Constructing a 21st Century Brand

Kate is not a real person. But that doesn’t mean the marketing folks at poultry producer Pilgrim’s Pride don’t know a lot about her. They know Kate is interested in where her food comes from and the impact its production has on the planet. They know she’s a label reader who cares deeply about what does — and, more important, doesn’t — go into the food her family eats. And they know when she’s most receptive to their messaging.

Pilgrim’s created the persona of Kate to help its marketing team and agency partner develop a campaign for the Just BARE Chicken brand that Pilgrim’s added to its product portfolio through its 2017 acquisition of GNP.

The “Who Makes Your Food?” campaign, launched last August, doesn’t feature Kate but rather five actual Minnesota farmers who raise Just BARE chickens. Each farmer is tied to a specific value the brand wants to emphasize. For example, Adam, who is also a volunteer firefighter, represents “Community,” and Hasten, a police search-and-rescue diver, embodies “Service.”

Pilgrim’s approach demonstrates how consumer-facing companies go about building a strong 21st century brand at a time of increasing complexity and media fragmentation. These brands share several traits:

  •     A well-defined brand purpose
  •     A solid planning process grounded in data
  •     A focus that is people-centric rather than product-centric
  •     A willingness to try new things to reach consumers — but in a disciplined manner
  •     An ability to learn from mistakes and move on

Modern consumers expect brands to have a solid purpose that reflects their own values. They look for brands to be transparent in their beliefs and behavior, and they want to see them having an impact, says Dirk Herbert, chief strategy officer-U.S. at Dentsu Aegis Network. Gravity, agency of record for the Just BARE brand, is part of the Dentsu Aegis Network. “Consumers are increasingly looking to brands to be change agents that make a meaningful difference in the world and bring about social change — not just sell them stuff,” Herbert says. For the Just BARE brand, that means focusing on natural ingredients, humane production processes, sustainability, and benefits to local communities.

Adhere to the Brand’s ‘North Star’

Pet supply company Petco focuses on similar values in its branding efforts. “Smart marketers understand that brands cannot exist in a vacuum, but are expected to authentically and positively impact their communities,” says Tariq Hassan, EVP and CMO at Petco. He uses the image of the North Star to describe how a brand stays true to its purpose.

“That North Star should be revisited pretty often to make sure that it still holds true as consumer demands and expectations — and the brand itself — continue to evolve,” Hassan says. “For Petco specifically, we’re anchored by ensuring that everything that we do supports our vision for healthier pets, happier people, and a better world. So, if it’s not going to make the lives of pets and pet parents better, then we can walk away from it, because at the end of the day, nothing else matters.”

Hassan says one of the biggest challenges for marketers today is defining “a point of view with conviction and belief” and sticking with it. “It’s critical to ensure the core of your message holds true, no matter the format, channel, or how it comes to life,” he says. “Today’s consumers demand that brands show up in meaningful ways, rather than simply deploying marketing or advertising. And the way a message carries through and holds weight over time is increasingly important.”

An example of Petco following its North Star is its decision, announced last November, to become the first major pet food retailer to stop selling food and treats for dogs and cats that contain artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Petco touts the ban in “Cleaning House,” a marketing campaign launched in late March.

For some brands, such as Patagonia, brand purpose carries over into overt social activism. The outdoor clothing and gear retailer sued President Trump and other federal officials in late 2017 to block the administration’s decision to shrink Bear Ears National Monument in Utah by 85 percent. And Patagonia recently disclosed that it will no longer sell corporate logo merchandise to companies that it views as “ecologically damaging.” Other brands tread more cautiously.

“Today, brands have to be very careful about determining what sort of issues to get involved in. We live in a very political time,” says Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “Patagonia is very quick to jump into environmental issues. Many other brands want to stay away from controversial issues. You have to watch all these hashtags and decide where you want to participate in the discussion, and where you want to remain quiet.”

Once a marketer has a clearly articulated brand purpose, the next step is a disciplined, data-driven planning process to bring the brand to life. “Having a well-defined brand is important,” Herbert says. “But in a world where consumers reward brands that deliver experiences as seamlessly connected as the lives they lead, it’s important for marketers and their agencies to move from siloed tactical planning by discipline to an integrated planning process.”

Laston Charriez, head of marketing at Pilgrim’s, describes the process used in developing the Who Makes Your Food? campaign: “We start with our consumers and our business goals. Then we write a business brief. We share that with our agency partners. The brief has consumer insights, the brand goals, shopper insights.” He adds, “The agency plays a key role in changing insights into touch points.”

Actionable Data is the Holy Grail for Marketers

In an era when product-focused marketing has largely given way to a people-focused approach, having solid, actionable data is vital to determining when consumers are most receptive to a brand’s messaging. “How to understand the receptivity of the shopper is the No. 1 challenge. You have so many ways that you can reach consumers, but are they paying attention?” Charriez says. “If the shopper is not receptive, you’ve wasted money.”

For the Just BARE effort, Pilgrim’s and Gravity determined that Kate is receptive to messaging that makes her feel good about the brand. “She wants to nourish people but in a way that’s considerate to the planet,” Charriez says. “She’s supporting farmers who are real people.” Just BARE packaging includes a “trace code” that lets consumers learn the county where the chicken they purchased was raised.

Pilgrim’s used Google trend data to determine that 5 to 7 p.m. is the optimal time for reaching Kate, or what it calls “owning dinner moments.” Using that trend information, Gravity crafted a campaign that combined television, audio, digital, social, out of home, sponsorship of a Spotify dinner playlist, and a branded video content series on Food52. The campaign has been credited with a 39 percent increase in overall purchase intent for Just BARE.

The Who Makes Your Food? campaign points to another key element of being a successful 21st century brand — a willingness to try new things to reach consumers. For example, Just BARE this year incorporated augmented-reality technology in a series of instructional cooking videos for its rotisserie chicken. Using a smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device, consumers can scan a QR code on the packaging to get a 3-D view of the product and learn about such things as the best way to carve a rotisserie chicken or how to get the most out of leftovers. Pilgrim’s is able to track where consumers interact with the videos and how much time they spend with them.

“We call ourselves a digital-first chicken,” Charriez says. “We’re in beta all the time.”

The emphasis on mobile marketing is clearly a trend that’s here to stay. According to a recent Interactive Advertising Bureau report, “How to Build a 21st Century Brand,” mobile accounts for nearly 40 percent of all e-commerce.

Seamless Consumer Experiences

Petco is putting a greater emphasis on digital e-commerce, including mobile and social commerce, as it competes in a market that saw online pet product sales rise 30 percent in the first half of 2018, according to the IAB report. “Broader industry trends point to increased reliance on mobile devices for content, navigation, shopping, and experiences, both on and off devices,” Hassan says. “As a result, we’re working hard to craft a set of experiences that can surprise and delight our customers seamlessly no matter how or where they interact with us. These range from custom experiences through our app and access to simplified shop-and-buy paths on, to messaging and media strategies that shorten the distance between interest and engagement with Petco.”

Data has played a big role in this push by Petco. “In the past, Petco has placed a lot of focus and energy on legacy-style promotional activity to drive the business, rather than taking the time to dive deep into insights and data to truly understand our customers and their needs and letting that drive our marketing efforts and focus,” Hassan says. “We’ve completely changed the way we’re operating by becoming a data-driven marketing organization so we can communicate with consumers in a much more meaningful and connected way.”

In pursuing new platforms, marketers need to be careful not to get caught up in a pursuit of the next shiny, new thing. Among the first questions they need to ask is whether they want to be a “pioneer” or a “fast-follower,” Herbert says. “Pioneers can secure first-mover advantage, but there’s also significant risk to being first,” he says. “So it’s important for marketers to clearly define the strategic value they hope to realize with a pioneering move and ensure it outweighs the risk.” Herbert adds that “there’s no shame in the fast-follower’s game. You get to learn from the mistakes of the pioneers and possibly even leapfrog them.”

One marketer that embraces the role of pioneer is Domino’s Pizza. “The minute there was a cool new technology out there, Domino’s leaned into it,” Herbert says. “They have a brand persona about being cutting edge.”

David Berkowitz, principal at Serial Marketer, points to the AnyWare page on that shows the variety of ways a customer can order a pizza, including Google Home, Amazon Alexa, smart TV, and smart watches. “Domino’s wants to make it as easy as texting a pizza emoji and you’ll have that pie delivered to you,” he says.

Domino’s has also rolled out a unique, decidedly nontech marketing initiative: Paving for Pizza. The aim of the brand, built on the promise of fast delivery, is to fix potholes in at least one town in all 50 states because, as the campaign tagline states, “Bad roads shouldn’t happen to good pizza.”

Whether a brand chooses to be a pioneer or a fast-follower, it must be disciplined. This means recognizing when something isn’t working, abandoning it, and moving on so much the wiser. “We make mistakes. If it’s not working, we give it up really quick — learn cheap and move on,” Charriez says. He cites an experiment with geo-targeting coupons for Just BARE chicken that didn’t pan out as hoped.

Hassan stresses the importance of “accepting missteps with an eye toward the future, which means more than just accepting mistakes, but applying and learning from failures with an eye toward an always-evolving mentality.”

Brands should also be wary of going in too many directions at once. Northwestern’s Calkins urges marketers to be selective because “there are so many new social media platforms, so many opportunities to get involved in things.” In some cases, he adds, “one big program can do more than 10 one-off efforts that quickly fade away.”


3 Ways Marketers Maintain Brand Discipline

As the marketing environment grows increasingly complex, marketers face more challenges than ever in maintaining brand discipline. Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and author of Defending Your Brand: How Smart Companies use Defensive Strategy to Deal with Competitive Attacks, offers three strategic tips for how marketers can bolster their brands and sharpen their visibility.

  1.     Understand what your brand stands for. “This is more complicated than it used to be,” Calkins says. “Now, it’s a more subtle and tricky question when deciding what you want your brand to stand for.” With so many choices, especially in an age driven by social media, marketers need to determine which platforms are most appropriate and establish the right tone for their brands. “You really have to understand the personality of the brand and the landscape,” Calkins says.
  2.     Make sure your organization understands not just the brand guidelines, but also the broader meaning of the brand. No guidelines can address every situation that arises, so it’s vital that marketing teams understand the larger conception of the brand. “People need to have a sense for what’s reasonable to do,” Calkins says. “The hard part today is you have to move so fast.”
  3.     Monitor the situation closely. “Things can go quickly off the rails these days,” Calkins says. It’s crucial, therefore, to monitor what is being said about your brand on major platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as smaller ones. “Importantly, when there is a problem, you don’t have to have an immediate solution, but you do want to say you’re aware of the issue and taking steps to understand it,” Calkins says.

— J.0.

The following is republished with the permission of the Association of National Advertisers. Find this and similar articles on ANA Newsstand.

By John Obrecht

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