18 Nov 2019

The secret of effective brand building

In times of uncertainty it’s tempting to focus on short-term sales, says Lucia Di Stazio, Managing Director of MRA Marketing. But it’s also vital to invest in building your brand to ensure long-term success.

In September, Marketing Week issued a plea for UK brands to “stop focusing on short-term sales and invest more in long-term brand building.”[1] The article claims UK brands are over-reliant on their fame (awareness) and profile to drive sales, rather than focusing on staying relevant and providing what modern consumers really want. Things are so bad that there is chance UK brands could “disappear from [the world’s top 100 most valuable brands] completely.”

It’s a similar story when you look at brands in the construction and RMI sectors. There are lots of examples of companies who were perfectly positioned 20 years ago and have built very successful operations by doing the same things and doing them well. But now some of those companies are struggling because their markets are changing rapidly while their position and offering haven’t changed or haven’t kept up. And they’ve failed to identify new opportunities or taken threats seriously.

Some suppliers and merchants are focused on short horizons, generating today’s business with promotional price-led campaigns rather than brand building activities and investing in longer term sustainable growth.

The short term is important, but a large body of evidence suggests that if your marketing is spent mostly on bringing business in now, then you’ll find it very hard to grow sustainably or achieve a reasonable return on your marketing investment. The optimum marketing spending mix is around two thirds long-term brand building and one third shorter-term promotional campaigns.

Being competitive is not about being cheaper but about being in the right place at the right time with the right products, price and service. It’s about having a relative advantage over your competitors. If we look around we see some companies can hardly pause for breath they’re doing so well. Others are finding it hard to sell the volumes they need and are not making enough from what they do sell. When business is hard it’s often a sign that the positioning needs fixing.

Fact-based marketing

The only sure-fire way to ensure your positioning is correct is to look around at the context and research your market and your relative position in it. We can all give our opinion, act on gut feel, go by what a handful of customers say, or copy what someone else is doing. But we wouldn’t be happy if our pension was invested on that basis. We’d expect the investment decisions to be based on facts, skilled analysis and a lot of evidence. Marketing should be no different. There is a fun, fluffy and creative side to marketing that people get caught up in, and then there’s marketing research – the science that gets at the facts and insights that makes marketing more effective.

If you’ve ever wondered why a campaign didn’t work, or fell a little flat despite spending heavily on digital, advertising, social and POS look to the analysis and research justifying the plan before you shoot the creative team.

For relatively little cost, research can reveal where the opportunities are and whether or not your business is best placed to take advantage of them. For example, Lakes Bathrooms undertook research last year and discovered gaps in the market and gaps in the performance of different brands. Lakes is using these market insights to drive major changes in its branding and marketing messages to champion the importance of showering spaces and to improve its offer to merchants to enable them to gain more business.

The secret sauce

Looking at the marketing mix, it’s easy to ignore research and insight as a ‘nice to have’, but it really is the secret sauce in all good marketing strategies. It’s a lot cheaper than spending money on marketing that doesn’t work or stocking new products that don’t sell. Follow these steps when planning your research:

Set clear objectives
Consider what you want from the research. Do you want insights into your customers, or into their customers or both, for example?

Plan and prepare
Decide when you need the results and what information you need to enable you to take decisions and plan your marketing, and then work backwards to who will help you get it.

Define the scope and methodology
Keep individual research projects as simple as possible and focus on your research objectives. Avoid overloading questionnaires just because you can. People won’t spend their time answering fuzzy questions, which lead to fuzzy answers. So sharpen your logic.

Be realistic
Quality research produces valuable insights and should end with clear recommendations for action. Good research makes your marketing more effective. Don’t risk disappointment by choosing cheap alternatives.

Be open minded – embrace the results
Quality research will probably confirm what you suspected and turn a light on things you didn’t know. It will have a big, representative sample and ask penetrating questions, so the conclusions are clear and compelling. Keep an open mind and use the results to your marketing advantage.

This article was previously published in the Builders’ Merchants News awards brochure in November 2019.

[1] https://www.marketingweek.com/brandz-uk-top-75-2019/