News Exchange: Brands take a stand
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News Exchange: Brands take a stand

A weekly update on the latest headlines and highlights from the marketing sector

Selfridges shakes up seasonal retail

Bricks-and-mortar retailers might not be able to beat online competition on price or convenience, but Selfridges has shown that people can still be persuaded away from their computer screens and onto the high street.

In defiance of a tough market that has seen the likes of Marks & Spencer report disappointing results for the crucial pre-Christmas period, Selfridges posted an 8% leap in sales across its stores and online offering. For its flagship Oxford Street branch, the high-end department store group reported a 10% hike in sales. Managing director Anne Pitcher was “delighted” with the numbers, adding: “Our Selfridges Rocks Christmas theme and entertainment really resonated with our customers”.

The Selfridges Rocks campaign included in-store entertainment (cabaret acts, pop-up choirs, Santa visits and confetti cannons) and exclusive product launches. Key to its apparent success, says CIM marketing director Gemma Butler, was an understanding of the target market – and timing. “The festive period is the perfect opportunity to get people involved in more than just shopping, to get them buying into the festive experience.” With events scheduled in-store every day, for CIM’s Ally Lee-Boone, “It really feels like Selfridges has taken event shopping one step further than anyone else.”

Although this kind of innovation has potential applications across retail segments, Butler warns that, “Cutting and pasting this method into a different model won’t necessarily work. You need to know who your audience are and what they expect: is it experiential journeys through the store? Or would they prefer a greater emphasis on the synergy between online and in-store?”

At the very least, says Butler, Selfridges has proved one thing: “Bricks-and-mortar retail isn’t dead. It just needs to adapt to the changing environment. If people are given a good enough reason, they would rather leave their house than sit at home in front of a computer screen.”

Ryanair flies in the face of another storm

For six straight years, Ryanair has been named the UK’s worst airline, but still it increases its passenger numbers. How does it do that?

In a Which? survey of 8,000 airline passengers, Ryanair ranked bottom of 19 companies flying out of the UK. The Irish low-cost carrier has now come last in each of the six most recent Which? annual surveys. Over the same period, however, it says it has grown passenger numbers by 80% and made Ryanair.com the most visited airline website in the world.

“Ryanair has a unique market positioning, and as such few budget airlines have managed to capture audience attention in the same way. They have never claimed to be anything but cheap, which, from the rise of discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl, we can see becoming an increasingly crucial differentiator for customers,” says CIM marketing director Gemma Butler. “That’s why people will always fly with them, no matter the pain they go through.”

All the way back in 2007, longstanding Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary was less delicate: “The more we can sound nasty, petty and cheap, the more we can reinforce in people’s minds that we are extremely bloody cheap and they will choose to fly with us.”

Since then, O’Leary has launched a five-year plan, ‘Always getting better’, with the aim of improving customer experience. Various fees and penalties have been reduced, cabin interiors are easier on the eye and all seats are now allocated. “In the background, they have made quite a few changes,” says Butler, “and they are trying to be better, but they also know that, ultimately, people still go with them for their prices, which it seems is their most important differentiator.”

As a result, the core strategy remains consistent: keep fares low. For Butler, “You can’t fault Ryanair for sticking to what it set out to do. It has maintained its position by owning conversations like this and using them to its advantage.” And other organisations can learn from that, suggests CIM’s Ally Lee-Boone: “Don’t be afraid to own your core brand position, even when it goes into a negative space.”

HSBC reaches out to a new audience

In its latest campaign, HSBC appears to jump into the heated waters of the Brexit debate, but its strategy might not be as risky as it first appears.

Backing up last year’s Richard Ayoade-starring TV ad with some new prose-heavy billboards, the ‘We are not an island’ strapline of the campaign reminds consumers that many of the best things in UK life have global roots, including our entertainment, our furniture, our cuisine and our Premier League footballers.

There have been some strong responses on social media to the tagline of ‘Together we thrive’, but HSBC insisted to the BBC that it is “not about Brexit”. In fact, says CIM marketing director Gemma Butler, the campaign appears to be “more creative than controversial”.

At a time when the banking sector at large is grappling with a trust issue, HSBC is trying to create emotional connections with consumers, says Butler. “They’re trying to be more human. They’re saying, ‘We’re here to look after you.’ The campaign is delivering a key message that resonates particularly with a new, younger audience – a strategy that many businesses are employing. That’s not particularly risky.”

She sets HSBC apart from multinationals such as Nike, which embraced conflict marketing when it chose activist American footballer Colin Kaepernick to front last year’s anniversary ‘Just do it’ campaign. “Despite the initial backlash, Nike’s shares reached a record high following the endorsement, and their online revenue rose 31%,” says Butler, “There have been reverberations around HSBC’s authority to deliver a message like this, but perhaps criticism hasn’t extended much beyond this because they haven’t put a stake in the ground. They didn’t have a single, clear anti-Brexit message; rather, they’re saying we’re all together in this, which is a unifying statement, not a divisive one.”

It remains to be seen how HSBC follows up its latest billboard campaign but, amid the uncertainty of Brexit and longstanding consumer anxiety around personal financial security, the attempt to build bridges – not walls – could be a winning strategy.

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Tobias Gourlay Journalist
Gemma Butler Director of Marketing CIM
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