Everyone knows the world is more connected and complex than ever, creating a boom time for disrupter brands. Agile and innovative businesses are springing up left, right and centre, outmanoeuvring dinosaurs and scaling faster than ever the statistics suggest:
3.5 million businesses in the UK in 2001 vs 5.7 million in 2017
260,000 average number of new UK start-ups per year between 2001 and 2012 vs 375,000 between 2013 and 2017
71,000 average number of European trademark applications per year between 2001 and 2012 vs 114,000 between 2013 and 2017
Of course there’s a flip side to this (the destructive half of the creative/destruction narrative) that says the Old Guard spot the opportunities too late, fumble about in the fog for a bit before stepping off the cliff. And there are plenty of gloomy stats to illustrate this:
237,000 average annual UK company failures between 2001 and 2015 vs 343,000 between 2016 and 2017
Only 3 of the top 20 S&P companies from the year 2000 are still in the top 20
Only 248 of the S&P 500 companies are expected to still be S&P 500 companies in 2028
So is that it then? New companies with disruptive business models thrive, while established businesses struggle then die? No, not at all. They might not grab the headlines, but there are plenty of old-school businesses that are not just surviving, but thriving. And the ones that have caught my eye of late all have one thing in common. They all prioritise content and are brilliant at owned media – the media they control to build direct relationships with customers.
Creating customer gravity
Following an owned strategy works because it frees its proponents from the tyranny of omni-channel marketing dogma: the one that demands ‘thou must engage every customer on every channel at every moment’. It provides a better, less exhausting alternative that says give customers content that matters on the channels that matter and your brand will develop ‘gravitational pull’, drawing in new customers that create even greater energy and attraction. Here are some of the brands that have got it nailed.
Greggs pre-tax profits up 15% to £82.6m in 2018
Greggs’ canny use of media has been written about more times than I’ve had hot steak bakes (which is a lot, by the way). But commentators often gloss over the simple, yet profound, insight that underpins it all. The marketing people at Greggs know that when you eat one of their sausage rolls, only part of the pleasure comes from its calorific deliciousness. The other – not inconsiderable – part comes from sticking two fingers up at the hectoring lifestyle police telling us how wrong the folk at Greggs are. And because our national appetite for sticking two fingers up is at least as big as our appetite for pastries, we gobble up Greggs’ diet of anti-pretentious banter-marketing every bit as greedily as we do their sausage rolls. Even Vice (perhaps the chief constables of the hectoring lifestyle police) gave Greggs’ vegan sausage roll a tongue-in-cheek – but affectionate – 2,000-word review and 4.5/ 5 rating. So, by filling our hearts defiant cheer as well as cholesterol, Greggs become a £1bn business with more UK outlets than McDonald’s, while reportedly employing fewer than 25 people in its marketing department.
Primark’s profits leap 15% to 843m in 2018
I know a lot more about sausage rolls than I do about fashion. But even I know that selling fast fashion to teens on the high street while refusing to trade online is a stupid idea. Yet Primark does exactly that and is thriving. How? Well, like Greggs, Primark understands very well the deeper value it provides customers. Primark helps its customers to feel like deep-pocketed and care-free celebrities, or at least Instagram influencers. They can splurge with gay abandon, hurry home with over-laden bags, then head out that night to show off a head-to-toe new look more or less whenever they fancy. Now the clever bit. Primark completes the “celebrity experience” by providing its customers with a publicity platform called Primania where punters upload selfies in their new get-ups, a selection of which are shared to Primark’s 6.5m followers on Instagram. Primark not only helps you shop like a celebrity and look like a celebrity, it actually makes you a celebrity. It’s a masterstroke in owned media, at once completing the customer experience and encouraging advocacy.
RHS income rises 16% to £95.9m
According to reports, today’s top companies can look forward to a desperately short life expectancy of about 20 years. How then has the 200-year-old RHS, a most traditional institution, found a way to grow every year for the past five years? It would be easy for the RHS to be weighed down by its own history, look inwards and become preoccupied by defending its status and position, but it’s done quite the opposite. Guided by a simple belief that gardening is good for us and the world, the RHS has focused on creating inspirational and helpful experiences that bring that simple message to more and more people. It has invested in its gardens and shows (that’s experiential in media speak) succeeding in bringing more joy to more people. It has a brilliant, free-to-use website attracting 20 million visits a year, and continues to invest in new digital tools and experiences designed purely to help the public fall more deeply in love with gardening and connect with fellow gardeners. It’s weaving itself into the fabric of the gardening community by investing in its owned media and, in doing so, is succeeding in making itself more relevant even though we all have less time, more distractions and fewer of us have gardens.
Bayern Munich announces record turnover, again
By prioritising the overall fan experience and understanding that its competitors are the likes of Netflix, not other football clubs, Bayern Munich has built the biggest digital fan base of all clubs (45m Facebook fans, 12m Insta follows and 1m Youtube subscribers, the last time I checked). Doing so has allowed the club to post record growth year after year, even when performances on the pitch fall short of their own lofty standards, all while being debt-free and 75%-owned by its fans. No other football club has a better grasp on the new world than the Bavarians. Damn, they even organise proper hack days to design game-changing digital experiences.
The FA invests a record £126m into football
In times gone by, the FA’s marketing was unapologetically centred around what it regarded as its biggest product, namely the men’s senior team. Now though, they’re much more about connecting with all fans while being part of, and supporting, the broader football community. The FA’s new Match Day app, designed to make life easier for the countless volunteers running the game at a grassroots level, is a brilliant example of their new approach. And these days, when the men’s senior team are in the spotlight, they make sure that they do their bit to create the right we’re-all-in-it-together vibe. Cynics might say a string of poor performances by said elite team and the public’s waning enthusiasm for watching overpaid antiheroes not try very hard meant they had no choice but to change tack. Regardless, it’s clearly working. Not only is the FA investing more in the game and connecting with more fans in more meaningful ways, but you sense its fortunes and the public’s attitude towards it are much less tied to the performance of the senior men’s team at tournaments. That’s got to be a good thing for our national game if the last 52 years are anything to go by.
Of course, just doing owned media is only half the battle, you’ve also got to do it well. This is why we created Wonderly – a new breed of full-service agency that helps clients throw out omni-channel thinking and embrace a new way: the ‘Wonderly Way’. It goes like this: Discover what your biggest fans love about your brand, and the beliefs that bind them together Use this insight to create experiences that forge ever-stronger connections with and between your fans Do it consistently to inspire trust and loyalty and to mobilise a community of advocates, attracting new customers and creating even greater gravity