Friday, 30 September 2011

Store brands gain strength

The recession has hit some national brands hard, with pence-pinching consumers choosing to buy store brands instead in many categories. This has been a major trend in groceries for years, with consumer preferences shifting as buying power changes. Store brands deliver value (meaning: good quality at a reasonable price) that consumers desire when trying to stretch the household budget.

Not all store brands are alike, of course. Tesco offers a range of store-branded groceries to provide consumers with several choices of value at different levels. In particular, its Finest store brand is highly favoured, for example, which helps the retailer maintain customer loyalty and compete more effectively against its rivals.

Still, a recent survey finds that consumers simply won't give up certain national brands: Heinz Baked Beans are at the top of this list, which also includes Walkers crisps and Kellogg's cereals.

Store brands have been growing in strength within other retail categories, as well. Marks & Spencer has a new plan for strengthening the image of its store brands, which include M&S Man, Blue Harbour and Per Una (above). M&S showcases some of these brands on its Facebook site, as well as @marksandspencer, the store's Twitter account. The challenge for national brands, then, is to explain their benefits and value proposition compared with what store brands offer.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Who Wrote That Review?

And can it be trusted? This is the key question facing many buyers as they read reviews of goods and services on retail and travel sites., the travel review site, is being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority after some hotels complained that some reviews were fraudulent or misleading. The site removed its strapline, "reviews you can trust," from the hotel pages as the investigation continues (although the strapline remains on its restaurant pages and elsewhere on the site).

So many buyers read reviews before they open their wallets that trust and transparency have become major issues for retailers and others who sell online. Recently, some academic researchers devised a method for detecting faked online reviews, indicating the level of attention that this question has raised. Other concerns are whether brands and sites remove negative reviews and whether some reviewers are paid to post complimentary reviews.

Now a group of retailers and brands--including PC World, Dixons, Sony and others--wants to reassure buyers about reviews through the use of the Reevoo Mark (above), a system that aims to have only real purchasers' reviews posted. Reevoo will also ensure that all reviews (bad or good) will appear. With the holiday shopping season fast approaching, trust promises to be a vital element in decisions about online buying.

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Angry Birds Empire

Angry Birds, the hugely popular mobile game by Finland's Rovio, has expanded into a major international brand empire.

Since its release in 2009, the game has been downloaded more than 350 million times. The Angry Birds brand now appears on stuffed animals (birds and pigs, of course), iPhone cases, socks, ties, lunch boxes and--within a few years--it will be the focus of a feature film.

Soon, when consumers visit a Starbucks coffee shop and play Angry Birds, the leading scores will appear on a 'leaderboard' in the shop, adding a very public social dimension to the brand.

Another priority for Angry Birds is getting its game onto Facebook, where Zynga's games (such as Farmville) are among the most popular.

The brand's undeniable global appeal has brought unauthorised competition, such as the Angry Birds game at Window of the World theme park in China. Still, with customers buying 1 million stuffed Angry Birds toys each month, demand for Angry Birds offerings looks strong--until the next mobile fad steals the spotlight.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Brands Look East for Growth

Some well-known brands are popping up all over Asia, where sales to status-conscious middle-class consumers are driving higher growth.

The Asian rights to the Aquascutum brand are now owned by a Hong Kong company that's opening stores in China and elsewhere in Asia. The brand's traditional British heritage and long-standing reputation for quality has helped build a loyal following among Asian consumers. The stores reinforce the upmarket image through careful presentation and understated ambiance.

Burberry (below), not surprisingly, has a growing presence in China, as does Hermes, due to rising demand for high fashion products.

Nike is another Western brand enjoying high sales in China, because its brand personality appeals to status-minded buyers of sports apparel and equipment.

At the same time, now that the Beijing Olympics are in the past, and the crowds of visitors have thinned a bit, retail vacancies are visible in some areas. This means prestigious retail locations are again available.

Meanwhile, Chinese brands are looking West for expansion possibilities. Through events such as the European Showcase for Brands of China, they're bringing their products to UK exhibitions and seeking to win new markets beyond their home country.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Retailers Go for Lifestyle Magazines in Print

Ocado is about to launch its new consumer magazine, Ocado Life, to be included with all of its grocery deliveries from this week. In contrast to the online grocery retailer's virtual magazine, which features recipes and seasonal entertaining ideas, the printed version is a life-style mag for inspiration and information.

Ocado is the latest retailer to work with August Media, a publishing firm that has also worked on magazines for IKEA, Whole Foods Market and others.

More on retailer-sponsored mags:

  • Harrod's has its own printed mag, and in fact has established its own media arm. 
  • ASDA and Tesco, among other retailers, also publish widely circulated printed mags.
  •  John Lewis has its own mag, working with John Brown Media, a firm that has worked with Waitrose and other brands.

This is all part of a broader trend toward brand-sponsored content in magazine format. Beyond retailers, brands in many categories, from clothing to cars, are seeking to connect directly with customers by providing content tailored to the interests and needs of each brand's audience. How many brand-sponsored mags will customers actually read and reread?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Boots vs Superdrug

The Guardian has started a new series, looking at two rival retailers along the same street or in the same shopping center. The point is to see how they're differentiated and what each does best for its customers.

The first matchup in this series is Boots versus Superdrug, high street merchants that sell health products, beauty products and pharmaceuticals.

The Guardian points out that Boots has a loyalty card (very good for rewarding repeat purchases) and convenient in-store kiosks for instant ordering of digital photos. The chain's private brand products were another plus.

Superdrug, as the Guardian notes, also has a loyalty card (with a mirror on it), a fresh decor and plenty of employees to assist customers. In this first matchup, the paper puts Boots slightly ahead of Superdrug, in part because Boots appears to have a wider range of merchandise.

Now for a brief bit of marketing background on these two chains.

The first Superdrug opened in 1966, and today the chain has more than 900 stores, although most have no pharmacy. Want to interact with Superdrug? Try Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the company's own blog.

Boots has a long history, starting in the late 19th century. These days, it has nearly 2,500 stores and a thriving private-brand business for beauty products. You can keep up-to-date with Boots on Facebook or visit its YouTube channel.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Grow, grow, grow

Nearly every marketer wants to stimulate growth in sales and profits. But what are your options? Glad you asked--here's a quick guide to the four main growth strategies for your marketing plan:
  1. Sell more of your existing products in existing markets or market segments. This can mean getting current customers to buy more in each transaction, or getting current customers to buy more often. Thornton's, for example, is looking to encourage chocolate buying not just at Easter and Christmas but on other occasions, as well.
  2. Sell existing products in new markets or segments. Audi, the German automaker, is doing this by seeking to expand in India beyond the biggest cities to smaller areas.
  3. Sell modified or new products in existing markets or segments. McDonald's does this all over the world, constantly adding new menu items, such as Chicken McBites, which started in McDonald's in Australia and are being tested in the US.
  4. Sell new products in new markets or segments. Also known as diversification, this strategy can be implemented by distributing through existing channel arrangements in the new market, starting new marketing activities in new markets, or acquiring a company or product in a new market. Not easy, and often risky, but potentially rewarding for the business that has sufficient financial strength to diversify and hold on until a brand has been established--or has the intelligence to leave a market if competitive pressures are too high (or consumer acceptance is too low).

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

World's Most Valuable B2B Brands

Marketing Week just announced its top-10 list of the world's most valuable business-to-business brands. In reverse order, the list is:

10. Petrabras
 9. Intel
 8. Accenture
 7. Cisco
 6. ExxonMobil
 5. SAP
 4. Oracle
 3. UPS
 2. General Electric
 1. IBM

Interestingly, many of the firms on this top-10 list are tech-related and spend millions of pounds every year on building their brands.

IBM, the top brand, spends heavily to connect with business customers in many ways, from sponsoring televised rugby to arranging for its supercomputer Watson to compete on the US game show Jeopardy. Watson even has its own Facebook page, a necessary ingredient in marketing to business customers as well as consumers worldwide.