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Getting down and dirty: Brand-building in the post-trust era

Last week, we were fortunate enough to lead a panel on brand-building in the post-trust era at the London edition of innovation festival Millennial 20/20.

Amidst a plethora of fast-moving international brands including Facebook, Airbnb, Swarovski and Vice Media, Rare Design were on hand to offer our take on brand-building in today’s volatile, sensationalist markets. Sharing their insight with us on the Solutions Stage were Sara Mendez-Bermudez, Head of European Brand Experience for People Against Dirty, and Jeyan Heper, President, General Manager and CMO of Ansell Healthcare. Joining them was Andrew Piper, Rare Creative Director – fresh from his appearance at the New York summit.

Here’s what happened.

Full transcript below:

Rare Design (RD):  We’ll come to Sara first: what are People Against Dirty doing to ensure their brand survival moving forward?

Sara Mendez-Bermudez, People Against Dirty:  First of all, the fact that this generation is defined as being 18 to 34 years old is problematic. In reality, being ‘millennial’ is all about mindset. It’s about a way to look at the world – and the way millennials view things is actually quite different, and not defined by any rules or guidelines.

Millennials look for self-expression and purpose, and that’s what we’re doing as a company; being true to ourselves and clear about what our purpose is, ensuring our brands communicate this in an engaging and relevant way to our consumers.

RD:  And can you expand on what this purpose is?

Sara:  Yes; our purpose is to change the world and to make the world a better place through cleaning. Actually, this is a very disruptive and challenging vision for the cleaning category, commoditised as it is. When the Method brand was created 50 years ago, we had to consider how we could disrupt a category of sameness, which is exactly how millennials look at the world – asking how they can disrupt and challenge the norm. Method was born to bring design and beauty and aspiration to a category which was boring. Today, we still have a real purpose by being real and ecological.

RD:  Thanks, Sara. And now to a less boring sector. Jeyan: how is Skyn looking to survive?

Jeyan Heper, Ansell Healthcare, Skyn:  As the producers, manufacturers and innovators behind Skyn condoms, we’re in a fun category, but a highly regulated one. The medical aspects of our product mean everything we say and do is scrutinised, which is reinforced by the marketing conditions of today’s ‘post-trust’ era.

76% of consumers do not believe that advertisers are telling the truth, and they dismiss whatever you say to them. And there is an even bigger danger looming: that 97% of these consumers look to their peers, friends, family for advice. How can brands be part of that conversation, and deliver their version of the truth? How can we be part of that exchange? This is the major disruption that we see in our categories.

So, what we do is first in our business is map our customers’ journey; dig deep into their psyche, mindset and life experience, and then we provide solutions for that. We look at millennials as partners, and we ask them to create content for us and be spokespeople for Skyn. Our overarching campaign ethos is Feel Everything, and we ask consumers what this means for them, and how they do this.

Second, we consider our purpose and the things we do. We have two approaches to match our two categories. On the one hand, we have our heritage brands: Mates in the UK, Manix in France, and Lifestyles in the US. These brands are powerful products for us as they build consumer confidence. They help young millennials gain experience and serve as a reliable product for them. Once our consumers have enough experience, they become connoisseurs in this category, and in relationships, sex and intimacy. In doing so, they upgrade to our Skyn brands – the one with which they Feel Everything and get the best of everything. That’s how we try to be a partner in their life. Not as a condom brand choice but as a lifestyle choice, through engaging with them and helping them make a change.

RD:  Andrew, do you have anything to add that?

Andrew Piper, Rare Design:  Everything sounds euphemistic when we’re talking about the sexual health category!

Firstly, I was going to talk about the role of theatre, and the importance for brands of creating a theatre in the kind of commodity categories Sara and Jeyan work in – whether in terms of comms, at point of purchase, or in packaging. The whole realm of brand experience is one of theatre.

Earlier at Millennial 20/20 we heard about the crucial role of user-generated content, particularly relatable content. Now, we’re talking about the images that are associated with both categories, and how they will so easily become irrelevant in the current era unless both brands focus on becoming relatable once more.

We also heard earlier how the millennial is focused enormously on quality, and how that can be expressed at every brand touchpoint. Today, there’s no excuse for an expression of poor quality, and my role as creative director is about finding ways to express big themes with integrity and originality, and with a disruptive, challenging mindset. The categories themselves are already willing, from Sara and Jeyan’s point of view, to be disrupted. How must visual design respond to that? What insights can we bring to the discussion that will raise the game in terms of brand expression, packaging design, communication?

RD:  Picking back up on theatre and experience once more, Sara, is there anything in your role as head of brand that you could add to that?

Sara: Yes, absolutely. I think the first thing to note is that in our company, our department is brand experience instead of marketing, and we also have a product experience team. That already says it all. For me, the way we operate and the most important thing for brands to do is to think about human truths instead of thinking in terms of marketing campaigns.

We have two brands that are quite different, and our latest content for Method plays on the truth that life is a little bit more fun when it gets messy.

For Ecover, our ecological brand, the message is different. The way consumers connect with that brand is about people wanting to do a little good for the world, which we make easier for them. It’s as simple as that. It’s a washing-up liquid. It costs less than £1 and we’re making it easy for them.

Coming back to the discussion earlier, our latest piece of research for Ecover focussed on re-engaging with millennials. We could talk about our ingredients, parabens, sustainability and other good things about our product. But one of the things that connected most with our research group is the fact that we’ve been doing the same thing for 37 years, and that what we said we’d do 37 years ago is what we still believe in today. For our customers, that was really powerful, which is the prize for standing up for what you believe in and fighting for it.

RD:  Certainly, values are something we’ve heard lots about here at Millennial 20/20. Andrew could you talk a little bit more about that?

Andrew:  Well, one of the areas we think is really interesting is the Amazon effect. While enough has been written about Amazon to occupy a whole conference, the idea which comes up again and again in relation to that brand is to be value-driven. Brands that set out their stall with a set of values that are easy to understand and meaningful have a higher chance of succeeding.

Of course, the other element of being value-driven is price sensitivity, offering appropriate expressions of value in the brand experience. This comes with a responsibility to be fast and accurate, and not to miss a beat in your dialogue with your consumers in the way that you present your brand. Both of the businesses we’re talking about today are focussed fully on how the brand feels and looks and expresses itself visually.

RD: Jeyan, this links nicely onto your recent Skyn survey, for which values are extremely important. Could you elaborate?

Jeyan: Yes: values, but also some interesting facts from our recent millennial sex survey.

Millennials are unique. As we’ve heard from previous sessions, 69% prefer to stay home because there, they have everything at their fingertips; Spotify for music, Netflix for cinema, friends via Facebook and Twitter.

Today, being at home can make for a great experience, which we need to be able to contribute to. Our category, condoms, hits that spot because for less than a dollar investment you can have great entertainment at home. Equally importantly, we have to make the connection with their experience, and a create the universe for it. Today, for example, 50% of millennials sext at least once a week –  quite a high number. 66% claim they met a partner through dating apps.

Given the scale of these trends, we’ve considered how we can be present in these areas – connecting with our consumers less as an advertiser, but more as a friend. Our research threw up so many interesting findings on millennial mindsets.

At Ansell we have an initiative called Brand Passport. This covers all of the elements Sara mentioned, including brand value, purpose, human insight, and the tensions that we see in consumers. We linked these with our service and product and developed a strong platform called Feel Everything around a single core truth: that millennials want to feel everything in life. They want experiences; they want adventures, and our product offers these to them. They also like to feel everything during a relationship and intercourse, because they know the world would be better if there were no need for condoms. And from this, we hit our angle. With Skyn you feel everything. All our brand communications follow this idea – linking our survey findings and our in-depth understanding of millennials with strategy and execution.

RD:  Moving on, the title of our session is about brand building in the post-trust era. How do you overcome consumers’ lack of trust in businesses?

Sara:  Really, the answer is full transparency.

What we found is that as a brand you don’t need to be perfect. Initially, this is something I found scary, believing that we needed to be the most sustainable company and to get everything right for fear of scrutiny. Actually, what is important is that your consumer understands your journey. Once you’ve set a goal, they will share your mission and see where you are headed. You let them in so they become part of your vision. You are open and transparent both when things go right and when they don’t go right, and that’s okay as long as you are honest and they see you are moving in the right direction.

This was an important learning for us. Second is that trust and transparency go beyond the brand, so consumers expect all aspects of the business to share the same values. For us, this includes our suppliers, our ingredients and our manufacturing processes – everybody in our organisation.

Jeyan:  We build trust by considering three moments.

Moment zero is the point at which consumers look for content. Next is the moment at which they make their way to the shelf and make a decision within three seconds about which product variant they will buy. The final moment is when they come home, open the pack and try the product.

If you fail in any one of these moments, you fail completely. If you fail at either of the final moments, the consumer will never go back to the first moment and buy your product, so you have to be authentic in what you say and you have to provide excellent solutions for these three moments of truth.

And be honest. As Sara says, you don’t need to be perfect but be honest in what you’re doing. Fortunately, we provide a very good superior product so we don’t fail in these areas, and we’ve learned that brand loyalty and likeability are high for Skyn. Once consumers use our product, 97% recommend it to their friends. This is where we build the trust angle, because it’s their experience and their unique feeling about our product. And because consumer feeling is so high, our audience freely talk about our brand on their social media profiles and within their peer groups. Word of mouth helps us; we simply join in the dialogue.

Andrew:  I think design has a huge role to play in this area because it’s about getting those messages across using every aspect of a brand. We talk about the integrity of packaging to confirm a choice, or the joy packaging provides to brighten household cleaning chores through shape and colour. We also use other tools in the box, as it were, like tone of voice and copy, to bring ideas to life in an interesting and imaginative and contemporary way. This is where design is the crucial link between the truth and the consumer understanding of the truth.

We spend a lot of time working with our clients to understand what ‘modern’ means. What will transform our consumers’ understanding of a dry fact into a meaningful experience? Often, design is the bridge brands are looking for.

RD:  Finally, a loaded question. Thinking ahead 50 years, where do you see your brand, and what are you doing now to address this?

Sara:  From the category point of view, I truly believe that sustainability is the future and consumers are not going to want to use products that have nasty chemicals in them. What we’re trying to do is get the best possible ecological products that meet consumer needs. At every angle, it’s about having a higher order purpose that is true to yourself and your company – and that is shared with consumers. They want to be part of it, and to help; that’s our focus.

Jeyan:  Condoms existed 100 years ago and I think they will exist in 100 years’ time. Millennials will get older, but centennials will follow them, so there will always be demand for these products. The sexual health category we are playing is worth $25 billion and expands well beyond condoms and lubricants, which means we must ask ourselves: how can we create experiences with our consumers? How can we add new touchpoints to our products? By enhancing the whole experience we can make this intimacy better for them, and I think that’s going to be the next challenge for us. And we will learn as we go. I just saw a great presentation from Kantar on centennials being very different to millennials, and in response, we need to rewrite our playbook by understanding what they want and to provide solutions for that.

Andrew:  Brands need to stand for something and mean something to somebody, not nothing to everybody. I think this is an increasingly challenging demand for businesses. It’s about working out ways of saying things in new ways, often about products that aren’t changing fundamentally.

There will be variations on our categories going forward, but most of the science has already been done. We might discover something every 10 years, but at the end of the day the story that we tell has to come around with a greater frequency than that, and that meaningful statement that cuts through to the people that we want to talk has got to be shaped, crafted and continually reassessed by the collaboration of manufacturing and marketing and design.

Thanks go to Sara and Jeyan for their insights and time – we had great fun on the panel. And for more on Rare Design at Millennial 20/20, check out our New York festival report and our interview with founder Rupa Ganatra.

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