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Consumers face a mountain of choice every day, from choosing a cereal to picking a travel company to book the family's summer holiday.
In a cluttered world, brands are losing their distinction and face the additional challenge of pitching to customers with a diminishing sense of loyalty. Tesco, for example, currently stocks more than 50 breakfast cereal brands.
Whatever the size of a brand, and whether it is appreciably economic or unashamedly indulgent, a strong sense of identity is crucial to consumer recognition and continued market success.
Firmly establishing and remaining true to a brand's identity and values, however, can be a minefield. It's all too easy to latch onto the latest marketing craze or consumer fad, without keeping sight of the brand's time-honoured priorities.
'In the past, where we have strayed from our guiding principles is where we have gone wrong,' admits Emma Woods, marketing director of PizzaExpress. She explains how the restaurant chain recently added a £30 bottle of Italian Amarone to its otherwise modest wine list. 'It was far too expensive for what we are as a brand, and our customers told us so,' she adds.
A solid and dedicated workforce is also fundamental to brand reputation. If staff are excited about the product, it is infectious: the customer gets excited, too. This applies not just in retail, but also in call centres. The real difficulty is how to inspire that level of enthusiasm in those who create and sell the product.
Sarah McCartney, head of brand publications at cosmetics firm Lush, believes in the philosophy of 'Happynomics', explaining: 'Scientists have found, surprisingly perhaps, that it's not money that makes us happy. What makes a contented people is gardening and kindness. A happy workforce needs the opportunity to be productive.'
When Lush decided to support the campaign to close Guantanamo Bay and grant two particular detainees a fair trial, its store teams wore orange pants over their work clothes with copy that read 'Fair trial my arse!'
'When (one of the prisoners) detained at Guantanamo Bay was released, Lush workers felt they had helped to achieve this,' says McCartney.
The decision to support such campaigns is not appropriate for every brand, in the same way that it is not necessarily a good idea to be green just for the sake of being so. For McCartney, a car brand focusing its advertising on a green campaign 'just doesn't sit right', because, no matter how efficient they are, cars are substantial contributors to pollution and CO2 emissions.
Rather than back international campaigns in affirmation of brand identity, Woods is an advocate of word-of-mouth advertising, with the aim of converting customers to fans. 'This strategy is even more important now, in a cluttered world where informed customers make their own informed choice, often bypassing traditional media,' she says.
When managing and marketing a global brand, it is also important to establish a collective sense of identity, according to Sally Shire, group brand development director at insurance firm Aviva. 'Within the organisation there need to be 'lots of opportunities for people to participate and create', she says.'At Aviva we hold regular business objective meetings to consider what it is that we want to achieve, and thus maintain momentum.'
Shire picks out O2 as a particularly interesting case study of brand-building. She commends the way that the brand was created from a communications point-of-view, but has thought creatively about how it can extend customer experience beyond its origins, and now encompasses The O2 venue, formerly the Millennium Dome.
Constructing and maintaining a recognisable, distinctive brand is vital to continuing success in the marketplace, and speakers at Marketing's The Brands Assembly will discuss ways of achieving this desirable, but often elusive, goal.
DATA FILE - THE BRANDS ASSEMBLY
Date: 30 September 2008
Venue: The Hurlingham Club, London
Speakers include: Suzanne Douglas, chief marketing officer, Heinz UK & Ireland; Sarah McCartney, head of brand publications, Lush; Roisin Donnelly, corporate marketing director UK & Ireland, Procter & Gamble; Emma Woods, marketing director, PizzaExpress; Mike Ashton, senior vice-president of marketing, Hilton International; Ali Crossley, marketing director, Prudential UK; Alison Jordan, commercial and marketing director, Fortnum & Mason; Sally Shire, global brand development director, Aviva; Ian James, global head of digital, Bacardi Global Brands; Richard Moss, executive vice-president, European brand programmes, Weber Shandwick. Sanjay Guha, president, Coca-Cola GB & Ireland.
To book a delegate place call Haymarket Events on 020 8267 4011 or visit www.thebrandsassembly.com.