Month: January 2015

Swing and a miss- Golf’s branding problem

What does the future of golf look like to you? At first glance you’d be hard pushed to argue that the future was anything but bright. It is played by 55 million people globally. It generates over $300bn revenue annually. It is quickly being adopted in key emerging markets, capitalising on growth in the Middle East and South Asia. Its key brand advocates are international superstars, battling it out across the globe to win multi-million pound cash prizes live in front of thousands of adoring brand advocates. Sports brands such as Nike and Adidas compete to kit out the world’s best, and luxury brands such as BMW, TAG Heuer and HSBC clamour to endorse and sponsor tournaments around the world.

But there is trouble looming. It could be argued that the upfront costs of time and money attached to learning the sport and hence being able to appreciate it (!) is a cost not worth paying. It could also be argued that the inherent structure of the game, taking 3-4 hours on a blustery Sunday afternoon could be deemed too long in a world of hyper-connectivity and short attention spans. It could even be argued that the rigidity of the golf rules and “etiquette” is alienating to this rebellious, stick-it-to-the-man younger generation.

Although concerns surrounding the game’s structural and financial restrictions are valid, I actually thing there is a greater intangible challenge to face. Golf has a branding problem which is a more potent threat to its long-term prosperity.

This seems like a strange admission for me to make. Look at Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, I hear you cry! Look at their adoring fans! Look at their sponsorship deals! Look how much money the golf brand generates! Every sport has their flagship athletes who elevate the sport itself, becoming stars in their own right. Yet despite the success of young professional golfers such as Rory Mcllroy and Tiger Woods and their associated sponsorship deals, amateur players appear to be switching off.

So why aren’t more people taking up golf? How can a sport which attracts so much sponsorship money and commands such an arm-chair following at the professional end of the industry struggle to recruit amateur players? There appears to be a clear divorce between perceptions at the professional end of the industry, and the “Sunday-hackers” brigade. The professional end is shiny, young, diverse (but still rich). It is part-celebrity, part-sport. Yet the amateur golfer, and courses frequented by amateurs, remain steeped in tradition and prestige. Although this is “how it has always been” it isn’t exactly inclusive and welcoming.

Let me ask you a question: What is the typical person that springs to mind when I say the word golfer?

If you’re thinking of anyone other than an old, rich white man then I applaud you for your open-mindedness but I would argue that this is the archetype that most people associate with amateur golfers. I would hazard a guess that most people think of country clubs, back-slapping business deals and “old-fashioned” attitudes rather than the recent and admiral schemes to get players who are younger and from more diverse backgrounds into the sport. Although the actuality of this perception is probably less true now than they once were, the fact that most non-golfers would see golf in this manner is itself a problem. And this cuts right to the heart of my issue with the golf brand: the brand is seen at large as one not for the masses, a brand for a very specific type of person. And the fact is that this type of person is aging and *cough* dying. And so the brand must evolve and address these perception issues to recruit new consumers. Although breaking the financial and logistical barriers is crucial, repositioning the golf brand to be more inclusive is equally important. You can bring a horse to water, so to speak, but you can’t make it drink (or play golf, for that matter.)

The alternative of course is to let golf die. Why should new anyone bother to pick up a club and play this old man’s game called golf? Although this attitude could be popular, especially with golf’s traditional associations with a wealthy elite, the thing is, I love golf and think that everyone should play it. I think it’s valuable not just because it’s fun, but crucially because it teaches you unique life skills. It teaches you the value of etiquette, sportsmanship and addressing the challenge of combining brute force and laser-like precision. It’s analytical, mentally stimulating and physically challenging. There is rarely a sport where a two players with a 30 year age gap can compete toe to toe too. Further, in a world where you’re constantly connect to technology, taking the time to spend four hours on a golf course is probably a break most people would welcome. The logistical issues aside, the challenge of the industry is to re-brand for the modern consumer- making the golf affordable, welcoming and enticing to all. And this isn’t just a pipe-dream: facilities such as TopGolf are completely revolutionising traditional perceptions of the game, turning the driving range into a sociable hub for twentysomethings. Here’s hoping it will continue to go from strength to strength.

Someone once said that golf is a good walk ruined- I just hope that by the time I’m a miserable old golfer, I’ll have enough brand advocates around me looking to ruin their walk.



Cadbury’s Creme Egg- Why Firms Must Embrace Irrationality


Have you tasted a Cadbury’s Creme egg recently? I have. And I can’t taste the difference between the one I ate this year, and the one I ate last year. Now maybe my taste buds aren’t refined enough to pick up the subtle changes in the taste profile (despite being a chocolate aficionado as I revealed in a previous post about Hotel Chocolat). And as any good market researcher would tell you, a qualitative study of 1 (i.e. just me) is rarely robust enough to make broad generalisations. Nevertheless the media circus surrounding Kraft’s revelation that the chocolate shell of a Cadbury’s Creme Egg is now no longer Dairy Milk chocolate but “standard cocoa mix chocolate” is bewildering to me, at least from a taste perspective. To prove how different the new Creme Egg chocolate tastes, the BBC broadcast a taste test with renowned chocolatier Paul Young to demonstrate just how dastardly Kraft had been.  Yet, when you get down to it, I’d suspect that, like me, few non-professional chocolate eaters would be able to taste the difference.

So why all the fuss? Why are consumers reacting so negatively to the recipe change despite my theory that they can’t really taste the difference anyway? This story draws distinct parallels with the infamous New Coke story, in which Coke reformulated their recipe in order to compete with the supposedly “better-tasting” Pepsi, which in fact alienated their core consumers who thought it sacrilegious to change the original Coke formula. This classic marketing story (which if you don’t know can be found here) has set a premise in marketing that the recipes of well-established products with significant brand equity should not be tinkered with, for fear of a mass consumer revolt. From a marketer’s perspective, this leaves you with little room to manoeuvre if your input costs go up and squeeze your margins, or the competitor landscape changes to make your product’s ingredients less popular. The difficulty is that when the media gets wind of a change, it tends to generate a consumer backlash even if consumers themselves were otherwise unaware. Somewhat amusingly, this can take some time (case in point: Heinz reduced the salt in its HP Sauce in November 2010, but it wasn’t until September 2011 that anyone noticed.)

Why did Coke’s consumers react so negatively to New Coke, a supposedly better-tasting drink? And why, also, are consumers reacting just as negatively to the Creme Egg chocolate change? To solve this mystery, let’s look at the situation from two perspectives: through the eyes of  Creme Egg manufacturer Kraft, and through the eyes of Creme Egg consumers.

From Kraft’s perspective, changing the chocolate recipe to presumably a cheaper quality chocolate than Dairy Milk lowers their costs. In order to quell any fears about potential taste changes, I imagine Kraft ran focus groups, testing the new and old recipes, and concluded that, like me, consumers can’t really tell the difference between the two and so wouldn’t mind if they changed the recipe. What a result! We can use cheaper chocolate and consumers will still buy it! (Cue much back-slapping, job-well-done-ing and a celebratory drink down the pub).

From a consumer’s perspective, the Cadbury’s Creme Egg is a treat. It is a chocolate with a strong ritual attached to it (Do you eat it whole? Do you bite the top off and lick the filling?). It is a chocolate with deeply nostalgic memories attached to childhood and the run up to Easter. It is a chocolate than, unlike most, can only be bought in the first four months of the year. This limited time sale period generates a heightened sense of anticipation and satisfaction when you eat the first Creme Egg of the season. And now you’re telling me you’ve changed the chocolate of my favourite treat. The treat I always look forward to every January and have looked forward to every January since I was a child, and OH WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LEAVE IT ALONE.

Consumers can have strong emotional attachments to iconic brands. It doesn’t really matter that they can’t taste the changes made to the chocolate, it’s the fact they know there is a difference. For them the product is now not the same as the one they have grown to love. This may demonstrate a certain irrationality, but from a brand perspective this is understandable and should not be underestimated. A brand at its essence is a promise to deliver a certain product or service, and a good brand consistently delivers on that promise time after time. Changing the chocolate breaks the consistency, weakening the promise and making consumers feel short-changed. Therefore by considering consumers as purely rational beings, rather than appreciating the irrationality arising as a result of consumer’s emotional attachment to the brand, Kraft have missed the point, explaining the current consumer backlash they are facing.

Now it’s all well and good saying that Kraft must revert back to the original recipe, maintain the status quo and not rock the boat with cost-saving recipe tweaks, and I would NOT recommend that Kraft engage in cloak-and-dagger changes without informing their customers that they are doing it. However, I appreciate that in a world of input cost fluctuations and such, it is not always feasible for Kraft and other corporations to stick to the status quo.

So what would I recommend to Kraft? Ironically, if in a few weeks they reverted back to the original Creme Egg (with the associated fanfare) they may well see a surge in demand by “giving the people what they want”. I reckon they’ll win a lot more customers in the long run by not messing around with the chocolate recipe and consider other cost-reduction strategies. Embracing the irrationality of consumers and how they react to your brand is crucial in informing a successful consumer-centric strategy.

But reducing the number of Creme Eggs in a pack from 6 to 5? A bloody disgrace.


Like what I’ve written? Disagree entirely? Good, bad and ugly, leave a comment in the comment section below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.




Along with my colleagues at The Value Engineers we have put together a list of 15 Food and Drink Trends we think will happen in 2015! Over the next few days I will be publishing three blog posts describing all these trends, from the realistic to the outlandish! Do you think we have got it right? Are there any we have missed?  And so for our final instalment…

11. Click here for your Lunch

2015 will see food and drinks brands using digital channels in increasingly innovative ways to deliver better service and reduce their overheads. Starbucks is trialling a “click and collect” service for coffee through their app. In Australia McDonald’s offer a fully customisable burger you can order through a tablet- and collect in real time! Some restaurants will even begin letting guests order and pay for meals through their phone to free up waiter time!


12. Gamey Meats hit the Menu

With consumers becoming increasingly adventurous in what they eat, expect meats outside to standard chicken, lamb, beef and pork to gain a following. Nutritious, delicious and exciting, expect venison, partridge and other game birds to hit mainstream menus: no longer just for the top table!


13. Bubble Tea Explosion

This trend has been bubbling under the surface for a while, but bubble tea looks set to explode into the mainstream. Tapioca balls at the bottom of iced tea? It shouldn’t work but it does, and already has a loyal following in the UK thanks to the likes of Bubbleology and Cuppacha. Expect a high street chain in the UK to begin offering the drink- in Germany McDonald’s began trialling bubble tea in 2012!


14. Seaweed Salad

Super sustainable and with enormous supplies available just off-shore of the British isles it’s a wonder seaweed hasn’t found its way on to our plates sooner. This is one to watch over a longer period of time, but seaweed is already being experimented with in different formats from trendy London restaurants to wholefood and health stores.


15. Lunch on Bugs?

Cricket anyone? Bugs may be pushing our predictions, but with the global price of meat rising and health conscious western diets slowly shifting away from the meat and two veg formula consumers are looking for new sources of protein. Soya has had it’s hey-day, and the cost and environmental impact of land-intensive farming is fuelling a shift towards alternate sources of proteins – where better to look than the insect world?


To read about our first 5 Food and Drink trends for 2015 click here. To read about our second 5 Food and Drink trends for 2015 click here.





Along with my colleagues at The Value Engineers we have put together a list of 15 Food and Drink Trends we think will happen in 2015! Over the next few days I will be publishing three blog posts describing all these trends, from the realistic to the outlandish! Do you think we have got it right? Are there any we have missed? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section! And so for our second instalment…

6. Gluten Free Sandwiches

Gluten Free has enjoyed considerable growth as a category, fuelled by rising allergen and free-from trends. The logical next step is for gluten-free products which put content claims front and centre to give way to new brands contesting for market share and shelf space within this category. We expect 2015 to be a good year for new brands launching into the gluten free space with something more than “gluten free” as a reason to believe.


7. Coconut Oil Cooking

Coconut water has enjoyed enormous success in both UK and US markets in recent years, and it now looks like coconut oil will be riding that wave. Already popular among an early adopting crowd for its concentration of fatty acids and perceived health benefits it is replacing ordinary cooking oils in a number of households.


8. Go Matcha

Matcha is Green Tea in powder form, already found in soba noodles, green tea flavoured ice creams and other oriental products. We’re keeping our eyes on the taste pioneers who are finding interesting new ways to use matcha in various dishes – cold tea beverages have already made their way into the market, but there is potential to extend into desserts, hot drinks, breakfast occasions and more.


9. Say Cheers with Ginger Beer!

With adult soft drinks growing considerably, and the war on sugar looming over the category at large, expect interesting developments over the next year. A noted favourite on the street food scene, and making a comeback via gastropubs we think 2015 could be the year to crack open a ginger beer.


10. Drink your veg!

Although this trend was previously a non-starter, 2015 looks set to be its year. In response to concerns around the level of sugar in drinks, drinks brands will look to vegetables to offer exciting flavour innovations. Fresh tasting, healthy and vibrant, vegetables look set to be the new darling of the drinks world. Innocent have already released fruit and veg fresh pressed juice, but expect other brands to follow suit.


For part 1 of our Food and Drink trends for 2015 click here.

For part 3 of our Food and Drink trends for 2015 click here.



Along with my colleagues at The Value Engineers we have put together a list of 15 Food and Drink Trends we think will happen in 2015! Over the next few days I will be publishing three blog posts describing all these trends, from the realistic to the outlandish! Do you think we have got it right? Are there any we have missed? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section! And so for our first instalment…

1. Gourmet Hot Dogs

With the gourmet burger trend fully hitting the mainstream, foodies are turning to a new takeaway staple to jazz up- the hot dog. Think high quality meat, adventurous toppings and brioche buns. Bubbledogs and Jamie Oliver’s Diner, both in London, already serve gourmet dogs but expect 2015 to be the year that these dogs have their day.


2. Mezze Madness

The next wave of ethic cuisine that looks set to take Europe by storm is from Lebanon. Elevating the traditional kebab, think freshly made hummus, falafel and grilled meats! The likes of Beirut Express, Yalla Yalla and Comptori Libanais are already serving such deliciousness but 2015 will be the year that Lebanese food really hits the big time. Move over Chinese and Indian food, there’s a new cuisine in town!


3. Hot Sauce Provenance

Consumer thirst for hot sauce is continuing to rise. 2015 will be the year that in order to further differentiate brands will play up the provenance of their hot sauces. Think Jamaican scotch bonnet, Indian Ghost chilli and Mexican Jalapeño hot sauces! Brands will also play up the flavour credentials of their hot sauces and what they can add to food- just being hot is no longer good enough!


4. Going Nuts for Nuts

From nut butters & spreads to less conventional formats like nut drinks, 2015 is the year we’re going nuts for nuts. Hitting back against rising allergy trends and free-from, a number of new brands are emerging in the nut category capitalizing on health benefits such as high levels of protein and fibre, as well as snack-ability. Whether it’s cashews replacing peanut butter, almond replacing soy milk nuts are on their way.


5. Refined Taste of the Orient

London’s street food scene this year has been dominated by new formats of oriental and Asian food – from Vietnamese Pho to Korean kimchi. In the year ahead we expect this trend to start gaining wider traction: showing the public that there is more to Asian food than Chinese sweet and sour!


To read our next 5 Food and Drink trends for 2015 click here for part 2. To read our final 5 Food and Drink trends for 2015 click here for part 3.

How to determine your brand’s stretchiness: A Marmite case study

I am a self-confessed Marmite addict. I slather the stuff lavishly on toast, crumpets, and croissants. It comes out surreptitiously at breakfast buffets abroad, a foreign stowaway that liberates me from the dreaded blandness of continental breakfasts. I’d even admit to eating it with a spoon.

And I am not alone in my love for Marmite. Their figures are nothing if not impressive- the £37 million brand produces 17 million jars a year, Marmite has over 1 million likes on Facebook and its recent controversial “End Marmite Neglect” advertising campaign generated a 14% increase in sales growth in the eight weeks after launch.

So what’s next for Marmite? In order to continue its strong vein of growth, and cement its place in the hearts and minds of British consumers, where can the Marmite brand extend to? And how should brands generally decide which extensions work, and which extensions clash with their brand message? I’m not talking about minor tweaks to existing products here. I’m talking bold innovation into new categories. Over the years Marmite have entered as diverse product extensions as cheese, chocolate and branded merchandise, but is there scope for even more adventurous product innovations (and not just because I yearn for an even greater Marmite fix)?

In order to establish what extensions are right for a brand, we first need to take a step back and think about what associations the brand conjures up. Then we can determine the brand essence, and hence the scope for innovation. The purpose of defining these associations is that we can then begin to clearly identify what product categories could potentially be in scope and potentially out of scope from a brand essence perspective. By considering new product development through the lens of these brand associations, we can therefore come up with new product ideas that could authentically carry the Marmite brand name.

The added advantage of describing the Marmite brand in broader ways than simply describing the product- namely, as a savoury spread- is that it allows us to think about what the Marmite brand represents and hence, start thinking about the brand outside its current category. Taking these associations as the starting points for Marmite could therefore prove rich territory for future new product developments.

With my thinking cap on I wondered if the Marmite brand could stretch into the following categories:

A table sauce- Marmite is traditionally served on toast at breakfast, but what if it were to accompany another traditionally British breakfast, the fry up? Both ketchup and brown sauce are typically associated with this dish, but a combination of Marmite’s British and breakfast credentials could see it sit comfortably on the table too. Brown sauce is a similarly savoury breakfast sauce with a unique taste profile. What’s stopping Marmite from moving from the back of the cupboard to sitting proudly on the tabletop?

A range of dry rubs– Marmite’s savouriness is a winning alternative to the ubiquity of sweet spreads typical at breakfast time. Yet breakfast is surely not the only time a hearty kick of savouriness would be appreciated. What about a line of Marmite dry rubs for beef and chicken to turbo charge your evening meal? Think about the complexity and depth of flavour a Marmite rub could bring (FYI my mouth is watering).

A range of savoury hot drinks- admittedly Marmite’s kid brother Bovril has historically had some success being served diluted in hot water as a beefy drink. Yet, in the same way that Marmite is the savoury alternative to jam, could a Marmite drink be the counter to milky coffee and hot chocolate? With consumers growing increasingly fearful of the amount of sugar in their drinks, a savoury alternative may well be exactly what the health-conscious consumer is looking for.

A fashion tie-up– Marmite is synonymous with Britishness- and has notably released a limited edition Diamond Jubilee Ma’amite, but why should it stop there? What about Marmite announcing tie-ups with other brands which similarly play on their British heritage such as Burberry, Jack Wills or Harrods? A fashion tie-up would be particularly interesting, since a love it or hate it attitude is not necessarily a bad thing in the fashion industry, where cutting edge style is often divisive.


I wonder what a Marmite trench coat would look like…



Food for thought anyway.