Archive for November, 2009

What’s the story? The meaning of marketing is the marketing of meaning.

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Studies of Branding have more often than not focused on it being a rational reaction to Marketing Communications. A more helpful approach is to examine the subjective lived experience of brands that consumers have. Research by Levy (2001), McCracken (1986) and Aaker (1997) has identified meaning as being the key driver of consumer behaviour and it is brands where meaning resides. Brands not only reflect people’s lives but form an integral part of an on-going personal narrative which ‘braids the filaments of everyday empirical and eternal truth into a common strand’ Sherry (2004). Successful brands   have emerged from a ‘culturally constituted’ world (McCracken 1986) where the purpose of Marketing Communications is to co-create customer experience rather than merely building brand image through personality associations. Brands should not be seen as the residual end to a process but a means to meaning for consumers.

In the current financial climate, even global brands have been forced to re-think strategy. According to the Kellogg Management School, for today’s brands to survive, they must meet the challenges of: cash (the balance of short-term costs against long-term investment; consistency (remaining loyal to the brand promise by maintaining message and positioning); and clutter (being heard amongst the noise form communication overload). Avoidance of what Sherry (2004) refers to as the ‘branding doom loop’ – losing long-term brand trajectory through re-positioning by price reduction – depends on having a ‘singular cultural logic which is coherent’ Grant (2006), and Marketing Communications must be a holistic, co-produced collaboration of marketers’ intentions, consumers’ interpretations and social networking.

The imperative of brand narratives is at the centre of this antimetabole: the meaning of marketing is really the marketing of meaning. What do you think?

Corporate Social Responsibility: altruism or competitive advantage?

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

The recent spate of companies desperate to project an ethical stance begs the question: is it fair trade or just good for trade? Was Milton Friedman wrong when he said that “the business of business is business” and companies should stay within the parameters of profit? Or does having moral credentials enhance brand equity and boost sales?

The Co-operative Society builds strong relationships with their ethical policy of selling fair-trade products, supporting the Declaration of Human Rights, defending animal rights, protecting the environment, a long-term commitment to playing a constructive, positive role in the communities within which they trade, reflected in their recent UK marketing communications. In 2007, Marks & Spencer launched their ‘100 commitments to social, ethical and environmental challenges’ citing business ethics, human rights and labour standards, environmental issues and stakeholder engagement as the key tenets of their ‘product, people and places’ strategy to guarantee long-term success. Sainsbury’s, now widely recognised on Dow Jones Sustainability Indices and gaining awards from Business in the Community and Business in the Environment, have used their website to promote not only to the customer outside but the company inside. They claim that CSR is the process by which they manage relationships with its key stakeholders, colleagues, consumers, suppliers, environment, community and shareholders.

There is no doubt that CSR strategies can create virtuous circles and enhance company/customer relationships but is the prime motivation altruism or competitive advantage? What do you think?

Brand comfort or social conformity?

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

The debate over the representation of female beauty through marketing communications is polarised between two camps: the air-brushed, idealised campaigns from the L’Oréal Paris stable of celebrity stars; and Unilever’s natural, authentic representation of ‘real women’.  Both successful on their own terms: one because you’re worth it and the other because they turned the brand into a cause.

The appeal of semi-fabricated beauty personified by the L’Oréal ‘spokesmodels’ depicts women (and men for that matter) as aspirational role models and plays on the psychological need to reinvent self-image. These celebrities act as ambassadors for the brand by projecting what most would say is unattainable beauty. In contrast, Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ deliberately subverts this traditional manipulated imagery by using real women of all shapes and sizes. Although this has only really been a 6 year campaign, the brand conversation has recently been reinforced by the Dove ‘self-esteem fund’ which encourages the deconstruction of media stereotypes in cosmetics advertising.

But where do you stand on this argument? How does the news that the latest L’Oréal ‘spokesmodel’ – the UK’s Cheryl Cole – uses more than Elvive Full Restore Five to enhance her luscious locks? She not only uses hair extensions but acrylic hair extensions! Although the ASA has seen fit not to uphold complaints, does this undermine the L’Oréal brand? Or does it actually reinforce the artificiality of the product benefit?  And equally, is the Dove approach really clever marketing communications masquerading as genuine concern? Whether soft soap or hard sell, there is no doubt that whilst one brand reinforces the homogenisation of the female ‘norm’ and the other raises awareness and promotes self-esteem, both sell lots of moisturiser! What do you think?