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My musings on brands

'Mini' versions of our'selves'

One thing about us has changed significantly, which hugely impacts how we engage with brands. Everything we need or seek these days have become smaller. We have become “mini” versions of our usual consuming or consumer selves.

A fundamental psychological shift has been the increase in our need to get satisfied immediately. Brands have understood this, have tracked this and have seen potential to deepen their engagement. But the consequence of having to continuously meet needs, and to meet them instantly, has resulted in consumption moments that are small and brands / products that meet the needs to become ‘mini’.

It is important to clarify the definition of mini in the context of brands, or specifically brand marketing. A ‘mini’ brand offer could be a smaller SKU (the most common), a taster or a sampler, a subscription model, an instalment plan for quick ownership, a specific portfolio extension for mini moments, an occasion specific brand pack size etc. The reason I refer to them as ‘mini’ is because they are catering to needs and occasions that are highly fluid, uncertain in terms of their frequency and can have rapidly shifting characteristics.

Digging a bit deeper reveals more interesting things. The number of occasions in which we feel a need to be relaxed, pampered, indulge or celebrate has grown exponentially. But we still have the same 24 hours. We now have more friends, more casual acquaintances, a bigger network of people, a bigger extended family, more children, a wider set of professional colleagues etc. On the top of it, we seem to have been coerced or influenced to celebrate everything. We now have Fathers Day, Mothers Day, Teachers Day, Founders Day, Non-Founders Day, Baking Day, Selfie Day, Independence Day, Royal Wedding Day, Barbecue Day, First Day of Summer, Last Day of Summer etc.

This interesting piece of analysis from the BBC outlines why we tend to overspend on holidays. One of the factors is the need to factor in as many pleasurable experiences during those holidays (as if it is a life and death situation), or we can call it as mini experiences.

http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170919-why-so-many-people-overspend-on-their-holidays

The more occasions we have where we need to indulge or celebrate in the same 24 hours, the smaller they become. The smaller they are, they quicker they need to be fulfilled. The quicker the need for fulfilment, the smaller the brand offer. This also comes with flexibility, the ability to change brands quickly and having lots of piloting and sampling options.

The ‘mini’ versions of ourselves have also started demanding choice (and too much of it). This is why we have 100s of songs in our Spotify playlists (a selected few for our varied mini moods). We now have highly specialised wardrobes for every mini occasion. Our fridges are packed with 5 different kind of orange juices, 3 different types of milk, organic and non-organic vegetables and cheese for both the cheese board and the cheese toastie. Brands are now catering to the needs of non-alcoholic beverage enthusiasts, those who want to drink craft beer and those who strongly believe that ‘beer-food pairing’ is the next coolest thing to happen.

The increased availability of mini brand experiences is across industries, sectors and segments. It encompasses mainstream to luxury brands. It criss-crosses price tiers and brand architecture levels. It has even entered the on-demand economy (Editions in Deliveroo), with the specific intention of giving us a ‘taster of the best’ without leaving the comforts of our sofas.

There is the interesting case of Glossybox in the USA. It is considered the top luxury sampling brand in the country and has maintained its lead for the last five years. The success of Glossybox (and its competitors) exemplifies the proliferation of mini moments when luxury is a necessity. Glossybox meets this need by sending five different beauty products to its consumers, highly personalised and tailored to their needs (but in mini versions of the actual product).

 

https://www.raconteur.net/lifestyle/the-innovative-face-of-sampling

Burton’s Biscuits (a quintessential Scottish brand) recently launched a smaller version of its famous Wagon Wheels teacakes. These slightly smaller teacakes are positioned towards new eating occasions — small afternoon snack or a pick-me-up. The magnitude of change in our consumption needs are forcing big legacy brands to adapt to our whims and fancies.

https://www.slrmag.co.uk/wagon-wheels-teacakes/

Let’s even not waddle into the sensitive topic of Heinz Salad Cream vs. Heinz Sandwich Cream.

 

This may sound contrary to the line of thought of this article, but Muller launched a bigger 900ml pack of its FRijj flavoured milk brand in the UK recently. Reason — consumers wanted a shareable bigger pack along with the existing 400ml on-the-go SKU. A launch of a bigger SKU doesn’t mean that consumers are looking at consuming flavoured milk in super-size occasions. The word ‘shareable’ is key, indicating that there are now many more occasions wherein sharing a flavoured milk bottle is acceptable (or needed).

Then there is the rise of the pay-as-you-go gym industry in the UK. Again this caters to our sudden desire of getting healthy and the equally faster decline of it. It also caters to our mindset of ‘nothing that I do is making me healthy’. At the end of the day it sums up neatly into the burgeoning set of mini-occasions, which also include those of getting healthy.

https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2018/jan/11/pounds-to-shed-rise-luxury-workout-boutique-gym-health-fitness

 

There are hundreds of other such examples across sectors. In sum, our mini-consumer versions have a significantly more number of life occasions to deal with in a day, week or a month. Because of the varied nature of these occasions and their unique demands, our expectations from brands have also become varied. The whole wave of ‘personalisation’ of experiences stems from this rapid upsurge of occasions in our lives.

Every long form entity has some kind of continuity. In the past, let’s say 10 years ago, our associations and expectations from brands were linear. This is exactly why the brands of yesteryears became the global brands as they were known. The linearity of these brand relationships were also driven by the fact that we knew exactly when to use a brand and for what. We had less need for alternatives, and expectedly less alternatives in the market. Now we need more choices but have more choices then what we can comprehend.

Technology-driven services and apps are gradually taking the mini-versions of ourselves to the next level. We now have apps that allow us to split restaurant bills and gift bills. Investing in companies have also become miniaturised. Through platforms like Crowdcube and Seedcamp, thousands of investors can invest in a single startup (a previously unheard of scenario). Our mini consumers not only buy mini-versions but can also now pay for them in miniaturised scenarios.

What does this all lead to? As brands continue to strategise around personalisation and customising their product offerings to cater to multiple offerings, a gradual erosion of brand equity is happening. This is due to multiple reasons — inability to find a balance between existing brand equity and future directions, a brand portfolio overstretched into too many occasions, inability of existing brand portfolio to cater to new occasions and a continuous pressure to keep a brand relevant (or appealing across micro occasions).

The key question for brands is how to address this fragmentation of our needs without destroying their existing equity. Although it is a subject for a follow-up article, but in sum brands need to choose between ‘hyper-personalisation vs. standardisation’, ‘brand stretch vs. acquisition’, ‘repositioning vs. relaunching’, ‘SKU rationalisation vs. proliferation’ and ‘micro view of consumers vs. broader segmentation view’. Meaningful answers to these questions will enable brands to take effective decisions that will help them cater to the demands of the numerous ‘mini-consumers’.