Friday 22 July 2011

From Pizza Express to Starbucks: premium brands extend their options

The power of premium brands, eh. The other day, my girlfriend (who drives to work) and I were walking along the pavement when she grabbed my arm, turned towards a thirty-something power-dressing woman clutching a coffee, and muttered to me wistfully, "I wish I got the train to work in the morning, so I could clutch a Starbucks cappuccino on my daily commute."

Then, after a moment, a nervous laugh: "I got so carried away, I forgot I don't even like coffee!"

Transferring a successful restaurant brand into a supermarket staple, without losing brand values, is a tricky balancing act. Pizza Express have negotiated the tightrope well without losing their vision, even branching our into sundries such as dressing.

Rather surprisingly, Pizza Express feature in the "top ten most working class brands" as reported in a recent study by research/strategy agency Britainthinks which looked into the differences between a self-defined middle class and working class.

Interestingly, according to Britainthinks, 71% of Britons consider themselves middle class, although according to the National Readership Survey, 55% of the population would be defined as "middle class" according to the well established standard NRS social grading system.

The study reports some key findings differentiating attitudes between the self-defined middle and working classes, and some key traits of the working class: particularly interesting for me was the fact that the "working class" generally consider themselves "above" another class - the non-working class; and that television habits are distinctly different; the research living up to the cliché, the self-defined working class prefer soaps and reality TV, while the self-defined middle class are busy watching the Antiques Roadshow.

A side question here about methodology: were respondents asked at the beginning of the survey to define their class, and then asked questions subsequently? If so, I would suggest there might be a danger that respondents felt their answers should "conform" socially to their stated class. This might also help explain the clichéd cafetiere which was supposed to be the item that summed up the middle class (contrast a cringeworthy pair of workman's boots - dirty, of course - for the working class).

All the usual C2DE suspects are there - KFC, Iceland, The Sun - but celebrants of rocket and parma ham, Pizza Express sneak into the top ten. Deborah Mattinson of Britainthinks wondered if the launch of supermarket products might have had something with Pizza Express's new-found fame as a working class icon.

Marketing textbooks are littered with examples of brands launching in new markets, or launching new product lines, diluting their brand values, and losing brand equity as a result. Pizza Express took the gamble of launching into a crowded market with their supermarket pizzas and are seemingly as strong as ever; an even tougher challenge is faced by Starbucks, who launched their VIA instant coffee brand in the UK last year.

Where Starbucks lead in the social media space, others follow - their MyStarbucksIdea co-creation concept spawning hundreds of case studies across Slideshare - but, according to Starbucks head honcho Howard Schultz, instant coffee has been in the pipeline for twenty years (although I note that a caramel flavour has been introduced partly following a suggestion via the community).

Conventional wisdom suggested that a premium brand like Starbucks was taking a foolish risk by launching an instant product - I'm not so sure. There's a difference between "premium" and "only for special occasions"; Starbucks isn't the sort of brand they'd like to treat yourself to once a month - it's a brand that wants to be part of your daily routine, as my girlfriend proved. The middle class cafetiere cliché lifestyle without the washing up to go with it. More engagement with the brand (to go with your CD collection). Of course it's easy for me to say, a year after the brand was launched, safe in the knowledge that it's been immensely successful!

But how exactly do you launch a product like this into such a crowded space? The Internet Advertising Bureau have published a little case study video of an ad tracking study undertaken by GfK.

A promotional piece by the IAB it may be, but the research clearly shows an augmentation in reach with online advertising, and demonstrating the success that digital ads have in improving both product awareness (up 19% compared to the control group), and also brand favourability and purchase intent. Product awareness was already quite high amongst the target female audience, and with this group it was purchase intent which was boosted most. The video touched on the differences between portals (for high reach), lifestyle sites (where consumers are really engaged with the site, for a longer period of time) and social media; it was inferred that social media advertising gave the best value for money in terms of driving brand favourability and purchase intent for a low cost. Food for thought.

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