Monday, 24 September 2012

Waitrose and Twitter - A lesson in PR or a lesson in brand management?

One of the more amusing stories in the last week came from the middle class bastion that is Waitrose. On Monday it decided to ask its twitter followers to complete the sentence “I shop at Waitrose because…#WaitroseReasons”. I am sure that some well meaning young marketing exec had been at a conference about social media and sat in workshops about engagement; brought that back and thought this was a great idea. The purist in me would completely agree with him, however the old cynic in me of 20 years hard experience thought light blue paper and stand well back and duly the firework exploded.

This spread quickly giving us another example of why this is the nation that gave the world Monty Python and the Goons. My favourite responses were: “I shop at Waitrose because it makes me feel important and I absolutely detest being surrounded by poor people” and the all time classic “I shop at Waitrose because I was once in the Holloway Road branch and heard a dad say ‘Put the papaya down Orlando!’”

Within the storm of amusing asides there were positive as well as negative comments which would have pleased Waitrose but most of the negative ones were based on the clear perception that Waitrose is expensive and middle class. I suspect the reaction was quite galling to key executives. Particularly to Waitrose managing director Mark Price who announced in May that it was going to spend “tens of millions of pounds” to price match Tesco and back this with a major television campaign in attempt to show its value compared with competitors.

Many have argued that there is no such thing as bad PR, however there is if it reinforces a popular perception that you are trying hard and spending good money to dispel. For me this issue is not about the gags or whether it’s been good or bad publicly. It’s actually about the bigger question of what is wrong with being perceived as middle class and expensive if that is your core audience. 

Let me give you an example from America of the fast food chain Chick-fil-A. You might not have heard of it but last year it had sales in excess of £2.5bn. This year it also caused a major storm in the US when its president told a North Carolina Baptist website that the company supported the “biblical definition of marriage”. Cue massive debate about its anti-gay marriage stance. To help understand why he said this, the company was stared by the Presidents father to run on “biblically based principles”, donates millions to Christian charities and closes all stores on a Sunday. Although this stance made it universally unpopular with a vast majority of the US population it gained massive support from its core audience of Southern Right Wing Christian Republicans so much so that its restaurants struggled to cope with demand for the following month.

There lies the example of one of the most important principles of brand management. It does not matter if you are not universally well liked by everyone, or if people have a different perception to reality. It’s about making sure that you drive patronage and loyalty from your chosen target market and that might mean allowing certain perceptions to stay if the end result is keeping your profitable customer base happy in their choice of supermarket.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant, follow him on twitter @timyoungman

Thursday, 13 September 2012

How to engage your customers? Social Media, UX, Content Markerting - all of the above please!

From time to time I am asked to present at conferences on topics on anything from the newspaper industry to digital to marketing and media. I like to think that I am asked because of the high quality of content and presentation style that enthrals my audiences, at least that’s what I tell myself. Next week I am hosting an event for the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce entitled “Engaging Customers - Using technology and social media to grow your business through content marketing and customer care”. Under this expansive title will see speakers from local agencies to national brands such as Dell and King of Shaves share experiences of how they have used social media and technology to grow their businesses and businesses they work for.

As I was creating my introduction presentation it struck me how different customer engagement is from 10 years ago and even 3 years ago and how much of that is down to speed of change. If you are eating at a national chain restaurant and have an issue how many people have not just complained to the local staff but also tweeted the chain to complain at the same time? How many people now use the airlines twitter feeds at airports as a more reliable source of information about delays and issues than the information boards?

Customer engagement however is much more than dealing with complaints. Engaging with your customers to create and build customer loyalty is far more important to brands in the longer term. Understanding that consumers now have more complicated needs that include the desire to be recognised, share opinions and form groups around those opinions and interest all facilitated and grown by the rise of social media brings new challenges to businesses both big and small.

Some businesses have reacted to this by engaging with customers via social media, others by making their online presence more user friendly and others offering value add in the form of useful content for their target consumers. The really clever businesses of course do all of these things within an integrated strategy targeted at delivering growth through customer engagement and retention.

Many companies are already doing this and some are going further by rewarding customers who actively engage with them. Tesco for example have recently run a trial where users could get double clubcard points when they liked, shared or bought products on its facebook page.  Likewise online retailer is looking at how it can reward customers who promote it and its offers on social networks.

Of course to any business there is a difference in value between simply sharing or consuming some of your content related to your product offering or following or liking you compared with actually parting with hard cash. The effect though is the same, that customers can and want to engage with brands and now can do so in more complex and instant ways that businesses need to understand and react to.

That pace of change is not going to slow down and will increase as customers push harder and businesses look to exploit new ways to engage and build loyalty and ultimately growth. Sharing experiences on how to exploit these new trends will become even more important so I suspect next week will be busy!

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant follow him on twitter @timyoungman