Putting the funky into functional

The white goods sector is attempting to sex itself up. Jo Roberts looks at the marketing tactics being used to make fridge freezers and washing machines desirable purchases

fridge

“White goods can definitely be sexy,” asserts Teresa Arbuckle, marketing director at kitchen appliance company Beko. “If computers and mobile phones can be sexy – and they definitely weren’t 10 years ago – then so can refrigerators and washing machines to those who are interested in these types of goods.”

Contrary to popular belief, Arbuckle does not think the white goods sector is of low interest. In fact, Beko is making efforts to ensure that it is a brand name that is both known and respected. It has recently signed a sponsorship deal with the FA Cup to become an official “supporter”.

But do Beko’s products and football really go hand in hand? “Absolutely,” says Arbuckle. “Beko has a history of sport-related marketing but we wanted to take it a step further and position the brand to have a better connection with our buyers,” she explains. “The FA promotes kids getting into sport. Who are the most important people in mums’ lives? Their children. So, we are using the FA to access mums and their kids.”

The company already had a Facebook page dedicated to sport called Beko Mums United, which has more than 74,000 likes, and is a place where “mums can talk about sport and Beko products”. But the sponsorship of the FA Cup is taking this association a step further.

Beko is not alone in attempting to spruce up what some may consider a functional rather than funky sector. LG Electronics sponsored London Fashion Week earlier this year, and with it brought out a Giles Deacon limited edition washing machine complete with a catwalk-inspired design. Dawn Stockell, LG marketing communications manager, says the designer washing machine has “just made it even cooler” to wash clothing.

While the advice and spare parts website UK White Goods describes the LG Electronics machine as a “fashion crime… A washing machine with a pattern like something that your gran might want to wear as a scarf”, it does demonstrate that white goods marketers are attempting to think beyond marketing these types of products in a purely functional way.

Global brands like LG and Samsung are injecting more excitement and interest in white goods, with competition “intensifying” as big players fight for market share in the UK, according to Mintel’s latest UK reports on fridges and freezers. And in its washers and dryers report, Mintel notes that advertising reached a four-year high in 2011 with £133m spent promoting laundry appliances.

With competition hotting up, Beko is focusing on building a solid brand. Arbuckle says that the brand had been building awareness “through word of mouth”. In the last couple of years, Beko’s brand awareness has risen from 55 per cent to 80 per cent, according to a report by GFK, putting it in second position behind Hotpoint.

But Arbuckle says the company wants consumers to “get to know Beko as a brand and learn to love it”. She adds: “The brand needs to be our strength.”

While Beko has rapidly become one that people know, its journey has not been without its challenges. Bad publicity last year resulting from electrical fires in Beko fridges saw the brand’s image tarnished. Mintel’s report points to reputational damage caused by the fault with criticism that the company didn’t act fast enough to communicate to customers about the fault. It adds that the brand is perceived as “unappealing and unethical” by consumers.

Arbuckle says “safety is of paramount importance” to Beko, adding that a large part of the reason she was brought on board last September was to ensure this was a focus for the brand. Beko has just launched a safety campaign called Be a Hero in partnership with the Department for Communities and Local Government to give people tips on the best ways to maintain their appliances safely.

As well as repairing damage to its reputation, Beko is concentrating on building its brand through television advertising. While TV accounts for just 51 per cent of marketing spend for washers and dryers, Arbuckle says the way Beko is using TV is different to rival brands.

She says: “White goods brands do use television but they mainly focus on product-led advertising. Beko is doing something different by using a family scene and following the life of Billy, who is now two years old, to show how white goods are part of family life. It is an attempt to create a strong emotional brand.”

In contrast, Samsung launched its first ever UK campaign for white goods last year, choosing to sing about its Ecobubble washing machine’s energy-efficiency. Its advertising uses relatively straightforward language rather than bamboozling consumers with technical jargon, something that white goods brands are often guilty of doing.

That is something of which relaunched brand Servis is acutely aware. Vestel, the company that bought Servis out of administration in 2011, is known as a white label manufacturer, producing white goods for others. But it has decided to build a brand of its own.

Vestel UK’s managing director John Welbourn says research carried out by the company shows that people want to find out about the benefits of a product, rather than discover a product’s technical wizardry.

He says: “Consumers were quite confused. There was a lot of technology out there and they didn’t know what it did. Consumers wanted to be clear about what the products did and what it could do for them.

“Consumers told us that saving time energy and money were important to them. So it made sense to us to launch products with their technologies. Hopefully we’re talking to consumers in a way they understand and that appeals to them.”

American fridge freezer

The company is extending the brand beyond washing machines, the product that Servis was originally known for. It is about to launch a retro-style American fridge freezer because “it was identified through research that there was an opportunity for this kind of product,” according to Craig Penn, co-founder of BrocklebankPenn, who is acting as marketing director for the Servis brand. Beyond launching a full range of large white goods, the aim is to extend the range into smaller kitchen appliances such as kettles and toasters.

Servis is focusing its marketing efforts on digital because “that’s where people go when they want to find out about white goods”, adds Penn.

But can it compete in an overcrowded landscape where companies like Haier, LG, Samsung and Beko are building large-scale and often expensive brand campaigns? According to Mintel’s fridges and freezers report, Haier spent £278m in an attempt to gain a top five position in the UK in 2011, with its sights set on becoming a top five UK brand. With that sort of money being spent by brands, will a digital-focused campaign be able to compete for attention?

Perhaps focusing on getting good customer reviews, optimising search on the term “Servis” and “eco washing machine” will prove to be a savvy move. But if Beko can convince mums that it is doing good by supporting the FA Cup and establish itself as a trusted brand through its safety campaign, then those brands relying on digital campaigns and gaining positive word of mouth might get overshadowed by brands like Beko that are hell-bent on sexing up the white goods market.

White goods and digital marketing

The stats

fridge freezer

White goods marketers are turning to digital to promote their products and when you study consumer buying habits it is easy to see why. In May, nearly 800,000 searches were made for white goods, according to Greenlight’s latest report into searches for white goods on Google UK.

The search term ‘fridge freezers’ was made 49,500 times, accounting for 6 per cent of all searches made for the white goods sector. The terms ‘washing machine’ or ‘washing machines’ were searched 63,000 times, accounting for 8 per cent of all searches made in the white goods sector, according to the digital marketing agency’s report.

The latest Mintel UK fridges and freezers report, released in April, notes that advertising spend plummeted from £4.6m in 2007 to £1.8m in 2011. The report points to the beefing up of brand websites, an area where white goods marketers are concentrating their efforts, as the reason for this dramatic decline. “Almost every manufacturer has developed well-designed websites which give plenty of information about the brands and the features of the products,” it explains.

The steps brands are taking

As consumers turn to Google to find out about white goods products and get the lowdown on which brands are rated the best by consumers, many are overwhelmed with the amount of choice offered. Beko marketing director Teresa Arbuckle says the company is “on the case” with making life easier for consumers. A website where people can type in what they are looking for in a Beko product and be directed to products that suit their requirements is in the offing, she adds.

Relaunched brand Servis also has a dedicated website that aims to make the buying of the brand’s products more straightforward. TInstead of being bamboozled by techno-babble, the site is designed to provide easy to understand product information. For example, one of its HydroDrive washing machines is described as a product that cuts energy bills with a larger drum that means “fewer washes are required”.

YouTube videos that can be viewed on the site provide even more information, and viewers of the website can click from a product page to the Argos site, where Servis products are currently stocked.

The problems brands face and how they are tackling them

While lots of thought is being put in to branded pages, Greenlight’s report shows that many people’s white goods searches are sending them straight to stockists like Currys and Appliances Online. According to the Greenlight report, Currys was the most visible advertiser, while Appliances Online is in the top position in the report’s league table for having “sizeable visibility in both natural search listings and paid media space”.

Clearly being sold in the right retailers will boost brands. Arbuckle boasts that John Lewis has started selling Beko this year. Being seen in the right retailers and stacking up plenty of positive reviews is what white goods marketers are focusing on. But as a new brand to the market, how do you gain a fistful of five star reviews? Currently Servis has no reviews on the Argos website, where it is being stocked but Craig Penn, co-founder of agency BrocklebankPenn who is acting as Servis’s marketing director, alludes to plans to getting Servis products in to the hands of the right people to help this process.

He says: “Right now we’ve built a digital campaign, targeted very specifically where consumers spend their time. We make sure we have an ability to visit the site from where they do the research.

“We have looked at recommendation sites, rather than paid-for sites,” he says, adding that the next step will be to give influencers identified on these websites washing machines to try.

In contrast, Beko began putting more thought into digital marketing after seeing the power of word of mouth via 40,000 positive reviews of its products online. Clearly digital has the ability to boost sales and increase brand reputation and it’s the place where both established and new brands will have to put the effort in to ensure their white goods come out smelling fresh and clean.

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