Standing Still Is As Good As Going Backwards

24 Sep 2014|Paul Cowper

When I was growing up, many, many decades ago, food and drink used to more or less fall into 3 categories. Some of these were “good things” like fruit, vegetables and, in my family’s case, the huge lolling tongue of an ox. There were also “bad things” like chocolate and cake, but the third category was simply “things.” This mysterious third group contained everything that wasn’t really especially good or bad, bread for example which seemed to be the answer to all hunger issues, especially if combined with butter, and fizzy drinks seemed to be there too, staggering as that might seem now.

Today, that third category is either a lot smaller, or it doesn’t exist. Simply put, now, if something’s not actively good, then it’s bad. I see this de facto rule increasingly applied not just to food and drink, but to brands and marketing across all categories. If brands aren’t seen to be actively positive – doing something helpful, something right, and going beyond the expected, then they can expect to be seen as either in the wrong, or falling behind.
Simple and familiar examples of this include Waitrose introducing the little green coin with their ‘Community Matters’ project where consumers can choose which charity they would prefer their local store to donate to, as well as going above and beyond by giving free take-away coffee and discounted newspapers to ‘myWaitrose’ card holders. And Marks & Spencer’s partnering with Oxfam for their ‘SHWOPPING’ campaign, making it easier for people to recycle their unwanted M&S attire as well being rewarded for doing so with a £5 in-store voucher.

And of course, doing right isn’t just the preserve of the big guys, far from it in fact. Small brands and start-ups doing right can lead to big success stories – think of TOMS shoes’ single-minded focus on giving as an integral part of their proposition. And, as surely all parents know, loom bands have dominated children’s wish lists this year, one brand of which – ‘Bandz and Charms’ – has affiliated their packets of different coloured bands with the proceeds going to different charities, thus making choice of charity an essential part of the buying experience.

But doing right also means more than simply being honest, ethically sound and having a good CSR presence, though those things are of course vital components of it. It also means being responsive and getting a lot closer to the demands and needs of people who buy the products and services. The sentiment ‘evolve or die’ hits the mark; as the world quickly changes so do the people and their expectations.

For a brand today, standing still is as good as going backwards, and embracing tech is a great way to add a little wow to the customer experience and fulfilling expectations. Clarks now offers an in-store iPad-driven fitting experience which is techy, engaging for children and a fair bit cooler than that slidey ruler they used to use. Does it mean children’s feet get measured better? Who really knows, but it signals to parents a clear commitment that Clark’s will make damn sure your kids get shoes that fit perfectly. It’s their way of actively investing in doing something to improve the experience, and it’s a commitment that keeps them in the game.

Another example of a brand smartly engaging and giving their consumers little extras is NatWest, who offer their customers access to ‘Emergency Cash 24/7’ when they have lost or had their bank card stolen. As well as beauty brand Dove which Matt Woodhams mentions in his Clear Up, Clean Up article, (pg 7), which is an excellent example of a brand which is responsive, going beyond just ethics and actually doing good by improving people’s confidence with their real beauty campaign.

I see this as a really exciting time for brands, because their promises have to be backed up with delivery. Of course some are destined to fail this test, perhaps those that view this situation as an inconvenience or a threat. Others will thrive, and I expect these to be the brands that are glad to have the chance to take their purpose, push the boundaries and make it a reality.


Written by Paul Cowper, Managing Director, UK


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