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For the last five years the default answer to enhancing brand exposure has been a fairly curious one: don’t sell a product, sell a purpose.
It’s been a classic case of ‘mission escalation’, with brands taking their values, normally reserved for employee handbooks and CEO speeches, and placing them on TV screens, billboards and social media feeds.
It’s led to some great work and memorable campaigns from the likes of Dove and Chipotle, but mostly it’s been a curious phenomenon with all sorts of brands going outside of their natural territories and overreaching about what and where they should talk.
Of late, the missteps have been gathering pace with more and more brands applying heavy hands to heavy issues in an increasingly transparent bid to gain social currency and, let’s face it, sales.
In 2017 alone, we’ve had Kendall Jenner solving race relations in the US with a can of Pepsi, Heineken cracking a multitude of social issues via a fresh cold one, and even McDonalds selling Fillet-o-Fish via a dead dad.
Well, the man to blame directly or indirectly is Simon Sinek.
He’s the man responsible for the famed line ‘people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’.
The nuance here is there’s nothing wrong with what Sinek is saying. Sometimes, the ‘why’ is important (hat-tip to Patagonia amongst others).
The issue is that it has gotten out of control. It has been coerced by brand and ad agencies across the globe who regurgitate Sinek’s Ted talk to CMOs whilst simultaneously sliding an exorbitant bill under their noses.
In the five years since agencies got hold of ‘Why’, we’ve seen more and more companies retrospectively attaching purposes to their brands, or bolting on a social mission; a point most succinctly summed up below by creative agency Sell! Sell!
The good news is the socially conscious sausage finally seems to be on the wane. A mixture of high profile missteps and an increasingly intolerant twitterati has made brand purpose a less attractive route for marketers.
So as one marketing trend fizzles out, the question that arises is what now?
The simple answer: we don’t know yet – the tide on one trend is still retreating.
For me though, I’ll be placing my hard earned on a return to product-centric marketing. We’ll see more and more brands returning to their strengths and spending money on innovating their core products and core product experiences through technology.
Whilst brands have spent the last few years gazing into the horizon with a glassy-eyed, heroic stare, the devices in the hands of consumers have been becoming incredibly sophisticated.
Smartphones now hold the ability to change how consumers interact with brands and, even more intriguingly, experience their core products.
One of big boys that has stolen a march on the competition in this regard is Starbucks – they have plonked the smartphone right between themselves and their consumers, building their in-store experience and out-of-store communications around an app offering mobile payment, digital loyalty and pre-ordering.
Unsurprisingly, given the medium, the regulars have followed with 20% of today’s Starbucks transactions being made via their app.
Another example is Dominos, which has used the smartphone to do a painfully obvious but rarely successful thing – make it easier for consumers to buy their product via an ordering and payment app.
Again, the results are in the numbers, with pre-tax profits up 18% in the two years since the branded app was launched, and 49% of all ecommerce sales coming through the app.
So CMOs and marketing directors, as you plan your upcoming activity, take pause and ask yourself a few key questions.
Consider your creative agency and media buying costs, and then the new mediums that money could take you into. Are you investing in the right channels to drive long term revenue growth?
Think about your consumers and the ways they interact and experience your products. What has been done recently to improve these areas?
Finally, if you’re anchored to a mission-led approach, be sure to ask yourself ‘why bother with ‘why’?’
If you have the right answers to these questions, then you and your product will be in good shape to cater to the fast changing consumer tastes.
If you don’t have the right answers, it’s time to adapt or risk getting left behind.
Andy Wray oversees all B2B and B2C marketing comms initiatives at Yoyo, helping Europe’s fastest growing payment and loyalty app to become one of Marketing Week’s ‘Top 100 Disruptive Brands Globally’.
He joined Yoyo in 2015, following eight years in communications and advertising.