Have you worked out how to make your brand an Aggregator Brand? You’d better!

AGGREGATOR BRANDS – perhaps everything we ever learnt about product/brand marketing is changing? Muzeable Thinking No. 5 from Tim Brooks 7th December 2012

Someday all – ok most – successful, sustainable manufacturing brands will be ‘service-based’ propositions that have become expert in using their service-wrap to sell their products. Ultimately the ability to monetise the service, or parts of it, will be a key success factor, barrier to entry and additional growth opportunity.

Pampers UK Home Page… nearly an Aggregator Brand!

In categories like healthcare and financial services – where increasingly a combination of regulation and intense innovation challenges [not least long lead times and high costs/risk] – this will become even more necessary and prevalent. Perhaps, it might become the only sustainable basis for a business model? These categories will [and do now] often find themselves marketing the ‘same’, or only marginally differentiated, benefits/products with limited opportunity to create image based or perceived differentiation through communication or marketing. Regulatory authorities are actively driving increased product genericisation, which alongside too much transaction-based marketing compounds the challenges. All true, but there is an important additional reason why I would still suggest this will also apply to most categories and brands in the future.

Data obesity and the ease with which we can drown in its soft fleshy folds – immediately, in real time, wherever we are [mobile] and sometimes with the added value of some genuine engagement – is changing how we seek and source things. Basically, we like this change, but it also complicates the simplest of decisions. Comparison websites have been successful for this very reason – without technology they couldn’t exist, but without technology we wouldn’t actually need them! They reassure us in the face of data overload and save us precious time and decision-stress. It might not lead to the best choice, but it avoids a disaster – which is enough for most of us.

As we all churn out more content and as categories segment [hyper segment] and get more complex – even if only as a result of more visible choice – this can only get worse. Or ultimately better if you believe [and I could be persuaded] that data completeness is a good thing. And it could be brilliant, if it wasn’t for the fact that we are all time poor and we struggle with the odious imperfection of comparison. Once most of us find ourselves in the presence of apples and pears we revert to making safe, usually intuitive decisions based on what we already know. Truth is that this might, or might not, be the right choice at that exact moment in time. Sadly, I have not yet found the comparison website for apples and pears? Not ‘simples.’

So, back to the point, in this world the brands that will win will be the ‘AGGREGATOR BRANDS’. [Whilst there is lots of stuff out there about aggregators, I do hope that I can take the credit for coining that phrase, in this context!]. These are the brands that early on, and with 100% commitment, decide they are going to become and own the service platform for the set of choices within the category [and probably some it its adjacencies]. This will potentially make them, if not our ‘friends’, then a necessary support to managing our relationship with the category. This, if done properly, will facilitate product sell opportunities that can be delivered with integrity. This will need a breadth of understanding, an attention to detail and service-design skills beyond the core competencies of the current agency suppliers – this isn’t digital ‘comms’. It will also need some counter-intuitive thinking and behavior for brands e.g. sometimes to fulfill this role they will need to [gulp!] publically concede that a competitor is bringing something positive/better to the table. Without this acknowledgement the Aggregator Brand… just stopped aggregating.

So, where is this happening? I’ve only just started looking, so I don’t know much, but as a starter for ten, I look at Pampers [UK, Pampers Village, link below] and look with genuine respect at the platform they have created with Mums and beyond nappies. Is this marketing edge a direct causal input into Kimberley Clark’s ‘exit’ position with Huggies in Europe? I don’t know and it’s obviously more complicated than that. Did P&G consciously set out to build an Aggregator Brand platform, or even something close to it, for Pampers? I doubt it, it looks like a mix of evolution and opportunity. Is it truly an Aggregator Brand yet? No. But I look at this and see it as ‘Base Camp 1’ for the future of product brands… I see it as leading a silent revolution in ways that really get one thinking… and I take my hat off to them. Bloody well done, I’ve thought about it and you’ve actually gone and started to do it. Their future opportunity has huge potential. I watch this space with interest and a bit of genuine passion.


The concept of Aggregator Brands© is the intellectual property of Muzeable Limited. Please acknowledge us if you use the term.

Still loving big data [Part 2]… but what about strategy?

Muzeable Thinking No.4 from Tim Brooks 25th November 2012

More thinking out loud… we recently talked about some of the challenges that BIG DATA and the search for BIG INSIGHT are creating for brands and businesses. Our data rich, or obese -depending on your outlook – world is full of complexity and this is creating other challenges… not least for ‘strategy’.

At the heart of this lies a contradiction that goes something like this…

The world is highly complex and ever-changing, so traditional notions of a ‘fixed’ long-term strategy are increasingly impractical and probably ineffective. You need to be flexible and play what’s in front of you – and play it fast! Yet, responding to that very complexity requires deep strategic thinking – and sometimes it takes time to build a clear position[vs all the data] and a repeatable model that rises above the surrounding chaos/fluidity. This contradiction – the need to be both fast and ‘slow’ – has the potential to create confusion and even put a few scared rabbits in front of the headlights.

Some of the current rhetoric is describing a world where execution is everything and strategy matters less and less – we can’t bring ourselves to accept this! Surely ‘strategy’ STILL matters as a guiding logic that defines how a business will grow? The point is that strategy [and strategy consultancy] has to change and evolve to work in this new environment. In the future we will need to find more flexible models/frameworks that allow us to stay true to our ‘logic’ and coherently manage the key elements of our response to the chaos. Execution isn’t becoming more important – it’s always been critical – it’s just its ‘what’ and ‘why’ are harder to lock down than ever before. More experimentation does not have to equal less direction.

What needs to change?:
o For marketing the traditional obsession with creating a fixed positioning via endless workshops to lock down the insight and a single-minded something all packaged up in a highly specific version of the truth via a ‘brand arrow’ or a ‘brand circle’ or a ‘brand dodecahedron’ – whatever – just seems… anachronistic.
o Likewise, whilst finding a big comms idea that will cut through everything and make you famous can work, it’s hard to see many examples of people actually doing it ‘on purpose’. It always seems – and my own extensive experience of ad/comms production supports this – to be some very creative blind persons sticking tails on donkeys… that might not actually exist! Serendipity is not strategy.
o In our real time world marketing is increasingly driven by experimentation and if we’re honest we often don’t know what’ll work and what will be budget scattered in the wind. The new risk is that agencies and marketers in seeking sexy new stuff will let brands drift over time. That being [rightly] data-engaged will potentially see brands and businesses lurching from one interesting actionable data point to another equally intriguing actionable data point and unintentionally losing focus or, when under pressure, spiraling into a series of data-driven knee jerk reactions. Algorithms can actually compound this [witness elements of the banking crisis!], so the answer must be in thinking, not technology.

Increasingly all this all seem a long way downstream from the two key considerations that should be top of our agendas:
1. How can our business/brand deliver sustainable growth
2. How can our executional approach do what it has to do and balance our need for control/coherence and increased fluidity.

All of this is perhaps evidence that the consumer marketing models – founded almost entirely on branding and communications – that were at the heart of our past success need to be replaced by more rounded business approaches. Marketing needs to lead a deeper integration of data, channel, customer, service etc. and yes, it will include brand and communications, but as one part of this broader approach. Marketers need to first think business model and growth and not see their traditional, primary, relationship with the ‘agency’ as everything they need to succeed.

We need to ask ourselves tougher questions about the nature of our strategy – what does it actually look like and how can it ‘work’ within our specific culture and organisational realities? We need to challenge our notions on how we build effective long-term inputs. If strategy is to be useful, useable and used – it will need to be as robust and far reaching as ever, but it must be able to be executed with more flexibility and agility in the face of change and uncertainty. Increasingly strategy is about creating sustainable strategic growth frameworks™ versus building a more locked down, resource led strategic plan and set of pre-determined priorities. The strategies of my youth. Now, a small number of imperatives and some guiding rules of thumb, based on better understanding of how growth actually works will be its foundation.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for business and marketers is to understand that strategy DOESN’T actually start with strategy – it starts with GROWTH. Gone are the days of starting your strategy development by working on brand planning things… work out the growth mechanics™ of the category and focus exclusively on defining how you’ll grow – period. Then ‘strategy’ will simply be a tool to deliver this… perhaps not even a ‘thing’ in its own right! It will still need some vision and purpose, a clear destination and occasionally even a ‘rallying cause’, because that drives people, passion and culture, but the business stuff will be ALL ABOUT GROWTH! Maybe we all know that, but there is little evidence that it is replacing the old notions of ‘planning’.

History proves marketing and big biz don’t readily embrace behavioural change/complexity. They prefer the quick, simple fix. It’s why we love TV plans… the world of ‘x hundred GRPs, with x% coverage, at x OTS’ and whilst that isn’t history… it’s definitely not the focus of the future. So, behaviourally this is a big challenge and an opportunity and those who embrace new approaches [not necessarily radical changes of direction] without forgetting the truths of the past will potentially be the winners. It’s important because there will definitely be losers!

The strategy consultancies and agencies that will work best in this epoch will not work like we did over the past 30 years – when consultancy found its voice. Those who will succeed will be those who understand the new context e.g. it’s possibly less about one off clever ideas. They need to understand only two things BUSINESS MODEL/GROWTH and executing ROUTES TO MARKET. This will requires expertise in many things – most of which feed from the BIG DATA/BIG INSIGHT start point – heavy analytics; retail [brick and click]; how brands need to engage in the new hyper-connected landscape; when to broadcast and when to try and dialogue; when to sell and when to be a neutral voice to explain the category; how to embrace transparency; how to think at a category level; how to embrace the new globalization; and [where Muzeable aims to help] how to think more deeply, but just as quickly.

This needs us to be courageous and to take a fresh look at the rules of strategy, innovation, category and brand management and be prepared to re-write some of them. Given the complexity and chaos we all face don’t believe anyone who tells you this will be easy or who offers you a quick fix or tells you they ‘understand’ – they are a]lying or b] utterly stupid! We will need to feel our way into the next epoch.

So once again… we’re loving the BIG DATA and the complexity, but whilst too many people see it as a panacea the reality is that for most organisations it will remain about potential. We can get there faster if we [business leaders, marketers, strategy consultancies and data experts] link in an unholy alliance to initiate the AGE OF BIG INSIGHT, whilst we, simultaneously, learn how to re-invent ‘strategy’ – we think based on a world of GROWTH MECHANICS and GROWTH FRAMEWORKS – to be fit for purpose at both an enterprise and brand management level.

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