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Monday, May 20, 2024

Walking the tightrope

“Nobody’s gonna know!”

“They’re gonna know!”

“How would they know?”

As categories contract and brands lose value it’s difficult to truly understand if it is the market settling after the pandemic or whether in fact your product isn’t what it once was to your beloved consumers. As the cost-of-living crisis hits home, the struggle is most definitely real.

Cost of goods are increasing at an alarming rate, inflation is soaring, and we have just been told that every person in the UK is going to pay for it through tax rises and public spending cuts. It sucks being a human right now. And it sucks even more being a brand on shelf trying to attract said depressed human. As we enter possibly the longest recession in history are you sure you are doing the right thing?

Short-termism to drive or maintain profit is a dangerous play. Disproportionately raising your prices, shrinking your pack weight, reformulating the recipe, unifying the outer packaging across brands for economies of scale. At what point does the voice in the boardroom say this is stupid. How does short-changing your customers, being harder to find and limiting real choice and differentiation on shelf offer a long-term strategy to win. When a category is contracting isn’t it time to focus on stealing market share by offering something different and substantiated to your direct competitors and those pesky Own Label and Discounter brands. More is more, not less.

Take Chocolate brands. We know they have fallen victim to the dreaded Shrink-Ray Gun in the past, but it’s gotten worse. Brands like Cadbury and Tony Chocolonely are also hiding behind poorly executed seasonal lines to completely rip off consumers. A Tony Chocolonely advent calendar for £14.99 or a Cadbury Pizza Kit for £12.00 – two perfect examples of underwhelming yet totally overpriced products. Meanwhile Mars has reformulated some of their Galaxy Chocolate lines, putting more crap in and taking the good stuff out. And Nestle has just posted record sales growth attributed wholly to increased prices. All seems very self-centred and big corporations are clearly looking out for themselves.

We should be in a boom time for creative communication and reinvention of what made you special in the first place. But the reality on the supermarket shelf is that brands are hunkering down and hiding away until the storm passes. Classic marketing and doing what you’ve always done is under the spotlight more than ever. People are wide-awake, sensitive to market conditions and finally asking themselves ‘is there an alternative?’.

It’s a time to refocus and recognise that there’s a growth opportunity for brands that embrace the notion of ‘giving back’ and ‘adding value’ to really win the hearts and minds of consumers – putting audience engagement and community building at the very centre of your strategies. And this is more a ‘joy and/or sentiment’ play rather than a sustainability game. Think John Lewis and their heart-warming partnership with Action for Children. Or the care-free and wonderfully fun Buddy Xmas Asda campaign; a brilliant ad and so close to being marketing perfection, if it wasn’t for the poorly executed campaign in-store.

In my view that’s the real problem. Marketing needs to turn the funnel upside down and re-order where they spend most of their time and budget. Forget about the advertising beauty parade for your CV and focus on really turning the needle daily…

…On-pack promotions that attract new buyers and reward those who are loyal

…At shelf displays that educate, inspire and cross-sell

…In-store theatre that engages and builds communities

…OOH comms that pushes footfall directly to your brand

And then you can worry about whether someone will remember your brand in three years by spending millions on PR and TV Advertising. Or better still what ever happened to fully integrated campaigns? Because a great advert followed up with a dodgy in-store experience is a missed opportunity to do both – convert purchase in-store and build longer term brand awareness. I believe that turning customer heads at point of sale is still the optimum way to breed the loyalty you so desire. And importantly what you do at point of sale can turn the tide and not continue to give rise to a world of copycat marketing and the genuine fall of consumer inspiration.

I can’t promise that if you put the customer experience at the core of your strategy that people will really care that much about your brand still. But not caring and giving reason for consumers to choose a competitor are two different things entirely.






Brett Goldhawk
Brett Goldhawk
Brett Goldhawk Managing Director, Ziggurat, Brett is a global brand and innovation specialist. He leads Ziggurat, a brand and packaging design agency which has been based in the heart of London for over 35 years. Specialising in the food and drink sectors, Ziggurat has created and launched countless category leaders. https://ziggurat.london

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