20 December 2011
It might have been another tempestuous year for world politics and the global economy, but there were some fantastic brands doing great work in 2011. Here’s a look back at some of the highlights, and with particular reference to UK activity.
The G Word
It would be difficult to talk about some of the year’s biggest brand activities without mentioning Google. Google’s push to become a legitimate Facebook competitor went into overdrive this year, and whilst some of its activities – like launching its first social network, Google+ - have been quite subjective, they mark a vital shift in positioning the Google brand to own far more than just search. What’s more, 2012 will be an even more interesting year as G+ matures and evolves and Google launches a raft of other new products, like Google Wallet, which is already changing the way Android users shop online.
You Sound Like You’re From London
Frozen yoghurt brand Pinkberry said Hello London when it finally reached British shores with its very own store at Selfridges. Pinkberry wasn’t the only new American brand the Brits said hi to, with online newspaper brand The Huffington Post setting up shop in the UK.
Huffington Post UK extended its offering beyond the technology and culture publishing we’re accustomed too, with new departments like celebrity and entertainment, making HuffPost a bigger news and lifestyle destination, extending its appeal to the mass market.
Yo Yo! We’re Farming in Harmony
Organic yoghurt brand Yeo Valley launched a follow-up to last year's superb farming rap with an all-new music video based around their brand proposition ‘Live in Harmony’. Launching during the commercial breaks for X Factor, Yeo Valley revealed their very own boy band - who to be completely honest, wiped the floor of any of this year’s X Factor contestants. Great brand-building advertising like this, along with good quality products have helped to turn Yeo Valley into an FMCG success story of 2011. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from the surprisingly irreverent dairy brand, and with sales up at least 15% year on year, it’s been worth it.
Whilst on the subject of farming, The National Trust decided to bring Farmville to life with MyFarm, an online community of farmers built around one of their trust properties. For just £30, MyFarm offers people the chance to become real farmers on one of its properties in Cambridgeshire – helping to make decisions about livestock, feed, what to farm and the general running of the estate, as well as being able to visit in person.
Against a backdrop of the highest youth employment for a generation, Starbucks announced 200 new stores in the UK - most of which will be drive-thru outlets.
Good news for supercar brand Mclaren who returned with their first new model since 1994, the MP4-12C. Whilst it might sound like a microwave, this new supercar is anything but a domestic appliance. Taking on the might of the supercar world is no small feat, nor is its advanced Surrey factory or endorsement from Formula One racing driver Lewis Hamilton. 2012 looks set for another new Mclaren model, the MP4-27, which if the MP4-12C is anything to go by, won’t be a blender or a juicer either.
2 December 2011
By blanketing London’s streets with American brands, are marketers forgetting the importance of brand experience, not just product availability?
London is one of the most culturally diverse cities on Earth with 1 in 3 residents born overseas. This makes it a great melting pot for global brands, so it’s no surprise that American companies have made some of the biggest impacts on this side of the pond.
It began in the 1970s and 1980s with McDonalds, Burger King and Gap, and in the 1990s with the introduction of Starbucks. But it was only in late 1990s and early 2000s that the UK’s love affair with American brands truly began, and beyond that of hamburgers or jeans. Today American brands are a huge part of the British retail landscape, with the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Costco, Hollister, Whole Foods Market, American Apparel, Chipotle Grill, Forever 21, Aldo, all making the UK their European base.
It’s interesting to see how some of America’s premium fashion and retail brands have made it big in the UK, whilst brands from other sectors fail, with American car brands and tech brands leaving Brits unimpressed and uninterested.
You only have to walk past London’s huge Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store on Savile Row to witness the huge appetite consumers have for the preppy clothing giant. But today, trips to Abercrombie & Fitch in London are avoided; the hoards of teenage girls from the Home Counties and the never ending supply of tourists makes it one of London’s busiest retail environments, which would be tolerable if it weren’t for the fact you’re purchasing an item you can buy in a quiet suburban American mall for half the price.
The ‘supply and demand’ Abercrombie has created by expecting customers to line up outside it’s A&F and Hollister stores has for some, had quite the negative impact on the brand – huge demand means huge crowds which therefore impacts on the quality of the experience, so whilst Abercrombie might have gone to extraordinary efforts to ensure the look, the smell, the image, the furniture, the visual merchandising (staff) is what you’d expect of any of its US stores, they didn’t bank on the tourist scrum and unpleasant experience of it just being too crowded.
It’s not just Abercrombie that’s falling short on experience. Doughnut brand, Krispy Kreme, originally a novelty in the UK, could only be purchased in Harrods when it first arrived. Now, thanks to a POS partnership with Tesco, every supermarket and garage forecourt has a Krispy Kreme POS and nobody’s convinced those donuts are fresh or appealing.
Starbucks has always prided itself on putting experience first, Howard Schultz, CEO once said,
"We believed very early on that people's interaction with the Starbucks experience was going to determine the success of the brand."
Starbucks is certainly one of America’s global success stories and the UK is no exception, but for all their talk of consistent experience, Starbucks is a prime example of an American brand that is not born equal. The sheer size of its operations makes consistent experiences and levels of service extremely difficult. Starbucks service in the UK falls short on its US counterparts – from the choice and freshness of products to the little touches from American Starbucks baristas – like asking for your name when ordering – that simply make it a much better experience over there.
Starbucks' recent announcement that it plans to open 200 more branches in the UK - predominantly drive-thru - will be an interesting move, providing an experience (drive-thru coffee) that has previously been overlooked by most coffee brands in the UK.
Of course, not all American brands have ventured across the pond, and there are some that could offer something rather different to UK consumers. For example, quirky US grocery chain, Trader Joes, offers cheap yet good quality products in a fun store environment that always manages to feel independent where so many American chain box stores don’t. And whichever city you’re in, you can be sure Trader Joes reflects the neighbourhood in some way, shape or form. Trader Joes would certainly make an interesting alternative to the ambiguous UK supermarket scene where you either shop cheap (Asda, Tesco) or shop quality (Waitrose, M&S) – Trader Joes could offer us both.
Starbucks’ service and Abercrombie’s overcrowding aside, there are some seriously promising examples of American brands getting product, service and experience just right for the UK market. Texas-based organic grocery brand Whole Foods Market has tapped into the burgeoning American expat community in leafy parts of west and north London, plus they’ve spread east into Stoke Newington in London’s up and coming East End - an area that is arguably the UK’s answer to Brooklyn. At the other end of the spectrum, wholesale brand, Costco, has struck a cord with British consumers and businesses looking to save money by buying in bulk – something the giant American firm knows all about. And with further expansion from the likes of youth fashion brands like Forever 21 and Aldo, it really would seem Britain’s love affair with American brands is far from over.