Do Brands Need to be Always on to Drive Growth?

Last week on impulse I ordered pizzas for dinner. It was Wednesday evening and the family was peckish.

Did I call in my order into my local pizzeria? No. Did I go online and order? No.

I tweeted an emoji to Domino’s and our pizzas were delivered.  Not only that – they arrived with our special “Wednesday-is-vegetarian-day” toppings.  A brilliant example of a brand appealing to my impulse-purchase instinct and making purchase seamless. A brand “always on”.

This got me thinking. In a world of infinite choice and round-the-clock shopping, can brands still rely on seasonal peaks, product launches and promotions to guarantee growth? Or do brands really have to be mentally and physically available 24/7, 365 days a year?

Shift change: from spray and pray to razor-sharp behaviour understanding

To my mind, ‘always on’ means a personalised and relevant presence to ensure the brand is visible and available where and when people need it, in a format that works for them.

What it is not, is a constant bombardment at a great speed volume. It’s connecting with people in moments that matter.

Take, for instance, gift-purchase. You can ‘push’ an email or digital banner ad out to the biggest audience you can find, hoping some sticks and someone will buy a gift from your website. Keep doing this over and over again, hoping you get enough response.

Or, you can listen, understand and anticipate the rhythms of different types of behaviours – and allow bespoke gifts to be discovered at midnight on Sunday evening because the previous search, site and social activity you analysed earlier tells you that in the weeks leading up to Christmas, shoppers are on their mobiles, at midnight, buying last minute gifts. This is how John Lewis delivers ‘always-on”.

Shopper behaviour is changing at a macro level with shifts towards discounters (+5.8 percent), convenience (+ 4.8 percent) and online (+17.4 percent) driving a fragmented retail landscape.

While being “always-on” is essential to modern marketing, there is one big proviso: it should be considered in the context of channels and categories as people shop: category first, then repertoire, then brand.

Why? Because shopper behaviour is changing at a macro level with shifts towards discounters (+5.8 percent), convenience (+ 4.8 percent) and online (+17.4 percent) driving a fragmented retail landscape. And people are happy to switch across these different environments to meet their needs.  Add to this mix, the mission and behaviours across these channels differ significantly.

So, whilst “always-on” means being present all these channels, brands need a consistent approach tailored to the significance each channel.

We have identified three strategic pillars of modern-day “always-on”.

Permanent shopability

A multitude of factors contribute to being “permanently shoppable”.

Let’s start with connecting your brand with as many different usage occasions as possible in a relevant way. And not just explicitly – neuroscience principles, and now tools, can help us understand both the associations implicit in people’s minds and how to enrich those associations.

Permanent shopability also means having the right range and assortment to satisfy all shopping behaviours, in the right channels. What do you need in convenience compared to Amazon, or compared to the big grocery multiples?

Take Oreo, which earlier this year tapped into the subscription box trend, partnering with Amazon to deliver a monthly Cookie Club box containing favourite sweet treats. Not only that, but each month you get an Oreo-inspired gift. All with the convenience of Amazon delivery. Or Twix, which used product innovation to secure previously unattainable listings in Lidl.

Once you have the right range, how do you help shoppers navigate the category really quickly, really easily? How do you use brand assets to get noticed, and to help people decode what they see at a non-conscious level? Unilever recently overcame choice complexity at shelf by developing a needs-based segmentation in the deo category. This resulted in clever colour-coded navigation at shelf and, in turn, category growth for Walgreen’s of over 10 percent.

Shopper-centric campaign activity

Shoppers aren’t just shopping when you happen to be running a yearly seasonal campaign. Part of the ‘always-on’ challenge is to create new – but critically relevant – occasions or associations. Making sure your brand is available in every possible usage or consumption occasion possible.

Cadbury’s crème eggs were given a Halloween makeover with Screme Egg. A great example of taking a brand typically shopped at one point in the year and making it relevant in others. Purina, through a deep understanding of shopper data, recently learned that it can use retail media to feature against suncream, online. As people think about their holiday, they’re also bulk-buying cat food. An unexpected but brilliantly effective use of shopper-centric campaign activity.

Total category growth

To deliver long term, incremental growth brands should be working with retailers to create category driving programmes that establish new behaviours or occasions based on understanding both channel dynamics and the shopper.

The Unilever/CVS partnership is a great example: Unilever research revealed that CVS had been losing shoppers in the beauty category to mass and supermarket channels. So, on the heels of CVS announcing a new focus on health and beauty, Unilever stepped up with “Love Your Skin,” an exclusive platform that grouped its Dove, Simple and Vaseline brands together to create new regime behaviours and drive overall growth of the skin-care category. “Love Your Skin” promoted a group purchase and doing so by changing the core CVS beauty buyer’s mindset to “treat” to a new focus on total skin health.

I believe that we’re at the advent of a new “always-on” journey. Brands and retailers are re-organising, repurposing to deliver and delight their shopper where, when, and how they want to purchase. Exciting times ahead!

Michelle Whelan

CEO at Geometry UK

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