King - A Branding Genius?

shaving bond home pageYou would have been hard pressed to get through the weekend papers without escaping any reference to the King. And, I’m not talking about Michael Jackson. Instead, I’m referring to Will King, founder and CEO of King of Shaves. The reason for this is that last week, he launched the Shaving Bond. This is a corporate bond that aims to attract funds for their marketing war chest in their fight against Gillette.

This brand building idea is ingenious on so many levels. So many levels that I’m not quite sure where to start, so in no real order…

A brand you can trust

In the current climate of dishonest and untrustworthy politicians and banks, choosing where to put your money is tricky business. And yet, here is an opportunity to put your money behind one of the fastest growing brands around. Not only that, but Will King is proven when it comes to building assets. After all, he knows how to manage money as he’s built a hugely successful business over the last 16 years. Politicians and banks can’t claim that one very easily. So, in terms of trust, he’s got that one nailed. That’s no mean feat; give the guy some credit.

It’s a win-win!

Will King is predicting that his business will double in the next year. For those of you that struggle with percentages, that’s +100%. So, to offer a +6% return on an investment means that he is going to be quids in. But so are the investors. The majority of investors out there would be hard pressed to find a better return than 6%. Especially one that comes with free King of Shaves products. The free product bit is so neat. For KoS, giving away free product is nothing, but the perceived value to the consumer is massive. Consumers love a bit of FREE.

willI saw King speak recently at the British Library and he was asked how he measured his marketing spend on advertising. The response quite simply was “Sales! We sell loads of product”. King knows that lack of awareness is their biggest barrier. He calls it their “biggest competitor”. So, King knows that if he could just spend more on advertising, then sales will follow. The problem is, he needs to the cash. So, what are his options?

Get your customers to pay for it!

Well why not? Most brands pay for their marketing through their premium prices. Taking this route allows King of Shaves to keep their prices competitive during these “tough times” while offering consumers a return in more ways than one. I also think that the transparency is going to be respected. They’re quite blatant in telling us that they’ll spend the money on marketing and advertising. And so, consumers get to choose as to whether they take part in this. You don’t get that choice with many other brands. You pay or go elsewhere.

Now, back to the lack of awareness issue. What better way round this than to get your name out there? Mmmm… now let’s think, how could he do this. Well, you could try and pull a big PR stunt that gets you into all the papers.

A PR stunt?

the-sun-230609The press coverage for the Shaving Bond has been pretty impressive. Oh sure, it helps that they’ve been spending a little cash on advertising, but nonetheless. To secure coverage in wide ranging publications like The Sun, The Times, Brand Republic, Management Today and Marketing Week makes for a great PR stunt. The value of the PR alone will make this exercise worth it, even if no-one signs up. But, the reach achieved with this coverage would probably surpass anything they could hope to pull off with any ad campaign. And that coverage was despite the other “King” that hit the news this week.

Consistency of message

I can’t help admire the PR aspect of this initiative. Having worked on PR stunt campaigns, I know how hard it can be to ensure that when your story gets out there, the journalists are saying the right thing, consistently. After all, you have no editorial control. But, for this campaign, the message that keeps coming through is “It’s not just a better way to shave, it’s a better way to save”. And that comes straight from King himself. Great brands are built on consistency, and these guys clearly know what they’re doing.

And finally…

What a great name!

This name is a marketer’s dream. It’s just so perfect! I won’t go on as Shaving Bond speaks for itself.

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What’s the secret to a great brand?

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Apple has attained what a lot of brands can only dream of: avid loyal fan-atics who act as brand-ambassadors without prompt. How do they do this?Here’s one way, the Apple Brand Experience.

As a relatively recent Apple convert, I am still at that early stage of wonder and curiosity as I walk the path otherwise known as the Apple Brand Experience. So far, I have collected a number of really positive experiences since acquiring my beautiful little macbook. The most notable one so far is the fact that my macbook works. Yes! Simple things. And, it works when I want it to work. This makes a refreshing change from my PC days. Each day, I continue to be in awe at how smoothly it runs. Surely, this was too good to be true… Was it all about to horribly wrong? In a word, yes.

A few weeks ago, during Easter bank holiday weekend, a horrid cold forced me to spend the weekend in bed watching back-to-back episodes of Lost. I enjoyed it actually. Amazed at how long my battery was lasting, I just kept moving onto the next episode. But, the inevitable happened, so, before starting the next episode I crawled out of bed to get my lead. I plugged it in. Nothing. Nada. No little green or red LED. Nothing. Zip. Diddlysquat! No matter how much I wriggled the lead, the little LED’s just weren’t showing up. And I only had 20 minutes of juice left! AND…. It was bank holiday weekend! Aaargh! Suddenly, the sweat on my forehead had an entirely different composition.

The next 20 minutes were spent frantically searching the interweb for anything on the Magsafe power lead. Lost was soon a distant memory. A few forums later and I’m now a little wiser on the subject of the Magsafe power lead. They’re not all that great apparently. Some say a little bit delicate, too delicate. Others think that it’s not that well designed, especially when you compare it to other Mac stuff. And others still complain of theirs dying just after the warranty expires. Typical! But, time was running out. I needed to focus. First, I checked my warranty. Phew, another 2 weeks left! Second. I found the list of local resellers where I could get it fixed. Third. Emailed friends with Macs to see if I could borrow their lead. And relax.

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After two painful days with minimal mac usage (damn bank holidays!) the day came for me to take my little macbook to be fixed. To avoid potential embarrassment, I checked both my lead and my friend’s lead. After all, I would not look very cool bringing in the lead that worked. But, both leads worked! What?! Now I’m not sure what’s worse. A lead that is faulty, or a lead that was faulty once and now isn’t… but might be faulty any minute now. How could I take the lead back - it worked! But, now I didn’t trust it. Weird concept, not trusting a lead.

Well now Apple. What are you going to do now? My brand experience has been shattered. I’ve lost trust in you. How can you possibly recover from this one? This question interested me, as both a marketer and a consumer. A week went by and the rawness of the experience started to fade. Time is a healer, right?

And, then I find myself with a spare 15 minutes in between meetings and I’m near the Regent Street Apple store. Well, it would have been rude not to go in. I had never been in an Apple store before, so this was potentially quite exciting. Maybe, I could talk to a real person about my problem. The power-lead one.

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I was a little apprehensive about walking in. Everyone inside the store looked far too cool. Would they let me in? I might get rumbled as an Apple newbie and get sent out again. I put my Ipod on to make myself feel better.

Once inside, I was in awe. As a retail space, it was quite incredible. It didn’t feel like a store at all, more like Apple World. There were zones, workshops, one-to-one training sessions, and people using products, everywhere. I made an enquiry about my problem and was advised that it would be best to bring my little macbook in so they could have a look at it. On my way out, I picked up a program of events for the month. After all, as a newbie, I could probably do with attending the “Going from a PC to a Mac” workshop at some point.

My next Apple retail experience was in their shiny new store in the Westfield centre, where, armed with my little macbook, I turned up as the doors opened. A very helpful, very cool guy welcomed me into the store and listened as I explained the problem. We walked together to the counter at the back. I was thankful for this, as I’m sure I would have got ejected for not looking cool enough if I was on my own. As he opened my Mac, he noticed a crack that had appeared near my mouse pad. I tried to hide it, as I was sure he would be thinking that I didn’t treat my mac with enough respect. He suggested that my lead connector might be loose, but that if I get my casing replaced under warranty, the connector could be done at the same time. And, while he was tinkering under my Apple bonnet, he also noted how slow my machine was. So he prodded and poked for a bit. Then he let me know that my machine should run a lot quicker from now on. Fantastic! I skipped out of the store with my new slicker, faster machine and the AppleCare phone number. All ready for stage 2. Result!

In an effort to test Apple, I decided to call AppleCare, on the last day of my warranty. Well, no. Actually I forgot. But, these things don’t matter in Apple World. I called and spoke to a very cool guy. Well, his voice sounded cool. I imagined him sitting at work in his jeans, scruffy white designer T-shirt, and trainers. Hair ruffled, but in a styled way. Like I said, cool. He created an Apple file just for me for me, which detailed my problem, and then he gave me a unique Apple number. I felt very important. But, I needed to be put on hold for a bit while he raised the paperwork. As my sense of importance diminished somewhat, I listened to some cool music. Then he came back, assured me that everything would get fixed free of charge under warranty and reminded me to have a great day. I did.

Now for the Big Fix. This was where it could go horribly wrong again. As I don’t have a local Apple store, I have to use a reseller to fix my little macbook. The marketer in me was once more very interested in how this next stage was going to play out. We marketers know that the challenge for brand owners when they outsource is ensuring that the brand experience is maintained. Outsourcing customer-facing aspects of your business can be risky, as it is here on the front line, that brand loyalty can be won or lost.

But I needn’t worry. Apple has clearly picked a very good organisation in my area. Once again, I was faced with super-cool staff and excellent customer service. I was so impressed with how it was all going that I forgot about my untrustworthy lead and got way too excited at the prospect of having new casing. I know. I should get out more. Well I am planning to go to the Apple workshop next time I’m in London.

So here I am now with my new shiny white casing, and I still have a lead that might stop working at any time. But, do I care? NO! In fact, I’m delighted. I have a new set of keys to tap away on that I can see (my E had disappeared), my mouse pad feels slick and fast, and I have no crack in sight.

2304078792Great brands know that if they have a customer in distress, it is a ripe opportunity to turn that customer into a loyal brand advocate. After all, the real test of a brand’s strength is how well the situation is managed. We are all human, and as customers we accept that mistakes can happen. It’s how we are treated in that situation that will colour our opinion. In my situation, Apple could have sorted the lead situation out no problem. But as a customer, what difference would I have noticed in my brand experience? However, now I have shiny new casing with new keys that I can now read again, and a mouse pad that seems even more efficient than it was before. So even though my brand experience wasn’t really in question (bar the lead), I am now even more in love with my little macbook. So, I’m more than happy.

And you know what? If the lead dies, well, c’est la vie! We can’t all be perfect.

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