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Brand makes a comeback // Moral arbiters

24 Aug 2020  |  Dominic Mills 
Brand makes a comeback //  Moral arbiters

Dominic Mills runs the rule over CMO priorities, learns a new language and squirms at Ben & Jerry’s social antics

Here’s a surprise: brand is making a comeback. That’s according to Gartner’s annual survey of CMOs published in July. Asked to rank their top three priorities, 33% of CMOs put brand strategy at number one, analytics at two and marketing operations at three.

Last year, brand was near the bottom of the list. Here’s a summary.

What’s going on? I’m speculating that, while the pandemic has brought short-term issues to the fore, it has also revealed that brand really matters, and ignoring it is penny-wise and pound-foolish. All the bottom of the funnel activity only gets you so far and there comes a point where brands have to focus on the top of the funnel. Certainly, one thing the pandemic has highlighted is the need for companies to demonstrate a clear set of values.

Except the CMO thinking doesn’t seem to be completely clear. At the bottom of the list, CMOs rate advertising and media placement as the least of their priorities. I don’t get this. Perhaps I’m a traditionalist, but it seems to me that once you’ve got a brand, you need to advertise the hell out of it. Otherwise nobody sees it, nobody knows and nobody cares.

Perhaps the CMOs mean something different when referring to the brand which, as Faris Jacob speculates here , could mean more about values and purpose. Aaargh. Let’s hope they don’t take a leaf out of Ben & Jerry’s book (see below).

If all that is a bit confusing, one thing that’s clear is the CMO view of the importance of personalisation, which is on its way down the chart to #11.

Personalisation means different things to different people, but as Nick Manning showed so effectively last week, most of it is utterly useless; if advertisers can’t even get the geo-location part right, what hope have they of getting anything else right.

I’ve always felt that, for personalisation to succeed, brands have got to get every part of it right — sex, age, time of day, relevance, location to list just a few dimensions — and just to fail on one aspect is to fail totally.

Here’s a comment from Gartner that makes me laugh: “This drop emphasises the Gartner prediction that 85% of marketers will abandon their personalisation efforts by 2025”. FFS, why that long?

Ecommerce language

There’s no surprise in the figures showing the explosion of ecommerce in the UK over the last few months. The official figures tell the story — penetration up rapidly from 20 to 30%, which Benedict Evans pegs as five years’ growth in three months.

The anecdotal evidence also makes this clear: M&S, a laggard, to lose 7,000 jobs, Asda's online sales doubling, and Shopify reporting that new online stores in the UK have doubled so far this year.

All this will have an impact on agencies, which are going to have to help their clients navigate this brave new world, as well as playing out in the carve-up of media spend.

What, for example, is the role of brand and brand visibility in this new world order? How much money should ecommerce operations spend with Amazon?

I know agencies have been hiring Amazon experts, but they are also going to have to learn a new language and jargon, as this white paper from Wunderman Thompson demonstrates: “Headless, Microservices, API-first and Cloud-native,” it says, “are widely recognised as the modern approach to platform architecture and commerce.”

Headless? Cloud-native? Bloody hell, it’s just like learning to speak programmatic a few years ago. (Headless, apparently, is a platform that enables you to separate the front-end from the back. So now you know).

Those with an inquisitive streak and a strong stomach can start here.

This sort of stuff, by the way, is a long way from the old JWT, and a mark of how far and fast things are changing.

Let down by the new moral arbiters

I have to say I’m disappointed in Ben and Jerry’s. Since its Twitter posts on the migrant problem earlier this month I’ve had it down as the place to go for moral guidance.


And we could all do with some of that. Should return to school be made compulsory and parents fined if they don’t comply? Is A level grade inflation a price worth paying to clear up ‘algoshambles’? And would the violent overthrow of President Lukashenko be justifiable or should the people of Belorussia stick to peaceful protest?

Tricky, nuanced, issues all of these, but absolutely nothing from Ben and Jerry’s Twitter account to guide my thinking. I feel let down.

In fact, looking at posts over the past few weeks, they’re a mixture of the banal — ‘It’s World Chocolate Day. We’re celebrating by thanking our Fairtrade cocoa farmers’ — and the trite: ‘We need more humanity. Take action now — email your MP to demand safe routes NOW’. Perhaps I am expecting too much.

And it is this inability on the part of brands to express anything more than a boiler-plate, virtue-signalling view on the big issues that really bugs me about brand purpose.

Here’s a page on its website listing the issues Ben and Jerry’s cares about, among them peace. Read the section on how it plans to move peace-building forward to get an idea of how vacuous its thinking is.

As for helping refugees, another of its values, I’d like to see B&J’s down on the Kent beaches handing out free samples and ‘I-made-it-across-the-Channel’ badges to new arrivals.

Still, according to the YouGov Brand Index results, the Twitter spat with Priti Patel has done Ben and Jerry’s some good: consideration is up 10.6 points, purchase intent 3.5 points and word of mouth exposure 13.3 points.

Of course, just as with B&J’s words about peace, consideration and purchase intent are all words and no action, and I dare say that coming during a heatwave it is not that difficult for an ice-cream brand to get the scores up.

If that’s the so-called good news, there’s a sting in the tail: asked if they would be proud or embarrassed to work for the brand, B&J’s score fell 4.9 points. Which I think says it all. The simplistic antics of B&J’s social media team obviously make staff, or potential staff, squirm.

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