By Luc Wade, Management Consultant at Hive Business
In Chinese philosophy the concept of yin and yang describes how seemingly contrary forces may actually be complementary and give rise to each other. Yin is the passive principle while yang is the active principle, and the two form an indivisible whole.
Perhaps the yin and yang of marketing are brand building and sales activation. When they’re balanced consumers remember your brand and, when the time is right for them, they transact. This feels like an intuitive process for them.
If you don’t strike a balance, though, strange things happen. Take the case of the Automobile Association, the UK’s largest breakdown firm. The AA was always felt by the public to be on its side, not least because it was founded in 1905 to help motorists avoid police speed traps.
When a judge questioned the legality of this in 1910, the AA developed a coded warning system that remained in use through to the 1960s. The AA Handbook actually contained the message: “It cannot be too strongly emphasised that when a patrol fails to salute, the member should stop and ask the reason why, as it is certain that the patrol has something of importance to communicate.”
All of this was, inadvertently, brand building of the best kind: grassroots and sustained consistently over decades. Everyone recognised the AA as a friendly, helpful organisation — the perfect brand foundation to keep investing in to protect its large market share.
But then, quite recently, it diverted 100% of its brand marketing budget over to its short-term, performance marketing activities. For eight whole years. The effect was stark — one manager said: “Our efficiency is unparalleled, our ROI is fantastic, and we’ll be out of business in five years.”
Could that be true, could ruthless sales activation really kill a business? Yes, in isolation. After a while people were Googling “AA” less, and searching instead for generic terms like “road breakdown” which suited their competition. A survey found that 6% of drivers had never heard of the AA.
That loss in what’s known as ‘mental availability’ was very nearly catastrophic for a large firm like the AA because over time it had to compete through comparison websites against competitors where the only differentiation was price. To make winning new customers on price affordable it had to increase its premiums for existing customers. They began leaving in droves, and the death spiral began.
The solution was obvious: redress the balance and invest in the brand again. It did and turned its decline around within a year. In its latest ad on ITV, in what feels like a real episode of the cult comedy series Red Dwarf, an AA patrol fixes the ship for the hapless stranded crew. It’s a genius move to associate the AA with another beloved national icon.
There’s nothing in the ad about price or service, the message is rather: you know us, you trust us, we get you and your sense of humour. It’s telling a story of loyalty, and creating a good feeling around it. Price comparison sites do pretty much the opposite. Yin and yang.
Thankfully the UK dentistry market is less competitive and many of your competitors are making the same mistake as the AA did. You won’t need TV ads, only a modest budget and a balanced marketing strategy. Here are three simple brand building activities:
- Supplying quality information about high value treatments like implants
- Breaking from the norm, creating a buzz around your brand and a sense that you are making waves
- Embracing innovation like digital scans
They help you build trust and increase sales, they also enable you to step away from price sensitivity and charge a premium for your services. Don’t follow the herd, get in touch if you want help with these or any other brand building activities you have in mind.