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Money can't buy you love

A typical FMCG brand’s customer retention strategy relies upon “buying” loyalty with rewards, rebates and discounts. In this new era of digital-based competition and customer control, customers are increasingly buying products because of a brand’s relevance to their values and needs in any given moment. So what does this mean for the future of promotional marketing?

In a rapidly changing world, where the global marketplace is both setting the agenda and struggling to keep up with the pace of changing behaviour, relevance and purpose are becoming the No.1 criteria from the customer’s perspective. Broadly speaking, what citizens crave is identity and purpose in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. Even WPP’s Martin Sorrell stands accused of not being relevant, and the speed with which the world’s most powerful adman has gone from hero to zero, is quite breath taking. Brands that try to use a bolt-on approach to ethics in an insincere or tokenistic way in this new environment just won’t stand the test of time. It’s both a fascinating and yet a hugely stressful topic for those in the industry, simply because the solutions and the parameters shift almost daily. Consider this quote, for example:

“Public expectations of your company have never been greater. Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. In the current environment [customers] are demanding that companies exercise leadership on a broader range of issues. Companies must ask themselves: What role do we play in the community? How are we managing our impact on the environment?”


Larry Fink, CEO, Black Rock (the world’s largest investment fund)

When it comes down to it, what we’re really talking about is authenticity. How hard can it be? Yet whether we strive and be authentic as individuals, or as brands, we realise that committing to our values is actually pretty hard work. Why? Because the nature of being human means we’re flawed. We’re open to greed. We tell lies. And brands and businesses are still, for now, run by people. We all know we need to do better, but we get sidelined and often opt for the short-term, quick fix approach.

For the average consumer, the speed at which life now moves gives little time to sit back and take stock. Since the advent of the Internet, and then more poignantly the smartphone, the world has been ‘busy’ at a different level to anything imagined by our forebears. Busy promoting busyness. Pushing us to go faster and faster, always demanding we’re plugged in, charged and available with the result that our attention spans have become more and more limited. Negative news is digested 24/7 and it’s not good for our wellbeing. As a result people can feel like they’re losing themselves, caught up in a cycle of keeping up. Many find themselves getting heavily addicted to things that take them away from the stress, alleviate the symptoms and help them forget their troubles.

So without sounding mercenary, that’s a good opportunity, isn’t it? And if we can marry authenticity with opportunity, we’re onto something.

When it comes to prize promotions, in a world that has shifted dramatically in the past few years, what’s going to help brands connect when it comes to purpose and relevance? Up until now, options have broadly consisted of cash, vouchers, holidays, cars, experiences and even farms (you may remember that one). And whilst winning a pile of cash is undoubtedly appealing, what has always worked on a more intrinsically motivating level, is matching and connecting brand and customer using unique experiences, either as incentives to purchase or to stand out on shelf.

These experiences needed to tie in with the brand’s ethos and audience appeal and be relevant, professionally delivered, high quality and align with the theme of the campaign itself. And whilst this still stands, in this new era of heightened consumer awareness – whether that be aimed at a brand’s purpose and relevance, or their own emotional and physical wellbeing, we need to be more authentic ourselves by offering experiences that help people navigate and deal with an altogether different kind of life.

Just consider; many of us may still be active at 102! It’s a scary thought to some, but with personalised medicine and smart lifestyle choices, it’s a realistic and potentially exciting one, too. Tapping into this idea through promotional marketing, it’s time see more brands designing prizes that affirm life, purpose and values beyond ego. Experiences for living. Ones that enhance people’s lives and that re-affirm a brand’s ethos of caring for their customers and the world around them. Ones that demonstrate they really do give a damn, that are the seeds of stories remembered for life.

Holidays and breaks are incredibly generous prizes. They create joy and spread happiness. But what if we took this one stage further and combined them with the potential to change someone’s life? PepsiCo’s Naked brand recently offered a series of wellbeing experiences that included a yoga retreat on the Isle of Wight. For one of the winners it acted as the wake-up call she’d been looking for in life. Wining it became a defining moment for her. She’d gone from working as a professional dancer to being a clinician, over the years, working day and night in a laboratory. She was exhausted. Yet winning the prize took her out of her environment and made her look at her life. Following the trip, she thoughtfully sent the team responsible for the prizes a book on mindfulness and went on to say

“Winning this Yoga with Awareness retreat with Naked has made me extremely excited about how potentially life-changing this experience could be for me at this point in my life. In earlier years I was a professional dancer and sustained many injuries. The lessons I have learned from this experience have helped me achieve some genuine breakthroughs, perspective and serious insights into the stiffness and pain I’ve been living with for. I felt so special to win such a unique and thoughtful prize. I had to pinch myself to prove it wasn't a dream. The whole experience has given me a new thirst for life and I shall be eternally grateful to Naked.”

Today’s world provides an invitation to discuss something just a little bit different - an opportunity for a deeper connection to purpose and beyond. Whilst there are brands that change people’s day, there are many, too, who can change lives. There are some incredible examples of the good that can be achieved with on-pack campaigns that tap into more life-affirming concepts. Persil’s “Dirt is Good” campaign is one, which encouraged kids to get out and get dirty doing activities in nature to stimulate their minds and get them being more active. Johnny Walker is another, with their “Joy Will Take You further”. It was based on insights which showed how success is viewed by people today and brought to life the idea that joy can be a catalyst to the progress we seek in our lives. The campaign sought to generate a positive culture shift and with a reach of 50 countries and over 270 million consumers around the world within just the first weeks of it’s launch. It’s easy to see the potential power mainstream brands have when it comes to creating positive shifts in behaviour. McVitie’s recently moved into the purpose arena too, launching their ‘Sweeter Together’ campaign. It focuses on the issue of loneliness and is a catalyst to the brand “embedding itself in modern culture”. And just one episode from Planet Earth, calling on viewers to help reduce plastic waste, started a huge shift in people’s attitudes.

Brands and mainstream media can undoubtedly achieve powerful, positive shifts in behaviour and create powerful legacies. And if people are to live long, fulfilling and adventurous lives in a world that’s fit for purpose, it’s incumbent on brands to get involved. To find a way through their campaigns to equip people with the skills they need for life, to encourage us all outdoors to feel the power of the storm, to combat loneliness, to give kids their first steps in nature.

So what does your brand seek? To be remembered for a day or for life? What stories will you be able to tell and what will you be remembered for? It’s up to you as marketers to help decide what part you want it to play in the lives of your audience and the world at large. Which brands will seek to plant the tree of opportunity? The legacy of the run-of-the-mill corporate incentive is like an old sky lantern landed in the field – beautiful when launched, but now tatty and worn. Compare that to campaigns that offer positive life-enriching experiences, from planting trees for a generation to look back on at what you’ve done – to holidays and experiences that offer more than just being a tourist, rather contribute to the local economy. What will you remember the most?

If brands can see and feel the power in creating experiences such as these, ones that will enrich people’s lives and create stories to last a lifetime, they’ll need relationships with providers who can match these accordingly. If this article has made you thoughtful about rewarding your customers to give them the best possible taste of what you stand for and want to create something positively different for your next campaign, you’ll find there are plenty of ideas you can work with.

Here are just a few topline ideas to get you started:

Offering opportunities for people to rediscover themselves

People don’t, or aren’t able, to give themselves time to step back from the routine of modern daily life. Retreats work brilliantly for this and come in many forms depending on how adventurous you want to be. From silent meditation to breath, yoga, nutrition and meditation, there are plenty of ways to offer the chance for people to reconnect with nature and/or self. One of the experiences on the SuperSense weekend is a magical journey in leafy forests, where blind guides help participants see the world in new ways – sounds, textures, smells and sense become alive in ways unimagined and beyond untrained reach. When they reconnect because of you, they’ll stay connected with you.

Developing a greater understanding of our changing environment

There’s a magical wilderness reserve in Scotland which is working hard to restore the Highlands back to its former glory and diversity. Guests are invited to experience the wilderness and learn about their conservation first hand. The experience is exceptional, thoughtful and even life changing.

Understanding world climate change and plastic pollution and how individuals can help

People often switch off when it comes to hearing about climate change, as they feel powerless to do anything. Planet Earth changed all that and helped us see we can each make a difference – whether it’s climate change or the rising tide of plastic. There are incredible trips which help people connect to the problem, ones that offer the opportunity to help researchers understand how our changing climate is impacting the wildlife that inhabit them. Even simple ideas such as organising a beach clean in the UK and reflecting on the small shifts in the things we buy and use on a day to day basis be hugely powerful in conveying a brand’s desire to positively impact the environment.

Skills for living

The days of life skills handed down from father to son, mother to daughter are fast fading in modern life; Girl Guiding, Scouting and wild play is out of reach for many living in cities. Adventure 100 is a journey for progressive brands that reward customers with skills and stories for life. A mind-blowing 3-day life skills course gives participants the passport, compass and map to live more fully and actively, wherever they are. With the stunning Pembrokeshire coast as a backdrop, customers choose accommodation ranging from wild camping or a country house hotel and choose from a pick-and-mix of life skill adventures – this is souped-up scouting for 21st century grown-ups. Wouldn’t it be incredible to see more designing solutions that help their customer’s head, heart and hands, and the places they depend on thrive for good? Here’s a taster of some of the themes this weekend includes:

  • Head – improving mental wellbeing with clear goals, purpose and resilience, using applied improvisation, mindfulness building grit and growth mindset.
  • Heart – nurturing a healthy body with nutrition, stretching, recovery, strength, endurance and the right exercise for them
  • Hands – learning the skills of wild play and resilience though first aid, life-saving, shelter building, outdoor cooking, make and mend
  • Ocean – we live on a blue planet, learn to grow the skills to explore and love it even more – activities, tides and weather, safety, wildlife and leaning how to flip the plastic challenge
  • Land – learn to play for free for ever with the know-how of wild camping, access to land, map reading and navigation
  • Living Lightly – we have still only discovered this one liveable planet, so what greater gift is there than learning to live as though that were true?
  • Exploring the Edge - learning lessons people who explore the boundaries of the possible through adventure, work and family.
  • Shaping Places – like gardeners, who learn to grow the land they stand on, it’s a treasured gift to learn the skills of growing the places we live and work.

Skills For Living is a life adventure not to be missed. It can be organised as a bespoke campaign in a similar way to Persil’s Dirt is Good.

If you’d like more ideas take a look at this purpose-led prize ideas article.

For further reading on this topic you might like this article by Jonathan Wise, co-founder of The Comms Lab and creator of Beers For Good.