Marks of Troubled Times

For concluding this issue, we submitted the most striking results of the Meaningful Brands study from Tom Theys, EVP Global Strategy at FCB, and placed them in a context that is both broad and specific, so we will better understand what makes and breaks brands today.

The results of Meaningful Brands are a bitter pill to swallow for marketers. In the west, the possible disappearance of many brands would leave a large majority of consumers indifferent. What role can they still play in this context?
In our consumer society marked by tough competition, products look more and more alike and thus become functionally interchangeable. I remember a study by Colgate, often quoted by Guillaume Van der Stighelen, as a joke: the main incentive to buy toothpaste is not the advertising or the positioning of the brand, but simply the fact that the tube is empty! The ideal scenario is for a brand is to be unique and pertinent. A service like Uber is relevant at this time and still quite unique: it is exactly what we want to achieve as a brand. Unfortunately, this kind of ideal situation never lasts because consumers and the market continue to evolve. It is therefore necessary to differentiate over time. It is often repeated that brands are under pressure, and yet I feel that they have become a vector to express a series of values.

Is that all?
By nature, people want to know if the way they act is good. Before, it was easier, we said what we want to do and who we believe. This used to be assumed by politicians, the media, religion, etc. Meanwhile, this has been taken over by brands. 30 years ago, if you wanted to show your commitment to the environment, you displayed a “No Nukes” sticker on your 2CV. Today, you wear Kuyichi jeans and ride in a Prius. When you want to give a bag, the choice between a Delvaux and a Miu Miu does not convey the same message, although both items can be just as beautiful and perhaps just as expensive. The brand is no longer a simple guarantee of quality, but it has a symbolic value and expresses the ideas we stand for, what we believe, who we are, or who we want to be.

A phrase that often comes up is: “Brands need to be real”. But what does this signify exactly?
Brands, provided they are well managed, can acquire great significance. For example, Generation Y. Studies have shown that these youths gave much more importance on reasons that incite the brands to do something than the value of a product. A good reason, consistent over time, is authenticity. This desire for authenticity is very present in this generation. And, by authenticity, I do not necessarily mean originality and tradition, but more the desire of palpable things I can associate myself with as a consumer. One positive of this trend is that smaller brands can also play the game, provided they believe in what they are doing and who they are. Look at the beer market, with all the new small brands that launch. Take a menu from one of these new bars: how many brands are you familiar with?

With this, there are still “safe haven” brands such as Tirlemont Sugar.
When examined more closely for the reasons people regret the disappearance of certain brands, we see that they would especially miss the representation. In the case of Tirlemont Sugar, it is a product which we are committed to for different reasons. Sugar is an ordinary product: who notices the difference between two brands? But there are other factors that come in. The fact that it is a Belgian brand from the hometown of the always friendly Ben Crabbé. The fact that it reminds us of the better times: the spiced coffee of your grandmother, a kind of nostalgia that induces respect. Tirlemont Sugar continued to do what they have always done, relating to their “single minded proposition”. It is the same for the Bonne Maman jams. It is a rather young brand, and yet it is as if it has swiped all the secrets of my grandmother. Their marketing relies entirely on values ​​that we have.

Indeed, it is a universal mechanism that underlies many human behaviors: a kind of reflex of conversation …
This is how man was made, was it not? It is a phenomenon that is well identified by behavioral economics: you miss it only once the object (or person) is appeared to be gone. And when you consider something like this, more value is attached to it. This is why it is imperative that a brand becomes aware of what makes it irreplaceable. The example of Apple is enlightening. Independent of the quality of computers and well before becoming a global brand, it was a way to stand out. Brands must identify the significance that people give them and operate on it cleverly and subtly.

The top 10 Belgian Meaningful Brands is established by four distributors, of which Colruyt takes first place. It’s not a prestigious brand or connected with a high emotional value. How do you explain this success?
Colruyt is a special case. This distributor is perceived as an actor who is in on the consumers’ side, unlike Delhaize or Carre-four, who are sometimes considered too focused on their own benefits. Colruyt has always supported the idea that they are excellent negotiators who offer the best prices. This perception is reinforced by their unadorned outlets and their no-nonsense approach. In other words: Colruyt allows customers to affirm their beliefs, to express their attitude about consumption. It therefore does much more than the price argues.

The chain has launched a new store concept called Cru, which opened its first hotel in an old square farm in Overijse. This one opts for authenticity, something already mentioned…

Indeed. The store essentially sells fresh produce of the highest quality craftsmanship, but without discounts. The products are delivered by a limited number of farmers and Belgian producers. The goal is to transfer the experience of a real market on a fixed site. This trend is part of the aspiration to deindustrialization, more authenticity and passion for products and eating well. A bit of a concept like Whole Foods in the United States, dedicated to authentic and natural foods. It is a proposal that does not only attract the wealthier classes. Generation Y is the most inclined to pay more for healthy, high quality food.

Lidl, which is also among the top 10, also extended offers of fresh produce for some time and even used it as an argument in its last campaign.
The great result achieved by Lidl stands out to me for different reasons. The brand was positioned for quite a while as the champion of prices, but it has recently evolved into a “smart discounter” a store where you can find quality products at the best prices. In other words, it has a socializing role. Thanks to its value, it makes premium experience accessible to the general public. A number of brands currently took this route: Ikea with design, H&M with fashion … Samsung plays this role to some extent in the democratization of the smartphone.