Making the Most of that Four per Cent

It’s a saturated world out there and a bloody tough marketplace. Brands must cling onto the three or four per cent of who they are that makes them special and unique. And shout about it

Dear Reader,

Clearly before writing an editor’s letter discoursing on marketplace saturation, one has to put one’s hand up and accept we are, in some ways, part of the problem. We are not the largest or pre-eminent lifestyle magazine out there and the modern reader is bombarded with print and digital options to read for both education and entertainment; it could thus be seen as bold – or foolhardy – to pontificate on a congested market. The media arena is as overly rammed as the lifestyle area we flutter around and chronicle; we are one of many.

That said, in the years Riddle has been in existence and talking to people across the lifestyle arena, the more trends and information reach our ears. As any shopper knows, whether stepping out onto the high street or browsing Ebay you are confronted by a myriad of brands and companies, all not just desperate to get your immediate custom but retain it through attempting to make you buy into their story, ethos, raw materials, service, philanthropy; in that three letter acronym, its USP (unique selling point). This is not in any way to decry choice as bad, it’s essential to a healthy economy but are we starting to approach the true point where however shrilly brands cry, the majority of consumers are left cold?

That’s marketing I hear you cry, and you’re right. Success has long gone to not just the qualitively best brands but to those who have shouted about themselves and gained a reaction from the over-stimulated consumer. The internet has made this ever easier to do allowing new and old brands to reach niche connoisseurs and consumers, the net has also made the “insider” feeling – that sense of owning something few others know about let alone own – ever more attainable to the many. Social media has allowed many canny brands to humanise themselves in front of younger consumers, create the more visible illusion in a buyer’s mind that they can also see themselves in that or wearing this.

And yet…… Riddle has been at a number of seminars looking at the issues and future surrounding craft and artisan retail and how they interact with influencers and a sated market. Perversely, influencers are seen as useful for cutting down choice, people simply lack the time and increasingly inclination (outside of niche fanatics who too often skew industry thinking) to wade through, I don’t know, 50 odd leather brands or 19 different ladies trench coats. It’s termed curating in insider parlance but, if you’re prepared to think dispassionately about it, it’s an acceptance of an overloaded market – someone just tell me what to buy please.

We come back in many ways to that core USP of a brand, its very DNA. As humans we share 96 per cent of our DNA with closest animal relatives, the apes, yet (in most cases) the result is rather different. Likewise, brands in the same lifestyle space must accept their similarities but maximise that four per cent or so difference as clearly that is what makes them unique and draws interest and in turn sales. Once again marketing has a key role to play to enlarging that four per cent in consumer’s minds to something greater. Maximising that difference becomes even more important if we believe rocky economic times are ahead.

Post the 2008 financial crisis, the lifestyle world saw an mini explosion of brands being founded; a mixture of the maturity of the net to source the manufacturing, rise of social media to sell it to consumers globally and substantial numbers of blue chip professionals realising that was not their future has seen the last decade offer staggering choice – this has also gone hand in hand with the hyper-consumerism that we all now take for granted in 2018. This injection of fresh blood undoubtedly stirred the market where older or heritage companies had long enjoyed a more uncluttered route to market, the savvy buyer could now find exactly what he or she wanted.

Yet this also means a now crowded marketplace where being able to confidently broadcast your differences and USP has – despite the net – become ever more difficult and costlier with social media and the influencers found on it monetising themselves and creating a barrier between the brands that have and do not have: money. Marketing is expensive and the smaller brands out there – even if genuinely unique and of the highest quality – are finding themselves squeezed by the giants who have the cash to saturate the net and media. The truly savvy brands are those able to increase their product offering without diluting their raison d’etre thus opening up further avenues of opportunity. At the other extreme you have, for example, a brand we came across who had managed to find its little niche in the skincare arena; when we touched base with the brand after a few months they revealed their next product line would be in leather goods – an utterly different area they had no experience in bar their perception that other brands were doing well in it.

The deluge of younger brands that burst on the post-crash scene are often led by highly intelligent and charismatic individuals; their story is not the story of the brand but of the person behind it. When this is linked to insight that sees a genuine gap in the market longer established brands have ignored, I believe they are unbeatable. New brands though especially lack the gravitas, archives, finances and illusion of permeance that come with the big style, fashion and lifestyle players. There is more story that they can tell, more opportunity to find a refreshed USP.

If the coming 15 months sees the economic uncertainty many are predicting, having a 100 per cent confident grip of what makes you different will be key in surviving the downturn in customer spending. Cling onto, take pride and shout about your four per cent, it’s who you are.

Best wishes,

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