Sonja Mitchell

Sonja Mitchell

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There is a common misconception that branding is just for the big companies. They can afford to invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in extensive research and expensive consultants. But it's often far easier for smaller businesses who live and breathe their product to have the type of reputation and customer connection that big businesses would die for. The trick is to recognise these strengths and stay true to them.
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So the world cup is upon us, and I'm loving it. With my dual nationalities I can irritate the Scots by supporting the English, and just about everyone by supporting Germany! Bring it on!

The sporting pundits are almost in danger of being outweighed by the avalanche of media commentary on the 2014 batch of world cup ads. Not one to be left out, here's my take on the winners and losers in the 2014 Advertising World Cup

1. The sporting legends

The football super stars have been out there on mass, doing their bit for the sponsorship dollar. But just 'cause it's got it's got Messi in it, doesn't mean it's going to be a great ad. The bleak Adidas The Dream" All in or Nothing" ad captures the intensity of the game, but takes away the joy. Perhaps they tried to remedy that with the Beckham ad – but that's just too cheesy and seeing footballers frolic in their plush houses leaves me cold.

The Nike "winner stays on" ad has been much vaunted. Maybe it's because I'm not an eleven year old boy, but I just found it a bit confusing. Too many superstars spoil the broth? I'm a far bigger fan of their five minute film The Last Game – was ever Rooney a face made for cartoon! Great viewing.

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Social media is a conversation with actual people. Sounds obvious doesn't it? It is. But in the rush to get visibility on twitter, facebook and the like, some brands are forgetting what's most important and missing out on the opportunity to connect. Social media interactions should be treated with the same respect as if they were in person. Three simple steps can make all the difference:

1. Be responsive

A study last year suggested that 53% of twitter expect a response from a brand within an hour. There have been too many examples recently of brands being slow to respond to customer queries on twitter (if they respond at all). Twitter is an amazing resource for client care, because it is so transparent. A company that manages it well (BT for example), look like they genuinely care. Similarly, a lack of response can look uncaring, even arrogant.

2. Be relevant

Think about the conversations you want to join and contribute content that is relevant. I enjoyed a recent post from social media guru Mike McGrail on the overuse of hashtags. McGrail uses the example of the Edinburgh Tram poster campaign with the hashtag #readytoroll. They want to get across their positive message that the trams are (finally!) ready – but no one is using it because their conversations are all about the #edinburghtram.

3. Be real

No one wants to listen to a corporate broadcast, let your personality come through. I think this is an area where smaller brands can really get an edge on their larger competitors. There is authenticity that comes from the voice of person who is sweating it out to deliver a great quality product or service. That’s why so many small artisanal brands are booming.  I’d much rather follow Brewdog over Budweiser because their voice rings true.

So yes, the world of social media can seem bewildering at times as it continually evolves. But behind the ever changing social media channels, are actual people you can engage with in conversation if you are responsive, relevant and real. Keep that in mind and you won't go too far wrong.

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I am a big fan of whisky and have been following the rumbling debate about age statements with interest. It is a great case study of how marketing interacts with supply and demand. Get it wrong at your peril.
Creating demand

Traditionally, malt whiskies have been marketed by age. Most entry level single malts were ten or twelve years old, with malts aged twenty years or more commanding seriously premium prices. These price points reflected that older whiskies took longer to mature and cost more to make. Correspondingly, the drinks companies marketed older whiskies as being of higher quality and deserving of a higher price.

It all made sense. Consumers accepted the age statement of a whisky as a marker of quality.  However, no one anticipated that surging demand for Scotch whisky would bring supply for popular brands to breaking point. 
Demand outstrips supply

When my friend joined the Edrington Group as a brand manager ten years ago, one of her main challenges was to have enough whisky to supply the burgeoning demand for the Macallan twelve year old. How could they have predicted what supply would be needed when barrels were being laid down more than a decade earlier?

Now many would say that it was too late to make a change. Those too-clever brand managers had created a demand for a product they could not supply. 

Creative solutions

However, those clever marketing bods did find a way. They visited their distilleries and listened to the people who made it. They freed up their whisky makers to create unique malts unfettered by the labels of age. Launched cautiously into the travel market around five or six years ago, these new single malts are proving a big success – from Ardbeg Uigeadail to Talisker Storm.

From a brand perspective, these new malts bring light to new aspects of the distillery’s history and distinctive taste. They offer new ways to build brand loyalty and interest. From a production perspective, the supply chain is eminently more flexible and responsive.

As for the consumer?  We’re winning too. Curmudgeonly traditionalists aside, there is a whole new world of great tasting whisky to discover.

Working in step

Marketing and production, supply and demand, are inextricably linked. As this whisky example demonstrates, huge benefits come when both parts of the business work together in a synchronised effort to grow sales.
Tagged in: brands marketing whisky
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We could all do with being a bit more creative in our working life, whether it’s coming up with a new product or service idea or simply trying to find a new approach to solving a long standing problem. It is not always easy to get those creative sparks flying, so here are my top five suggestions to boost your creativity.

1. Take a break from the old routine.

So much of what we do each day is programmed by habit. Changing your everyday routine can open your mind to new possibilities. Try taking a different route to work, sitting in a different seat or eating something different for lunch.

Scientists have proven that even something as simple as changing the way you make your usual sandwich can boost creativity. It creates new connections between brain cells, abandoning well used neural pathways and opens up the possibility of new ideas.

2.  Do the washing up

Carrying out mundane repetitive tasks such as washing the dishes, or mowing the lawn leaves your mind free to wander. It can you distract you from what may seem to be an insoluble problem and allow your unconscious mind time to process and sort through information.

That “eureka” moment may feel sudden, but it is likely that your idea has bubbling away in your unconscious mind for some time. You may just need to let go of a problem for a while for the solution to emerge.

3. Don’t always ask the obvious person for advice.

We often surround ourselves with similar people, with similar experience and similar skill sets. Not surprisingly, we come up with similar ideas!  Bringing in someone with a different perspective, often someone with no expertise with the problem in hand, can help redefine the main issues and open up new possibilities.

To generate ideas for the next generation of space shuttles, NASA held discussion groups with children aged between 8 and 12.

4. Look for related worlds

Don’t get stuck within your own industry. Take a look and see what others are doing to tackle similar problems within a completely different context. For example, if customer service is your problem, take a look at a company that is doing it really well. You could learn a lot from a successful restaurant, even if your own business is in construction.

5. Sleep on it

It’s amazing what our brain gets up to while we’re sleeping.  Working late, going over the same information again can often be counter productive.  My advice is to switch the laptop off and get a good night’s sleep.  It is remarkable how much more creative you’ll feel when you are well rested.  While you are sleeping, your brain is busy processing the day’s information. Who knows what new connections might emerge?
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