OK, we may have changed a few of the above words in metaphysical poet John Donne’s immortal declaration from Devotions in 1624, and despite the fact that it’s nearly 400 years old, his incisive, thought-leading assertion is just as relevant now as it was back then.
In today’s super-connected world, no brand is an island, a sole voice in a shifting sea of marketing uncertainty. Markets and consumer attitudes are changing faster than ever and the resulting dilemmas this creates for brands are present on many days and in many retailers in the UK.
Try it anyway
So what are the key challenges facing brands today? One is simply how to achieve effective and cost-efficient experiential brand engagement. I’m sure we have all been into a supermarket and seen an unfortunate soul stuck behind a stand trying to make shoppers buy something. With no proper training, product knowledge, passion, enthusiasm or longevity, most of those hapless souls are bored and wanting to be elsewhere doing something else.
How many times have we heard that soulless mantra ‘try this’ to which the response inevitably is ‘what is it?’ and the answer ‘don’t know but try it anyway’.
In fairness, it is a thankless job and while we should have empathy, in the main, most of us slip into a sales-averse role and either walk by or reluctantly take a ‘grab & go’ approach. There is little brand engagement, recall or association, although if the sampling soul is truly blessed, maybe they may secure a small slice of sympathy.
So how can a couple of hundred ‘take-it or leave-it’ samples per store per day have any real effect on brand awareness, positioning or sales? The truth is that in today’s fast-moving, inter-connected world it can’t. For most brands the operation is simply an attempt at retailer ratification or buyer bolstering.
While, of course, there is a prime necessity for brand experiential support, as an essential part of the marketing mix, a soulless sampler behind a characterless counter is not the answer. And whether in-store or elsewhere, separating your brand out does not deliver anymore – in other words, ‘solus’ is soulless – something that most forward thinking brands and retailers are thankfully now buying into in a big way.
If solus has become side-lined, what has taken its place and why?
Connected choice and occasion
It is certainly not a case of ‘more of the same’ or a matter of tightening marketing budgets or the ever greater call on marketing team time and resources, that is having an impact. Equally, the current seismic retailer upheavals or changing patterns of shopper behaviour and inter-connected lifestyles, while possibly life-changing, are also not the driving forces.
What is, is the simple fact that consumers have never, ever, gone into a supermarket just to buy a solitary product. They always and probably will continue for the foreseeable future to buy a basket or trolley-full of goods. But now each product in that basket or trolley is even more inter-related in some way – whether by occasion, need or motivation, than they have ever been before.
Just as consumer lifestyles, purchase and consumption motivations are interconnected, so too are brands. Life is about choice and it is the interaction of offers, impacts, occasions and products that is driving consumer desire, demand and consumption.
So if consumer demand is being driven by connected choice and occasion, how do brands achieve the holy grail of experiential marketers – in-depth, enthusiastic and quantifiable engagement?
Although seemingly flying in the face of accepted brand marketing, where solus brand communications and image are sacrosanct, a multi-brand approach that mirrors the way consumers behave and their shopping motivations has become the on-trend grocery experiential format.
It’s not simply a case getting a few brands to share activities or costs. Those brands have to be synergistic and like-minded, and want to target a particular occasion or grocery category, as well as being innovative and having the breadth of vision to recognise the significant benefits, from a more in depth engagement and incremental sales perspective as well as from an improved return on promotional investment that multi-brand activation can provide.
It’s also not only categories or occasions that are key. The fact is that in today’s more prudent climate, consumers need to know more in order to make more informed choices. That is where a synergistic multi-brand approach is important, as it encourages cross-migration of both perception and trial for brands that consumers may not normally consider.
However, as good as multi-brand experiential is, it can’t be just a solus activity. To be really ‘stand-out’ effective, it needs to be fully integrated and cross-discipline, incorporating key elements of media and social media coverage, plus promotional and trade support at retailer HQ and store level as well.
Most forward-thinking marketers accept that when like-minded innovative brands work together within a shared, synergistic framework, towards a common reciprocally beneficial goal, they gain much more and pay much less, meaning that the promotional payback can be prolific.
A classic example of multi-brand, multi-discipline experiential format is the multi-award winning Gastro Alfresco campaign, now in its 19th year and the originator of this unique form of grocery promotional marketing. Testament to its effectiveness is not only that it has helped create the £7bn at-home outdoor summer eating and entertaining market, but also that its major brand sponsors return year after year.
Having created the sector and spawned many similar campaigns. Gastro Alfresco, created by Brand Belief, remains as the market-leading event working with leading major multiples as well as many of the biggest names in UK grocery.
The power of brands
Of course, Brand Belief believes in the power of brands, which is why, off the back of Gastro Alfresco, it has created other key category or occasion based campaigns covering wine, beers/ales/ciders, breakfast, diet, world foods, cocktails, lunchtime, meal-treats and many others. It’s also why we believe that ‘Together is Better’.