For a long time, the big brands had it relatively easy. Advertise, buy shelf space, sell stuff. Then came the Internet.
With the rapid growth of global e-commerce, some of the biggest brands have found themselves challenged. Myriad new competitors offer good value at a lower price. Consumers have the option of switching brands with a click. Travelers can find the lowest airfare with a quick search.
Landor Associates has helps companies re-postition themselves in this new age, including household names like Levi Strauss, Rolex, Hanesbrands, Macy's, P&G and Old Spice.
CMSWire asked Landor's Executive Creative Director Christopher Lehmann to share some tips on how brands can not only survive, but thrive in today's hyper-competitive marketplace. As with many other areas of marketing, the answer comes back to a familiar theme: giving the customers what they want.
CMSWire: How are brands holding their value in the online world where there are so many alternatives and choice is often driven by price?
Lehmann: Most brands are thinking and trying to drive their relationship with customers online, and they're doing it to varying degrees of success. When you think about pure e-commerce, people do it well, people do it purely as e-commerce, people continue to build their brand through e-commerce. When you think about Tiffany's, it's a great example of a brand you wouldn't think would be strong at e-commerce, and they're very good at it. Then you move from e-commerce to social media, and how people are embracing that. I think there's lots of opportunities to drive preference through those kinds of conversations versus selling a good.
CMSWire: In retail, there's a lot of price-matching going on. But you can't necessarily do that with a fixed brand. How are brands defending against price sensitivity online?
Lehmann: What it comes down to is we can compete anyway we want when we have strong brands. And to do that, you have to be flexible, you have to know your audience. You have to be absolutely agile, so you can manage that relationship and drive the most value.
CMSWire: We live in an age of the next big thing. It's very easy in markets driven by fashion or changing taste for one brand to get knocked out of the square by something nobody ever heard of before. How can brands compete against the next big thing?
Lehmann: Branding has to be considered through the lens of what it means to be agile. That means having your ear to the ground in terms of your market opportunities and your varying demographics. The more data we have access to, the more we understand our demographics and how they parse out into sub-demographics, if you will. How we think about new and innovative products. How we have conversations with people. Any good brand is going to think about that stuff all the time and not use it to catch up as much as use it to lead. This idea of agile isn't necessarily new. You can look at brands like Virgin, which basically founded themselves on this idea of always anticipating what customers want.
You can look at Nike -- it could have been a Sony Walkman, but it's always adapting who it is as a company. So it moved from sneakers to a fashion brand to technology to letting me be able to customize my shoes. That's a very adaptive, agile brand.
CMSWire: There's a tendency of older brands to try to adapt in ways that may dilute their historic brand values. With Coca-Cola, the first thing I think of is the iconic bottle of Coke. Now they're into granola bars, health foods, fitness drinks and other things. How do you extend the brand to something like that?
Lehmann: You can absolutely be out there and experimenting. If you feel that you understand what you are as a core brand offering and you can stick to that and be true to that, but also be flexible, adaptive and leading, you're going to find yourself exploring different boundaries. Sometimes you don't want to cross them, sometimes you'll push them out even further. And you'll do that through product innovation. You'll learn how those are being responded to through your relationship with consumers. That will be a relationship you already have with them, i.e. social media. It could be that you do it other ways, through a traditional focus group.
I think consumers are willing to let brands experiment and stretch, knowing they might fumble sometime, but still be seen as attempting to be relevant to consumers in general. Coke won't do things that are just flagrantly not a Coke thing to do, but they may flirt with the edge of the definition of what people think for Coke.
Another example is the work Landor did for Old Spice, a brand that has been around for a long time.
When we helped them reinvent, it wasn't about throwing about everything Old Spice has ever stood for and call it something new. It's always been about manliness. We basically found a way to define it for a new generation of people who saw it as relevant -- no longer my great-uncle's aftershave.
CMSWire: What's the most common problem that your clients bring to Landor?
Lehmann: I would say relevance. In a hyper-active, always changing brandscape, every one of our clients have to always be thinking about relevance. The landscape changes around them, or they've been through mergers and acquisitions, or they're going to de-list some of their product line -- they have to find a way to stay relevant. And they do that through their brand and that's why they come to us.
Title image by Francisco Ferrarini/Shutterstock. Old Spice and Lehmann photos, Landor Associates.