We live in a changing and uncertain world. We live in a branded world. We live in a world where brands are continuously seeking to engage better with people whose needs and desires, in turn, keep on changing. We live in a world where brands need at least to respond to changes -- small as well as big -- in order to stay meaningfully relevant. Brands and Changes can therefore not be seen in isolation; they are inseparately connected. But should it be that Changes dictate Brands? Are there Brands that can turn the table, Change the Game and lead the way?
To understand more about the different strategies incumbent brands pursue in leading a Game Change, this year’s CMO Conference brought together marketing thought leaders, from a wide range of famous brands: Xavier Burgat (Airbus), Tim Sayler (Audemars-Piquet), Javier Sanchez Lamelas (Coca Cola), Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard (Davidoff), Hubertus Devroye (Dow), Pete Blackshaw (Nestle), Stefan Krucker (Mars), Malcolm Hett (Mondelez), Tim Alexander (Swisscom), and Michael Arnold (WWF). Although they are from many different industries, they share the strong belief that the connection between Brands and Changes goes beyond followership. We have grouped the strategies of their unique cases according to the main method their brands use in pro-actively shaping the future. They decided to change their Game:
The first Game Change strategy to favorably influence the odds of winning is to redefine the rules. The rules to win in an industry are set by the expectations of the stakeholders involved. Luxury watch brand Audemars-Piquet and cigars brand Davidoff revitalized their brands by reshaping the rules of luxury: as the consumer purchase of a prestigious brand should no longer be about showing (off), proclaiming a status, presenting logos and monograms, and just looking expensive. Instead, both brands advocate the idea that the acquisition of modern luxury brands has come to stand for a restless pursuit by a connoisseur who really knows and appreciates the effort it takes to discover and understand the true craftsmanship of the brand. By setting higher standards, Audemars-Piguet and Davidoff and their respective repositionings emphasised their unique origins: the rustique of Le Brasus in Switzerland, and the notion of having precious “Time Beautifully Filled”. Both Swiss brands have forged a stronger alliance with art and moved away from more popularized sports sponsorships.
Like any other marketing organization, media fragmentation has made it a struggle for Coke to capture consumers’ attention. Traditional paid media channels made the world’s most valuable beverage brand rethink how to communicate and engage its consumers. In Mexico, its greatest success in this respect was setting up its owned-media channels: Coke.fm, also giving people free wifi-access to enjoy the channel.
The second way to increase the chance of winning and lead the way in periods of change is acquiring and improving capabilities and skills to win. Nestle’s Digital transformation is an excellent example of how a large multi-national is pursuing a digital ambition and developing new capabilities: through a Digital Acceleration Team (DAT) as a center of excellence made up of marketing executives from around the world who participate in an 8-month training program in digital and social media. The program puts them through three disciplines of Listening, engaging and inspiring & transformation – and after the DAT induction period, the participants return to their own local markets to further implement and diffuse the digital capabilities. Symbolic is how Social ROI was made visible in the Social Media Room on large Screens at the Vevey Headquarters.
The second largest chemical producer, DOW, is a B2B player who is a very science-based organization where originally marketing was viewed as “tools and training.” In the last 2 years, the company pursued a renewed efforts in building modern marketing capabilities – networking with customers and markets, through very advanced multi-touch campaigns but also with the help of more basic tactics like an intergrated sample followup management system.
Europe’s largest airplane manufacturer, Airbus, gave examples of how to assist customers in acquiring new capabilities and routines to innovate – particular in improving the comfort, enjoyment and personalizating of the in-flight experience: cabin crew with Google glasses to identify frequent flyers, lobbying for a minimum width for the seat, and designing the cabin experience.
Increasing the stakes
A third strategy of Game Change is to increase what’s really at stake. These game changers put their brands in action to ignite positive Social Change and promote the Sustainability movement. The international NGO, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) pointed out the urgency and impartance of the sustainability challenge.If nothing changes and we continue as we are doing now “by 2030 we will need two plants to support the way we are living.”And it is also important: with natural resources becoming more scarce, supply chains are threatened and shortages lead to surging costs and hurting profits. 87% of global consumers believe that business needs to place at least equal weight on society’s interests as on business’ interests. Less than a third believe business is performing well in addressing societal issues (source: Edelman Good Purpose study 2012). The key question for brand wanting to raise the stakes is: “how can sustainability be integrated in brand purpose and brand communications.”
Cat food brand Whiskas of family-owned Mars joined forces with WWF in order to increase the stakes by helping to protect wild tigers, their habitat and future. Whiskas shared the customer insight that cats whatever their size are the same in instinct and behavior. Therefore, Whiskas buyers care about tigers as the biggest of all cat species. It's also one of the most threatened. In February 2013, Whiskas launched their 'Big Cat Little Cat' campaign in the UK. Other countries like Switzerland followed this year.
With the new CSR campaign “Land of Possibilities”, Swisscom envisages a Switzerland where future generations will be able to enjoy the same chances and opportunities as they do today. The responsibility Switzerland’s main telecom provider feels is focused on six themes: climate protection, flexible working, media expertise, attractive employer, fair supply chain, and a networked Switzerland.
Mondelez Coffee had a range of motivations to invest in sustainability: from basically securing the quality and quantity of supply (of coffee), contributing to the reputation and influence of the corporate brand, to finally building trust and responsibility for its individual brands. And last but not least, sustainability can offer an engaging story to tell. For example, UK brand Kenco began first modestly by offering some sustainable coffee niche products in 2005. Three years later it relaunched a full range mass-market offerings. Now it enagages consumers with the brand’s message on “Coffee-versus-Gangs.” to provide youngsters with a brighter future than a life of drugs crime has to offer. Their aim is to create 1 million coffee entrepreneurs by 2020.
Some final thoughts
Thanks to the wide variety in cases presented at the 7th CMO Conference, we discovered a Game Change Strategy Typology. The three Game Change strategies identified do by no means imply that the strategies are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they are best consistently implemented in conjunction with each other. Increasing the stakes may require to change the rules and expectations of some stakeholders and customer groups. New rules may have consequences for the acquisition and development of new capabilities.
Industry disruptions are often caused by newcomers, seldom by incumbents. Existing players with well-established brands have a direct benefit of preserving the status quo. For an incumbent brand to become a Game Changer, there are additional costs and risks involved to lead the way of change: overcoming myopia, solving routine rigidity, and daring to take more risks.
 For a good overview, Peter Fisk’s next book "Gamechangers: Are you ready to change the world?" includes 120 case studies of newcomers entering the stage.