Building lifestyle-brands and the role that the internet can play ~ Sounds + Food 'n' Retail

lifestyle.jpgI'm a little distracted from blogging, I'm sorry. My current activities include a last-minute scrabble-play of my thesis, to make it a more logical read, and applying for jobs. And, not unsurprisingly, I'm having some writer's block as a result.

My post from a few weeks ago, about my anonymous friend, who's running a lifestyle-orientated business in a developing market, certainly opened my eyes to this area of the market.

Today, I'll talk about another company, Milner (cheese). There was an interesting article in Dutch marketing-magazine, Tijdschrift voor Marketing, on Milner's positioning-strategy from mass to lifestyle, which I'll discuss now, and which also lead to a post on Tech IT Easy about social networks as a strategic marketing-tool.

Milner = FMCG
Milner is considered a FMCG-company, that's fast-moving consumer goods, and falls into segment 2 on my food-industry map from last week. As I observed there also, this segment is usually the driver, if not always the conductor, of consumer-marketing.

The company is currently strongly present within the health-segment for cheese in the Netherlands, with over 50% market-share. This segment is also seeing between 60-70% growth from cheeses in general.

One thing that is clear for FMCGs is that margins are generally low (generally under 10%), competition is high, and as I made clear in my post on Tech IT Easy, features can easily be emulated by other companies.

Generating complex competitive advantages
The differentiating factor is the relationship the brand has with the consumer and vice versa. A brand that is designed for a lifestyle will generally have a much higher emotional value to consumers, than one based on features like cost or taste alone.

The logical conclusion is that those companies with deeper relationships to their customers will enjoy a higher competitive advantages over companies that do not focus on these relationships. And the complex nature of relationship is one that is difficult to emulate, hence giving companies a sustainable lead in the market.

But how to do that?

Paradigm-shift towards lifestyle
A lifestyle-product can be defined as a product that is built around the context of a certain group of consumers, resulting in an emotional value, as well as one based on features. This also has implications on the product-marketing strategies that a lifestyle-orientated company undertakes. As you may remember, the company my friend operates, still spends a considerable amount on marketing-activities after 2 years.

The theory that Milner cheese employs goes as follows. A great pain for food is health—which is really just an after-effect of the lifestyle people are leading. People are constantly looking for answers, so-called lifehacks, or more diet and exercise-related advice, all to regain power over their lives, minds, and bodies.

The key-issue is how to reach these customers. By addressing the pain that customers are feeling, by helping them live a healthier life, Milner is engaging in a relationship with its customers.

How does it do that?

How the internet fits into this
Traditionally, internet-marketing expenditure for FMCGs is quite low, around the 2% mark. Milner's budget currently assigns 10-15% to internet-marketing. It is able to do so, because it is already relatively well-positioned in terms of its brand and communication, so it feels more confident to experiment with new mediums.

As mentioned in my post on the food-industry-map, marketing to consumers is the responsibility of the consumer-goods-segment, however the degree that this activity is outsourced, depends on the amount of resources available to the company and the level of complexity of the activity. Arguably, both the novelty of internet-marketing to Milner, and particularly engaging into a relationship with consumers, make marketing fairly complex affair and the company did this via a third party, Advance, an interactive marking agency.

Advance set up a site called Je Beste Dag (translated: your best day), which advises visitors on how to have better days, based on a questionnaire they fill out. The first stage of the strategy is to build up a large mass of consumers that give out their email-adresses for further advice. Currently, there's 1 million people connected to the site. The second stage is to deepen that relationship, by encouraging return-visits and ultimately start a conversation.

It's both a time- and cost-consuming process for Milner. Essentially it is the sole sponsor of the campaign and has been running this campaign for nearly half a year no, without seeing any types of new product-developments yet. It is however working together with (other) marketing-agencies to develop its brands, which includes the design, positioning, quality, etc., as well as new product developments.

The interesting part of the whole process is that the majority of visitors already knows Milner, before even visiting the site. In other words, this clearly is an interactive marketing-campaign, which deepens the relationship between company and customer beyond the brand. Also, while the segment that Milner markets to via traditional channels, usually falls in the age-groups of 40-60, the age-group it is reaching now falls between 25-45, 60% of which don't yet have children.

Final thoughts
It is uncertain what exactly will come out of this. Milner is treating their internet-campaign as just another marketing-channel and holding Advance to targets it must meet. Which also allows them to measure its effectiveness. However, with a million young people connected to the site, and the communication-channels open, my gut tells me that they will be pretty happy.

The conversational aspects that the internet provides are certainly no surprise to the regular internet-user, however many web-companies are finding it difficult to generate sustainable business-models (e.g. Twitter / Facebook). As I made clear in my post on Tech IT Easy, I think these kinds of marketing-campaigns open up some possibilities there.


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