Saturday 26 February 2011

Campaign for real mothers

One aspect of German society that never fails to surprise visitors is just how mother-and-child-unfriendly the country is. As well has having the lowest birth rate in Europe, Germany must be one of the few countries in the world with its own insulting phrase for a mother that doesn't spend 24 hours a day tending to her little ones - Rabenmutter - or "raven mother". Quite what ravens have done or not done to deserve this expression remains an ornithological puzzle.

There have been a couple of surveys reported on recently from German brands targeted at young mothers. Eltern magazine, for example, reports that the reasons that people believe the birth rate is so low include worry about financial stability, the belief that German society values performance in job more highly than starting a family, the difficulty in combining career and family, the lack of childcare and the generally child-unfriendly climate.

The baby food brand Milupa has got together with the market research agency Rheingold to understand the feelings of mothers from the psychological perspective and their study shows that there is tremendous pressure - real and perceived - for young mums to live up to some sort of ideal imposed by society - and, interestingly, that mums have more trust in brands like Milupa or Pampers than in German politics!

Milupa has developed a campaign from these findings: "Milupa Mama Coaching." The idea here is to coach and encourage mums to be more relaxed and listen to their instincts. This seems a reasonable idea but I do wonder whether they could have taken a bolder approach.

The thing is, however well-intentioned "Mama Coaching" may be, it still leaves the finger pointing back at the mother to change. The campaign is confined to places where only mothers will see it and will have little impact on the world outside. In the spirit of the Dove campaign, wouldn't it be great for Milupa to tackle perceptions of non-mothers - of employers, of public authorities? And maybe to spend some of the budget on actions that would help mothers in a concrete way? Maybe this is planned for the future...

Talking of the future, there seemed to be signs at the end of last year that the birth rate might pick up, although the official figures for 2010 will first be released in May. And the current Family Minister, Kristina Schröder, announced her own first pregnancy in January. Who knows? Maybe Frau Schröder will follow her predecessor's example by having seven children in her own contribution to raising the birth rate.

Saturday 19 February 2011

The price is wrong

I was pleased to hear this week that at least one of the irritating radio ads that assaults my ears here in Germany will soon be no more. The D-I-Y chain Praktiker is going to knock its price positioning on the head to go for something a little more sophisticated in terms of branding. Just how sophisticated this will be, given that it will involve the ubiquitous Boris Becker and building up values of Simplicity, Trustworthiness and Good Value, is yet to be seen, but at least the retailer has seen sense about positioning yourself on price alone.

For years, Praktiker has used the slogan "Hier spricht der Preis" ("Here speaks the price") with a high audibility radio campaign promising "20% off everything except pet food."

The thing is, these days, who believes or needs price advertising? In these days of online comparison, the true answer to where you'll pick up your latest Bosch power tool for the best price is less than a second away. And then, no-one has ever bought anything on price alone - we automatically do that complex balancing act in our heads of time, effort, hassle and reward for the money paid - the personal value to me. This can be very different to answering a battery of questions on whether Retailer X is generally "good value for money" - yes, Retailer X is generally better value and if I was going there anyway for other stuff...but I like my little local guy round the corner and fancied a chin-wag with him today plus I know he'll give me good follow-up service if the thing blows up...

And, while every segmentation study will throw up a segment of people who are driven by price, the point is that these people are deal-loyal, not brand loyal. When a cheaper tariff, or whatever, comes along, they'll jump ship instantly. In the long run, especially in fields such as energy, business models that position themselves on lowest price are simply not sustainable.

When it comes to the price, the discount price and nothing but the price, as far as building a brand goes - the price is wrong.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Infinite Ad Stock

The Michelin building is celebrating its 100th anniversary and to mark the century that has passed since it opened as the French company's UK headquarters, a number of classic poster ads are being republished and sold.

What's interesting about these ads - along with the classic Guinness posters, for example - is that they have become ingrained in our collective consciousness. Call it infinite ad stock if you like, but classics like these are still working today - at least in terms of generating awareness for the brands they advertise, even though the products may have changed beyond all recognition.

And, more recently, I am sure that some of the classic commercials produced in the last century continue to wield their effect through YouTube resurrection. Take this classic from Hugh Hudson. I don't smoke, and Benson & Hedges is a minor brand here in Germany, dwarfed by the ubiquitous Marlboro, but the brand name is still present for me.

The poster of a hundred years ago became the spectacular film of the late 20th Century which became the app of the early 21st century. But I do wonder if something like the Domestos Flush Tracker will still be working for the brand in some way in a hundred years.

Tuesday 8 February 2011


Phoning Telekom used to be right up there on my "favourite things to do in Germany" list along with discussing pension plans, visiting the dentist and filling in my tax return. Every time something went wrong with my email, or that box on the wall, or that thing with flashing lights that sits on my desk, I would be filled with creeping dread.

They have got better. Problems have been sorted out without a 30 minute da-da-da-di-dah! preamble. And they have now even started to get proactive.

A nice young lady rang me up the other day with an offer too good to refuse. They'd twigged that I called their technical people regularly so now I was to be offered my very own dedicated technician. It sounded just the ticket.


Me: "Does this technician understand Macs?"

She: " Our technicians understand Microsoft."

Here tone changed completely. Admitting to having a Mac was tantamount to admitting to some nasty highly contagious disease caught from dodgy practices of an unmentionable nature. She wanted to end the conversation as soon as possible. Even my pleas for her to pass on my suggestion that maybe they could recruit a few technicians that understand Macs fell on deaf ears. Da-da-da-di-dah!

Come on, Telekom! There you are selling iPhones like hot cakes but hasn't it occurred to you that all these people with iPhones could be attracted to an iPad, or a MacBook? And that they might need a bit of support with the internet side of things?

That phrase with left hands and right hands and not knowing what the other is doing comes to mind.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Why, oh why?

"I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who."
Rudyard Kipling, from "Just So Stories"

Whatever field you work in, as long as it involves information-gathering, you'll probably have come across some model, tool or principle based on Kipling's "honest serving men."

And it's not just journalism or police investigation that are well-served by these six honest men, but the world of brands and branding, too. One of the first positioning tools that I came across in my work with brands was something called the Brand Square. I still use it to this day.
It asks, very simply:
WHO are we?
WHAT do we do?
For WHOM do we do it?
HOW do we do it?

There's a very useful book and website by Simon Sinek for looking at brands and organisations which puts the serving man conspicuous by his absence from the Brand Square at the start: Start with Why. Here, it's argued that, unless you define your Why? - your purpose, cause or belief, you can't really go into the How? (guiding principles) or What? (tangible proof).

This is great thinking and something particularly relevant for brands that are an organisation. To have a reason for being beyond making profit gives a brand or organisation sustainable value.

But - a word of caution. In the same way that some brands are not naturals for social media (no, I don't want to enter into a relationship with toilet paper...) there are some brands where the Why for the brand should not be pushed or forced. If you end up constructing one of those Mission Statements that's all about "the relentless pursuit of quality solutions to passionately meet customer needs", maybe your time is better spent defining the more pragmatic issues - the Who? What? and How? clearly and uniquely.