Helen Warren-Piper: the marketing director of the grocery division at Premier Foods
Helen Warren-Piper: the marketing director of the grocery division at Premier Foods
A view from Helen Warren-Piper

Mess with brands at your peril, says Premier Foods marketing director

Consumers see brands as their own personal property, so mess with them at your peril, writes Premier Foods' Helen Warren-Piper.

"Leadership at every level" is the first thing I was told on my first day at Procter & Gamble, and it has stuck with me ever since. As marketers, our job is to act as business leaders and, no matter how junior or senior, drive shareholder value.

I’ve learned many lessons on my journey. Here are a few that may resonate.

Don’t throw away what made your brand famous in the first place

The temptation when you start working on a brand is to try to make your mark and change everything. But I’ll never forget what my first general manager at P&G told me: "Our job is to carefully shepherd the brands forward and hand them over to the next generation – not change them beyond all recognition."

Consumers see brands as their own personal property – mess with them at your peril. We are the guardians of very iconic brands at Premier Foods, some of which have been around for more than 100 years.

Oxo, Bisto, Bird’s and Ambrosia have been enjoyed through two world wars and continue to be loved by British consumers today.

Brands are an intrinsic part of consumers’ memory structure. Specific brand assets and cues can trigger associations to important family rituals, fond memories and favourite moments.

For Oxo, there was something powerful in what made it famous in the first place. When we looked into it, we found rich cues that unlock brand love and therefore competitive advantage. These include visual assets, as well as moods and feelings that can be conveyed in advertising – the cube, "the crumble", the Oxo family and, above all, Mum coping with whatever’s thrown at her.

Moving back to these cues in advertising, packaging and in store has created a winning formula. Do you know what memory structure the consumer has about your brands? Don’t walk past the obvious because it doesn’t feel clever.

Brand purpose will win out

How do we modernise heritage brands when we need to cling to core brand assets to unlock memory? The anchor point has to be a strong brand purpose.

Stay true to the brand story but evolve it to an execution that has meaning with modern consumers.

Bisto has always been about bringing people around the table for a family meal. In today’s Brexit environment, this has become even more important as consumers hold even more firmly on to rituals and family traditions.

In the 1980s, Bisto ran a campaign called "Pledge", which was all about pledging to get home on time to eat a meal with the family. Today, the brand purpose of togetherness remains but the tone of voice and platform have evolved to become the Bisto Together Project, featuring real people’s stories.

Consider the ‘three kings’

Consumers are not loyal to individual brands any more but to a range of them. Our job is to become the more habitual choice for consumers. I believe in the "three kings":

1. Mental and physical availability of your brand

2. Positive affection

3. Speed/ease of recognisability

Brand awareness is not just the remit of media – in-store range, space and layout play a huge part. Consideration must be given to availability across consumer-need occasions and therefore channels.

Embrace ‘near-in’ innovation

And what role should new product development play in driving brand love and becoming people’s habitual choice? Innovation is exciting but remember, when significant habit change is required – such as a new cooking method – significant marketing spend is also needed. So only go there if you have the means to go all the way.

My experience has shown that trial and acceptance are faster for innovation that is "near in" – innovation that is closer to the core. The best example would be products that do the same job but in a healthier, more convenient, more indulgent or tastier way.

Finally, I return to my original point

You can’t achieve any of the areas I have outlined without great leadership. Nurture your team – empower them to deliver leadership behaviour. Give them clear strategic direction and provide a framework for action.

Then demonstrate your belief in your team, express confidence in their abilities and give them the freedom to be as strong and successful as they can be.

Helen Warren-Piper is marketing director of the grocery division at Premier Foods. She was previously at Procter & Gamble for 15 years and has also worked at United Biscuits.

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