When Branding and Marketing collide

With news this week that Ryanair are considering making some of its passengers stand during flights in a bid to squeeze as many as 30% more people on board, I couldn’t help but think that Ryanair must be getting a little bit confused.

ryanair468x286On the one hand they are trying to make more money. Well, you can’t have a go at them for that. That’s what all businesses are trying to do. And, in this current climate, the airlines are having a tough old time. But on the other, each action they take to bring them closer to the money is moving them away from the long term win; a brand that inspires loyalty and trust. That is where the real money is.

There appear to be two forces at play here so let me introduce you to the terrible twins; Branding and Marketing. Twins because they are often confused for one another.

But first, let’s just go back to basics for a moment. What is Marketing anyway?

The Chartered Institute of Marketing, which is the world’s largest marketing body, defines marketing as “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” Notice that last word, “profitably“. Also, notice the word “satisfying“. Mmmm.

ryanairSo, in the name of profit, Ryanair have come up with a load of ideas to generate more money;
Charge to use toilets on board
Get passengers to carry all of their own luggage onto planes
• Abolish check-in facilities and demand that all passengers check in online at a cost of £5.

Our favourite is the 2-in-1 sick-bag cum send-your-film-off-for-development envelope. Genius!

But what about the other twin, Branding? Well, a company invests in branding because of the benefits that come with a good brand. A good brand:
• Delivers your brand message clearly
• Gets your audience to think that you are the ONLY solution to their problem
• Confirms your credibility
• Connects to your target audience emotionally
• Motivates your buyer into action
• Builds loyalty over the long-term so buyers keep coming back

So, in the name of marketing, O’Leary is doing everything he can to squeeze more profit out of his operation. And he’s being quite innovative with it. The trouble is, it’s not the sort of innovation that wins brownie points (a.k.a. happy paying customers). It seems that when Ryanair had their brainstorming away day, the branding team weren’t invited. If they were, someone would have been standing up for the poor paying customers. Someone would have been asking some tough questions about why the customer experience is being destroyed. Destroyed so much, that there are now masses of travellers that will do anything they can to AVOID travelling with them. One angry blogger has even gone as far as setting up www.ihateryanair.co.uk.

It seems as though Ryanair just don’t get it. The whole branding thing I mean. If they could successfully engage their customers on an emotional level (preferably nice positive emotions like love and delighted, not emotions like anger and hate), then customers would choose to travel with them. Some might even pay a little bit more. Imagine that Mr O’Leary?

ryanair-staff-nappingSo, we thought we’d come up with a few ideas of our own. After all, it looks like he needs all the help he can get.

• Ryanair Express store selling over-priced packed lunch ingredients and sandwich fillings for customers to make their own lunch before coming on board. Advise customers that if they require a preparation surface they can use the baby-changing facilities.
• Sell customers oxygen masks and a choice of getaway devices, from slides to parachutes
• Charge customers a monthly subscription to access the website
• Oblige customers to undergo steward training, in preparation for the no-staff service.
• Sell customers Ryanair uniforms in Duty Free, in case the staff are free of duty and absent
• £100 soiling charge if you wet your seat from not paying the £5 toilet charge

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Are brands brave enough to embrace social media?

Social media, while it’s been around for a bit now, is still not being truly embraced by brands. The beauty of social media is the decentralisation of the source of the message. Now we all have a voice, and it’s just as relevant and important as the next person’s. So for brands, who are used to being in control of the messages about their brand, that time is over.

Brand owners know all about brand perception. Brand perception is what consumers think about the brand. When a gap exists between where the brand thinks they are and where they really are, there’s a bit of work to do. But in the old days, this was relatively easy. You took out a few ads, used a great PR agency and before long, shifts occurred in the brand image.

But now, there are a whole heap of conversations going on about brands in places they don’t even know about. Sure, they have their own website that pushes out the brand message, but that’s the last place that consumers come to. Typically, Google is where it all starts and the corporate website is where it ends. What happens in between is what is going to determine whether that final visit leads to a sale.

So, why don’t brands get more involved with all that stuff that happens in between? The forums, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook… Do brands even know where the conversations are happening?

The truth is that brands are scared. Most are still trying to work out whether social media is here to stay, while the rest are still working out what it is and how to use it. How many people have you heard say “I just don’t get Twitter”?

In a recent Brand Republic article the top 100 brands mentioned on Twitter were mentioned alongside whether or not they had a presence on Twitter. Less than half of them have a Twitter account. So brands like Gillette, Audi, L’Oreal, Cadbury’s, Tesco, Coca-Cola and Apple are NOT participating in the conversation about their brands. This is the space where decisions are made about brands and it seems like the big guys are getting a bit complacent.

Last year I spent some time with the CEO of Bazaarvoice. These guys are all about making the most out of UGC (user generated content) and using it to drive sales. So if you sell from your website they help you to incorporate UGC to offer a fuller picture to the consumer helping them to make a balanced decision. They can demonstrate that a selection of balanced reviews will sell you more products, even if that selection includes poor reviews.

It makes sense. Consumers are going to seek out those balanced reviews before purchasing, so you may as well put them on your site. Stops them leaving in the first place and buying elsewhere.

So, if we know there’s a conversation taking place out there somewhere between Google and the corporate site, why not encourage some of that conversation to take place ON the corporate site? There is an article that has a clear view about this and it encourages brands to develop their website with their consumers. Instead of being me-me-me, make the website about them and their experiences with the brand. Invite testimonials, good and bad, and create a community. This may all sound like a step too far for some brands. But what the bigger brands need to realise, is that smaller brands are happy jump in here, as it’s their competitive edge.

And who knows, these little guys could be the big brands of tomorrow.

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Another secret formula to a great brand

In an article today, it was announced that the chairman of Irn Bru, Robin Barr, will be stepping down after 48 years at the helm. And, why should this story be so interesting? Well, 3 things come to mind….

1. Great brand story
First of all is the great brand story that I learnt upon reading the article. Not being a consumer of fizzy drinks, I’m a bit behind on these things. So to keep you updated on what I have learnt:

“Mr Barr is one of only two people in the world who knows the secret recipe for the best-selling Irn Bru drink and the two never travel on the same plane.

Once a month the essences for the drink are personally mixed by Robin Barr in a sealed room at the company’s headquarters in Cumbernauld.

The 32 different ingredients are combined in a huge vat, which mixes 8,000 litres at a time.

The recipe was discovered by Robin Barr’s great grandfather in 1901 and has not changed in 108 years.

Only one other unnamed person shares the secret but the formula has been written down and is stored in a bank vault somewhere in Scotland.”

Wow! What heritage! The idea that someone is preparing the mixture personally for a fizzy drink really sounds quite heart-warming. And not only that, but it’s the grandson of the inventor of the recipe. In my head, these sugary drinks are all prepared in huge vats and mixed by a computer, watched over by a food chemist. But to have the chairman personally stirring up the essences sounds lovely! I’m sure he uses a very large wooden spoon. The drink almost sounds like it’s home made.

You couldn’t buy this sort of branding. It’s priceless. A cynic somewhere might be wondering if it’s all true, but we’ll ignore them for now.

And this sort of takes me onto my next point.

2. Bang on brand message
For branding to succeed, the brand message has to be applied consistently across all touch points. And, this is what these guys have clearly been doing. So, at this juncture I would like to applaud their PR team. The article above mentions all the key points of the brand story as shared on the brand website. There is only one discrepancy. Can you spot it? (answer at the end):

“How would you describe the essence of a flavour that only two people in the world know? One that is such a closely guarded secret that it is held under lock and key in a vault in Switzerland? A taste so precious, so unique that it is our chairman Robin Barr, and he alone, who blends the unique combination of 32 flavours that can be savoured in every sip? There is only one word to describe it.


And if you didn’t get that right you’ve clearly been drinking something else. So go and de-tox your mouth with a can of IRN-BRU immediately.”

When using PR as part of your brand building strategy, the trick is to ensure that the brand message is understood clearly by the media and repeated word for word. Of course, in the real world, this can be tricky. Journalists and editors like to trim down press releases, or they may pick a more newsworthy angle that in not entirely appropriate for the brand. And, as a brand, you only find out once you get to read the finished piece.

But here, the PR team have clearly done a good job. They probably have great relationships with the media they’re dealing with and have no doubt furnished them with incredulous amounts of Irn Bru.

My final point doesn’t quite link on so smoothly I’m afraid. But it is an important one.

3.  The secret recipe
How many brands have secret recipes? I bet if you talked to any big food brand, they would tell you that their recipe is secret. And yet, what steps are being taken to protect these recipes? If these recipes were compromised what would the impact on the brand be?

Imagine this. You’re a big international food brand. Your sales are doing so well that you’re over capacity in your manufacturing plants. The majority of your new sales are coming from the Middle East, but you don’t have a factory there. But you get approached by an Indian manufacturer who says that they have spare capacity and would love to make your product for you. Great! They’re going to need the recipe. Hmmm. Stop!

At this point, the brand owner needs to stop and ask questions. Lot of questions.

  • How will they protect the recipe?
  • Can they demonstrate that they’re protecting it, really?
  • Who’s going to have access to the recipe?
  • Can they be trusted?
  • Who’s job is it to ask the questions? Do they know what questions to ask?

But let us for a moment imagine what could happen…

  • Recipe is not stored safely and is compromised. The product is made using a different recipe and the resulting product lets the brand down. FAIL!
  • The recipe is leaked. Competitors get their hands on it and offer the same product at a discount. FAIL!

Ouch! Either way, the result will cost, if not in sales then in brand reputation or brand value.

Managing and protecting a brand is so much bigger than the marketing department. It should permeate the whole business from finance and HR to legal and operations. Potential brand damage can come from any quarter so everyone needs to be clear as to what their part is in protecting the brand and its value to the business.

Fortunately at Irn Bru, they understand that one. They even have a decoy - we don’t really know whether the original formula is stored in Scotland or Switzerland.

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