‘Who the hell would want to spend time exploring the wonderful world of Cup-a-Soup?’, is a sentiment that is echoed among brand professionals and consumers alike when faced with the question, ‘Why put fmcg’s on-line?’. This comment, made by Sieberthead planner Simon Sholl, illustrates the deep-seated scepticism held about what real value brand destination websites add to fmcg brands – brands that largely exist at the periphery of our consciousness, chosen through preference or habit.
That scepticism is primarily grounded in the ill-conceived way many first generation brand sites sought to take advantage of the hype surrounding the Internet, rather than consider the medium as a strategic and accountable marketing tool. In their eagerness to be first, marketers failed to apply the same criteria to the interactive brand expression as they would to brand development projects in the real world, and often compromised the brand experience.
Fortunately, that approach to on-line strategy is changing. Unilever interactive marketing manager Joshua Pert says, ‘The industry is going through a big reality check; gone are the days when it was justifiable to just throw up a brand site. Today we have to drive maximum value out of all our marketing communications.’
Maximising value from on-line investments raises issues relating to consumer perception, expectation and on-line behaviour, where the task for brand-owners is to be very clear about what they want the Web to do for them, and what is appropriate for their brand, their category and their audience.
But with the current proliferation of digital channels, and change in on-line behaviour from casual surfing to task driven activity, reaching a target audience has never been more e e challenging. Indeed, survival on-line becomes a question of how to motivate your audience to actively seek you out.
Richard Williams, founder and creative director of design group Williams Murray Hamm, talks in terms of motivating factors – just as a brand has to offer consumers motivating factors for choosing it off the shelf, so it has to offer good reasons for the target audience to actively seek it out on-line. ‘This,’ he says, ‘comes down to what role a brand plays in a person’s life – health, quality, reward. Motivating factors build on what matters on a personal level.’
Sholl agrees, and far from being dismissive of the medium, adds that some brands seem better equipped than others for a meaningful presence on the Web. He names high-interest brands with unique heritage or unique ingredients, and high-personality brands, especially kids’ brands. ‘I think the value of the Web in brand support is in enhancing high-personality brands in innovative and interactive ways.’ He continues, ‘Personality can be everything from characters (Chimps for PG Tips, Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosties, the Andrex puppy and so on) through to the reinforcement of the core values and vision of a brand.’
With well-conceived ideas, the interactive medium opens the opportunity for consumers to deepen their relationship with a brand. As Ajaz Ahmed, chairman of strategic digital consultancy AKQA, explains, ‘The web is often one of the most cost-effective ways of reaching and connecting with a customer and that is why our clients invest in it.’ AKQA’s client list includes recognisable fmcg brands such as Carlsberg, KitKat and Pepsi.
Appropriate use is fundamental to success and that relies on clearly defined objectives. In terms of fmcg brands, the Internet is a stronger channel for brand building and information than for direct sales. But, as Williams says, ‘While brands have to be focused, sites that thrive are more than the product.’
And this brings us back to the point about motivating factors. That providing value added services is the key to fmcg’s survival on-line, is the new mantra of marketers and strategists alike and relevant information, content and entertainment all qualify. The logic is clear – if cross-promoted, the very relevance will encourage users to seek out the site. Ahmed cites examples such as healthcare and probiotic fmcg products where people want more information about how to use the product or what the benefits are, while highly admired and sophisticated brands can build on their heritage and related interests. ‘Fmcg brands,’ he says, ‘use media brands and sponsorships to build associations and these can be leveraged on the Web.’
Carlsberg is an example of a high-profile brand that uses the Web to deepen consumer’s relationship with the brand by leveraging their sponsorship of England’s national football and rugby teams. Brand manager Simon Pick is satisfied that the UK website is successful in achieving that objective, explaining that its strategy of e e providing fans with exclusive access to ‘dream content’, as facilitated by their sponsorship properties, reinforces the brands attributes – heritage and quality – and makes Carlsberg a relevant part of their lives.
Unilever is also highly conscious of the value of a service proposition. Pert cites Flora Proactiv’s sponsorship of the cholesterol centre on the health website Surgerydoor.com as a way to associate the brand with relevant information. In a similar vein, he talks about providing parents with a service in the form of the safe entertainment that the Captain Bird’s Eye website provides, saying, ‘Because Bird’s Eye endorses that content, parents know to trust it and this additional service builds our brand equity.’ The heavy entertainment bias in websites such as HulaHoops and Frosties, suggests more marketers share this strategy.
Although the entertainment or information potential of brands is often exploited on the Web through dedicated brand destination sites, these types of websites are by no means the future of brand building on-line. There is now a whole armoury of tools through which to raise awareness and build relationships.
Xanthe Arvanitakis, client services director of digital design group Good Technology, notes that fmcg clients are becoming increasingly interested in media-rich microsites, which have all the benefits of functioning as well-targeted brand building devices, but none of the cost and labour implications of implementing and maintaining permanent brand destination sites. She cites the consultancy’s award-winning Smint.com campaign to promote Chupa Chop’s breath mint, and the viral microsite campaign for Elida FabergÃ©’s Timotei shampoo brand, as examples of flexible, yet highly accountable, on-line brand building tools, which have the focus of direct marketing and data gathering potential of consumer research.
The flexibility, targeting opportunities and accountability of digital advertising means that maximising value and providing added value services becomes more manageable than trying to get people to actively type in a brand’s URL – the message can be brought directly to the target audience, when they are in the right frame of mind. Sponsoring content or editorial in conjunction with promotional activity are ideal examples of powerful brand building opportunities that tap into predisposition to drive sales, prompt requests for information, affirm brand values and relevance. In this way, product-oriented brands, such as wines, spirits, or even cheeses, can use the Web not only to educate consumers into an appreciation of the product, but can build awareness through their sponsorship of wine tasting and culinary websites. Similarly, consumers seeking reassurance about major capital items such as cars, holidays or white goods can get the information they need either directly from a brand site, or be driven there through endorsement of independent editorial and content owners.
But as Arvanitakis cautions, ‘Success with any on-line activity depends on how well you understand the audience and build motivating links with them over and above the brand product,’ adding that clearly defined objectives that enable accountability are equally essential to monitor performance and refine strategies.
In-depth interaction is the Holy Grail in all digital communication. Through appropriate and sensitive use of destination sites and rich media advertising, fmcg brands can thrive on-line and bring real value to the consumer/ brand relationship. But in these days of increasing market saturation, channel fragmentation and interactive experience, brand owners must be clear about objectives, message and benefits. A negative experience is no longer acceptable, but a reflection of the brand as a whole.