet smartphone. The company says the campaign is aimed at “engineering an emotional experience as a starting gun for generating conversations and a level of desire.”

Jet’s launch will be supported by a £5m advertising push themed Impatience is a Virtue. A TV advertisement, created by Grey London, breaks on Friday 3 July. Samsung says the campaign aims to challenge the assumption that impatience is bad, and looks to emphasise how consumers increasingly want more of everything in their day-to-day lives. Other products in the Samsung portfolio are set to take on this theme in the future.

Samsung Mobile vice-president of global marketing YoungHee Lee says: “Samsung Mobile is a mega-brand, which gives us credibility and a feeling of true leadership. We feel we do not need to shout about our innovation too much because it speaks for itself. Instead we are focusing on being seen as an iconic, symbolic and quality brand worldwide, by engaging with the consumer emotionally through advertising.”

Advertising has traditionally taken one of three different tones to draw the customer in: either an emotional slant to make the customer aspire to own a brand; a functional slant to show off the best features a product has to offer; or a combin­ation of both (see expert view, below).

When it comes to deciding on a marketing strategy, both marketing departments and advertising agencies have to think hard about how they portray a brand to consumers, ensuring that they do not lose their own unique appeal or be seen to have no “human connection”.

Microsoft UK managing director and vice-president of consumer and online, Ashley Highfield, admits that brands in the electronics and technology sectors that have successfully innovated in the past have struggled to grasp the need for communications with consumers to boost brand preference and loyalty.

“It’s a common mistake for brands that deal with technology and innovation to focus purely on their products, which are pretty good in their own right. The problem with that is consumers are not aware or clear of what they actually do. Microsoft has found this with a number of its consumer-facing products, which is why the consumer and online division was set up. It’s vital that we communicate to consumers and generate engagement through our brand. We have updated the “I’m a PC” ads to reflect this,” he says.

Shifting marketing from products to brand is a leap other sectors have already made. The FMCG sector, for example, has frequently used generic advertising to sell products to consumers in communications that are more memorable for other things than for actually promoting the product.

The most lauded of these is the Cadbury Gorilla ad, which broke in 2007 and was revived last year. YouGov data showed that the first airing of this campaign resulted in an increase in buzz around the brand, which remained high for the duration of its airtime (see boxout, page 20). Since then, the brand has gone on to create the Dancing Eyebrows ad and the runway ads along similar lines, with Eyebrows generating 4 million views on its official YouTube page.

On its first run, the Gorilla ad boosted Dairy Milk revenues by 9% in 2007. Its latest campaigns have also helped to keep profits up.

Cadbury marketing director Phil Rumbol says: “The head follows the heart from a brand point of view. If you can capture people’s hearts and get them to like you as a brand, they will think better of you and purchase you. It’s about advertising that’s as enjoyable as the product.”

The electronics and technology market, however, has previously relied on talking up their products and the new hi-tech features to allure customers.

Virgin Media executive director of brand and marketing Ashley Stockwell says he has recognised these changes and adapted the brand’s marketing for broadband and mobile to suit this: “We’ve moved our style to producing ads that really pack a punch. We want to engage people on an emotional level and show them just how much the mobile and internet can bring to their to lives, from social media and music to film clips and games. The personal connection is vital, it’s no longer about restricting your audience by talking about things that customers may not understand,” he says.

Historically, the way we communicated the Canon brand wasn’t strong. It centred on the product and its specifications. As part of our new brand strategy, we recognise that, in fact, ads need to carry lots of messaging, not just the product details. Consumers have to feel inclined to trust that your brand fits in with their lifestyles.

Jason Sullivan, Canon

Canon has also recently rolled out a new corporate brand strategy that creates a single brand identity. Canon corporate communications manager Jason Sullivan says it is essential for talking to customers who are thinking more about the items they purchase in the midst of a recession.

Sullivan says: “We know from our own brand health checks that customers are looking to have a better relationship with brands. They want ads to really associate with their lifestyles, and all electronics companies need to think about this. Historically, the way we communicated the Canon brand wasn’t strong. It centred on the product and its specifications, possibly portraying negative messages. As part of our new brand strategy, we recognise that, in fact, ads need to carry lots of messaging, not just the product details. The brand really needs to come through and consumers have to feel inclined to trust that your brand fits in with their lifestyles.”

One company in this sector that has already been successful at using its advertising to provide a talking point instead of to promote a product is T-Mobile. Its Flash Mob ads have proved a YouTube phenomenon, becoming the most popular channel on the site during the campaign and clocking almost 15 million hits for the original ad, which ran in January.

T-Mobile head of brand and communications Lysa Hardy says: “Core to the success of these campaigns was the fact they were based on insight. We realised that people care less about shiny handsets, and more about their ability to communicate. The timing of the ad was fortuitous because it provided consumers with a feel-good factor, but more importantly it put the T-Mobile brand into an emotional place where people could relate to it. We saw record footfall as a result of this, which was fantastic when the market is seeing an overall decline,” she explains.

Electronics retailers are also moving towards the trend of focusing on the brand, and not the products. Both Currys and PC World have shifted their marketing focus to communicate more directly with key consumer segments and less on highlighting product deals, which were also available in rival stores.

PC World marketing director Niall O’Keeffe says the move was important to emphasise the quality of its stores. “Our main selling point is our expertise in PCs and being able to listen to our customers and meet their needs. We wanted to differentiate ourselves from the others and show ourselves as a brand that puts people first and places them at the centre. The overhaul we undertook in stores and in our ads demonstrates this and makes us a stronger brand, not just a place to find products. They illustrate how we can help customers enjoy their passions whether it be family, movies, gaming or photography – hence the new strapline – “Whatever your world, PC World,” he says.

Switching to these tactics is not an easy decision for brands, but may be a necessity in order to increase market share.

Sony Ericsson mobile communications senior marketing manager for UK & Ireland, Richard Dorman, explains: “It is a highly competitive market, where product stand-out will get you so far, but in order to really engage with our core target audience we have to go a step further. We cannot be arrogant and expect our audience to always come and find us, we have to deliver a brand to them that has a face and that they can engage with. It’s also about showing that despite being a brand, we can have a behaviour and personality that’s approachable, creative, down to earth and playful.”

We feel we do not need to shout about our innovation too much because it speaks for itself. Instead we are focusing on being seen as an iconic, symbolic and quality brand worldwide by engaging with consumer emotionally through advertising.

YoungHee Lee, Samsung Mobile

Working with agency Iris, Sony Ericsson is launching a series of marketing activities in order to pledge its deeper brand engagement with youth. Iris brand content director Charlotte Soussan says this kind of marketing is now essential for electronics. “Without considering the brand before the product, you’re at risk of being seen to be promoting the same old things, just under different names,” she says.

These branding strategies the technology market are seeking to replicate are already under way in the automotive industry, where the typical advertising emphasises the brand rather than the individual models, suggests Ned Colville, senior consultant at The Value Engineers.

“There is a solid argument for using consumer insight to push your brand. I suspect that the electronics and technology businesses moving towards emotive advertising and in-store added value are looking carefully at the automotive industry, which is focusing more on the brand in ads and less on the superior functions in car models,” he says.

Nissan is launching a campaign this month that groups together its city car models under one communications campaign, entitled Welcome to Simplicity, and Ford has recently launched a brand-focused campaign covering all its models rather than focusing on its newly launched cars (see The Autos Model, below).

However, Colville adds that it is unlikely other sectors which don’t focus on brand name will change their approach to ads. “Communicating to consumers and playing to emotions only works for some sectors, and the functional appeal works better for others, such as financial services. It’s much easier for certain businesses to use tables of prices or interest rates to battle it out,” he says.

As consumer confidence slowly begins to creep upwards, it is up to brands to help steer the economy back to full health. Creating communications that drive brand preference, loyalty and growth in competitive landscapes, such as electronics and technology, is a mounting challenge, but brands that switch to emotion and rebuild their image in difficult times could well come out on top.

The Autos Model

Finding a balance between informative product-led advertising and brand positioning has long been an issue in the automotive sector.

For a premium brand, such as BMW, the priorities are clear – it is key that the marque positions itself as aspirational.

BMW UK marketing director Richard Hudson says: “We’ve always taken the approach that it’s the brand that draws people in.” Hudson explains that research shows that, when shopping for cars, people often choose the brand before the model.

As a premium brand, maintaining brand pull is essential, he says. Hudson says that BMW has developed a twin strategy to carry this out. Brand activity, such as advertising campaigns, events and sponsorships form part of that strategy. “Those activities are not about raising brand awareness, but about positioning the brand in the right place and making sure it communicates that to the audience,” he explains.

Alongside this, BMW promotes what the company refers to as “brand shapers” from its product portfolio. “Within the portfolio, some models might be regarded as more ‘volume’ vehicles. Forty per cent of my sales come from 3 Series models, but I don’t spend 40% of my budget on marketing it. I spend the money on the brand shapers, which draw people in,” Hudson reveals. He offers the BMW Z4 as a perfect example of this strategy. “The Z4 had a disproportionate amount of spend on it versus its sales volume, quite simply because people looked at it and thought ‘What a gorgeous car’. It gets people talking about the brand. They might come into the showroom and buy a 3 Series but they were brought there by the brand shapers and that’s why we have the twin approach.”

Hudson wonders why companies such as Samsung are only just introducing a brand-led strategy. “I find it astonishing when you hear of other companies discovering this because its just common sense marketing really.”

For volume manufacturers, the issue is less clear cut because functionality is such a key part of the consumer’s early selection process. Nissan has developed an approach to address this with its Welcome to Simplicity campaign for its city models, which launches this month and incorporates the introduction of its new low-cost model, Pixo.

The company is grouping all of its city models in one communication strategy with the aim of creating an over-arching campaign that demonstrates the benefits of the overall category and positions Nissan as an “expert” in the small car category.

Nissan marketing communications general manager Jean-Pierre Diernaz says: “There is a role for the marketer to facilitate the understanding of a brand for the consumer, with an overall strategic ambition to add clarity to what we stand for.”

Diernaz believes the need for product information in automotive advertising is decreasing, while the need for brand-led activity is increasing. He says: “There is a vital need to add emotional bonding. Brands today cannot just deliver information because people can now get access to information by any and every means, so the brand needs to have an additional role.”

He concludes: “There are plenty of ways for consumers to get all the product information they want. Marketing’s role is to build a story.”

Expert View

Samsung viewpoint:
Mikah Martin Cruz, marketing director, Samsung Electronics UK

Since joining the business eight months ago, I have set about creating a vision where Samsung UK is evolving its marketing into a brand-led approach. It delivers the brand in a single-minded way, creating emotional pull-through to the critical in-store environment. It is here that our channel marketing activity best converts our increasing levels of brand preference into sales.

My focus is to optimise our marketing activity and sponsorship platforms to maximise the value of our investment. The challenge for any marketer is to show a very clear return on marketing investment.

“This is a new age for us. Our marketing aim is to drive profitable growth with a focus on brand preference and loyalty.”

This is a new age for us. Our marketing aim is to drive profitable growth with a focus on brand preference and loyalty. By adopting a holistic approach to the various Samsung businesses, we’re able to leverage the full strength of the Samsung brand.

The approach cites the UK as a key marketing hub for our global operation. Increasingly, global creative will originate out of the UK. Our efforts will cover everything from planning to strategy and creative. We will apply this change gradually across our businesses, starting with mobile through to TV and then across the rest of the portfolio.

Samsung enjoys high levels of awareness and top-of-mind recognition among consumers. It is important for us to communicate a clear sense of premium around the brand. This is becoming increasingly apparent within the mobile and TV markets.

A good example is the upcoming launch of our next mobile phone, Jet, which is the latest in a line of high-end technological innovation from Samsung. This presents a real opportunity to communicate Samsung’s innovation credentials to a UK and European audience, driving brand preference and market share.

As well as a change to our marketing approach we are reviewing our agency partners. We have introduced a roster agency approach to which I have added Grey London. The agency is central to our direction on mobile.

Grey London’s approach to the Jet campaign brings to life the speed and performance of the phone from the viewpoint of a consumer’s lifestyle. The creative work seeks to break the mould of traditional mobile phone advertising and deliver a significant step-change for Samsung in the youth mobile market.

Brand preference is created through emotional engagement. It’s the starting point of dialogue with consumers and introduces a first level of desire. It’s more than a series of product launches, it’s about delivering real meaning and value for a business.

Nurturing brand loyalty is a significant pillar of our marketing direction. This is a key focus within the channel environment and a strong relationship with our partners is key to our success.

We are not hindered in having to work with sister companies and can adopt an open approach to partnering. This gives us an advantage through flexibility and speed to market and enables us to work with some of the world’s best content providers in their field.

Agility and personalisation are key values to our customers. Of course value for money is central to consumers in today’s climate. We remain focused to ensure that we provide a balance of hi-tech products at great value for money. This clearly demonstrates Samsung is a modern brand for today’s consumer.

Expert View

Expert’s counter argument:
Paul Cowper, UK brand director, Added Value

Moving marketing strategy away from a product focus could be a risky strategy for any brand to take. You have to balance the increase in discussion about a brand with the risk of the brand being seen as a joke, because it is using different messaging.

There is a wide gap between those consumers who are interested in the functionality of a product, and want to be sold on the benefits of buying a new gadget, and those who are swayed by a brand’s communications in the media using emotional context to sell a product.

The gamble the electronics and technology market take in trying to use generic inspirational context as their main advertising theme is an interesting one. Having seen the success of brands such as Budweiser in the FMCG sector, with its now infamous Whassup? campaign, it could be argued that consumers will like this new dialogue as a form of the brand engaging with them.

However, relying on the salesman on the shop floor to explain the key points of a new appliance is laden with risks. An ad that does not have the product as its main focus may get people talking about the ad, and they could be more inclined to relate to the ad, but they are less likely to think: “I should purchase that product immediately”. I suspect the companies that are doing this are relying on word-of-mouth to generate interest.

Cadbury’s recent campaigns (Gorilla, Runway and Eyebrows) have proved a talking point. Replicated on many TV shows and instant hits on YouTube, the ads definitely worked for the Cadbury brand. However, it’s debateable how much impact they had beyond its TV run, starting with Big Brother and then on YouTube.

Similarly, T-Mobile experienced a huge surge in interest after its Flash Mob ads, but to limited success when it came to the number crunching and increasing its market share.

Apple seems to have struck the balance just right between pushing the functional and emotional benefits of the product. The iPhone is a fantastic example of advertising showing the product and the experience at the same time. It uses the product to sell the benefit, the easiness of the product, via scenarios (such as searching for a restaurant), which tap into real- life consumer experiences. Consumers don’t have time to work out what the benefits are, so showing them directly will be appealing.

Marketers must think carefully about how they go about approaching any consumer-centric themed campaigns. It’s vital to strike the right dialogue with the right consumers first time, or the campaign is doomed to fail. It’s all about conveying the message you want to allude to in a relevant and simplistic manner.

Done wisely, it can be a huge driving force for sales and increasing the bottom line. This relies on delivering an emotional connection with consumers and thereby engender a sense of loyalty or engagement. I would say marketers should flip between product-based and consumer-centric for the best results. Ignoring one or the other could be the final dagger for a struggling brand.

The YouTube Effect

YouGov’s BrandIndex data identified that campaigns from T-Mobile (Liverpool Street station’s Flash Mob dance routine) and Cadbury (Gorilla) had an instant uplift on the brands’ buzz score, with consumers increasingly talking about the ads, despite no actual footage of any products or offers.

Richard Wood, senior research executive at YouGov, says: “Cadbury has been trying to replicate the success of the original Gorilla ad ever since with both the Runway ad and the Eyebrow ad – with mixed success. Both saw uplifts, though the Eyebrows ad was more successful.

“T-mobile saw an immediate uplift in buzz when its ads first aired. However, other indicators saw a delay in uplift and it was only once the ads were being shown more frequently and the campaign was in full flow that an uplift occurred.”

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