Most brand managers routinely apply the fundamentals of marketing famously documented by the likes of Phil Kotler and Al Ries when it comes to advertising, positioning strategies, logo designing and packaging decisions. But when it comes to sales promotions, it is an entirely different story in practice. Don’t they think that promotions are not integral to branding? Or do they feel that it is demeaning to the brand?
Most sales promotion items are gut decisions, often done on a whim or in response to a sales pitch. In companies like Unilever, the marketing folks may not always have much of a choice: She has to choose from in-house product portfolio most of the time. That is why you find toothpaste sold as a free gift with jams, and soaps with atta. Where is the brand value connection, you wonder? I have heard amused competitors wonder whether their jam and atta are so bad that the consumers need soap or toothpaste to clean up afterwards! I hear that often the premium decision is taken at a higher level in such diversified companies and also sometimes products, which are nearing their shelf life, are given away with sales promotion.
Generally, however, marketers tend to select something that they personally like and that can be customised at reasonable cost. As a result, premiums rarely work well. Few carry their marketing weight, and fewer still integrate well into the overall strategy. To build a brand’s image, drive traffic and boost sales, a premium must meet some essential criteria that convey the right values about a brand. Here are a few thoughts:
Premium needs to build rational involvement:
This spurs customers to think, and helps communicate a fact about the product. For instance, a packing and moving company may distribute attractive canvas tote bags embroidered with its logo, contact information and the tagline. Even this simple concept needs to be communicated, and putting it on a tote bag gets the point across by building rational involvement. A hair dye brand may give away hairbrush as a freebie since this is a requirement for many first-time users in the category. Again, this decision needs to be based on the promo strategy: Is the brand trying to lure new users or to switch competitor users? If it is the latter, the brand will have to work out something else for the promo. Perhaps give a booklet on the myths of using hair dyes since most users fear that hair dyes damage hair and are not healthy for the body.
Premium also needs to build emotional involvement:
Emotional involvement gets you feeling rather than just thinking, and that is where an exciting, intriguing, funny, surprising or beautiful premium comes in. A premium that feels like a nice gift and makes clients feel appreciated, and importantly, taps into the need for emotional involvement. A product’s quality is vital to a good “feel”. If you give your customers a cheap bal-point pen, they will not feel good about the gift. But give them something they would be pleased to receive as a birthday present, and you will evoke warm feelings and raise emotional involvement. A few years ago when audio tapes were still around, a small FMCG company used this emotional angle to reach out to the youth by giving away a music cassette (perceived value of Rs 65) with every deodorant can (priced Rs 120). The promo did wonders to the brand and took them momentarily to No. 3 spot nationally in terms of value sales during the 3-month promo period.
Premium needs to build involvement in the product:
It is not enough to generate good feelings about the premium itself. Those feelings have to extend naturally to the product, or else you have only marketed the premium. Once, I overheard two employees of a major accounting firm discussing a watch that the firm had given to one of them as a gift commemorating her 10 years of service. Both women called the gift attractive and appealing, but they then badmouthed the company, complaining it was hell to work there. Here, the premium did nothing to improve their attitudes toward the product.
Premium should align with the positioning strategy:
The alignment should be on both cognitive and emotional levels, and you should articulate these associations. Imagine selecting a premium for large customers of a personal investment service. Your strategy might be to make sure the premium communicates that the service offers financial advice for long-term investors wanting to build their fortunes (that is the cognitive message) and that it helps people feel more secure about their retirements and their children’s future. (That is the emotional message). But if you decide to offer, say, a briefcase, you have to ask yourself how it will communicate those messages and associate them with the brand. To make the cognitive impact, stock the briefcase with a complimentary copy of the company’s new investment advisory newsletter along with a form to fax back for a free six-month subscription. And if you pick a briefcase that is made of a soft leather with a firm, padded handle and old-fashioned brass fasteners that make a satisfyingly substantial click when you slide them open, the premium will represent the kind of emotional security for which your product stands.
The premium that truly works will cost a bit more, but it actually will have a substantial marketing impact.
(The writer is CEO & MD, CustomerLab Solutions)