The power of personalisation

We’re all slightly self-obsessed. I bet you think this post is about you, don’t you? Brands have clocked onto this and are forever striving to make the customer feel special. By offering a curated service or product, the brand acknowledges each individual’s weird and wonderful quirks. Done correctly, you’ll maintain loyal customers, but also intrigue new ones.

Why does it work so well? Firstly, time is precious. If a product is made exactly the way a customer knows they need it, there’s a lower chance of returning or exchanging the order. If an online supermarket already has a customer’s favourite grocery products ready to go, this avoids spending hours in a heaving store.

Also, everyone loves a brag on social. In the past when brands have successfully pulled off personalised products, a social media buzz has ensued. Capitalism has moved beyond simply owning a product and proving ourselves via material worth, now we cultivate our own online brands through our purchase decisions. Of course the best example of this is Coca Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign. In the US, it resulted in increased sales volume for the first time in roughly four years. You can also customise your own Share a Coke bottle online; this means the more obscure names get a slice of the action, so Felicias and Bartholomews rejoice.

Consumers also like to stick to what they know. If a customer already trusts a certain shoe brand’s quality, they may stick with the familiar but change it up with a new version of their favourite trainer. This worked well with NIKEiD where customers were invited to ‘Create your signature shoe.’ By granting the customer more agency in how the product looks, they’ve already invested a deeper personal interest.

Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ provides a personal playlist of 30 songs, curated and released each Monday based on a listener’s habits. Within the first 10 months of launching, Discover Weekly saw 5 billion song plays. This brilliant service plants lesser known songs in our laps; perfect for lazy listeners who thrive off ‘I knew them before they were famous’ bragging rights. In the beauty world, the sheer volume of products available overwhelming so the bespoke trend is hitting makeup bags too. If we’re going to plaster cosmetics over bodies, we want to know they suit our skin down to a tee. The most stellar example is Amazon’s on point (verging on creepy) personalised service. Every customer’s homepage is littered with finely targeted recommendations ‘For a Night In.’ They’ve nailed the curated customer experience, helping them discover something new by tempting users with dreamy basket fillers.

How do brands follow suit? It’s important to make an impact but avoid diluting the message. For bigger companies, their strong logos are recognisable so they can afford to play with customisation. Smaller brands be wary. With marketing tactics, permission is important, otherwise it can seem aggressive and insincere. Retail brands should categorise their users; a customised email or ‘recommended for you’ list may seem unnerving if you’ve only clicked on the site once. For a regular user, this could come across as extremely impressive – the same way your favourite waiter knows your name and wine preference before you even order. Above all, make sure the recommendations are helpful and relevant, rather than off-putting. Brands need to find the sweet spot between offering a bespoke service whilst conserving both their reputations and relationships.

 

Uncomfortable sofas; design & comfort

Our MD over here at Live & Breathe has a really uncomfortable sofa. We all know this, not because we’ve traipsed through his house testing his furniture, but because we’re subjected to his rambling complaints about just how terrible his sofa really is on a regular basis. And while we use it to mostly tease him about having to sit on the floor in his own home because the sofa is that bad, it was also the subject of the office debate this week. By debate, we obviously mean that time someone was struggling through hump day and started a random conversation that everyone then pitched in, which then turned into a huge argument and a lot of shouting before we all agreed it was the end of the day and we should go to the pub (you know how it goes).

But our noisy shouting over one another did reveal one thing; a unanimous agreement that over the years, we’ve seen our clients favour design over comfort and ease. Back in the day quality came first, followed by comfort, price and then design. But the rise of companies like Apple and a cultural fascination for cool tech products has pushed design to the top of the list, often at the expense of comfort. Which is exactly why our MD has an incredible looking sofa, that is an absolute pain, quite literally, to sit on.

We all want cool products that look amazing, and because we throw away our products more and more, comfort isn’t such a big deal anymore. Once upon a time you’d buy a sofa or mattress every ten years, if that. Now we’re swapping out our furniture every six years and considering it a good run. And while initially that might look like a good deal for brands, being known for discomfort is never a good thing and over time it will be detrimental to a business.

And the solution here isn’t that brands need to choose design or comfort, because the truth is they can both exit and ad agencies can help that happen. Discussing their latest campaign IKEA’s UK marketing boss Laurent Tiersen explained that they invest in a long-term partnership with their agency that exists across all departments, from creative to media, and they develop products together. Collaboration is happening across every single aspect of a product to create something that works entirely for customers. Because what’s the point in making a product there’s no market for, or for trying to market an uncomfortable product. You’ll always be working against the tide and making life more difficult for yourself, when really there’s absolutely no need.

Naturally we’re cheering IKEA on because we’re always banging on about greater collaboration between brands and ad agencies. Nothing exists in isolation, especially not in this current world, and the only way to stay relevant and appealing is to accept that everything connects to one another. If agencies start to work with their clients at the beginning stages, lending their expertise of the market and what it needs, brands will create products that are relevant, beautiful and comfortable. Because the truth is they can have it all, and there’s no need for any of us to be sitting on shit sofas when there’s a more comfortable way of living.

Generation Y and when

Patience is a virtue, apparently, but as brands pander to consumers demanding instant gratification, we’re growing increasingly intolerant. As such, Generation Y are obsessed with when.

This impatience has infected all areas of our lives. From our careers (two years in one company? Please!) to dating (swiping from one cringey profile to the next) to ordering a taxi, screening films, finding takeaway and the list goes on. This new appetite also affects how we consume content; we’re after ‘quick fun’, such as a cheeky Angry Birds session, instead of indulging in a print magazine (remember those?), a novel or a longread newspaper article.

When it comes to retail, Generation Y love a good Google; they’ll do some thorough browsing to find the best deal. They’ll know the chosen products inside out, all their pros and cons, before narrowing down a list of potentials. Once upon a time we might all ask a friend for a recommendation, but word of mouth in the digital world means we now rely on reviews to know we’ve made the right decision before even thinking about committing with a ‘Buy Now’.

Our digital needs have been condensed into a tiny tablet in our pocket so everything is quite literally there at a click of a button. This makes purchases – even booking holidays – effortless. We’ve developed a sense of entitlement along with higher expectations – a dangerous mix. Retailers have to keep up with the pace; nowadays consumers expect same-day delivery and free returns without question. If the customers aren’t happy, online reviews and social media have granted them power to destroy brands with a fleeting tweet. Our urges are almost lustful, and god forbid someone slows us down.

So how do brands adapt to that? We have some simple algebra that we live by: U + X = Y. Generation Y are incredibly website savvy, so they’ll probably judge a brand on its User Experience before the actual products. Swishing text and a sleek colour scheme makes a sucker of us all. There’s a lot of noise out there, so a brand websites have to stand out the second consumers hop on that landing page. And it has to be seamless. Generation Y never developed the trait of patience and they’ll click off if they’re made to wait a few seconds for a page to load (how very dare they?), while muttering about bad brand experiences as they tweet furiously until placated by a response.

It’s also about values; Generation Y are more likely to dedicate time and money if there’s a personal connection. In some cases, this means aligning a brand to an experience, such as a free fitness class or smoothie giveaway, therefore associating a product with a sensory memory or event. In the same way, tone on social media plays a huge part in consumer behaviour and – if done correctly – this ‘window shop’ into the brand and its ethos could cement their loyalty. Generation Y consider heavy advertising intrusive, but the trick is to use clever content that humanises a brand and makes it relatable. Enter sneaky ‘digital influencers’ who would often disguise sponsored content as if revealing a secret to friend: ‘I’ve found this amazing new product…’ These crafty tip-offs work. Carefully chosen brand partnerships are also key, such as charity sponsorships or equal rights activism, as these align the brand with important issues; the same issues that are probably bothering the browser.

The good news for retailers? Generation Y are spenders rather than savers. They don’t look at the long term, which means they’ll impulse buy frivolously, rather than putting money aside for the future. If there’s no immediate gain, where’s the fun in that? So as patience grows thinner, so do wallets, and that’s a world of opportunity for retail brands to cash in on.

RIP Sunday trading

Once upon a time, many lifetimes ago, there was nothing to do on a Sunday. Life quite literally came to a screeching halt as the country observed the sanctity of the Sabbath and shops closed entirely, even starting on Saturday afternoon. While it sounds like a horrific notion to an always on generation, what it did force was certain behavioral traits. It made you hang out with your family and enjoy the home unit.

However, time passed and the power shifted from retailer to consumer, and now it’s customers who determine what retailers do as brands continually run to catch up with the latest shopper habits. Our obsession with our phones ensured that brands were mobile optimized and launched specific campaigns that were mobile friendly, designed to target us in our pockets. Our desire to be constantly connected gave way to omni-channel marketing and our incessant need for instant gratification meant next day delivery became part of our lives. Consumers are forcing the hands of brands and considering we live in an increasingly secular society, it’s no wonder they’ve forced shops to stay open on Sundays and extend the traditional trading laws.

Naturally the internet is overflowing with opinions on whether the death of Sunday trading hours is positive or negative, and we could argue it all day. Of course, we’re not going to because that would be terribly dull, but what if brands could force habit changes in consumers instead of the other way around? What if shops agreed to close for one Sunday a month? A collective agreement that on this particular day, shops, grocery stores and all consumer outlets came to a grinding halt. Would we somehow manage to change the fabric of our society? Would our personal relationships change or would we drive consumers to find new ways of, well, consuming.

We don’t have any of the answers to any of these questions by the way, we just like to re-imagine different worlds and how they would change our brand behaviours, as well as how we work with our clients.  Because maybe the day is coming when we all get tired of the endless consumption and maybe, just maybe, we’ll actually want a day off from it all.

Touch-a, touch-a, touch me

If Susan Sarandon singing in white negligee to be touched doesn’t inspire you to touch someone then you’re a lost cause and we can’t help you. Not that Sarandon is the point here, we just liked the idea of slipping in a Rocky Horror Picture Show reference because why the hell not, but rather the universal desire to be touched is the point here. Whether it’s physically, emotionally or mentally, as humans we crave to touch and connect with one another. To feel like we’ve had an impact or someone has had an impact on us. And while it’s so true for every personal relationship, it’s even more true for brands and the behaviors they employ with their consumers. Because the things brands have mostly cottoned on to over the years is this; if they mimic human behavior and human wants and needs, they will convert prospects to sales and their revenue will go up. It’s quite literally that simple. And what is more human than the desire to be touched?

And so we have touchpoints. The aim of them is to touch the consumer both mentally and emotionally, guiding them through the journey to a point of sale. It seems glaringly obvious and we all subscribe to the idea, but here’s the thing, brands are mostly talking about touchpoints but every retailer does not interrogate each touchpoint and live up to it. There might be a few poorly defined touchpoints at the beginning and then a sudden rush calling them to buy something, do this, type an email address in or give away their first born. Well, the latter doesn’t actually happen but it feels like that when brands ask for so much of your time, attention and money, and give so little in return.

Brands, especially retail brands need to start giving more back. They need to look at those touchpoints as not just a fancy extra, but an integral part of their content marketing strategies. Because the idea of content is to inform, surprise, entertain and delight the would-be consumers and touchpoints have always been some of the best ways to do this.

For example, a brand that does this really well are Wyevele Garden Centres. Throughout their branding they’ve developed integrated consistency and rolled out a project that amplified their brand throughout the entire line, from press ads to digital and all the way to in-store touchpoints. That dedication to making sure your brand is saying the same thing, every step of the way, is what sets apart brands today and the reason your customers will or won’t engage with you.

Another retail brand who gets this right is the sock company Quiet Rebellion. Their content is brilliant, clever and perfectly matches their audience, but more importantly, once you’ve bought some socks they don’t leave you high and dry. Once your box of socks arrives it comes with three postcards with illustrations of rebellious people across history that you might not know about. The cards tell an entertaining story about these people and by the end, you’ve been informed, surprised and delighted. And when you’re dealing with socks as a product, that’s a tough ask and yet they’re a brand who does it flawlessly.

The product or service can vary but it never changes a brands ability to create meaningful touchpoints that resonate and connect with their audience. Often, it’s as simple as inserting a card into the package with a personal note. People want to be touched damnit, and it’s time brands started doing it, they can’t afford not to.

The end of the line; railway stations and retail

Do you remember the last time you sat at a station waiting for your train with nothing to do? You were probably ten and living in a time when stations were sacred for trains and fond memories of the Railway Children. Because once upon a time there was nothing else to do in those stations but stare at the pigeon pecking at a crusty sandwich while the station master walked up and down blowing his whistle. If you were lucky, you might manage to get a Greggs pasty from the corner of the station, or if you were down south, you could treat yourself to The Cornish Pasty Co. But only if you were hungry enough and desperate enough because after all, they was the only options you had.

But oh how times have changed! The train station has been lost among a sea of retail brands and they’ve become shopping destinations that trains just happen to leave from. The railway station as we know it is gone, and instead we’re left with multi-complex food and shopping experiences that have just about everything we could ever need. You no longer need to stare at dirty pigeons and other passengers, as you can pop to Wasabi for some sushi, hit up Le Pain Quotidien for a coffee and some desert and then feed your Harry Potter obsession by pretending to walk through a stone wall. If wizardry doesn’t do it for you, there’s numerous book shops and champagne bars to whittle away the hours in.

And because they’ve transformed so much, they’ve in turn transformed brands. Human behavior will always inform brand decisions, and as we grew more impatient over the years, and as we wanted more and more, brands understood the opportunity and capitalized on it. Retail space in major London stations are now rented at similar prices to Oxford Circus rents. It’s a prime location and brands want to get a foot in the door.

Of course, the experience they provide to customers is different because people are busy and are rushing to platforms. The kinds of things they need are different and they want it in different ways.

And whether you like it or not, it is the end of the line for traditional railways and the nostalgic idea they were merely for transport. Now they transport our gluttony and thirst for pleasure, as well as taking us to physical destinations. And brands that want to keep up with their consumers need to start thinking about which station corner they’re going to set up in, and how they alter their messaging and product to fit the busy consumer rushing through the Waterloo crowds to get to either a platform, or the nearest bar as they wait the rush out.

Because ultimately, the station slice of the market isn’t one you can afford to miss out on. The Boots in Liverpool street station is reported to be the second busiest in the entire Group, and who can afford to miss out on that many customers?

Brands should alter their messaging to fit the busy consumer and see which parts of their lives they can fit in, and then how they get noticed in a sea of commuters who are irritated because there’s delays on the South West trains, again.

Let’s get physical!

You’re humming it already aren’t you? Because it’s actually impossible to see those words written anywhere and not start thinking about Olivia Newton John in spandex. But this isn’t about her or her tight lycra, it’s about getting physical and that she was probably right all along.

Because in this age of digital marketing, social media and online retail giants, we’ve forgotten all about the importance of the physical retail experience. The significance of store journeys and the delight of immersing yourself in something. Of sight, sound and feel. We’ve become so overtaken with our obsession with the internet and mobile, that we forgot to take ourselves out of people’s pockets.

Which is not to say that those things aren’t important, OF COURSE they are and they mustn’t be neglected. Omnichannel, website design, apps and social strategies will forever play a huge part in the marketing experience for brands, but in-store experience is timeless and is often the difference between good brands, and global superstar brands.

Talking about why Apple retail has become so successful, exec Ron Johnson pointed out that Apple ‘built an experience where 90 percent of the people who walk in don’t buy anything right away. People listen to music, kids play on iPads.’ Their experience has come first, before rushing consumers to a point of sale. They built an experience that was second to none, and then the sales came afterwards. And by sales we basically mean world domination.

Because the best brands out there aren’t just offering friendly sales people and good lighting, they’re giving their customers a feeling. A real, tangible emotion that often evokes happiness, joy, nostalgia or love. And in a highly emotional world that is looking for connection, being able to offer feelings transcends anything the best website could ever give you.

Physical stores also make sales. Of course, the notion of online businesses making more money because of low overheads has been peddled for some time, and yes, it’s a fair argument. Physical spaces account for a large part of your budget and the rent is generally enough to make you gasp, let alone the bills and the staff you need to pay, but they also make a lot of money. They do what online often fails to do, and that’s introducing new concepts and products to the customer. With the click of a button customers can disregard online popups and suggestions, and habit often has us clicking that button before we’ve even read the pop up. But physical spaces nurture consumers and in the flesh when they really get to see the advantages of other products, they’re more likely to make a purchase.

This doesn’t mean that agencies need to start advising brands to cut their marketing budget, but instead should be looking at how they create an in-store experience that is exceptional. What marketing do you put in store to convince customers to buy and how can you create meaningful relationships with those customers. That’s what agencies need to be looking at.

The digital stuff is always great, but it needs to be supporting other sales channels instead of shouldering all the sales responsibility. Because physical spaces cultivate relationships, increase brand loyalty and offer an ultimate experience that can bring brands to life and that will always trump any social media campaign or well-designed website.

 

Fear is controlling creativity

The ad agency/marketing world has built themselves into Gods. We’ve promised brands that we can help them grow, scale and win hearts. We’ve promised silver bullet solutions, and monumental increases in sales. A lot of the time, we’ve delivered. But those heady promises and impressive track record at some point will catch up, and that’s when the fear begins to creep in.

Because currently, fear is ever present in agencies. It’s at every creative brief and client feedback session. It’s hovering over the ideas board and lurking in corners. The fear of not delivering or upsetting clients is monumental, and remember, we now live in a world where any mistakes will be documented, tweeted, recorded, made into memes and forever etched into our digital footprint. There is quite literally no getting away from it. And social media platforms have given every single person the ability to point and laugh. Pepsi’s recent campaign fiasco is enough to make agencies crawl under the table and hide behind mundane, ‘play it safe’ solutions for the next century. There are also too many necks on the line and losing your job is very real when there are so many hungry creatives ready to step into your shoes and take your place.

But here’s the thing, our world won’t survive that. We can’t afford to hide behind the safe bet and easy wins. That’s not our purpose our what we’re about. Surely the ad agencies of this world were put here, and initially built, to disrupt and shake people up a bit. To offer different points of view and to push boundaries, and in turn, consumers. For example, Nandos adverts in South Africa are truly outrageous with their political commentary and satire, however, they’re lauded as progressive and their fans love them for it.

What we really need, is clients to give permission for agencies to fail. It has to be okay to mess up, stumble and make mistakes, otherwise how do we grow and learn? There has to be an understanding from clients when working with agencies that those briefs can only be delivered if they’re willing to allow for those risks and failure. If they’re willing to have a little courage. The household cleaning product Cillit Bang is a prime example of this. Originally failing every single consumer test prior to its launch, their marketing director stuck his neck out because of his adamant belief that it would work. Lo and behold it’s one of the most popular cleaning products currently. Because process and rules only take us so far, and sometimes, having the courage to stick with your intuition is just what’s needed.

And the failing is going to happen at times, OF COURSE it is. But as ever, it’s how we get back up again after the falls that will demonstrate just how great the agency is. For example, Lynx was mentioned in a channel 4 documentary as the favourite fragrance for people pursuing sexual fetishes. Lynx turned the unfortunate association into a spoof twitter campaign and used it to engage with their audience.

Marketing and ad nightmares are going to come because we live in a digital arena and those risks will always be there, but there has to be courage and bravery, and more importantly, the unwavering support of the clients. Nervous clients make for tense project leads which makes for a frazzled creative teams and ditched ideas.

There has to be space for failure. No one likes to admit it, but it’s a solid fact of our world. We’re not saying that every single campaign you create should be outlandish and sensational just for the sake of it. No, that’s terrible advice and if anyone gives it to you, tell them to go away. This is about taking calculated risks, doing the right research and trusting the creative process. Creativity and art is designed, in its purest form, to spark conversations, shift feelings and a lot of the time, make people slightly uncomfortable. And we agencies are nothing but artists, whatever medium we choose to paint on. It’s time to unleash all our creativity and stop worrying about the backlash, it’s only limiting our possibilities, and we owe it to ourselves to give it everything we’ve got. We owe it to our clients to give them what they need, not what they think they want, and clients owe it to themselves to trust and accept those suggestions.

 

War of the ages: online vs offline

We call this the war of the ages because it has literally been going on for AGES. Technology rose, so did online shopping naturally, and suddenly every blogger on the internet became a fortune teller and predicted the death of the high street. As time went on and we all continued to stroll down our high streets every weekend visiting both the butcher and the baker (forget the candlestick maker, he’s well gone), a new spate of articles hit the internet declaring that the high street was absolutely not dead. It’s been a long and terribly dull ordeal. So let this be the article to end the war. Consider it a white flag. An armistice. A final settlement.

Because the truth is, the high street isn’t going anywhere and neither is online shopping. We’ve all be been so busy trying to pick a side that we forgot we don’t actually have to.

Online shopping will always have a place in the digital world, and we can tell you, the tech and the digital lives we’ve created aren’t going anywhere. They’re here to stay, so naturally online shopping will fit into that. In a demanding night and day economy, consumers want access to shopping at all times. They want to use price comparison sites, they want infinite choice in styles and sizes and they want to do it all from the comfort of their own home without the pressure of three different sales assistants hanging around waiting to bag some commission.

Similarly, physical brick and mortar stores will continue to have a place in a world that still requires, and desires, human connection. The current statistic is that 90% of purchases in the UK are still made in store, while 60% of Generation Z consumers value the store experience. Millennials even want to shop in places they can touch, feel and see their product. Not to mention for some, shopping is an experience and they appreciate input and care from the staff and in store experiences.

The conversation should have never been around which one would supersede the other, but rather, how we can get the two working seamlessly together. That’s the discussion ad agencies should be having with their clients and it’s why omnichannel is so damn important. Even though consumers are shopping in physical spaces, that’s not to say they haven’t already interacted with brands online first. The challenge here is ensuring that consumers have an integrated, seamless journey and what they see and do online must absolutely match the experience they have in store.

For example, Argos are a retailer who have always done this exceptionally well. They were one of the first businesses to introduce a click and collect service, promising to be served within ten minutes, as well as endless options with how a consumer can pick up and interact with their product. That’s where they’ve managed to strike a balance and probably the reason they’re still going strong today despite negative predictions.

Because the truth is, no one brand is going to encapsulate the needs and wants of an entire audience. You can’t decide how people shop or assume the ways they like to based on their age. Some swear by online shopping and refuse to move off their sofa, while others refuse to even look at a website. And then there’s everyone in between. We’re past guessing games and dramatic predictions. Retailers will do well when they manage to bring online and offline shopping under one roof, and ad agencies will do even better if they manage to figure out how to do this for their clients. Maybe then the war will finally be put to rest.