About astutemarketeers

Astute Marketeers are a team of experienced, freelance PR and marketing communications professionals who can bring expertise in different markets to the table. We work together in teams and deliver innovative, results-oriented campaigns without the overhead of a traditional PR agency. This means we can focus on the work - on your needs and requirements - without having to ask you to pay the overheads for a swanky London office. And that's about the only difference. We utilise the technology that is available, as well as face to face meetings, to maintain regular contact and to deliver an intuitive, dynamic and hands-on service to our clients wherever they are. You never know, we may just be right for you. www.astutemarketeers.co.uk

Nobody wants a brand with a soggy bottom

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After Top Gear’s stalled return to BBC Two, the corporation now finds itself on the wrong end of the commercial realities of life in BakeOff-gate as one of the jewels in the British broadcasting crown departs its home at the BBC for the brave new world of Channel 4.

Well, at the least that’s what it should be. Expletives are probably flying and the crisis management PR plan being dusted off as the reaction to the decision by Love Productions to move The Great British Bake Off is anything but what they would have wanted or probably expected.

Aside from the underlying sense that Bake Off has been unfairly moved from the home that has helped to nurture it into the televisual phenomenon it has become, the decision by presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins to leave the show (and at the time of writing the lack of confirmation from Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry) risks removing both the personalities and the characteristics that define the programme. As one pundit mused, without Mel & Sue, Channel 4 may have just paid £25 million for little more than a tent and some kitchen equipment.

So much that defines the Bake Off brand – at least in the UK – is encapsulated not just in the four key personalities, but also the way they interact with each other, that losing the presenters let alone the judges too could leave Channel 4 with a show that is a pale imitation of the brand in its present form.

And herein lies the lesson. There’s more to a brand than simply the product or the service you provide; there’s the way you deliver it. Any broadcaster can produce a show about baking but there’s no guarantee, however technically good it is, that it will deliver the magic of Bake Off.

Step back from your brand and identify the elements that make it what it is – the intangible as well as the tangible. It’s as important to nurture the intangible, develop the brand’s personality and protect the elements that make your business stand out as it is to ensure that the actual product or service you deliver is up to speed. The challenge then is to bring that magic through in all of your marketing activity – the kind of promotions, events or campaigns you conceive; the content that you create across your social platforms, and the tone of voice that your brand adopts in engaging with its customers.

Without that magic, your brand is at risk of being just another me-too; another batch of dough that fails to rise. And when there’s awesome bread to taste, nobody remembers the dough that doesn’t rise.

Ends.

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Come on Barbie, let’s go…marketing

barbieIt’s been an interesting few days in the toy world. First we learned that Barbie was to get three new body types this year with her manufacturer, Mattel, adding “tall, curvy and petite” body shapes to its Barbie line-up as well as several skin tones, eye colours and hairstyles. Then we discovered that Lego is to sell its first mini-figure in a wheelchair following online petitions and calls for toymakers to provide positive depictions of those with disabilities. Mattel said that the new Barbies would “offer girls choices that are more reflective of the world they see today”. We await with interest whether a new range of Kens is to be made available with a Dad-bod.

On one level this may little more than manufacturers minimising the risk of their products being positioned as out of step with changing society thinking and avoiding being on the wrong side of potentially damaging themes like attitudes towards body image and disability. But brands are also in business to sell and manufacturers of products with the longevity of Barbie and Lego know that reinvention from time to time is key to remaining current among a new generation of increasingly tech-influenced children.

But there could be another side to this too and that’s the constant drive towards the Holy Grail of shopper loyalty. Although as consumers we are massively influenced by price, there are sectors – sportswear, fashion, technology and alcohol, for example – were loyalty to a single brand is more common. In the tech market it is easy to see how the perceived attractiveness of a brand’s personality, how distinctive that brand might be from the crowd together with positive word-of-mouth reports and peer pressure (who buys anything now without reading the online reviews?) can create (or destroy) brand loyalty. What makes a brand attractive will be different for each of us – it might be what the brand stands for ethically, it might be its commitment to cutting edge design, it might be how the brand presents itself externally or it may simply be that we like their products better. It might also be what we believe ownership of a given brand says about us as individuals or it could be the herd mentality of having it because everyone else does.

Celebrity endorsement and the aspirational belief that this can instil can also have an impact. After all, if using Brylcreem or Gillette really made me feel like David Beckham or buying a pair of swimming shorts from M&S made me genuinely think I looked like David Gandy, then they’d probably have me captive.

What is changing, though, and becoming more sophisticated is the way brands are courting us and trying to create a genuine two-way relationship rather than a one-way service. Creating campaigns or content online that not only resonates with your target audience, but also engages them in the process is key. Whether it’s a brand like Pampers, which has created a real community of soon-to-be parents who can come together to share advice and feelings, or GoPro, which encourages those using its products to share some of their best shots, brands are increasingly looking to become part of their consumers’ lives. They want to become your next Facebook friend, engaging, involving and sharing experiences with you in a way that has value to both parties.

Consumers know when they are being sold to and they know when they are being marketed at and we know that they are increasingly cynical about and resistant to the most overt forms of both. So less maybe more in future and that’s why Barbie’s new incarnations and Lego’s move to reflect diversity may not be as cynical as one might first think. That, though, depends to a large extent on how they deploy them over the next few years.

Corbyn….The Catcher of the Mood

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In the aftermath of Labour’s General Election defeat, Jeremy Corbyn squeaked into the party’s leadership contest, portrayed by some as a joke candidate. Positioned next to his rivals, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, Corbyn looked like the antidote to the modern manicured politician. He was meant to provide the interest on the fringes of the campaign whilst one of his competitors took on the mantle of making Labour electable again.

It didn’t turn out quite like that. He has now received the biggest party mandate for any political leader in British history and, as he starts life as Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, the heirs of ‘New Labour’ face a period of severe introspection and an uncertain political future. Not since Michael Foot (and yes, we know what happened to him) has the party elected a leader less suited to being spun by its PR machine. This may be refreshing but it could also be a double-edged sword.

And herein lies the lesson. Corbyn may have found himself on the ballot almost by accident but, leaving aside the issue of how many non-Labour supporters registered and actually voted, whether knowingly or otherwise, it is undeniable that he tapped into a palpable appetite for change.

There was going to be a downside for Labour either way. To keep the party with sufficient substance to be effective, Corbyn must find a way of keeping Labour together as a single broad church. In the same way, if he had lost to one of his rivals, they would have been faced with the dilemma of keeping on board a large group of supporters who would have felt that their aspirations had been dashed.

But as Simon & Garfunkel once wrote, you have to keep the customer satisfied. In short, capturing the mood is only the first part. It’s now about delivering on a vision – or a product or service – that embodies your customers’ (or your supporters’) aspirations or needs rather than creating a product or service (or vision) and then trying to persuade your market (or your electorate) that this is what they need or want. The challenge is to be able to fulfil the customer’s aspiration and deliver on the vision that you have set out. That can be tough for brands but Mr Corbyn need only look to President Obama or Prime Minister Tspiras to see just how difficult it can be for leaders too. It’s always harder once the vision has to be turned into a reality and the disruptive brand on the sidelines becomes the establishment.

This is the real essence of PR. It is not, as some always portray, about spurious events or stunts. It’s about capturing a mood, communicating a vision and then, critically, delivering on the hopes and expectations of those in your target audiences. And that’s the same for a product manufacturer, a service provider as much as it is for an aspiring Prime Minister. With any communication plan, you have to be able to carry your stakeholders with you. Only time will tell whether Jeremy Corbyn can do that and, if he can’t, what the fall-out and implications for the Labour brand will be.

Is your marketing more Louis Walsh than Nick Grimshaw?

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It’s been all change over the past few weeks at some of television’s biggest programmes – Clarkson out at Top Gear and Chris Evans in; Louis Walsh and Dermot O’Leary gone from X Factor, ushering in Nick Grimshaw, Rita Ora and Olly Murs.

For whatever reason, one thing had become clear – these popular programmes needed to be refreshed in order to retain their popularity and win over new audiences. And brands are no different. Businesses that fail to embrace change as part of its DNA will find that no matter how they deploy their marketing spend, the brand will always be at risk of appearing stale to its customer base.

This doesn’t mean a major step change from your core position – in fact, too great a change can do as much damage as no change at all – but to achieve the level of engagement that you need in what is a fast moving business landscape, creativity and imagination in your marketing around your key business values and messages is crucial.

This might mean not playing things as safely as you’re used to. If you want your brand to be noticed, marketing activity that is as imaginative as wallpaper will not help you achieve it. Your marketing needs to demonstrate the energy, creativity, innovation and, perhaps, humour with which you want it to be associated – and targeted at those most likely to engage with you. Don’t worry about appealing to the masses if the masses are never going to form that core groups capable of making an impact on your bottom line.

Achieving stand-out carries risks but unless you take those risks, with all risks considered, all you will be doing is adding to the white noise of marketing that can be all-pervasive. The story you want to tell may not be different to before but the way in which you tell it certainly should be.

So we say follow these key principles:

Be clear on who you want to target and focus only on those who will be interested in your products or services, and then identify all of the potential touchpoints where you can engage with them.

Engage with them on their terms – speak the language of their requirements, their benefits, their challenges and explain how you can meet those. The days when you can try and get your target customers to fit their needs with what you’re selling are long gone.

Make it personal – brand values are only useful if you can show how they benefit (in practice as well as theory) your target audience.

This may require an investment (in time as much as money) to ensure that you really know what your customers want. Your marketing should be structured based on these insights so that by engaging with those most likely to be interested in engaging with you, your marketing activity can be as efficient as it is creative. It’s the businesses that do this that are the ones that have the X Factor. The others are unlikely to make it to judges’ houses let alone the live shows.

PM fires starting gun on nationwide PR campaign (sorry, General Election campaign)

Signpost, political parties

The starting gun has officially been fired on the 2015 General Election campaign, though the battle to win the messaging war has been well underway for some time. Anybody who thought this would remain a relentlessly positive and constructive communications campaign should think again.

This weekend David Cameron launched an intensely personal attack on Ed Miliband and his ‘hopeless, sneering socialists’. The Prime Minister referred to Mr Miliband’s background as the ‘same old condescending, bossy, interfering, we-know-best attitude of the Hampstead socialist down the ages’.

And he is far from alone. Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock compared the Prime Minister’s tactics with Hitler’s infamous ‘big lie’ about the Jews. Mr Cameron’s consistent attacks on Labour’s economic record had ‘etched its way into the consciousness of the British people in tribute to the attributes of the great lie almost on a scale practised in Germany before the War’, said Lord Kinnock.

Only time will tell whether such tactics cut much ice with the voters or whether the parties change tack in mid-campaign. One thing is for sure. No British election will have ever been so keenly fought and no British election will have integrated so many marketing communications disciplines as this one. The billboard advertisements may still get the newspaper headlines, but as the campaign develops refining key messages on the issues most likely to play well with the electorate will become increasingly important. If ever you want to see pure marketing communications in action, just watch what happens over the next six weeks and then consider how you can apply the same principles to your organisation.

1. The parties have been defining for some time the messages that are most important in getting across their proposition, as you must do for your products and services.

2. They will be understand what the criticisms of their messages are likely to be from their competitors and will be setting out how they will respond to them.

3. The parties will expend as much energy in defining the weaknesses in their opponents’ positions and how to exploit them, as they will in projecting their own positives. You could do the same exercise on your competition.

4. They will also have considered the disciplines that will best help them integrate your PR and marketing communications activity. Observe how they will exploit social and digital marketing to get their messages across; look at how they use mobile and online to reach potential voters, especially those who don’t consume information through conventional media. Watch how quickly they respond as issues build and recognise how they see a crisis for one competitor as an opportunity for themselves.

5. Political advertising on television and radio is banned in the UK but the parties recognise that video is the richest form of content online. User generated videos on social media, perhaps boosted by an advertising spend, could help attract significant audience.

6. Conventional media remains important. It provides the platform for detailed messages to be conveyed and discussed, with social platforms and digital marketing (as well as online and offline advertising) used to amplify and reinforce those key messages.

7. And don’t forget targeting. Online, mobile and social platforms will enable the parties to target particular geographical or demographic groups in new and engaging ways.

Now imagine how you might apply the same template to your business or campaign.

This election will be won in the 194 marginal seats in Britain. That means the parties, whilst speaking on a national level for brand awareness will target much of their activity on the seats, which will determine the outcome of the election. Consider the same approach for your products and services – go broad with your PR to achieve brand awareness but target the demographic or geographic groups – your own marginal constituencies – that can make the difference to your business campaign.

A Matter of Trust – what politicians can learn from entrepreneurial business

BallotBox1Research released to coincide with the recent World Economic Forum in Davos revealed that trust in business in the UK had fallen four points in the last year to just 52%. Although this still put the business sector here ahead of Government, media and NGOs, it shows that even though the economy may be turning around, our faith in our businesses is not. With average trust in our major institutions now below 50%, the report bracketed the UK in a group of countries it terms ”the distrusters”, alongside Italy, South Africa, Poland and Russia.

The question is, does this matter and how can you counter it?

The answer is yes. Although this may likely refer to our relationship with big business, SMEs must guard against suffering by association. Trust in your brand is fundamental to its success and can be influenced – and undermined – across all aspects of your business. It can be determined by product quality, by customer service, by whether you deliver on time or not, by whether the service you give matches the promise you make, whether you do what you need to do to put things right when they go wrong and, critically from a PR viewpoint, whether the messages you put out to the market match the reality of your customers’ experience.

We are a little more than two months away from a General Election and already claims and counter claims have been made as to which of the main political parties are really the best partner for entrepreneurial businesses. As the politicians hit the stump and compete for our votes, what they don’t seem to realise is that there experience of competing for our support once every five years is something you in your business are doing every day of every week. Your marketing activity is all about competing for the votes of your customers and getting them to buy your proposition rather than those of your competitors. Critically how much they trust your brand as well as the quality of your product or service is at the heart of where and why they choose to place their custom.

Trust is acquired, developed and nurtured as it is in any relationship. You cannot simply apply activity to your market and expect that relationship to be there immediately. It’s about looking at your market, understanding the issues, challenges and concerns that affect your customers’ lives – perhaps way outside the sphere of your products or services – and seeing if there is a way in which you can contribute to their world, become a trusted partner and form a relationship which will, over the medium term, translate into business and loyalty. One wonders if our politicians will succeed in doing the same.

A Christmas Tale – Is it time to reinvent brand Santa?

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It had been a slow build-up to Christmas. The order book was healthy but Santa wasn’t sure that he was going to hit his numbers. In a meeting with the elves they had expressed concern that, after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, maybe the children were ditching Santa in favour of more contemporary, online outlets. The elves, worried that Santa might be tempted to make them redundant, urged him to bring in some marketing help. At least they weren’t on zero-hours contracts!

Three agencies were invited to present proposals. The first confirmed what the elves had feared. Brand Santa was passé; it needed a makeover to make him more ‘current’. They even said that Santa’s digital presence wasn’t all that it could be. Santa had no idea what they even meant. They proposed a colour makeover, changing the old style red to a more contemporary purple in readiness for Santa’s own line of clothing and said that they’d get to work immediately on a warts and all, reality TV show.

“I don’t like that idea much,” Santa grumbled. “Half of my success has been based around mystique. People don’t really want to know it all, do they? After all, my name’s Santa Claus, not Santa Kardashian.”

The second agency said they wanted to make Santa go viral, which didn’t sound pleasant at all. They advocated a weekly podcast in the run-up to Christmas and Santa’s own YouTube channel so children could log on at any moment and watch videos of toys being prepared for despatch. They suggested a tie- up with a wildlife charity where, for just £2 a month, you could adopt Rudolf or Donner or Blitzen and help save the reindeer. But most of all they wanted to do some research to show where in the country the children had been naughtiest and where they had been nicest with the findings released to the press on Christmas Eve.

The third agency didn’t know what all the fuss was about. They told Santa that sometimes you had to recognise what you already had and just work harder at doing the simple things better to make people appreciate it more. They loved the heritage that already existed within the Santa brand and told him that he offered the one thing that no website or high street store could offer – the authentic Christmas experience. They recommended working with Santa on keeping the mystique alive and, in a world riven by intolerance and poverty, on building a campaign that challenged everyone to declare that they believed in Santa and all that he represented. Perhaps one day, he told them, John Lewis might recognise that he could do far more for their advertising than any toy penguin could. Just ask Coca-Cola, he said.

So, Santa has entered his busiest time, with the elves working harder than ever, content that, a few tweaks aside, he remains as relevant a brand to your Christmas than any chocolate orange, bottle of Port or celebrity chef’s Christmas pudding.

And with that, the Astute Marketeers team wishes you a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and successful 2015. We look forward to working with you next year.