The plot thickens for brands

Leo Burnett, long-time seller of cereal and other icon-imprinted brands, held a breakfast event this month to tout its global Brand Belief System (BBS), and the fact that its BrandStock Study, the brand belief measurement system, launches in January with 140 new brands participating. The theme of the morning's launch was converting Buyers to Believers, so there was a gospel choir to wake people up, and then some analogies comparing brand loyalty to religious belief.

Leo Burnett, long-time seller of cereal and other icon-imprinted brands, held a breakfast event this month to tout its global Brand Belief System (BBS), and the fact that its BrandStock Study, the brand belief measurement system, launches in January with 140 new brands participating. The theme of the morning’s launch was converting Buyers to Believers, so there was a gospel choir to wake people up, and then some analogies comparing brand loyalty to religious belief. One background image paired the ‘Do unto others’ motto (which I’ve always found vaguely threatening) with Nike’s ‘Just Do It’. Fortunately, for those moneychangers in the audience not able to wrap their minds around this ‘if church were a store’ concept, figures were bandied about to show the desirability of loyal customers. One such mind-boggling (for 7:30 a.m.) figure was ‘companies can boost profits by almost 100% by retaining just 5% more of their customers,’ attributable to Frederick Reicheld and The Harvard Business Review.

‘Kay.

For those absorbing this about as well as numerology, fortunately, BBS does have a very simple core: it all boils down to the power of stories. Whether Altoids and the Green Giant have better stories than Certs and President’s Choice.

The pastry-noshing assemblage got more animated – maybe the caffeine was kicking in – when keynote speaker Rolf Jensen trotted out to demonstrate the power of story. Straight from the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies, where he is director, the professorial-yet-impish author of The Dream Society shed some light on what comes after the information age, and what that means to brands. Dr. Jensen’s model of the future consumer turns Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs on its head. Basic requirements no longer top the list, and as the consumer can afford to buy more stories, fiction is entering the marketplace bigtime. As an example, Dr. Jensen told a story. He cited an ad that had invited him to go to a local farm to buy eggs. As part of the experience, he would be able to go to the henhouse, meet the hen, lift her up to secure the egg, and learn her name and the fact that she leads a happy life. For this privilege, he would pay five times as much. Proving the point about the power of story with his engaging poultry narrative, Jensen concluded that the better the brand story, the higher the price you can command.

In another example of buying into the brand story, Jensen related that the Institute bought a Sony Aibo robot dog for the office as an ice breaker/conversation-other-than-the-weather starter. As to how deeply they bought into it, at a client meeting, when talk turned from Aibo’s tricks to serious business, various members of the renowned think tank sheepishly admitted they felt they should turn Aibo off so he (or rather his chips) wouldn’t feel left out. By the way, Aibo costs over two grand.

Dr. Jensen predicts that the future holds more emotional storytelling for brands, in any and every category. As per his book, ‘The story must be effectively told to the market if consumers are to buy it…whoever tells the best story will win.’

Who has been successfully telling stories in Canada this year? Check out the Agency of the Year magazine. Kudos to all who participated; I pored over all the submissions, and there were no losers in that shortlist. Once again the Palmer Jarvis crew were given the overall top agency nod by our panel of marketing execs. The PJ portfolio of work connected brand stories with consumers in various emotionally compelling ways: Michelin with wordy explanations; Bud, Degree and Arthritis with humor (the latter poignantly so); Sun-Rype visually.

Speaking of using (or not using, in this case) the power of story, this issue CounterStrategy looks at the plight of Canada’s book publishers. In a move many would review as adding insult to injury, Indigo Books & Music asked publishers to take part of the financial hit associated with a planned post-holiday clearance sale. Even though publishers are resistant to the idea, some are viewing it as preferable to more returns. Is there any other area of retail where this would be deemed acceptable? (Talk about your flawed business model…). However, what has apparently not been acceptable to publishers is approaching the problem with the kind of marketing solutions any other product category would pursue. If the concept of promoting books like other packaged goods (see the bit about the cheese slices) is too declassé, I guess my idea of kiosks in Tim Hortons is out of the question. Our counterstrategists suggest measures like cross-promos with other art/entertainment categories. Bottom line, if you’re going to end up basically giving books away, at least do it in a way that imprints your brand story. Yeesh.

And on a final predicty note, the latest CMR report out of the U.S. shows major media spending on ads is down 7.8% in the first three quarters of 2001. The New York-based division of Taylor Nelson Sofres which tracks ad spending found the worst hit was newspapers, which fell 21.5%, then national spot radio, -18.6%, and spot TV down 17.9%. In Canada, things look rosier according to a report from London’s Zenith Optimedia. 2001 saw a 2.5% ad spend hike, and a 3.9% increase is projected for 2002, ringing in at $8.7 billion. Of course, before getting too jolly, everyone has to factor in tweaking their recompense structure and paying for all those direct, Web and promo divisions (not to mention the new line for Krispy Kreme expenses for anyone in driving range of Mississauga).

Happy holidays,

Mary Maddever,

Strategy Editor