Sum it up for me

Think & Link: Mark Ritson


Source: Think & Link: Mark Ritson

How to start with a brand?

[27:04] QUESTION: There are big brands, big budgets, I’m a startup or a marketer for a startup, who don’t have the access to those resources, certainly early in the lifetime, and they rely on building communities organically, rather than through paid media. Is there a different approach for startups you could share?

ANSWER: So there’s two things, I’ve got good news and bad news. Let’s do the bad news, which no one ever says in America, at this particular point, but it’s super important. I get this question a lot, especially if you’re gonna give a talk about brand building, you have excess share of voice, spend across many channels, you have to maintain your presence in the market, and people with small brands say, I haven’t got the funds to do that, I can’t afford to do that stuff. What do I do? I always say the same thing which is you stay small. Let’s be very clear, about this nonsense which comes out of America about David vs Goliath. Uh, the small brands are more agile, and D to C, and beating up the big brands. What utter bullshit. There is still that belief, that Dollar Shave Club somehow beat Gillette. No, they didn’t, they still haven’t made a profit. It’s that D to C nonsense that goes on. Small brands stay small. That’s just the way that it goes. Very rarely do you see a brand break that myth. The most important driver of effectiveness when it comes to brand building is that you are already a big brand. Not, what you’re spending, but you’ve already built tremendous physical, mental availability and you’re leveraging that in your communications, never go pass that path. We keep telling the story in Advertising Age about the small D to C brands. They’re all useless. They don’t make any money. Stop it. It’s just bullshit from people trying to sell their companies. D to C is a joke, they’re in target within 8 months of launching. Rubbish. So the first point is, and I don’t mean to be sound negative, I’m being realistic, small brands because they cannot do a lot of this stuff will stay small and then disappear. That’s the rule of the jungle. That’s how capitalism works. It was never fair. There’s this parlay mythological stuff, uh, the small brands win, one or two do and we write lots of stories about them, but mostly they get smashed and never make it.

Having said that, if you accept that that’s the case, there’s a couple of lessons for smaller brands. The first brand lesson I would say is play the founder. Play your smallness as a strength. The second one is pick an enemy. The most successful small brand strategy is to position and reflect against the bigger brand in order to use their strength almost in a judo way, against them and to fuel you. The other thing is I don’t think brand management starts until about year five. I worked for Sephora in San Francisco, I have done for very long time, we pick 2 or 3 of the hottest beauty brands each year and I go on and work with them to build them into the next stage of growth. One of my rules I put in place is that they have to be 5 years old. The reason is, that before then, it’s still prototypical. You don’t need a brand strategy from year one to year five. What you need is a marketing strategy and you need to see where you land. Ones you get to year five, you’re maybe profitable, you’ve got a bit of growth, you got some heritage, you’ve got loyal customers, things have started to settle down. You can start to do the research and the strategy. Until year five, just survive. That’s important because it’s like having kids. We all have kids thinking they’re gonna be doctors and nurses and mine have all turned out to be criminals and minor criminals and so forth. It’s a bit like brands. You have this vision of what a brand will be when you launch it but if it is successful it finds its own way, and it’s only once it’s found that way that you should do the branding thing. Don’t do it too early. It’s a mistake.

QUESTION: OK, so it’s more strong, small tactics, so mass targeting, test and learn, build awareness, and then make a shift as you move through?

ANSWER: Yeah, be flexible. Be flexible is the key point. One of the brands that I’ve encountered when I was in Minneapolis was Belvedere and Phillips was launching Belvedere and came to my class in 1996 to talk about it, about a luxury vodka and I and my whole MBA class thought that he was a lunatic. You couldn’t have a luxury vodka and then weirdly about 18-19 years later I was working for Mower Tennessee when we acquired Belvedere and I had a drink with Ed, 20 years later. So he’d been in my classroom launching this liquor brand and then here we were in Paris having a drink and he didn’t remember me but I certainly remembered him and one of the big lessons was, he had this vision but it went somewhere else in order to become successful. Just like children, give it a bit of flex, and let it find its way, don’t be too structured at the start, you’re not P&G, let it flip and flop a little bit at the beginning, that’s a key lesson. Guys like me are artificial. You use someone like me to work out what’s in the brand and then lock it down and grow it and scale it and all of that. We’re great, but we’re not the source of it, let the source grow and firm first before you bring in people like us to do the work.

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