Opinion

Big can be beautiful. But beautiful can be big, too

09 January, 2019 Share socially

In an ever-changing world where longstanding truths are less certain than they once were, brands need to be more flexible than ever. Adaptation is key - as is making what you have work as hard as it can – whether that’s the agility of a featherweight, or the stamina of a heavyweight.

Beautiful brands were traditionally small, artisanal, cute, crafted – in a word, niche. Which was all well and good, but beautiful is changing. Beautiful is no longer content to remain small – seeking to expand reach either through organic growth or acquisition. So their challenge becomes how to become more impactful, whilst retaining what made them beautiful or unique in the first place.

Big brands are facing a different but no less complicated set of challenges. Once a short-hand for trust and reliability, big brands are more susceptible to manufacturing scandals, questions over corporate ethics and concerns over environmental impact - and in seeking to maximise profitability they have often been stripped of much of the value that made them appealing in the first place. So how can they maximise what is inherently positive - R&D spend, longevity and heritage, reach, accessibility, insight – whilst appearing more human.


Adaptation is key as is making what you have work as hard as it can for you – whether that’s the agility of a featherweight, or the stamina of a heavyweight.
Jovan Buac
Client Director, London

Nowhere has this been more evident than on the high street. Take chain restaurants: brands like Jamie’s Italian, Prezzo and Byron Burger all continue to struggle after significant restructuring. It’s been claimed that dining out in London has reached peak popularity.

With less disposable income, consumers are being tempted by unique, alluring independents and small pop-ups. But there are ways for big restaurant chains to use their scale to improve customer experience in a way smaller pop-ups might struggle - by focusing on delivery, modified menus (taking on consumer feedback via live data) and store redesigns.

Take Burger King - it has invested heavily in piloting new store features in Miami such as double drive-thrus, new outdoor digital menu boards, internal kiosks and a more open kitchen for staff. They’ve also integrated apps in order to speed up waiting times which has seen a rise in customer satisfaction. All of this is part of an improvement in the brand and customer journey. An investment only a business the scale of Burger King could trial.

Domino’s Pizza has also completely revamped its customer journey, menu, in-store environment and growth programme, to much acclaim. Far from appearing smaller, Domino’s has super-sized. Between 2012-2016 it opened 1,800 stores in 10 countries. They have expanded and diversified their menus with sandwiches, pastas, side dishes, specialty items, desserts and chocolate pizzas. This was supported by a six year turn-around in marketing which has seen a massive shift in perceptions of the brand. Spearheaded by Russell Weiner, Domino's had the honesty to run self-deprecating campaigns not normally associated with such a big brand. And most importantly in recognising that its pizza wasn't the best, it committed to a new-and-improved product.

These improvements have not only helped Domino's succeed over rivals such as Pizza Hut and Papa John's, but have helped it maintain a benchmark that smaller pop-ups and independents cannot hope to compete with either.

It’s Domino’s sense of empathy with its consumers and the agility with which it has responded to their changing needs that one might typically recognise in smaller, family run businesses.

This all goes to show that there is a place still for large legacy brands to continue to act big whilst also taking on board some of the characteristics and dynamism of smaller, more entrepreneurial businesses. It’s about understanding your customer, shopper or user and allowing the brand to show up optimally at every point in their journey. This isn’t just the secret weapon of small players – it’s completely in the realm of big brands too – but it requires trying something new.

Big can be beautiful. But beautiful can be big, too

So, is it possible to have the best of both worlds? And what should brands of all sizes and ages do to try and achieve this nirvana? We think there are 3 basic principles:

1.  Be single-minded and honest.

Regardless of size or ownership structure, have courage in your own convictions rather than bending to category codes, market trends or trying to be something you’re not. By having a clear understanding of your customer’s needs it will be easier to be focused on your mission and avoid being swayed by what other brands are doing in your space. Part of this comes down to knowing “why” you are in business – the purpose that drives your brand beyond commercial success.

Take the relaunch of Coke Zero as Coke Zero Sugar last summer. Once a convoluted sub-brand, said to offer men an alternative to Diet Coke, Coke have now stripped things right back. They’ve taken a more honest approach using Coke Zero Sugar as a descriptor, a variant of Classic Coke. The rationale being that a zero sugar product need not mean a compromise on taste and should certainly be gender neutral. They have used their R&D muscle to engineer a product that tastes as good as the real thing and are acting like a big player should: with purpose and a unique experience.

In turn changing consumer attitudes to sugar through R&D, re-engineering their product portfolio and a huge A&P to destigmatise zero sugar. A beautiful act that over time will be a significant contributor to change attitudes to sugar and healthier living. After all a brand that talks about happiness must deliver on this by making it easier for their consumers to stay healthy and, by association, happy too. Only brands of the size and scale of Coke can have such a singular and positive effect on societal behaviour.

On the flip side, look at healthy ice-cream brand Oppo. The big, established ice-cream players said it could never be done – something that tastes amazing and is actually healthy. The entrepreneurial Oppo founders did and have created a great success story. Sometimes it takes the niche players to light a fire and prove to the big established brands that it can be done – if you really believe and really try.


Big can be beautiful. But beautiful can be big, too

2. Protect what makes you unique

Weave your brand DNA throughout your story and develop assets that pack a punch to effectively and consistently communicate it across all customer touchpoints. 

Take Naturya. Since 2009 the brand has flourished in the health food market across the UK and Europe, quickly growing into a leading superfood brand. Ethically and respectfully, sourcing consistently high-quality products at fair, sustainable prices.

To move the brand to the next level, from niche superfood product to everyday lifestyle brand, Naturya needed a strategic idea that allowed them to stretch to a wider audience. The brand never lost sight of its original principles but is now just as likely to be found in the condiments and cereal aisle as the health supplements section of the supermarket. 

A great example of a brand that has held on to its founding principles and ethics but is working like a much bigger player across categories. Going from niche superfood player to everyday lifestyle brand. A small brand behaving in a way you’d expect of a big brand.

Big can be beautiful. But beautiful can be big, too

3. Data, data, data

To stay ahead of the competition and reach broader or newer audiences in a smart way requires effort and research. By combining business, brand and competitive data with in-depth analysis you’ll be able to spot new opportunities that underpin your credibility.

Retailing giant Amazon leverages its global reach and wealth of insight data to spot gaps - and fill them. ‘Mama Bear’, one of their own-label brands, started by selling nappy bin refills and quickly added a full infant product portfolio by mining data to look for continued areas of growth. According to a recent prediction, the retailer’s private label sales will reach $7.5 billion this year. And by 2022, they are expected to hit $25 billion – successfully continuing to use their might to their advantage.

What started off as a small pilot has not only stretched to become a portfolio offer, but the commercial growth of the brand has been supercharged through a dedicated Amazon DTC channel harnessing the power of data.

But harnessing data is not solely the preserve of big players like Amazon. A plethora of small, entrepreneurial start-ups have seen exponential growth by harnessing the power of the internet and skipping the retail middle-man.  Social media has been the engine behind their growth – but now some are seeing the need to “disintermediate social media” to own more of the media and sales funnel at a higher level.  

Glossier, the beauty start-up, is one such company to do this extremely successfully. Their Chief Operating Officer Henry Davis commented:

 “Social media right now owns the relationship with the consumer and we’ve been able to use that to get to the customer in better ways than we could have done a few years ago, but now how do we take that one step further? At the moment YouTube or Instagram or Facebook owns the context, the environment and the format in which we talk with our own customer and actually, if we really believe that having customers as a core part of the company is the way to build brands of the future, you have to start to own that relationship.”   In the future the brands that succeed will not only use direct channels to market but they will look to own these channels to give them direct relationships. Direct relationships mean better data. Better data means superior, more targeted products. All of which improves brand saliency and increases sales. Now which brand, big or small, would not want that?

At the moment YouTube or Instagram or Facebook owns the context, the environment and the format in which we talk with our own customers and actually, if we really believe that having customers as a core part of the company is the way to build brands of the future, you have to start to own that relationship.
Henry Davis
Chief Operating Officer, Glossier

By keeping these 3 simple principles front of mind, you can make the changing world bend to your brand’s needs.