Is it any wonder that in a world where it’s so easy to ‘fake it’, we’re striving more for authenticity? Never will that be truer than in a post-coronavirus world, where community and connection will be prized more than ever.
We have been overloaded with advertising for years and as more and more consumers become digitally savvy, it’s even more important for brands to be authentic.
Source: History Factory
Your brand is your most important asset
In this digital age, we are overwhelmed by choice - if you want to buy a t-shirt, you can choose from thousands, many of which will look almost identical. Purchase decisions live or die on more than just the product itself; quality is often not enough on its own to motivate a sale. We are looking for a connection, and to feel good about associating and supporting a brand.
And so it falls that your brand is your most important asset; those brands who are already working to be market oriented from a place of authenticity will no doubt find it far easier to recover from the effects of coronavirus on their bottom line.
Those brands with a higher Share of Voice (SOV), that is, a higher number of brand mentions on the web versus their competitors relative to their market share, typically see higher growth. Never is that more true than during times of economic downturn, when many brands will be tempted to (or forced to) pull back on media spend and marketing efforts. The opportunity to gain ESOV (Excess Share of Voice) during this time can’t be understated, and could be the key to a post-coronavirus bounceback for brands. But, at the heart of it, gaining SOV in the market means being authentic - it’s not enough to shout loudly, you have to have something to say.
All things being equal, a brand whose Share of Voice (SOV) is greater than its share of market (SOM) is more likely to gain market share.
What is an authentic brand?
It’s not enough to make something and sell it. To be an authentic brand and to fulfil the desires of those customers who value authenticity, you need to understand your ‘why’ (and it can’t just be ‘to make money’).
There’s a multitude of ways that this comes through when a brand is truly authentic, starting with an open and transparent mission and set of values.
If you have these set at the heart of the brand, then making decisions that align with your core purpose and communicating them to your ideal customers becomes infinitely easier. Customers can expect a level of consistency from an authentic brand as their purpose never wavers, and with a purpose behind their product, you can expect a level of quality and care that an inauthentic brand can’t replicate.
Finding your ideal customer
An authentic brand doesn’t try to be something for everyone - they know what they stand for and what they do, and they know they won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (more on that later…). With everything that everyone does plastered across social media, consumers are aware that their choice of brands says something about who they are. The currency of a personal brand is different from the brand of a company, but there are a lot of similarities - supporting someone’s ability to be ‘true to themselves’ when they support your brand creates a feedback loop of customer loyalty. Don’t let them down, and they won’t let you down.
An authentic brand is one of a kind. They may make a product or provide a service that countless others are also selling, but by tapping into their core values and communicating them with the world, consumers perceive them as different - and, more importantly, better. It’s not quite the same as eliminating the competition, but it’s almost as good as doing so if your customers would never think to stray to another brand. As such, those customers are far more likely to mention your brand unprompted (and unpaid!) and, therefore, contribute to that all-important Share of Voice.
Communicating an authentic brand
Share of Voice covers all manner of sins - from social media and organic search, through to PPC performance. It’s not enough to just hope that your customers are talking about you - although that is a piece of the puzzle. Communicating your brand in an authentic way means telling people about that ‘why’ in as many different ways as are available to you.
Knowing your ideal customers means that you can be more targeted with your communications, whilst knowing your values and purpose will mean that your communications will naturally be aligned. With every touch point reinforcing that authenticity and building a relationship with your customers, you can leverage your brand communications into market share.
Whilst it may seem like the current situation means battening down the hatches, short-term reductions to investment in communications have longer term effects to brand’s SOV (and ultimately, their bottom line) whilst brands that continue with their marketing investments are in a much stronger position to recover. Authentic brands will still have something to say during this time, even if they’ve had to cease operations - your purpose doesn’t disappear overnight, if it is truly held. Use this time to connect through story-telling - whether that’s amplifying customer story, telling brand stories or community-based stories that are relevant to your business and purpose.
Yorkshire Tea: A great example of brand authenticity
It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Yorkshire Tea; as well as making the tastiest brew around, their values align with many of our own. We spoke to Dom, Marketing Director of Taylors of Harrogate, who’s been responsible for steering Yorkshire Tea into it’s number one position in the ‘black tea’ market; a true story of a challenger brand surpassing it’s bigger, more established rivals.
We all know there’s a lot of tea brands out there - but what is it about Yorkshire Tea that makes it stand out and inspire such a loyal fanbase?
First and foremost, it’s literally down to the simple fact that the tea is better! And because the brand was nurtured carefully over decades. We had small ambitions at first: Yorkshire Tea for Yorkshire folk. Back then this gave us a distinctive edge, and we’ve grown simply by expanding national distribution. Our marketing comms didn’t really ramp up until ten years ago.
Generally speaking there is no such thing as a loyal fanbase in FMCG but Yorkshire Tea has a lot more people who are more loyal than average FMCG brands. Any marketer worth their salt will have read Prof Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow and will know the science behind aiming at bringing in new customers rather than holding onto loyal ones, but when your loyal consumers are more loyal than the average, and you introduce social media as the means for them to act as your advocates, well, then the formula for success can look a little different.
What do you believe, at the core of things, makes Yorkshire Tea an ‘authentic’ brand?
“I think we mean what we say, and in a world where consumers often feel like every business out there is trying to take them for a ride, this is a big deal.”
For people who are really engaged they can follow up on how authentic we are to a really granular level – the lengths we go to in making a quality product, all the way through to how we treat suppliers or try to ensure that we give back more to society and the environment than we take out. But most people have far too much to think about to pay that much attention to us. For them, I think it’s firstly that they have a sense of Yorkshire Tea ‘being from a place’, which makes us feel more real, and it helps that the place is associated with honesty and straight-forwardness; this is then combined with packaging that feels different, like it has an actual personality to it, and then finally with our marketing communications, most likely our TV ads, where they’ll pick up that we’ve got our own way of doing things, our own unique tone of voice – and maybe even find what we’ve got to say entertaining or helpful.
When you joined Taylors in 2011, did you always ‘have a plan’ for Yorkshire Tea to get to where you are now?
I joined BTG in 2008. By the time I came to Taylors marketing in 2011, I knew I wanted to bring something to the Yorkshire Tea brand around a more down-to-earth but quirky way of talking to our consumers – but that was it for me. It was enough of a goal to think I’d like to improve the way this brand speaks, and that maybe it would show there’s a better way for all brands. Thankfully, this proved to be an effective strategy and it combined well with our business waking up to the fact that the incumbent category leaders weren’t as unbeatable as we first thought.
Even back in 2016, when we first started talking about one day becoming number one, even we doubted ourselves, and that was over a much longer time span! Importantly, getting to be number one was never the goal – it’s a massive milestone and we’re all very proud, but we said to ourselves the point is to get better, not bigger. If we grow as a result of doing what we believe in, then that’s great – but it’s important we don’t lose sight of what comes first.
How do you use your marketing comms to maintain and leverage your customers?
The biggest point here is simple segmentation: we identified a big group of people who drifted between the two main brands, but where their preference was fairly weak – we started by focusing on just getting their attention with quirky ads. But over time we learned that properness was quite a lot more powerful than we realised. We started focusing not just on getting the attention of that key segment, but tapping into a shared interest in properness.
At the same time, our social media and PR activity would focus on connecting with ‘fans’, and giving them plenty to interact with, talk about, or even share.
Do you see the work across the business on increasing your efforts to be more ‘sustainable’ adding value to the brand and marketing comms? Is this something that you put financial value on internally?
It’s really important that we don’t lose sight of why we do it. We don’t do it because of the value it might add, we do it because we believe it’s how businesses should behave. Where we’ve begun to get smarter is in finding ways to share what we’re doing that makes existing fans feel even better about us, and then potentially to appeal to people who are interested in those topics but hadn’t realised the kind of values we have. And, of course, measurement plays a part in us assessing whether we’ve done that well, and teaches us how we might do it better.
As a ‘challenger’ brand (if you can still be classed as that!), what do you see as the three main areas of focus that have helped you increase your Share of Voice?
- Business belief: stay focused on being better, rather than getting bigger.
- Strong media principles: A clear focus on our audiences, prioritising who to focus on and where best to reach them.
- Creative but consistent comms: we’ve not deviated from properness for ten years, but we continually reinvent and refresh how we bring that idea to life.
For brands and marketers facing a similar challenge, what advice would you give looking back on the last decade?
I think you need real clarity and commitment from the top on what you believe your business ‘believes in’ – but this doesn’t need to be about saving the world – it just needs to make sense, and not be something you’d be ashamed to admit. And then I think you need disciplined focus on what you’re trying to achieve with your brand, who your target audience is, and what it is they want to hear from you that will drive the behaviour change you’re seeking. Once you’ve got that locked in, you can afford to be a lot more fluid and adaptable in terms of how you creatively express your message – some consistency helps to ensure you’re constantly building those memory structures, but freshness also helps ensure you don’t get consigned to the back of their mind.
A great example of Yorkshire Tea showing what they’re trying to achieve with their brand to their target audience, highlighting what it is they want to hear.
Slightly more topical, but as a brand with authenticity deeply routed into your values, what’s been your approach to communications over the past 4 months. Has it changed from your usual strategy?
Absolutely. During the first month of the lockdown, shelves were empty – we pulled back on our advertising because it simply felt wrong to encourage even more consumption. And after that it was a matter of judgement: when would it feel right to see our ads back on telly? Would it be crass if we continued to post social content? So we scaled back and focused on the basics – no advertising, and social content that was focused on being of service, or at most, aimed at lifting people’s spirits. Now we’re getting to a kind of stability, we’re starting to add activity back in wherever it feels right.
What we didn’t do was create anything bespoke to the pandemic situation. For some brands it made a lot of sense – if you’re a supermarket and you’re directly appealing to the public to say what you’re doing to protect their safety or ensure the shelves are stacked, that’s great. But for some brands, even if their intentions are good, it can feel a bit disingenuous.
And on that, what’s your approach when in ‘crisis mode’ (e.g. a prominent politician gets photographed with your product…)? What is it that you think helps Yorkshire Tea to ride the waves of crises like that (and ultimately turn them around)?
I think the key thing in these situations is to keep your head. There’s something about social media that drives everyone a bit mad – conversations can quickly escalate. In the past, we’ve weathered these storms by sticking to being honest and open. Often we’re helped a lot by the fact that we have so many loyal fans who’ll voice support. But this is a difficult time for public discourse – the mood is very heightened, the context doesn’t engender calm and considered conversation, and there are some divisive issues being tackled. It’s hard enough to know the right way forward as a person, let alone as a brand or a business.
Quick Budget prep break making tea for the team. Nothing like a good Yorkshire brew. pic.twitter.com/zhoQM9Ksho— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) February 21, 2020
Sue, you're shouting at tea.— Yorkshire Tea (@YorkshireTea) February 25, 2020
Please do look after yourself and try to be kind to others. We're going to mute you now.