Need to solve credit crunch brand challenges?

Date added: Thu 14 May 2009

Go Back to School with Your Marketing says Mark Fawcett of the National Schools Partnership.

Want to solve credit crunch brand challenges? Go Back to School with Your Marketing says Mark Fawcett of the National Schools Partnership.

As the recession continues to bite it¹s clear that consumers¹ trust in brands has been badly shaken.

This consumer faith crisis, triggered by loss of confidence in the financial sector, has strengthened distrust in brands across other sectors like energy supply where brands are perceived to be passing on costs to consumers through unprecedented tariff rises. It¹s clear that brands, particularly in these sectors, need a recovery strategy in place before plummeting trust causes irreparable damage.

So, the big challenge, over the next eighteen months at least, will be how to reach consumers and transform negative perceptions into positive ones.

A savvy marketer will recognise that when trust has gone it cannot be rebuilt easily. Which begs the question of how to approach an increasingly cynical and credit crunch weary consumer in a way that won¹t be rejected out of hand? Does the answer lie in familiar marketing channels such as traditional above the line campaigns, sales promotion, direct marketing or public relations?

Whilst all of the above have their place, today¹s marketing literate consumer is capable of spotting a heavy handed "campaign" at a thousand yards, especially one that overtly sets out to achieve a double whammy of repairing trust fences and building brand value at the same time. The good news is that there is an alternative - Social Partnership Marketing, a blend of Social Marketing and Cause Related Marketing.

Whilst the latter disciplines have not always been seen as a profit opportunity Social Partnership Marketing offers a way for business to make an important contribution to a social cause whilst improving consumer relationships and profits.

Social Partnership Marketing allows brands to either create or link with activity that is key to welfare and development within the community, thus delivering an improved brand image and sales. The best marketing channel for this activity is in partnership with the UK¹s 30,000 schools which offer a chance to address 10 million pupils and 15 million parents plus 1 million people employed as teachers and support staff.

There are some good examples that epitomise the activity such as the 'Let¹s Grow' project carried out by the UK¹s fourth largest super market chain Morrisons. The activity was triggered by research carried out by the retailer which highlighted that a huge number of schoolchildren had never grown anything in a garden, plant pot or allotment. It also showed that 8% of children thought bananas grow in British gardens ­ while one in ten had no idea that potatoes and carrots can be grown in a garden, at home or at school.

More importantly it showed that 75% of children were not eating their recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. 'Let's Grow', was launched with thousands of packets of seeds being sent to participating schools to enable teachers to encourage pupils to have fun with food and start planting. Enough free seeds were distributed to grow around 1.5m

salad leaf plants for six million salad bowls.

The campaign supported the Government's 'Healthy Schools¹, 'Eco Schools¹ and 'Learning Outside the Classroom' initiatives and was fronted by well-known garden designer and TV Presenter Diarmuid Gavin. Parents, friends and families were able to get behind the scheme by collecting 'Let's Grow' reward vouchers from their local Morrisons and schools could redeem these for free gardening equipment, including everything from seeds to spades, composting bins to planters and even a greenhouse.

The nationwide campaign involved 18,000 plus schools and millions of 'Let's Grow' vouchers were collected by parents to give children the opportunity to grow their own food in their school grounds. Through the scheme children learned valuable skills by growing their own vegetables and fruit at school, and got the inspiration to follow a healthier lifestyle.

The campaign was fully supported by advertising, PR, and teaching resources (written by qualified keystage teachers) that helped to provide stimulating lessons for children in a wide variety of subjects The Morrisons campaign, which has now become a yearly fixture for the brand, illustrates that schools make great partners because they are forward looking, enthusiastic, innovative and welcome original links with businesses and non-commercial organisations.

Social Partnership Marketing offers a Œwinning line¹ solution for both participants. From their partnership with brands schools can benefit from financial support, approved curriculum supporting materials, creative thinking and ready made focal points for tackling social issues such as obesity. From the brand¹s viewpoint the channel gives direct access to a vast number of parents who are happy to support the brand to achieve something worthwhile.

The 'Let¹s Grow¹ campaign illustrates the huge support and enthusiasm that parents and friends are willing to bring to a social partnership campaign that shows tangible benefits. Footfall increased within the voucher collection period, contributing to Morrisons achieving a bigger growth in market share than any of the other big five supermarkets in 2008. Altogether, the brand increased its share in the grocery market by 9.7% in the last quarter.

Although Morrisons 'Let¹s Grow¹ has been in existence for only one year, a survey of teachers has shown that it has been better received than Sainsbury¹s Active Kids campaign, which is no mean achievement given the time scales.

Right now brands should be thinking how they can solve their trust problem by reaching the community with projects like this. Working with the right marketing partners, who can create campaigns that deliver suitable and exciting benefits for schools, social causes and families, will reverse negative perceptions and increase sales. However, before embarking on a project like 'Let¹s Grow¹ brands should understand the territory and be prepared to abide by some clear cut Œschool rules¹ to make sure they tread the right path.

For example, activities should provide a clear benefit to participating schools who should always have the choice to opt in, or out, of any activities. It is also vital that levels of branding should be appropriate to the activity and that schools are made aware of the social or commercial objectives of the activity, after all with honesty comes trust.

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