Marketing trends

Create a brand movement

Iconic US brands keep on top of their game, so how do outsiders get a piece of the action?

By Kathryn Casey

I drink Coke for medicinal purposes only, I kicked my Marlboro habit years ago, and my assortment of Apple products has quadrupled in three years. My loyalty to these brands is best described as fickle, but to me they represent something quintessentially American. But in terms of brand, what does being American actually mean?

“America is not a country, it’s an idea… it’s a place where you can be what you want to be,” says Martyn Shaw, president of the consultancy Interbrand. “American brands are about anything being possible—the core value of all of them is optimism.” In other words, how are American brands succeeding? They’re selling the American Dream.

Marlboro country

Marlboro brought us the number one advertising icon of the 20th century, the Marlboro Man. A rugged cowboy riding through Marlboro country, he encapsulated adventure, rebellion and freedom on TV and in print. But due to increasing legal pressure on tobacco advertising, Marlboro producer Philip Morris was forced to find new ways to communicate with consumers.

Event and bar giveaways, a website with a mailing database estimated to contain up to 30 million contacts, price promotions and competitions where the winners get to visit the Marlboro ranch are just a few examples of how they’re keeping in touch with their customers. In short, what they’ve done is to create a brand movement.

According to Nanette Byrnes at Bloomberg Businessweek, “Marlboro isn’t just a brand, it’s an exclusive club for its devotees, who wouldn’t miss an opportunity for a discount and often feel victimized by social pressure and no-smoking laws.” And with over 42 percent of the US cigarette market, the Marlboro movement seems to be a smoking success.

The world buys a Coke

A consumer favorite since 1886, Coca-Cola dressed Santa Claus in company colors and taught the world to sing. The brand is ubiquitous and claims that its name is the second most understood term in the world after “OK.”

Quick to embrace consumer needs and trends, and with an overwhelming cadre of flavors worldwide, Coke constantly changes bottle sizes and designs – with Karl Lagerfeld creating the latest designer bottle sleeve. And they’ve been quick to embrace a fan-based approach to social media, where members are part of an ongoing relationship with the brand. Consumer-generated content plays a key part in all the brands social communities. Fans upload images of where they last enjoyed a Coke, and participate in “Live Positively” where readers can vote for their favorite park and nominate community leaders for a chance to carry the Olympic flag in London next year. The brand’s 33.5 million-plus likes on Facebook are hardly a surprise.

The brand with bite

The most admired company in the United States from 2008, and globally from 2008 to 2010, Apple has cornered brand loyalty like no other. And as the story goes, when you buy an Apple product, you buy an experience.

Fortune’s Most Admired Companies issue had this to say: “This is the company that changed the way we do everything from buy music to design products to engage with the world around us. Its track record for innovation and fierce consumer loyalty translates into tremendous respect across business’ highest ranks.” Which explains why it’s the fastest growing retailer in the US today. And Apple has made it look easy.

Cracking the code

The huge US retail market may appear attractive and relatively straightforward from a distance, but it’s a seriously tough nut to crack. A lot of foreign brands die in the US because they give America something that Americans can do better. For every newcomer success, there are many failures. But European brands such as Heineken, H&M and BMW are doing very well in the States. So how did H&M crack the US code?

For a start, although the US might seem like a fairly homogeneous market with one language and one culture, it’s actually quite a complex place. According to leading marketing communications network, Ogilvy & Mather, there is no such thing as the ‘American consumer’ and no single demographic, or even handful of demographics that neatly defines the American nation.

In a CRMtrends’ consumer demographics report, Ogilvy & Mather argue that US society has fractioned into small groups and become isolated. Thanks to the Internet, say O&M, people with very specific interests are able to reinforce those interests as never before. And now they expect a customized message.

O&M believe keeping up with changing demographics is critical for US market success.

From the country that brought us IKEA

A recent European success on the American market is Sweden’s H&M. Since opening its first store on Fifth Avenue, New York in 2000, the company is now bringing ‘fashion and quality at the best price’ to over 213 stores across the United States.

Although fashion, luxury and retail brands find it easier to enter the US market, it’s not always easy. Isabel Cavill, Senior Retail Analyst at global retail intelligence firm Planet Retail, cites lack of brand awareness, rapid expansion and poorly planned partnerships with US chains as typical reasons why foreign brands fail. Fortunately for H&M, they did their homework.

So what’s behind H&M’s US success? Ranked the 21st most valuable brand in 2010 by Interbrand, H&M has lots of retail muscle. They’ve been around since 1947, so they’re well established. The company’s fast fashion business model means the distance between design and sale is small and inventories are kept low. And that means demand. If customers want to get their hands on one of H&M’s latest designer collaborations, it pays to be in the front of the queue to grapple for the last Lanvin dress or Versace suit. And, with celebrity models replacing the modeling celebrities in the company’s high profile advertising campaigns, the brand commands even more attention.

An H&M Club with a loyalty rewards program, and a social media wall that makes it easy to follow their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube activity, have helped to build a movement around each of the brand’s lines. In 2010, H&M even partnered with MyTown, a location-based game for iPhone users, and helped them to reach an elusive subset of their target group.

The winning formula

Although price and convenience are what American brands do better than anyone else, it’s possible to make inroads in the extremely competitive US market. Scott Goodson, founder of cultural movement agency StrawberryFrog, believes that a brand that can transcend geography and language, instill values that are simple, inspiring and easy to align with, is on to a winning formula.

By building a brand movement, “we are no longer throwing out one-way, localized messages with one global look and feel,” says Scott. “It’s about getting people to love your brand, no matter where they are in the world. And if you can get it right, you’ll become one of the elite global brands that everyone wants to buy in to.”

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

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