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Comment: Let's spread brand love says Mike Houghton of CJ Retail Solutions

Since the festive break media headlines have been filled with UK retailers announcing positive Christmas trading statements. Tesco, Debenhams – even Morrisons, which delivered a ‘festive surprise’ with improved sales results (12 January 2016), the result, according to Morrisons chief executive David Potts, of 'improving the shopping trip for customers'.

But what of our product brands? How did they fare this Christmas? While the industry looks forward to January’s retailer announcements with a mix of eagerness and trepidation, there is no comparative seasonal marker of brand success.

There is, however, is a series of annual ranking surveys, such as Interbrand’s Best Global Brand ranking and YouGov’s annual BrandIndex ranking. Some may be unaware of the latter ranking, also known as the Top Buzz rankings. It gives brands a Buzz score from asking respondents, “If you've heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?” The Buzz Rankings chart shows the brands with the highest average Buzz scores between January and December 2015.

Who do you think came top in 2015? Apple, Google, Amazon? Not even close – Apple only just made the Top Ten. In fact, Aldi ranked number one, closely followed by another discount retailer, Lidl, in the number two spot.

We all know that there was a great deal of positive (if you’re a shopper) talk during 2015 about the impact both retailers were having on UK grocery retailing. John Lewis also made the list. As well as being famed for its great customer service, the buzz around its annual festive campaign (it now ‘owns’ the Christmas advert discussion) must also have helped its cause.

But for us, the YouGov rankings are interesting for two reasons.  Firstly, retailers once again lead the way, edging out the brands. Yorkshire Tea is one of the only FMCG brands to make it into the Top Ten – in grocery, health and beauty, consumer electronics, automotive sectors, and beyond.

This is in stark contrast to results in China, where Dove and Chanel came out on top. In Germany Nivea and Haribo scored highly. The results from the YouGov rankings demonstrate that brands have much to do if they are to penetrate the psyche, as well as the pockets, of UK shoppers.

Secondly, the research shows that retail marketing – the point at which shoppers have the greatest opportunities to physically connect with brands – appears to have no influence on the rankings.

Although Christmas is only just behind us, attention is already focused on the first big seasonal in-store event of 2016 – Valentine’s Day. While it’s easy to default to clichés about the need to ‘bring a sense of romance’ into store, we think now is the perfect time for marketers to turn cupid’s arrow on their own brands. To be more specific, it’s time to lavish love and attention on them by improving the effectiveness of in-store activations.

The downward spiral of price competition has seen brand loyalty and engagement amongst shoppers fall, leading to increased brand promiscuity. With the month of love coming up, isn’t it time that brands began to invest more in finding new ways to increase the effectiveness of brand execution, to drive greater engagement with shoppers, create a bigger buzz, spread the love and, ultimately, drive increased sales?

As POPAI members we are often in awe at some of the imaginative activations presented by trend and insights agency GDR Creative Intelligence. These include Philips’ clever marketing stunt to promote its electric fryer that used air to fry food, by stocking shelves with a fake product called Air-Oil – an empty bottle of air.

Such examples demonstrate a truly imaginative approach to in-store engagement. But they remain too isolated. To make them more familiar demands that retailers be braver and allow brands more freedom. It also requires specialist expertise to plan and deliver such campaigns with genuine scalability and impact – across tens or even hundreds of stores, not just a handful.

So perhaps it is time for the industry to begin conducting its own in-store engagement rankings, underlining the importance of investment in creative P-O-P advertising to generate meaningful brand relationships with shoppers. We for one would certainly love to help our clients capture the top spot. 

CJ Retail Solutions will be exhibiting on stand F40 at Retail Design Expo 2016