Age and size… those infamous prejudices that one might expect, regrettably, to find in society. But in the market? It would seem so too. The new kid in town mentality is fast becoming obsessed with bite-size businesses and fresh-faced brands. The old conception that bigger is better, that renowned means validated, and that recognisable means fashionable, is shifting in mature economies. In the UK, US, Canada, Australia and Japan, trust in big businesses is down to 34% (Havas 2013). Whilst the emerging markets might differ, is it just a matter of time before they follow suit?
Agility and flexibility are proving more important than ever. Adaptability is everything. But how easy is this for the brand with stock houses brimming, hundreds of privately owned stores worldwide, not to mention an endless inventory to manage?
The problems facing larger and older brands do not stop here. Nowadays, there is less need for immense financial backing, capacity for mass production and enormous work forces for products to have a global impact. With sites like Kickstarter and Make that Thing, supply and demand has been stripped down to its most basic form. Last year, crowdfunding platforms like these grew by 85% in the US and are worth an estimated $1.4billion (Massolution 2013). What’s more, with technology like 3D printing on the horizon, it is safe to predict that the product market is on the brink of a new age.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There remain massive advantages for the bigger older brand. Not to mention that many of these fresh young competitors desperately aspire to be in their shoes! With distribution channels established, long standing relationships built over time, and disposable profits available for exploring new and exciting campaigns, some might say that the hard part was over.
It seems that small brands and big brands have their own distinct problems and advantages. Could we just leave it at that?
Interestingly, it isn’t as easy as splitting brands up into categories of big and small, old and new. Many of the brands that one may consider young and fresh, and indeed market themselves as such, are part of giant corporations. With this in mind, you might be surprised to find out that Pepsi has owned Naked since 2006, despite the selling point of the all-natural fruit drink being in direct opposition to synthetic fizzy drinks. Does this affect the product itself? Not really. However, the story of the product is certainly altered. It comes as no surprise that, two years ago, Pret A Manger revealed significant plans to change the public perception that the brand was still part-owned by MacDonald’s.
And then there is age. As seen with size, certain brands start to create, or rather perform, different types of heritage. For example, the pastry chef, Mr. Kipling – utterly made up! The seemingly old-fashioned look and feel of Green & Black’s chocolate – founded in the 90’s! Whilst shirt company Thomas Pink might give the impression of timeless and quintessential Englishness, it was in fact set up by three Irishmen in the early 1980s and is now owned by the huge FRENCH conglomerate LVMH. How many shirt-buyers know that? Would they feel the same if they did?
It seems that brand size and age aren’t just sideline facts but often advertising campaigns in themselves. Here lies a temptation for the bigger brand confronted by today’s market tastes – to undergo a kind of brand botox to counteract the fear of being out of date. However, 64% of consumers already feel that most companies are only trying to improve their image (Havas 2011).
Nowadays, brand identity is more than just a surface phenomenon. Accessibility of information has evolved and the hiding places for inconsistency are near extinction! Whilst one can’t dispute the importance of being relevant, such attempts to appear ‘young’ will only create further distrust in the brand, alongside the kind of stiffness that can be expected from any botox treatment. What’s more, such campaigns will deviate from the brands essence, carefully created over many years. The brand’s story, as discussed in To Hell with Facts [hyperlink!], will suffer through inconsistency.
So how are bigger brands addressing their size and age? Some are reveling in their well-earned heritage. In 2009, Guinness made a string of commercials to celebrate its remarkable 250 years of brewing. Last year, Cartier released its short film L’Odyssée marking its 165 years, and since then others, including Audi, have been showcasing their own stylish and sophisticated self-commemorations.
Older bigger brands are also avoiding the foibles of shouting to be heard – of excessive selling. They can distance themselves from those irritating adverting spaces such as online banners and pop ups, where customer trust lies at just 33% (Nielsen 2012). What’s more, without the bigger brands, the credibility of these spaces falls, removing competition.
Finally, some older bigger brands are building strong alliances with their fresh young competitors. Far from being an attempt to ‘keep your enemies closer’, these kinds of partnerships are mutually beneficial. Being behind innovation is as good as being responsible for it. For the bigger older brand to embrace its years and play the father or mother figure is far from submissive. P&G and General Mills’ recent collaboration with crowdfunding site CircleUp is a prime example of industry giants forming such alliances. They say that children make one feel young again…!
In today’s market, size and age will be tried and tested. Brands might continue to choose their identity regarding these attributes, but the distance between reality and campaign is shrinking. Inaccessible information doesn’t exist anymore – there are no more secrets to be kept! Whilst the customer is everything, brands must adopt strategies true to themselves and what they want to be. If the brand doesn’t trust its own identity, how can the consumer be expected to? Be true to yourself and the rest will follow.