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Posts Tagged ‘Pricing’

It is hard to ignore the increased frequency at which men can be seen with a beard of some form or style on their faces in recent years. Beards have become popular especially among young men towards or in their early twenties. The renewed fashion of growing beards is making troubles for 115+ years old Gillette, once an independent company and since 2005 a division and brand of consumer packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble (P&G). The difficulties for the famed brand of razors and blades caused by changes in shaving habits of male consumers have been further exacerbated by increased competition and the growing shift to e-commerce. Yet above and beyond, Gillette faces a key challenge to defend and sustain its brand equity, arising from its reputation and position of leadership for many years.

Indeed ‘beards’ are far from being uniform. Beards, and facial hair in general, can be thick or thin, with or without a moustache, covering the cheeks or leaving them clear (see for example the  top 15 beard styles described by Gillette). Often enough the beard is not much more than stubble kept growing for a few days. But beards should be more than a matter of avoiding a shave everyday. As said above, there are different shapes and styles of them, and to keep the beard in form and in good appearance, one has to cultivate and nurture his beard on a regular basis.

  • From the late 19th century and through the first half of the 20th century the moustache was the epicentre of facial hair for men. It was a fashionable sign of manhood, and there were some creative and artistic designs of them.

According to figures from 2013, it was estimated that 17% of American men grew a beard of some form in that year, up from 14% in 2009. Beards are particularly frequent among young US men age 18-24: 35% in 2013 compared with 31% in 2009 (Experian Marketing Services, 14 March 2014; the estimate of ‘bearded men’ is based on a definition of men not using any shaving products or men who use electric shavers or shaving cream (foam) fewer than two times per week [to be distinguished from watching men and counting those bearded]).

The problem of Gillette seems to be aggravated, however, by a reduced frequency at which men shave per week. It is increasingly popular to grow a 2-day, 3-day or 5-day beard. If to judge by the frequency of using shaving cream, US men used it 4.5 times per week in 2009 versus 4.3 times in 2013 (mean 3.5-3.6 among 18-24 years old). Therefore, this is not simply a question of whether an individual uses shaving products, particularly disposable razors and blades, but how much one uses them (and thereof pays to buy them). It should be noted that just 15% of young men age 18-24 in the US have had a thick beard (using no shaving products) in 2013 (2009 13%);  among those in the next age group of 25-34 years old this proportion was a minor 5%.

  • In other data (by Mintel) for 2015, 41% of men using shaving products in the US do not shave daily (50% of  18-24 years old, 51% among 45-54 years old). Nonetheless, among those who do not shave daily not all is lost, probably far from it.

Hence, there is a different way, more optimistic, to look at the situation. Many of the men who grow some form of a beard do have to continue to shave regularly enough. First, it can be noticed that many of the young men grow a rather thin and light beard. Second, many grow a beard on part of their faces (e.g., around the mouth) and hence have to keep shaving the remaining areas where facial hair grows. Therefore, instead of looking at how men do not shave or shave less frequently, one should look at the frequency they do shave, when and how. Additionally, men who grow thin and partial beards can be encouraged and advised on nurturing their beards, keeping them in line and aesthetically appearing. In fact, Gillette demonstrates in videos on its country-websites how to do so with their manual shaving products, a step in the right direction (note: similar instructive videos are available from other sources as well). Nevertheless, more emphasis may have to be given to trimmers for cutting off more dense facial hair to offer customers a more complete solution.

Shaving manually with razor blades is a ritual that demands time, patience and care. It involves three main stages and requires the use of supplementary products (e.g., pre-shave lotion, shaving cream or foam). Part of the market of manual razors and blades has been captured years ago, especially in developed countries, by electric shavers for the greater simplicity of shaving with them and also for being safer. In the US, the ratio between shaving methods stands (2013) at about 3:2 — 6 users of disposable razors and blades to 4 users of electric shavers (Experian). Younger men (18-24) tend somewhat more to prefer manual shaving over electric shavers. If it gives any consolation, only 27% of American users of electric shavers apply the machine daily (i.e., 7+ times per week). In addition, users of electric shavers seem to have lowered their frequency of shaving (mean uses per week): 4 in 2009 versus 3.7 in 2013 (18-24 years old use them less frequently to start with, 2.5-2.6). A possible lesson from those revealed figures might be that men in developed countries should not be expected nowadays to shave daily, perhaps only half as frequently, using either manual or electric devices.

In some ways, as suggested below, the management of Gillette can draw back users of electric shavers to using the brand’s razors and blades. First, users of electric shavers may be convinced of a greater accuracy in which Gillette razor blades can be used to keep, for instance, a beard within its intended  border lines. Second, while men may not find the time and patience to shave manually during the week, they may see the benefits of doing so, instead of using the electric shaver, on weekends and holidays when they have more time to groom themselves. It may be possible to widen an already small overlap that appears to exist between the use of electric shavers and the use of disposable razors and blades.

  • P&G also markets the Braun brand of electric shavers (foil covering a straight-line blade). Philips, a leader in electric shavers (round rotary heads), is offering models with or without a pop-up trimmer on back of the handset shavers; a trimmer is also available as a separate device, as may fit the need to separately treat more dense hair. (Royal Philips has been re-aligning its business in the past few years, but it seems to have found a place for its shaving products in the personal care category for men as an extension to health-care technologies).

Gillette looks as an autonomous division of P&G, almost independent from it. It may get even more freedom than other brands in the house of brands of P&G. Indeed, Gillette has been an independent strong brand for many years and is still capable of being a driver of consumer choice without the help of the corporate name of P&G. Moreover, Gillette has been and remains the endorser of product brands such as Sensor (since 1990), Mach 3 (since 1998) and Fusion (since 2006; Fusion has two premium sub-brands ProGlide and ProShield). The three product brands may be strong enough each to share a driving power equally with the endorsing Gillette name. Some consumers may know that Gillette is owned by P&G and they may value the solid backing it can give Gillette, but it seems the P&G name has no more than a role of shadow endorser [1]. The root (US) website of Gillette and its various country-websites make no reference to P&G in their content; the only mention given is a title at the top left corner saying “Part of the P&G family”. This approach thus helps in instilling the notion that Gillette acts as a stand-alone brand (or brand tree).

The cost of replacing the disposable razors (‘handles’) and blades of Gillette has become a key issue for the brand in the last ten years. The ‘heads’ that contain the blades (e.g., Sensor with 2 blades, Mach has 3 blades and Fusion has 5) seem to cause the greater burden for users, especially as they have to be replaced more frequently than the razor on which the ‘head’ is mounted. Gillette has embarked on a major effort in the US to lower their cost and bring back customers — the US website includes a ‘Pricing’ page introducing a special Lower Prices offer on razors and blades (these are recommended retail prices that Gillette is careful to stress it cannot guarantee for every retailer). A similar ‘Pricing’ page appears on the Canadian website but without details of prices, while no such page appears on websites of other countries (e.g., Australia, UK, Germany, Argentina, South Africa). Additionally, Gillette publishes on its American website a ‘Letter to Consumers’ from its employees as part of its effort: showing how they listen to consumers, and expressing gratitude to those who have already returned after trying razors and blades of competitors (attributed to Gillette’s quality advantage and their lower price offering). It begs one to wonder why this effort is limited to North America.

A threat to Gillette has come primarily from online retailers such as Dollar Shave Club (now owned by Unilever) and uprising Harry’s. At first, men reacted to increasing costs of blades by growing beards and shaving less frequently, but then also by turning to online suppliers. Dollar Shave Club was estimated to have an online market share in 2016 of 52.4% on razors and blades, and Harry’s obtaining 9.4%. However, Gillette has also entered into selling its razors and blades online and launched a customer Club in 2014; in 2016 its share online was estimated at 21.2% (CNBC, 7 August 2016, estimate figures provided by Slice [Ratuken] Intelligence). An increasing interest in subscription plans was further noted by Mintel (5 Nov. 2015) — such plans offer razors and blades at lower prices with the advantage of providing also supplementary shaving products; all can be ordered together in convenient packages. Gillette had to adapt to the new conditions, including the shift in consumer behaviour and new market rules (i.e., e-tailing). The subscription scheme of Gillette Club is available mostly in Western countries of North America and Western Europe (notes: in some countries it is labeled ‘On Demand’, and in the scheme described online, orders are set to be fulfilled via retail stores).

  • Gillette was acquired by P&G in 2005 for $57Bn. In May 2018 the Gillette brand was ranked #32 on the List of Most Valued Brands of Forbes, valued at $17.1Bn. Market share of razors in the US has been sliding down during six consecutive years, from 70% in 2010 to 54% in 2016. Since 2012 the sales of Gillette have declined from a peak of $8.3bn to $6.8bn in 2016, and dropped another 3% in 2017 to $6.6Bn. There is an anticipation now that the Club would help to halt the decline in 2018.

The slogan of Gillette, sustained for several decades already, is “The Best a Man Can Get”. Gillette has been thriving for excellence in the area of shaving as a cornerstone of its brand equity. It has won its recognition as a leader based on high perceived quality of its shaving products, especially its razors and blades (as a ‘power brand’, it achieved a central category benefit [‘the closest shave’], and has been continually improving [2a]). An association that resonates with consumers is significant for brand-building; it has to be meaningful and relevant to them. David Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler noted in their book ‘Brand Leadership’ that Gillette was among the brands “that have high customer resonance because their customer value proposition is highly relevant” [2b]. This could be the prime challenge of Gillette as a brand for the coming years: The high quality of its products is undeniable, but can it uphold its relevance to consumers?

 


In its struggle to bring customers back, a national advertising campaign to persuade men to shave again has missed its target. An Israeli advertising agency (ACW) created a campaign titled ‘The Dad Test’ featuring a ruler for measuring how much a beard or stubble hurts babies by scratching the baby’s face (2017). The campaign stirred protest and anger for being insensitive and aiming low (Mako-Keshet TV, 7 June 2017 [Hebrew]). First, the ‘problem’ the ad caught onto is hardly new. Second, the campaign took an offensive stand by raising a conflict, alienating customers, and thus was shooting in the wrong direction. (ACW is affiliated with international advertising agency Grey; this campaign does not seem to have appeared outside Israel).

The US-based advertising agency Grey New-York launched in the past three years ad campaigns, for American Father’s Day, that seem to adopt a more positive and constructive approach to father and son relations: (1) In 2016, ‘Go Ask Dad’ instead of turning to the Internet (The Drum, 19 June 2016); (2) In 2017, ‘Handle with Care’ featuring a son helping his elderly father shave (AdWeek, 22 June 2017); (3) In 2018, ‘Your Best Never Comes Easy’, meant to redefine or re-establish the brand’s slogan (AdAge, 11 September 2018). A leading theme in these ad campaigns is connecting fathers and sons with a razor product of Gillette as the pivotal mediator. They may also be noted for enhancing a functional benefit of Gillette with an emotional benefit.


 

An approach that may help Gillette paving its way forward is looking through the lens of The Theory of Jobs to Be Done developed by Clayton Christensen [3]. In order to attract customers and keep them, a company has to understand the goal or task the consumers wish to accomplish and focus on how its designated product will help them in making progress towards achieving their goal (i.e., ‘getting the job done’). Furthermore, jobs are context-dependent, that is, in different circumstances or conditions the consumer may need the same product to do differing jobs. In the case of shaving razors and blades, we may posit ‘jobs’ such as: (1) What type of look men wish to display with their beards — does the consumer want to foster a ‘neat and elegant’ look or is he interested in appearing ‘rough and tough’? — from here a company may derive the extent to which razors have to provide a close shave and accuracy; (2) The main concern of male users may be that shaving will be easy and convenient, and without taking too much time (say 10 minutes). An additional goal for shaving may require that it is more economically affordable. Taking these options into consideration, it may prompt Gillette to examine whether consumers can easily distinguish between the different razors it offers and trace which model of razor and blades is most appropriate for the job one wants to accomplish.

The challenges Gillette has to resolve may be divided into two levels. In the short to medium term the brand may be more engaged in tackling the contemporary fashionable trends in growing beards and thereby the shifts in shaving behaviour of male consumers. There is little point in speculating how long this period may last — the brand just has go through it and adjust its product offerings and marketing. In the longer term, more crucially, Gillette will have to be concerned with sustaining the relevance of the brand (e.g., fit for a job) to men, younger and older, and ensuring that associations they hold of the brand remain valid and meaningful. On that depends the future of Gillette.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

Notes:

[1] Based on the model of brand architecture in: Brand Leadership; David A. Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler, 2009/2000; London, UK: Pocket Books (paperback edition, originally published in 2000 by Simon & Schuster UK)

[2] Ibid. 1: [a] (p. 67) and [b]  (p. 89)

[3] Competing Against Luck; Clayton M. Christensen with Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, & David A. Duncan, 2016; Harper Business (HarperCollins Publishers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Choosing reading books can be a serious undertaking. Even the choice of a novel or a detective book may not be taken lightly by readers. There are different ways in which consumers may get into choosing a book; some search and selection patterns in the decision process carried out by consumers can be observed in bookstores. It is possible to infer from observations, with some limitations, styles of shopping for books, involving certain tactics or rules utilised in the process. Book fairs especially offer an interesting and vibrant venue for book shopping with options not regularly available at stores. Such events may also provide an opportunity to detect new or distinctive patterns and styles of shopping that arise from the dynamic happening and busy environment.

The open-air Hebrew Book Fair has been taking place in a main central square in Tel-Aviv for over forty years in every June. Originally the book fair was held for a week but in recent years it has been extended by three more days due to its high popularity. It must immediately be noted that the book fair is an event reserved for publishers. It is a kind of ‘direct-sales’ event in which publishers meet face-to-face with readers to present their book collections to them for purchase on special discounts (the main bookstore chains run their own parallel competitive events with discounts in-store or near their stores). Visitors at the book fair can find Hebrew-native books and books translated to Hebrew from English and other languages; topical categories cover, for instance, prose, poetry  and novels; detective and thrillers; history, science, and other areas of knowledge; and last but not least children & youth books. Such an enormous selection of books is not available ordinarily at bookstores in the country. The larger publishing houses may occupy ten or more counters in-line.

The visitor traffic at the event, as in this year, suggests that print books are still highly desired by people. Nevertheless, to attract even more visitors, particularly families with children, the organisers added in the past few years food and drink stands and a sitting area with tables in the square’s centre. It may help to increase the convenience to visitors and festivity of the event though it could sacrifice a bit the respectability of this literary event. However, it may be a matter of necessity or priority to make the event more popular and vibrant so as to bring larger reader audiences back to books.

As suggested above, this book fair is a busy event with tens of thousands of books of numerous titles on display from different publishers and across a wide range of topics. It retains also a long tradition wherein Israeli authors attend to sign their books for visitors-buyers. Some book counters may become crowded with shoppers during certain hours through the afternoon and evening (i.e., after work and school hours) which can make it harder to access books and check them out more deeply. Hence it may require shoppers to apply tactics for choosing books of their interest and taste a little differently than they would while shopping in a bookstore. Yet visitors find their ways to browse books, sometimes more loosely, sometimes more meticulously; it seems to happen overall in an orderly manner, each visitor getting his or her place at a book counter or desk.

Visitors can be seen walking along counters of a given publisher, staying at a counter for a while to observe its books, then moving along. After selecting a few books from separate but adjacent counters of the same publisher, the visitor often returns to a previous counter to pay. However, visitors-buyers are also offered the option to keep books already selected behind the counter (a combination of convenience and security for both sellers and customers).

Three forms of browsing candidate books of interest can be primarily noticed: Firstly, eye-scanning the front covers of books from top. Secondly, lifting a book, turning it over and reading its back cover — an abstract, short review recommendations, or a brief biography of the author(s). A visitor may examine a few books from a counter this way, but being able to do so comfortably may truly depend on how many people are already at the counter. Hence, visitors who cannot find a free spot at a counter are often seen looking over a counter-top quickly, moving to the next counter, then coming back if perhaps there was a book that had caught their attention previously to check on the book more closely. But visitors generally do not have to wait too long to find a free spot at a counter. Thirdly, one gets to open a book and sample-read sections from its pages, or looking at photographs, charts or maps inside the book. Instances of reading inside books were observed much less frequently.

Examining a book’s content more deeply to form a better founded impression or opinion of it is more difficult and hence is less likely than would be seen at bookstores. Yet, if time and space at the counter allow, it is possible to find a visitor examining a book more meticulously. It appears to be particularly relevant and appropriate for ‘knowledge books’ such as in history, sciences and technology, the social sciences, economics and business. For example, a visitor in his ~70s was leaning over an open book on the history of WW2 by Max Hastings, appearing concentrated in reading and observing maps and photographs (‘Inferno/All Hell Let Loose’, translated). He seemed interested overall in history of the two world wars of the 20th century, judging from other books he browsed; after nearly ten minutes he handed three chosen books to keep, and continued searching [A].

  • Please be advised that the age estimates of visitors are based on observation alone in best judgement of the author.

Comparing books on a given topic can be an even more difficult task to perform at a counter. It is hardly practical to hold two books open simultaneously for comparison, but visitors may examine books sequentially in attempt to evaluate and choose which one is more suitable to their objectives. For instance, a visitor (male, ~60) looked into a book — its introduction, inner pages, and content — on the history of the state of Israel (by Michael Bar-Zohar), but he apparently did not find what he was looking for as he asked the seller if there were books on the period preceding the establishment of the state. The seller brought him two books (concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict): he opened one of them, went through its pages, and put it aside, then browsed at greater length pages in the other book and looked at photographs. Eventually he chose the first book on the state of Israel, after looking into it again, and the third book (total time 15 minutes, [B]).

The search and examination of books sometimes involves moments of deliberation. In some cases, as above [B], the visitor may ask for advice from a seller. Alternately, as in another case observed, a seller who noticed a visitor (female, 30-35) hesitating, offered her help with recommendations. The visitor-shopper was already holding two books and the seller brought her more books the latter thought may suit the shopper accordingly in prose or novels by Israeli authors. They continued talking about the books as the shopper browsed loosely inside some of the books or read from the back cover [C].

Deliberation can take some additional forms. For example, a female visitor (~45) was considering the purchase of a book on equity investments. She was checking in particular a book purporting to be adapted and designated for women. The visitor went through some book pages, being unsure it was a good choice, and seemed recoiled upon noticing the book was from 2011 (i.e., ‘Is it still valid and relevant?’). But eventually, following a short exchange with the (female) seller, the visitor-shopper decided to take it anyway [D]. A visitor (male, 25-30) at another publisher has shown an intriguing shopping process with deliberation to the last moment: He was already holding a book when moving to another counter to look over books of prose, selected one of them, then browsed some science and knowledge books (e.g., by an Israeli scholar, lecturer and prolific writer on sciences and philosophy, Haim Shapira), but collected none. Subsequently the shopper moved to a more remote counter where he picked-up instantly a book, came back to the previous counter of science and knowledge books to purchase three books. However, after he had already paid and the books were put in a bag by the seller and handed over to him, he took out one of the books and picked-up instead a different book in front of him on biblical philosophy (by Shapira, 10 minutes, [E]).

Shopping patterns can range from exploratory, looking for opportunities with little idea pre-conceived in mind, to being pre-minded, that is, having a goal to find a particular book. Moreover, visitors-shoppers may mix styles at different levels of search, examination and choice while shopping from the same publishing house. Mixed tactics could be seen above in the shopping of visitors [E] and [C]. Following are two more examples of this kind: (1) A young visitor (female, ~17-18) was browsing prose or fiction books, going through pages and reading inside some of the books or reading from the back covers of others, then passed to looking from top at books in adjacent counters of the publisher (a more haphazard quick scan), finally returning to the first counter to buy [F]; (2) A visitor (male, ~45, at a counter of books on history and politics) took a cursory look over a biography of one of Israel’s prominent leaders of the past, kept searching and shortly after found a book on the history of Sephardic Jews (‘Marranos’, Yirmiyahu Yovel) and looked into the book more dedicately; the visitor, who seemed overall interested in Israeli and Jewish history, picked up a book at the last moment by an Israeli historian on the commanders of the Nazi concentration camps (‘Soldiers of Evil’) and purchased it with the book on Marranos [G].

  • In a curious brief episode, demonstrating an apparent pre-determined choice of book, a visitor in his mid-40s approached a counter, stood pausing or looking over the books, then instantly extended his hand to pick-up three copies of a book on the Bitcoin, which he purchased; one of the sellers seemed so impressed that she asked to take a photo of him holding the books with her mobile phone to which he smilingly agreed [H].

The main publishing houses presenting at the book fair offered deals of ‘3 for 100’, that is, three books for 100 shekels (~$28 in June). One publisher even offered five books for 150 shekels. These deal offers were displayed on signage boards above counters. A fourth book could be purchased for 50% of its list price, but this offer was not displayed. Visitors-shoppers who had already selected three books enquired whether there would be a discount for additional books, and were replied with the 50% offer. For instance, visitor [A] so enquired before continuing his search. Another visitor (male, ~30) who was holding four books by Ken Follett seemed unable to make up his mind which three to buy, posed the question about a fourth book discount, deliberated a little longer while shuffling the books in his hand, and finally passed all four to the seller to purchase [I]. In some cases, however, it was the seller who initiated the offer of discount on a fourth book in hope to increase the sale. Visitor [C], for example, accepted an offer as such and bought four books, probably in appreciation of, and perhaps feeling obliged to reciprocate, the advice she received from the seller. Conversely, another visitor (~30), who selected three books in history and politics on his own refused the offer by the seller when submitting his books to purchase [J].

Visitors were induced by these deals to buy more books from any single publisher. A single book could usually be bought with a 20% discount but this offer was not made public, proposed by a seller only on request of the visitor. This policy makes it simply unworthy economically for visitors to cherry-pick the books they most require or desire from different publishers (consider that many of the books cost 80-120 shekels each!). The greater problem, however, is that it may drive consumers to buy books they do not care for or do not have time to read soon. Henceforth, visitors could end up buying a pack of books, collected from several publishers, for the whole year to read. It puts quantity before quality in buying books. The ones standing to suffer from this policy are of course the book retailers who will likely see fewer shoppers at their stores in the coming months. From a publisher’s viewpoint, they may see it as only a reprisal to similar deals offered at bookstores throughout the year.

Visitors-shoppers at the book fair appear to use composite decision strategies for choosing books at the counters of a publisher: a different type of rule or method may be fitted to choose among different books (e.g., picking-up a book planned ahead to purchase, using book titles or author names as memory cues for books they have considered recently, examining inside books with greater scrutiny to evaluate them). Furthermore, the book shoppers are searching for informational cues, starting from the front cover of a book, going to the back cover, then getting inside the book. They could be extending the search for cues about a book as they feel is needed (e.g., cut the search short if sufficient information has been retrieved) or are stimulated to learn more about the book (e.g., intrigued by information on the back cover to look inside).

The difference in shopping for books at the book fair compared with bookstores seems to be not so much in the types of rules or tactics used as in the extent and frequency they are used. Book shoppers may feel at greater ease to search for a book at a store with a print of a book review cut from a newspaper (as observed in a store) than they would in the book fair (surely the same applies if one seeks guidance from his or her smartphone). One may also feel more comfortable and free to browse inside a book at a bookstore, at a quiet corner to stand or perhaps on a couch or sofa to sit and read, than at the book fair. Yet, visitors of the book fair seemed to adapt quite well to the conditions at the counters; they appear to use rules or methods similar to those that can be seen at bookstores, only adjusting them to search and choose more efficiently, particularly by restricting deeper examinations to situations where a book demands it.

  • Additional research methods can aid in identifying and verifying more accurately the book images and information viewed by visitors and the decision rules they use. Those methods include particularly eye-tracking and a real-time protocol of the shopping decision process (‘think aloud’). But executions of such methods may be inconveniently intrusive and interfere with the natural course of the shopping trip for visitors. Another method to consider with less intervention is an interview with a visitor-shopper after concluding a shopping episode.

Gaining greater insight into shopping for books and understanding the decision processes visitors-shoppers follow at a book fair can help in devising new designs of book displays (e.g., better organise books by topics or themes, easier-to-find) and improved practices to accommodate the visitors at the event. The organisers and publishing houses may also come up with a new co-operative scheme that would allow visitors to accomplish more effectively their objective in selecting and buying the books that interest them most or they desire to read.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

 

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When the fashion house Maskit originally flourished in the 1950s and 1960s, no one probably thought about it as a brand; actually, not many back then thought about ‘brands’ in general, at least not in Israel of those years. Yet if we look at Maskit retrospectively according to the standards of brands known today, it would be acknowledged as a name brand in fashion. The contemporary fashion house of Maskit, revived after a long recess of two decades, has adopted not only the name but also the genuine styling ideation and design creativity of the former fashion house, thus deserving the ‘license’ to exist again. Maskit of our days has already been planned to be a luxury brand based on current knowledge in marketing and management.

Maskit was unlikely to be regarded as a brand in the 1950s-1960s for two conspicuous reasons: First, brands and their functions in modern marketing came to recognition some thirty years later; Second, Israel had a heavy-laden socialist economy with little competitiveness and a just nascent consumer culture (evolving through the 1960s). Furthermore, Maskit was not run in its prime years as a business enterprise: it started in 1954 as a government agency, turned a decade later (1964) into a governmental company. Only in the 1970s has the government loosened its hold on the company and gradually handed it over to private hands. However, that move has more than anything led to the decline and demise of the former Maskit in 1994.

Maskit is very much the story of the people who built it, then and now. The fashion house was founded in 1954 by Ruth Dayan almost incidentally, but with a great spirit for initiative. She was actually asked by government officials to help in identifying and creating employment opportunities in agriculture for new Jewish immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. However, Dayan noticed that women from North African countries had a special talent and skills in weaving, sewing and embroidery; she also identified that men from Yemen excelled in jewellery. From there the idea of a fashion house employing immigrants started to take form. Since Dayan was not a fashion designer herself, she teamed-up with Fini Leitersdorf, nominated as the house chief designer. Together they developed a unique and genuine concept for fashion design that is at the same time multi-cultural and Israeli-native. Albeit the unusual circumstances of her enterprise, Ruth Dayan was by our current understanding an early woman entrepreneur in Israel of that period. The privatised company did not manage to continue in the footsteps of Dayan and Leitersdorf following their retirement from the fashion house in the late 1970s. Dayan who just celebrated in mid-March this year (2018) her 101st birthday also belongs nonetheless to the present of Maskit as she has helped in creating the newly born fashion house.

  • ‘Maskit’ can have multiple meanings, such as ‘image’ and ‘figure’, but the most appropriate meaning of this old Hebrew word in relation to what the fashion house does would be ‘ornament’.

Sharon Tal, a fashion designer, re-founded Maskit together with her husband Nir Tal in 2014, following more than two years of preparation, research and planning. Sharon Tal is the fashion house chief designer whereas Nir Tal (CEO) is in charge of the business side, specialising in entrepreneurship. Sharon Tal is a graduate in fashion design from Shenkar College of Engineering, Design & Art in Israel. She has subsequently worked in internship for Lanvin in Paris and for Alexander McQueen in London, where she acquired experience in international fashion design. At McQueen in particular she has learned and later advanced to specialise in embroidery, which would prove especially relevant and important for her professional and business venture of re-launching Maskit. On her return to Israel in 2010 she developed interest in starting a fashion house, and with the help of her husband Nir they discovered that the ideals or goals she has been aspiring for in a fashion house had existed in Maskit of Dayan and Leitersdorf.

Sharon Tal met with Ruth Dayan to talk about her interest in reviving Maskit, and it seems that they connected quite quickly — their first meeting extended into several hours, and they continued to work closely together on the initiative thereafter. It appears that shared thinking, the commitment of Sharon Tal to respect and maintain the original vision of Maskit, and the relevance of Tal’s specialisation as well as international exposure for continuing the heritage of Maskit have helped to convince Dayan that Tal was the right person to revive the fashion house. Ruth Dayan has given her blessing to the Tal couple, and has joined them in guidance during the research and planning process. Indeed the success of Maksit to re-establish itself depends greatly on reviving the heritage of Maskit, which Sharon Tal seems to fully recognise and appreciate, as she also respects the personal legacy of Ruth Dayan.

Maskit has made different types of garments in the days of Leitersdorf and Dayan. The concept that was special in many of them was mounting quality fabrics with motives of different ethnic cultures in embroidery.  They combined modern styles of the times with design traditions of embroidery embellishments “made by immigrants, as well as by Druze, Bedouin, Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian women” [E1; also see Maskit.com: About]. They used for decoration articles like buttons (e.g., made from river stones and shells), some were initially brought by immigrants from their countries of birth. Maskit also produced jewellery, pillow covers, and other home artifacts. Silver and gold for jewellery were also used in decorating garments. The Hungarian-born Leitefsdorf created the integration of Western (European) practices, materials, and design styles known to her with ethnic styles of different communities she came familiar with in Israel. It was a unique way of adopting cross-cultural ethnic fashion styles and designs, fabrics and colours, and fitting them to the Israeli habitat (nature, climate, and contemporary culture), hence making their clothing and other products ‘Israeli native’.

  • Ruth Dayan provided employment to the immigrants and hence has given them an opportunity to assimilate in the country, as well as helping them to preserve their traditions. It should be noted, however, that immigrants fleeing from Arab countries were at great disadvantage with limited choices compared with more veteran immigrants, mostly from European countries, who formed the dominant classes in the young state. Dayan benefitted from belonging to the latter (‘elite’) classes and was close also to ruling political circles (married at the time to General and later Defence Minister Moshe Dayan), which further helped in obtaining funding.

Sharon Tal has the will and intention to proceed along the same guiding lines of design and craftsmanship set by Dayan and Leitersdorf. But the aim of the renewed Maskit is not to relive the past; instead, the Tals strive to fit the concepts and practices of former Maskit to contemporary styles and tastes of our days. Their priority is to keep the fashion house being Israeli-native, representing its culture and nature, but that also means expressing the multiple original ethnic cultures that make up the Israeli society. Their emphasis also appears to be on handwork production and authenticity in everything they do. These implied ‘values’ could be key to achieving high quality, uniqueness and luxury positioning. Authenticity is seen as a basis for differentiation of the fashion brand; it is also approached as a way of establishing luxury in the sense that authenticity has become hard to find in many areas, and in fashionable clothing in particular. Maskit may be authentic in the fabrics and other materials they use, the methods they apply, and the personal and attentive treatment and service they would provide to their customers (including personally customised designs).

Here are some aspects in which Sharon Tal works to continue the heritage of Maskit. The fashion house uses, for instance, soft fabrics as in the past (including silk, linen as well as leather). Weaving in-house is no longer feasible as in the past so quality fabrics are imported (e.g., from the same suppliers as those Lanvin and McQueen work with). Yet Tal still sees hope that it will be possible to acquire quality fabrics made locally, and perhaps produce at Maskit, in the future [H1]. Among the creations of Leitersdorf, one that has given Maskit greater fame is the desert coat (or cloak) — Sharon Tal designed a new ‘desert collection‘ that is “re-interpreted for today’s woman and her lifestyle”. One of the differences in the desert coat of today from the previous is in its being made in linen rather than wool [E1]. Embroidery designed and prepared in-house remains an identifying signature of Maskit. However, the renewed Maskit is ready to give more credit to artisans working with the fashion house, unlike in the past.

Sharon and Nir Tal are clear about their high ambitions. They want Maskit to be an international leading luxury fashion brand. It is meant to compete on a world stage against international fashion super-brands and challenge renowned fashion retail chains. They do not see their competition against fashion designers in Israel since they look forward to see more Israeli designers succeed and the whole fashion industry in the country developing (H2). That may sound a little co-descending but it can also be interpreted as saying that they hope Maskit will be able to pull the fashion industry in Israel up with them, as Maskit has done before in its earlier life. Accordingly, while they aspire to reach overseas, they intend to extend their efforts to global markets only after establishing Maskit in Israel [E1], and wish to be able to return Maskit into being an international fashion house operating from Tel-Aviv [E2], apparently keeping this home base as their anchor.

Maskit led by Dayan has already reached overseas, mainly to the United States. Since 1956 the fashion house presented in fashion exhibitions in New-York and other American cities. Their designs sold at department stores of Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, and Saks Fifth Avenue, and they featured in leading magazines like Vogue. Sharon and Nir Tal expect to take the renewed Maskit in the same direction, and their emphasis at least at start also is on the US. Targets are shifting with time, however: many female customers turn to fashion chains to buy their casual and less costly clothing, then invest in more special dressing, higher quality and enduring, from name designers or specialty boutiques — the latter is where Sharon Tal seems to be aiming. As a luxury brand, Maskit would also target women who buy primarily from famed designers [H2]. In addition, Maskit of the past attracted in Israel tourists visiting the country and their relatives (i.e., mostly Jewish, American, and more wealthy). Yet, Israeli customers also used to buy gifts from Maskit, mostly when they wanted to bring or send them to their relatives abroad to leave a good impression on them. This should stay valid today as then. Maskit may also be able to tap a growing desire in Israel to return to its roots (‘authentic Israeli’) or to connect generations of customers wearing Maskit then and now.

The prices of Maskit to end customers are in the mid- to high-range, not for every occasion.  Their blouse shirts or dresses can be even expensive relatively for their categories. Evening dresses or gowns may cost, for instance, from just below 2,000 shekels ($570, €465) up to a few tens of thousands shekels (e.g., a dress with handmade embroidery in a unique technique was sold for 25,000 shekels or more than $7,000)[H2]. The price of a bridal dress may cost (selling only) in the range of 7,500 to 25,000 shekels (~$2,000-7,000)[H3]. Bridal dresses and customised dresses are the more expensive on offer. A blouse could cost, for example, 900 shekels (leather-trimmed tunic blouse — ~$260, €185)[E1]. The items of Maskit, according to Nir Tal, are made to appeal to women who are “pretty sophisticated, and appreciate the art of this clothing” [E1]. The prices are clearly set to support perceived high quality of garments, and in particular the investments in craftsmanship and dedicated handwork.

  • The flagship shop and studio of Maskit are located in the American-German Colony in the old city of Yaffo adjacent to Tel-Aviv. The place is designed to resemble an atelier of many years in business, and includes museum-like displays next to selling areas (also see photos in H3].

From the business perspective, the Tals approached the launching of Maskit as when creating a start-up, guided primarily by Nir Tal. They wanted the revival of Maskit to be special and different, following the model of revival of brands like Burberry and Lanvin [E1]; it had to reflect the significant achievements of Maskit as a leading fashion house in the country in past years [H2]. It meant that greater effort and resources would have to be invested in the initiative, as in a start-up. The Tal couple gained major funding from key Israeli industrialist Stef Wertheimer, together with his invaluable business wisdom. Launching Maskit as a start-up sounds reasonable in order to recruit the energy needed and concentrate financial and organisational resources in launching the business. However, soon enough comes the time that the fashion house is established and has to realign itself to run for the long-term. There are good indications Maskit could be near that time, if they have not passed it already, and it does not require that they should be established off-shore first. For the long-running fashion house, sustained creativity and innovation are important as much as persistence and discipline. Maskit would be wise not to push itself too far too fast, so as not to burn itself like a start-up.

  • Note: Start-ups in hi-tech, particularly in Israel, do not have too good a reputation in holding for long, hence it would not be wise to use them as a model if the fashion house desires to exist in the long haul and does not plan an ‘exit’.

The brand of Maskit in fashion was not properly valued nor appreciated by the establishment in Israel more than forty years ago (Ruth Dayan noted jokingly in interviews that she lives on a monthly pension of 5,000 shekels as a former worker of the Labour Ministry). But Dayan together with Leitersdorf have demonstrated that a successful brand can be created even without having their minds set to it. Sharon and Nir Tal now have the opportunity to show how high Maskit can reach, and to develop and strengthen its brand, with the much greater marketing and management knowledge and best practices they can now employ. Reborn Maskit is positioned as a luxury brand for women with fine taste in fashion and appeal to nostalgia. The brand’s distinction remains dependent on their commitment to an Israeli-native identity with original creative design in high quality, and keeping their base in Israel even as an international brand.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

References in Hebrew:

[H1] Interview with Ruth Dayan & Sharon Tal at Maskit Studio, Xnet, 18 October 2015 (Xnet is an online ‘magazine’ section of Ynet news website, fashion section)

[H2] The New Life of Maskit, Calcalist (economics and business newspaper), 13 December 2017

[H3] New home for Maskit fashion house, Xnet, 28 June 2016

References in English:

[E1] “A Ready-to-Wear Fashion House in Israel’s Ethnic Past“, Jessica Steinberg, Times of Israel, 26 May 2014

[E2] “How the Israeli Fashion Brand Maskit Delivers Authentic Luxury“, Joseph DeAcetis, Forbes’ Opinions, 16 May 2017

 

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The strength, impact and value of a brand are embodied, fairly concisely, in the concept of ‘brand equity’. However, there are different views on how to express and measure brand equity, whether from a consumer (customer) perspective or a firm perspective. Metrics based on a consumer viewpoint (measured in surveys) raise particular concern as to what actual effects they have in the marketplace. Datta, Ailawadi and van Heerde (2017) have answered to the challenge and investigated how well Consumer-Based metrics of Brand Equity (CBBE) align with Sales-Based estimates of Brand Equity (SBBE). The CBBE metrics were adopted from the model of Brand Asset Valuator (Y&R) whereas SBBE estimates were derived from modelling market data of actual purchases. They also examined the association of CBBE with behavioural response to marketing mix actions [1].

In essence, brand equity expresses an incremental value of a product (or service) that can be attributed to its brand name above and beyond physical (or functional) attributes. Alternately,  brand equity is conceived as the added value of a branded product compared with an identical version of that product if it were unbranded. David Aaker defined four main groups of assets linked to a brand that add to its value: awareness, perceived quality, loyalty, and associations beyond perceived quality. On the grounds of this conceptualization, Aaker subsequently proposed the Brand Equity Ten measures, grouped into five categories: brand loyalty, awareness, perceived quality / leadership, association / differentiation, and market behaviour. Kevin Keller broadened the scope of brand equity wherein greater and more positive knowledge of customers (consumers) about a brand would lead them to respond more favourably to marketing activities of the brand (e.g., pricing, advertising).

The impact of a brand may occur at three levels: customer market, product market and financial market. In accordance, academics have followed three distinct perspectives for measuring brand equity: (a) customer-based — an attraction of consumers to the “non-objective” part of the product offering (e.g., ‘mindset’  as in beliefs and attitudes, brand-specific ‘intercept’ in a choice model); (b) company-based — additional value accrued to the firm from a product because of a brand name versus an equivalent product but non-branded (e.g., discounted cash flow); financial-based — brand’s worth is the price it brings or could bring in the financial market (e.g., materialised via mergers and acquisitions, stock prices)[2]. This classification is not universal:  for example, discounted cash flows are sometimes described as ‘financial’; estimates of brand value derived from a choice-based conjoint model constitute a more implicit reflection of the consumers’ viewpoint. Furthermore, models based on stated-choice (conjoint) or purchase (market share) data may vary greatly in the effects they include whether in interaction with each competing brand or independent from the brand ‘main effect’ (e.g., product attributes, price, other marketing mix variables).

A class of attitudinal (‘mindset’) models of brand equity may encompass a number of aspects and layers: awareness –> perceptions and attitudes about product attributes and functional benefits (+ overall perceived quality), ‘soft’ image associations (e.g., emotions, personality, social benefits) –> attachment or affinity –> loyalty (commitment). Two noteworthy academic studies have built upon the conceptualizations of Aaker and Keller in constructing and testing consumer-based measures:

  • Yoo and Donthu (2001) constructed a three-dimension model of brand equity comprising brand loyalty, brand awareness / associations (combined), and perceived quality (strength of associations was adopted from Keller’s descriptors of brand image). The multidimensional scale (MBE) was tested and validated across multiple product categories and cultural communities [3].
  • Netemeyer and colleagues (2004) demonstrated across products and brands that perceived quality, perceived value (for the cost), and uniqueness of a given brand potentially contribute to willingness to pay a price premium for the brand which in turn acts as a direct antecedent of brand purchase behaviour [4]. Price premium, an aspect of brand loyalty, is a common metric used for assessing brand equity.

Datta, Ailawadi and van Heerde distinguish between two measurement approaches: the consumer-based brand equity (CBBE) approach measures what consumers think and feel about the brand, while the sales-based brand equity (SBBE) approach is based on choice or share of the brand in the marketplace.

The CBBE approach in their research is applied through data on metrics from the Brand Asset Valuator model developed originally by Young and Roubicam (Y&R) advertising agency (the brand research activity is now defined as a separate entity, BAV Group; both Y&R and BAV Group are part of WPP media group). The BAV model includes four dimensions: Relevance to the consumers (e.g., fits in their lifestyles); Esteem of the brand (i.e., how much consumers like the brand and hold it in high regard); Knowledge of the brand (i.e., consumers are aware of and understand what the brand stands for); and  Differentiation from the competition (e.g., uniqueness of the brand)[5].

The SBBE approach is operationalised through modelling of purchase data (weekly scanner data from IRI). The researchers derive estimates of brand value in a market share attraction model (with over 400 brands from 25 categories, though just 290 brands for which BAV data could be obtained were included in subsequent CBBE-SBBE analyses) over a span of ten years (2002-2011). Notably, brand-specific intercepts were estimated for each year; an annual level is sufficient and realistic to account for the pace of change in brand equity over time. The model allowed for variation between brands in the sensitivity to their marketing mix actions (regular prices, promotional prices, advertising spending, distribution {on-shelf availability} and promotional display in stores) — these measures are not taken as part of SBBE values but indicate nonetheless expected manifestation of higher brand equity (impact); after being converted into elasticities, they play a key role in examining the relation of CBBE to behavioural outcomes in the marketplace.


  • Datta et al. seem to include in a SBBE approach estimates derived from (a) actual brand choices and sales data as well as (b) self-reported choices in conjoint studies and surveys. But subjective responses and behavioural responses are not quite equivalent bases. The authors may have aimed reasonably to distinguish ‘choice-based’ measures of brand equity from ‘attitudinal’ measures, but it still does not justify to mix between brands and products consumers say they would choose and those they actually choose to purchase. Conjoint-based estimates are more closely consumer-based.
  • Take for instance a research by Ferjani, Jedidi and Jagpal (2009) who offer a different angle on levels of valuation of brand equity. They derived brand values through a choice-based conjoint model (Hierarchical Bayes estimation at the individual level), regarded as consumer-level valuation. Vis-à-vis the researchers constructed a measure of brand equity from a firm perspective based on expected profits (rather than discounted cash flows), presented as firm-level valuation. Nonetheless, in order to estimate sales volume they ‘imported’ predicted market shares from the conjoint study, thus linking the two levels [6].

 

Not all dimensions of BAV (CBBE) are the same in relation to SBBE: Three of the dimensions of BAV — relevance, esteem, and knowledge — are positively correlated with SBBE (0.35, 0.39, & 0.53), while differentiation is negatively although weakly correlated with SBBE (-0.14). The researchers reasoned in advance that differentiation could have a more nuanced and versatile market effect (a hypothesis confirmed) because differentiation could mean the brand is attractive to only some segments and not others, or that uniqueness may appeal to only some of the consumers (e.g., more open to novelty and distinction).

Datta et al. show that correlations of relevance (0.55) and esteem (0.56) with market shares of the brands are even higher, and the correlation of differentiation with market shares is less negative (-0.08), than their correlations with SBBE (correlations of knowledge are about the same). The SBBE values capture a portion of brand attraction to consumers. Market shares on the other hand factor in additional marketing efforts that dimensions of BAV seem to account for.

Some interesting brand cases can be detected in a mapping of brands in two categories (for 2011): beer and laundry detergents. For example, among beers, Corona is positioned on SBBE much higher than expected given its overall BAV score, which places the brand among those better valued on a consumer basis (only one brand is considerably higher — Budweiser). However, with respect to market share the position of Corona is much less flattering and quite as expected relative to its consumer-based BAV score, even a little lower. This could suggest that too much power is credited to the name and other symbols of Corona, while the backing from marketing efforts to support and sustain it is lacking (i.e., the market share of Corona is vulnerable).  As another example, in the category of laundry detergents, Tide (P&G) is truly at the top on both BAV (CBBE) and market share. Yet, the position of Tide on SBBE relative to BAV score is not exceptional or impressive, being lower than predicted for its consumer-based brand equity. The success of the brand and consumer appreciation for it may not be adequately attributed specifically to the brand in the marketplace but apparently more to other marketing activities in its name (i.e., marketing efforts do not help to enhance the brand).

The degree of correlation between CBBE and SBBE may be moderated by characteristics of product category. Following the salient difference cited above between dimensions of BAV in relation to SBBE, the researchers identify two separate factors of BAV: relevant stature (relevance + esteem + knowledge) and (energized) differentiation [7].

In more concentrated product categories (i.e., the four largest brands by market share hold a greater total share of the category), the positive effect of brand stature on SBBE is reduced. Relevance, esteem and knowledge may serve as particularly useful cues by consumers in fragmented markets, where it is more necessary for them to sort and screen among many smaller brands, thus to simplify the choice decision process. When concentration is greater, reliance on such cues is less required. On the other hand, when the category is more concentrated, controlled by a few big brands, it should be easier for consumers to compare between them and find aspects on which each brand is unique or superior. Indeed, Datta and colleagues find that in categories with increased concentration, differentiation has a stronger positive effect on SBBE.

For products characterised by greater social or symbolic value (e.g., more visible to others when used, shared with others), higher brand stature contributes to higher SBBE in the market. The researchers could not confirm, however, that differentiation manifests in higher SBBE for products of higher social value. The advantage of using brands better recognized and respected by others appears to be primarily associated with facets such as relevance and esteem of the brand.

Brand experience with hedonic products (e.g., leisure, entertainment, treats) builds on enjoyment, pleasure and additional positive emotions the brand succeeds in evoking in consumers. Sensory attributes of the product (look, sound, scent, taste, touch) and holistic image are vital in creating a desirable experience. Contrary to expectation of Datta and colleagues, however, it was not found that stature translates to higher SBBE for brands of hedonic products (even to the contrary). This is not so good news for experiential brands in these categories that rely on enhancing relevance and appeal to consumers, who also understand the brands and connect with them, to create sales-based brand equity in the marketplace. The authors suggest in their article that being personally enjoyable (inward-looking) may overshadow the importance of broad appeal and status (outward-looking) for SBBE. Nevertheless, fortunately enough, differentiation does matter for highlighting benefits of the experience of hedonic products, contributing to a raised sales-based brand equity (SBBE).

Datta, Ailawadi and van Heerde proceeded to examine how strongly CBBE corresponds with behavioural responses in the marketplace (elasticities) as manifestation of the anticipated impact of brand equity.

Results indicated that when relevant stature of a brand is higher consumers respond favourably even more strongly to price discounts or deals  (i.e.,  elasticity of response to promotional prices is further more negative or inverse). Yet, the expectation that consumers would be less sensitive (adverse) to increased regular prices by brands of greater stature was not substantiated (i.e., expected positive effect: less negative elasticity). (Differentiation was not found to have a positive effect on response to regular prices either, and could be counter-conducive for price promotions.)

An important implication of brand equity should be that consumers are more willing to pay higher regular prices for a brand of higher stature (i.e., a larger price premium) relative to competing brands, and more forgiving when such a brand sees it necessary to update and raise its regular price. The brand may benefit from being more personally relevant to the consumer, better understood and more highly appreciated. A brand more clearly differentiated from competitors with respect to its advantages could also benefit from a protected status. All these properties are presumed to enhance attachment to a brand, and subsequently lead to greater loyalty, making consumers more ready to stick with the brand even as it becomes more expensive. This research disproves such expectations. Better responsiveness to price promotions can help to increase sales and revenue, but it testifies to the heightened level of competition in many categories (e.g., FMCG or packaged goods) and propensity of consumers to be more opportunistic rather than to the strength of the brands. This result, actually a warning signal, cannot be brushed away easily.

  • Towards the end of the article, the researchers suggest as explanation that they ignored possible differences in response to increases and decreases in regular prices (i.e., asymmetric elasticity). Even so, increases in regular prices by stronger brands are more likely to happen than price decreases, and the latter already are more realistically accounted for in response to promotional prices.

Relevant stature is positively related to responsiveness to feature or promotional display (i.e., consumers are more inclined to purchase from a higher stature brand when in an advantaged display). Consumers also are more strongly receptive to larger volume of advertising by brands of higher stature and better differentiation in their eyes (this analysis could not refer to actual advertising messages and hence perhaps the weaker positive effects). Another interesting finding indicates that sensitivity to degree of distribution (on-shelf availability) is inversely associated with stature — the higher the brand stature from consumer viewpoint, larger distribution is less attractive to the consumers. As the researchers suggest, consumers are more willing to look harder and farther (e.g., in other stores) for those brands regarded more important for them to have. So here is a positive evidence for the impact of stronger brands or higher brand equity.

The research gives rise to some methodological questions on measurement of brand equity that remain open for further deliberation:

  1. Should the measure of brand equity in choice models rely only on a brand-specific intercept (expressing intrinsic assets or value of the brand) or should it include also a reflection of the impact of brand equity as in response to marketing mix activities?
  2. Are attitudinal measures of brand equity (CBBE) too gross and not sensitive enough to capture the incremental value added by the brand or is the measure of brand equity based only on a brand-intercept term in a model of actual purchase data too specific and narrow?  (unless it accounts for some of the impact of brand equity)
  3. How should measures of brand equity based on stated-choice (conjoint) data and actual purchase data be classified with respect to a consumer perspective? (both pertain really to consumers: either their cognition or overt behaviour).

Datta, Ailawadi and van Heerde throw light in their extensive research on the relation of consumer-based equity (CBBE) to behavioural outcomes, manifested in brand equity based on actual purchases (SBBE) and in effects on response to marketing mix actions as an impact of brand equity. Attention should be awarded to positive implications of this research for practice but nonetheless also to the warning alerts it may signal.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

Notes:

[1] How Well Does Consumer-Based Brand Equity Align with Sales-Based Brand Equity and Marketing-Mix Response?; Hannes Datta, Kusum L. Ailawadi, & Harald J. van Heerde, 2017; Journal of Marketing, 81 (May), pp. 1-20. (DOI: 10.1509/jm.15.0340)

[2] Brands and Branding: Research Findings and Future Priorities; Kevin L. Keller and Donald R. Lehmann, 2006; Marketing Science, 25 (6), pp. 740-759. (DOI: 10.1287/mksc.1050.0153)

[3] Developing and Validating a Multidimensional Consumer-Based Brand Equity Scale; Boonghee Yoo and Naveen Donthu, 2001; Journal of Business Research, 52, pp. 1-14.

[4]  Developing and Validating Measures of Facets of Customer-Based Brand Equity; Richard G. Netemeyer, Balaji Krishnan, Chris Pullig, Guangping Wang,  Mahmet Yageci, Dwane Dean, Joe Ricks, & Ferdinand Wirth, 2004; Journal of Business Research, 57, pp. 209-224.

[5] The authors name this dimension ‘energised differentiation’ in reference to an article in which researchers Mizik and Jacobson identified a fifth pillar of energy, and suggest that differentiation and energy have since been merged. However, this change is not mentioned or revealed on the website of BAV Group.

[6] A Conjoint Approach for Consumer- and Firm-Level Brand Valuation; Madiha Ferjani, Kamel Jedidi, & Sharan Jagpal, 2009; Journal of Marketing Research, 46 (December), pp. 846-862.

[7] These two factors (principal components) extracted by Datta et al. are different from two higher dimensions defined by BAV Group (stature = esteem and knowledge, strength = relevance and differentiation). However, the distinction made by the researchers as corroborated by their data is more meaningful  and relevant in the context of this study.

 

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Transparency; reliability; trust: These key terms are rehearsed and highlighted many times in textbooks and business books, academic and trade articles about managing customer relationships. Holding up to them is based, for example, on being honest, truthful and fair when making product or service offers to customers and in any other dealings between a company and its customers. However, those concepts that are good in managerial and marketing theory are too often lost when it comes to practice.

In addition, experts, technology consultants and other advocates of digital marketing are praising the capacity gained by companies to know so much about the behaviour and personal characteristics of their customers. One of the great benefits of this customer knowledge is in enabling companies to construct offers that will closely fit the needs, preferences and consumption or usage habits of their customers. Again, a gap emerges between what companies are supposedly capable to do with digital technologies available to them, including information and tools, and what they actually do. More accurately,  oftentimes companies are not doing enough in utilising those technologies to the intended purpose of creating better fitting offerings and messages.

The present post is based on a true story of a troubling journey to acquire an iPhone from a mobile telecom service provider (it will be called here ‘WM’). But this post is not just about the case of a particular company. Similar forms of problematic conduct are likely to be encountered at competing mobile service providers as well as other telecom service companies such as TV (cable and satellite), telephony (voice and data) and Internet providers. Moreover, at least some of these types of flawed conduct will be familiar to the reader from interaction with service providers in other domains (e.g., banking and finance, credit cards, insurance, healthcare, travel and tourism). In essence, this conduct refers most typically to providers of contractual services, and particularly when services extend over months and years.

An upgrade of a customer’s mobile phone is often accompanied by a modification of his or her service package; it is justified especially when a large generation gap exists between the previous and the new model. Two-part and three-part tariff schemes have been common in mobile communication for many years, splitting the price of service between fixed and variable components. Usage possibilities and patterns have changed, however, with smartphones, pertaining in particular to the online flow of data and the use of mobile applications (‘apps’). Service packages more frequently combine bundles of included (‘pre-paid’) units — minutes (voice), messages (SMS), and data MBs/GBs (mobile websites and apps); the weight of variable cost (i.e., based on price per unit), drops vis-à-vis a fixed cost component.

Subscribed customers are encouraged to pre-commit to ever larger bundles or unit quotas, some of them could constantly be left unspent each month. At least in one category it is sensible for mobile service providers to ‘give away’ a large quantity of messages amid the expanded messaging by customers via free chatting apps (e.g., WhatsApp, Facebook’s Messenger). The marginal cost per unit of any kind could be much lower now for the mobile network companies to make it economic for them to offer larger bundles, and thus attract customers to their ‘great value’ plans (i.e., the customer gets lots of ‘free’ units). Albeit, if customers do not utilise large enough portions of their quotas, they could end up paying for units they never get to benefit from.

A service plan was offered with the new phone purchased, including 10GBs of data, 5000 minutes and 5000 messages per month. This volume signalled a dramatic increase from my previous consumption levels. No doubt the new smartphone could support a huge data volume not possible with the previous semi-smartphone model, but also a volume hard to imagine how it may be used. Nor was it perceivable how to use anything near 5000 SMS. That is the magic of large numbers — they can be fascinating and captivating, yet meaningless at least in a short to medium term. The sales representative at the store and service centre of WM promised that it will save up to 45% of my bill so far. With the service package I get also ‘marvellous high-fidelity’ wireless-Bluetooth earphones, supposedly as a bonus or gift. No other plan was suggested. The relation of the earphones to the discount was not explained. Protesting that I do not really need those earphones did not help. It was awkward, but then it seemed that the enlarged traffic volume, that one might learn how to take advantage of, with a reduction in monthly cost could be worth it. The value of the earphones was negligible to me (but apparently not to WM). That is probably where System 1 got the hold of me. When not feeling on solid ground, swapped with documentation, and distracted, one may fail to pose difficult, intelligent questions;  System 2 remains dormant or blocked. It was a combination of desire to believe the offer is good for me, and to trust the company that it will treat me fairly.

The secret behind the earphones was revealed in the next monthly bill. If paid in cash, their price was about $150 vis-à-vis $900 for the iPhone. I agreed to pay for the iPhone in 12 credit installments (adding  5% in cost). However, the additional and unexpected payment for the earphones was set to be spread over 36 months (+65%! added to price in cash). The discount on service was for 12 months. The payments for the earphones would “eat” much of the discount during the first year. Furthermore, they will drag for another 24 months while the cost of service package returns to its previous level, though of course with a much greater usage allowance. Lesson: Beware of ‘free gifts’ and make sure to get all the details (see more in the section below on contracts).

This has brought me promptly back to the service centre — the staff refused to take their earphones back and gave me another nice demonstration of their performance. However, with the help of a kind supervisor we agreed that payments for both iPhone and earphones will be changed to 6 instalments with no interest (see more in the section on execution).

The Bluetooth earphones may well be a good product and the representatives were right to offer it, but it is wrong to impose the earphones as a ‘bonus’ or incentive if the customer is not interested and declines the offer. Furthermore, at least one other package option should have been recommended that would be more aligned with previous usage in recent months. A smart system should know how to use past behaviour of the customer as a benchmark and propose a reasonable expansion of usage levels of minutes, messages and data. First, it would make the customer feel that the company knows him or her (e.g., needs and usage patterns) and is trying in accordance to provide the most suitable personalised solutions. Second, when the quota of units posits a sensible ‘ceiling’ to the customer it may serve as a goal or an aspiration level to gradually increase his or her usage towards it, and then upgrade the service plan. Otherwise, the customer may be just lost, having no appreciative reference for scaling one’s personal usage levels (perhaps that is the objective, to let customers with less self-control carry away, but that is beyond the scope of this story).

Signing contracts to purchase products or receive services is frequently a sensitive matter and a host of potential pain points. This happens because customers usually cannot fully or even adequately read the contract and comprehend it at the time of transaction, and they are not sufficiently encouraged to spend the time reading and asking questions. The contract for my smartphone included, for example, the terms of payment, basic support, terms of usage,  liability and warranty, etc.. On each desk at the store and service centre of WM stands a tablet in portrait position. Regularly, it displays ads for services and products. However, WM saves on paperwork and employs the screen also to display contracts that can be signed digitally (later sent by e-mail). Reading the contract from the screen is not very convenient and the customer also cannot control the display to the pace of his or her reading. One is quickly brought to the place for signing. The contract for the earphones was separate in origin from the iPhone’s (later corrected); when the representative came to it, he jumped to the signature position which incidentally fell at the top of the screen. When asked to see what comes before, he said this is simply to confirm that I accept the earphones. At that point I wanted to trust him and WM. This turned out to be a mistake. Lesson: Never agree to sign a contract on a screen without seeing the previous screen pages (as you should not do when signing a paper contract). The tablet screen may appear informal and friendly but the contract is binding.

  • In fact, by returning to the issue of service plans, the tablet already on the desk can be used cleverly for displaying service options to a customer while taking into account his or her personal usage patterns. That is, the company can show the customer what would be the cost implication of a proposed service plan given current usage levels, and how it may change if usage levels increase by X%.

On top of all, bad execution of proceedings can temper even actions taken in good faith. It may happen as a result of neglect, lacking proficiency by the staff (e.g., how to use the computer system), or flaws in computer software (e.g., poor execution of instructions). Here are two examples — no attempt is made to guess what has caused them:

As told above, the payment arrangement was changed with special managerial consent to six instalments with no interest, as an option in the contract allows, for both the iPhone and earphones. Unfortunately, a notice from the bank as well as the credit card monthly bill soon revealed that the whole amount was charged in a single payment. The trap is apparently in the phrasing of the contract (translated): “The sum of $$$ that will be charged in one payment (or up to six payments to the choice of the customer at the time of acquisition)”. The phrase ambiguously does not specify in how many (equal) payments, up to six, that (cash) price will be charged. This ambiguity has led to practically ignoring the content in parentheses and what was agreed accordingly. It is noted that a statement on an option of payment in instalments with interest explicitly indicates the number of payments and amount of each one. The phrasing of the first statement must similarly be fixed for that option to have any validity.

In the second case, the company left in place a monthly charge (~$6) for a quota of 70 SMS from my previous service package. Obviously, this number is negligible relative to the new allowance of 5000 SMS a month in the new service plan with the iPhone. They should have automatically removed this obsolete component together with other components from the older plan. The customer service representative at the call centre argued that I should have asked it to be cancelled. That is, instead of apologising for an honest mistake, and possibly reimbursing me for the past month, she made it look as if I may have wanted a non-significant addition of 70 SMS to 5000 SMS (>70:1 ratio). That was already infuriating because it made no sense at all. Lesson: Always check your bills carefully.

The customer journey to purchase an iPhone evolved into a kind of chain of pitfalls, acts of malpractice, and errors of unknown source or cause. It must be emphasised that the troubles are concerned with the envelope of services that enable using the iPhone and not the device itself. It is a story of failure of sales and service representatives to listen, a tendency to repeat answers regardless of the customer’s response (i.e., lack of sensitivity or rigidity forced from above), and possibly a skill problem in retrieving information and instructing their computer systems correctly. Where supervisors or managers do try to fix things, organisational and technological pitfalls may stand in their way. Nonetheless, the more disturbing moments of the experience surface when a customer feels an attempt to manipulate has been made (e.g., by diverting attention or hiding information). Being manipulated generally feels uneasy, because among other things it infringes on a consumer’s autonomy to make a decision in one’s own good, but it is all the more damaging when done just to serve the manipulator’s interest (e.g., make a sale)[*].

Companies and customers alike can help in minimising negative encounters that can spoil customer journeys. Consumers can be more vigilant, pay more attention to details, and ask questions when offers do not sound or look right. Yet in the real world consumers cannot avoid being off guard, erring in judgement, or being complacent — much of the time humans are driven by the intuitive and instinctive System 1 mode of thinking. Companies can make greater effort to ensure customers have the relevant information and comprehend it; be attentive to what customers ask or argue; and overall show respect to customers and refrain from egregiously exploiting their cognitive vulnerabilities — perhaps naïve, but not illegitimate to expect.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

 

[*] Further reading: “Fifty Shades of Manipulation”; Cass R. Sunstein , 2016; Journal of Marketing Behavior, 1 (3-4), pp. 213-244.

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Fifteen years have passed since a Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to Daniel Kahneman to this time (Fall 2017) when another leading researcher in behavioural economics, Richard Thaler, wins this honourable prize. Thaler and Kahneman are no strangers — they have collaborated in research in this field from its early days in the late 1970s. Moreover, Kahneman together with the late Amos Tversky helped Thaler in his first steps in this field, or more generally in meeting economics with psychology. Key elements of Thaler’s theory of Mental Accounting are based on the value function in Kanheman and Tversky’s Prospect theory.

In recent years Thaler is better known for the approach he devised of choice architecture and the tools of nudging, as co-author of the book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness” with Cass Sunstein (2008-9). However, at the core of the contribution of Thaler is the theory of mental accounting where he helped to lay the foundations of behavioural economics. The applied tools of nudging are not appropriately appreciated without understanding the concepts of mental accounting and other phenomena he studied with colleagues which describe deviations in judgement and behaviour from the rational economic model.

Thaler, originally an economist, was unhappy with predictions of consumer choice arising from microeconomics — the principles of economic theory were not contested as a normative theory (e.g., regarding optimization) but claims by economists that the theory is able to describe actual consumer behaviour and predict it were put into question. Furthermore, Thaler and others early on argued that deviations from rational judgement and choice behaviour are predictable.  In his ‘maverick’ paper “Toward a Positive Theory of Consumer Choice” from 1980, Thaler described and explained deviations and anomalies in consumer choice that stand in disagreement with the economic theory. He referred to concepts such as framing of gains and losses, the endowment effect, sunk costs, search for information on prices, regret, and self-control (1).

The theory of mental accounting developed by Thaler thereafter is already an integrated framework that describes how consumers perform value judgements and make choice decisions of products and services to purchase while recognising psychological effects in making economic decisions (2).  The theory is built around three prominent concepts (described here only briefly):

Dividing a budget into categories of expenses: Consumers metaphorically (but sometimes physically) allocate the money of their budget into buckets or envelopes according to type or purpose of expenses. It means that they do not transfer money freely between categories (e.g., food, entertainment). This concept contradicts the economic principle of fungibility, thus suggesting that one dollar is not valued the same in every category. A further implication is that each category has a sub-budget allotted to it, and if expenses in the category during a period surpass its limit, a consumer will prefer to give up on the next purchase and refrain from adding money from another category. Hence, for instance,  Dan and Edna will not go out for dinner at a trendy restaurant if that requires taking money planned for buying shoes for their child. However, managing the budget according to the total limit of income in each month is more often unsatisfactory, and some purchases can still be made on credit without hurting other purchases in the same month. On the other hand, it can readily be seen how consumers get into trouble when they try to spread too many expenses across future periods with their credit cards, and lose track of the category limits for their different expenses.

Segregating gains and integrating losses: In the model of a value function by Kahneman and Tversky, value is defined upon gains and losses as one departs from a reference point (a “status quo” state). Thaler explicated in turn how properties of the gain-loss value function would be implemented in practical evaluations of outcomes. The two general “rules”, as demonstrated most clearly in “pure” cases, say: (a) if there are two or more gains, consumers prefer to segregate them (e.g., if Chris makes gains on two different shares on a given day, he will prefer to see them separately); (b) if there are two or more losses, consumers prefer to integrate them (e.g., Sarah is informed of a price for an inter-city train trip but then told there is a surcharge for travelling in the morning — she will prefer to consider the total cost for her requested journey). Thaler additionally proposed what consumers would prefer doing in more complicated cases of “mixed” gains and losses, whether to segregate between the gain and loss (e.g., if the loss is much greater than the gain) or integrate them (e.g., if the gain is larger than the loss so that one remains with a net gain).

Adding-up acquisition value with transaction value to evaluate product offers: A product or service offer generally exhibits in it benefits and costs to the consumer (e.g., the example of a train ticket above overlooked the benefit of the travel to Sarah). But value may arise from the offering or deal itself beyond the product per se. Thaler recognised that consumers may look at two sources of value, and composing or adding them together would yield the overall worth of a product purchase offer: (1) Acquisition utility is the value of a difference between the [monetary] value equivalent of a product to the consumer and its actual price; (2) Transaction utility is the value of a difference between the actual price and a reference price. In the calculus of value, hides the play of gains and losses. This value concept was quite quickly adopted by consumer and marketing researchers in academia and implemented in means-end models that depict chains of value underlying the purchase decision process of consumers (mostly in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s). Thaler’s approach to ‘analysing’ value is getting more widely acknowledged and applied also in practice, as expressions of value as such in consumer response to offerings can be found in so many domains of marketing and retailing.

A reference price may receive different representations, for instance: the price last paid; price recalled from a previous period; average or median price in the same product class; a ‘normal’ or list price; a ‘fair’ or ‘just’ price (which is not so easy to specify). The transaction value may vary quite a lot depending on the form of reference price a consumer uses, ceteris paribus, and hence affect how the transaction value is represented (i.e., as a gain or a loss and its magnitude). Yet, it also suggests that marketers may hint to consumers a price to be used as a reference price (e.g., an advertised price anchor) and thus influence consumers’ value judgements.

We often observe and think of discounts as a difference between an actual price (‘only this week’) and a higher normal price — in this case we may construe the acquisition value and transaction value as two ways to perceive gain on the actual price concurrently. But the model of Thaler is more general because it recognizes a range of prices that may be employed as a reference by consumers. In addition, a list price may be suspected to be set higher to invoke in purpose the perception of a gain vis-à-vis the actual discounted price which in practice is more regular than the list price. A list price or an advertised price may also serve primarily as a cue for the quality of the product (and perhaps also influence the equivalent value of the product for less knowledgeable consumers), while an actual selling price provides a transaction value or utility. In the era of e-commerce, consumers also appear to use the price quoted on a retailer’s online store as a reference; then they may visit one of its brick-and-mortar stores, where they hope to obtain their desired product faster, and complain if they discover that the price for the same product in-store is much higher. Where customers are increasingly grudging over delivery fees and speed, a viable solution to secure customers is to offer a scheme of ‘click-and-collect at a store near you’. Moreover, when more consumers shop with a smartphone in their hands, the use of competitors’ prices or even the same retailer’s online prices as references is likely to be even more frequent and ubiquitous.


  • The next example may help further to illustrate the potentially compound task of evaluating offerings: Jonathan arrives to the agency of a car dealer where he intends to buy his next new car of favour, but there he finds out that the price on offer for that model is $1,500 higher than a price he saw two months earlier in ads. The sales representative claims prices by the carmaker have risen lately. However, when proposing a digital display system (e.g., entertainment, navigation, technical car info) as an add-on to the car, the seller proposes also to give Jonathan a discount of $150 on its original price tag.
  • Jonathan appreciates this offer and is inclined to segregate this saving apart from the additional pay for the car itself (i.e., ‘silver-lining’). The transaction value may be expanded to include two components (separating the evaluations of the car offer and add-on offer completely is less sensible because the add-on system is still contingent on the car).

Richard Thaler contributed to the revelation, understanding and assessment of implications of additional cognitive and behavioural phenomena that do not stand in line with rationality in the economic sense. At least some of those phenomena have direct implications in the context of mental accounting.

One of the greater acknowledged phenomena by now is the endowment effect. It is the recognition that people value an object (product item) already in their possession more than when having the option of acquiring the same object. In other words, the monetary compensation David would be willing to accept to give up on a good he holds is higher than the amount he would agree to pay to acquire it —  people principally have a difficulty to give up on something they own or endowed with (no matter how they originally obtained it). This effect has been most famously demonstrated with mugs, but to generalise it was also tested with other items like pens. This effect may well squeeze into consumers’ considerations when trying to sell much more expensive properties like their car or apartment, beyond an aim to make a financial gain. In his latest book on behavioural economics, ‘Misbehaving’, Thaler provides a friendly explanation with graphic illustration as to why fewer transactions of exchange occur between individuals who obtain a mug and those who do not, due to the endowment effect vis-à-vis a prediction by economic theory (3).

Another important issue of interest to Thaler is fairness, such as when it is fair or acceptable to charge a higher price from consumers for an object in shortage or hard to obtain (e.g., shovels for clearing snow on the morning after a snow storm). Notably, the perception of “fairness” may be moderated depending on whether the rise in price is framed as a reduction in gain (e.g., a discount of $2o0 from list price being cancelled for a car in short supply) or an actual loss (e.g., an explicit increase of $200 above the list price) — the change in actual price is more likely to be perceived as acceptable in the former case than the latter (4). He further investigated fairness games (e.g., Dictator, Punishment and Ultimatum). Additional noteworthy topics he studied are susceptibility to sunk cost and self-control.

  • More topics studied by Thaler can be traced by browsing his long list of papers over the years since the 1970s, and perhaps more leisurely through his illuminating book: “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics” (2015-16).

The tactics of nudging, as part of choice architecture, are based on lessons from the anomalies and biases in consumers’ procedures of judgement and decision-making studied by Thaler himself and others in behavioural economics. Thaler and Sunstein looked for ways to guide or lead consumers to make better choices for their own good — health, wealth and happiness — without attempting to reform or alter their rooted modes of thinking and behaviour, which most probably would be doomed to failure. Their clever idea was to work within the boundaries of human behaviour to modify it just enough and in a predictable way to put consumers on a better track to a choice decision. Nudging could mean diverting a consumer from his or her routine way of making a decision to arrive to a different, expectedly better, choice outcome. It often likely involves taking a consumer out of his or her ‘comfort zone’. Critically important, however, Thaler and Sunstein conditioned in their book ‘Nudge’ that: “To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates“. Accordingly, nudging techniques should not impose on consumers the choice of any designated or recommended options (5).

Six categories of nudging techniques are proposed: (1) defaults; (2) expect errors; (3) give feedback; (4) understanding “mappings”; (5) structure complex choices; and (6) incentives. In any of these techniques, the intention is to allow policy makers to direct consumers to choices that improve the state of consumers. Yet, the approach they advocate of ‘libertarian paternalism’ is not received without contention —  while libertarian, that is without coercing a choice, a question remains what gives an agency or policy maker the wisdom and right to determine which options should be better off for consumers (e.g., health plans, saving and investment programmes). Thaler and Sunstein discuss the implementation of nudging mostly in the context of public policy (i.e., by government agencies) but these techniques are applicable just as well to plans and policies of private agencies or companies (e.g., banks, telecom service providers, retailers in their physical and online stores). Nevertheless, public agencies and even more so business companies should devise and apply any measures of nudging to help consumers to choose the better-off and fitting plans for them; it is not for manipulating the consumers or taking advantage of their human errors and biases in judgement and decision-making.

Richard Thaler reviews and explains in his book “Misbehaving” the phenomena and issues he has studied in behavioural economics through the story of his rich research career — it is an interesting, lucid and compelling story. He tells in a candid way about the stages he has gone through in his career. Most conspicuously, this story also reflects the obstacles and resistance that faced behavioural economists for at least 25-30 years.

Congratulations to Professor Richard Thaler, and to the field of behavioural economics to which he contributed wholesomely, in theory and in its application.    

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

Notes:

(1) Toward a Positive Theory of Consumer Choice; Richard H. Thaler, 1980/2000; in Choices, Values and Frames (eds. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky)[Ch. 15: pp. 269-287], Cambridge University Press. (Originally published in Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization.)

(2) Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice; Richard H. Thaler, 1985; Marketing Science, 4 (3), pp. 199-214.

(3) Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics; Richard H. Thaler, 2016; UK: Penguin Books (paperback).

(4) Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias; Daniel Kahneman, Jack L. Knetsch, & Richard H. Thaler, 1991/2000; in Choices, Values and Frames (eds. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky)[Ch. 8: pp. 159-170], Cambridge University Press. (Originally published in Journal of Economic Perspectives).

(5) Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness; Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, 2009; UK: Penguin Books (updated edition).

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For Shufersal, the leading food retailer operating supermarkets in Israel, it looks like the sky is the limit. This is a message strongly received from the CEO of Shufersal, Itzhak Aberkohen, in a recent interview given to Globes business newspaper (for its annual publication of consumer-based equity-ranking of brands, July 2017). Shufersal is already a major national retailer, but since the collapse and sell-off of the main competing food chain Mega last year the road ahead is clear more than ever for Shufersal to ride on to stardom. The plans presented by the retailer’s CEO are definitely leading in that direction on different fronts.

  • Note: Shufersal has also been known as ‘Supersol’ but it appears that the retailer is moving to suppress that name in favour of enhancing its Shufersal brand name. The original name chosen for the retailer almost sixty years ago was composed by joining two words: ‘Shufra’ from Aramaic meaning excellent and ‘Sal’ which means basket in Hebrew. The retailer founded the first modern American-style supermarket in Israel in Tel-Aviv in 1958. Israelis frequently name the retailer ‘Supersal’ or ‘Shufersal’. The official choice of ‘Shufersal‘ by the company should make the consumers happy while remaining as true as possible to the legacy name.

The retailing company Shufersal operates over 270 stores. They are divided into multiple sub-chains of different store formats, designed to target different consumer segments or accommodate distinct shopping situations or goals. Three main sub-chains are: “My Shufersal” (the core sub-chain of ‘classic’ supermarkets in neighbourhoods); “Shufersal Deal” (large discount stores); and “Shufersal Express” (small convenience stores in neighbourhoods). Like most food chains, the stores offer in fact not only food and drink products but a larger variety of grocery and housekeeping products, and may sell as well toiletry or personal care products. Shufersal operates in addition a channel for online or digital shopping. It also has its own brand of products carrying the retailer’s name. The CEO seeks to enhance the company’s capacities in these domains, and then extend further. An important aspect in his plan is the digital transformation of the company’s retail operations and services.

  • Note that supermarkets in various countries may selectively add in different times and locations other product ranges (e.g., books and magazines, electric home equipment, housewares).

Shufersal is now on the verge of making a strategic entry into the field of ‘pharma’ retailing with the acquisition of New-Pharm, the second-sized pharma chain in the country. The food retailer already sells toiletry products in its stores, as indicated above, but it has no access to cosmetics (e.g., perfumed lotions, make-up) and non-subscription medications (via pharmacy departments). Taking over New-Pharm would provide it with this capability through the pharma-dedicated and licensed stores. The dominant leader in pharma in Israel is Super-Pharm, which gets the respect of Mr. Aberkohen as a successful and highly professional retail competitor in that field. Shufersal should be able to get better terms for purchasing toiletry products for its supermarkets and other stores, but the addition of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals seems less fitting its current line of business. It makes sense if the retailer had department stores where one of the departments would sell cosmetics, but that is not the case of Shufersal; it would probably have to operate the pharma stores separately. Undertaking the responsibility of operating pharmacies could create even greater complications that may outweigh the benefit of margins from selling OTC medications, nutrition supplements and other devices.

The deal is still awaiting approval of the antitrust supervisor by the end of August 2017. The main obstacle comprises 6-8 flagship stores that the supervisor may not allow the food retailer to have. Aberkohen has said in the interview that the acquisition of the pharma retailer would not be worth it without those stores. There could be additional restrictions due to vicinity of “Deal” stores and “My” supermarkets to some New-Pharm stores.  Aberkohen believes that the increased variety and assortment of toiletry products the company will be able to sell together with the new categories will make an important contribution to its sales potential but will also create a more balanced competitive challenge against Super-Pharm (i.e., as two equivalent retail powers) that will benefit consumers in personal care and grooming. The suppliers are concerned, however, that the bargaining power of Shufersal will become significantly, perhaps exceedingly, stronger in toiletry, and that the retailer will link the trading terms for their presence in New-Pharm stores with presence of their products in the Shufersal stores (Globes [Hebrew], 15 August 2017).

Shufersal’s CEO seems to have little regard for its follower Mega under a new ownership. Most of the chain, neighbourhood supermarkets (“Mega City”, 127 stores), was bought from a holding company (“Alon Blue Square”) in a rather bad state by a medium-sized food retailer of discount warehouse-like stores (“Bitan”) in May 2016. Other discount stores were sold and distributed among some smaller discount retail chains. Since then a few more supermarkets of Mega were apparently sold or closed. Bitan has roughly more than doubled the total number of stores in its ownership since acquiring Mega (on a scale from 70-80 to 180-190). Aberkohen argues that Bitan seems to be taking hold of the operation of Mega City but there is still much work ahead to re-organise its whole retail business. Occasional signs in the stores imply that the new owner is still grappling in effort to manage the additional supermarket chain. There will also come a time to deal with the effort and redundancy of keeping two unconnected brands of the two sub-chains of discount stores and supermarkets (“Bitan Wines” and “Mega City”, respectively).

Mr. Aberkohen has no greater regard for the other discount food retailers (the more familiar and popular of them is “Rami Levy” with 44 stores, increasing by 10 stores in the past year). In his view, Shufersal does not consider itself as opposed to Rami Levy or the other players; it is engaged in its own plans and mission with a focus on innovation. A key to success in the long-term, in his opinion, is an emphasis on managing existing (‘same’) stores and innovation, not adding more and more floor area. He thus maintains that while the competitors, particularly Bitan/Mega, are so busy handling the additional space in new stores, Shufersal will have the time it needs, as a window of opportunity, to create innovation (e.g., Internet, robotics) and gain an advantage of 3-5 years ahead.

  • So far consumers have not gained in terms of cost of shopping from the deal of selling Mega. According to Israeli business newspaper “Calcalist” there are worrying signs to the contrary. Mega under its new ownership has not been pressuring prices downwards (attributed to financial obligations of its owner Nahum Bitan), and Shufersal that had identified this weakness, took the opportunity to raise prices in its stores while gaining in bargaining power vis-à-vis its suppliers. A rise in prices (i.e., index of barcoded products) and an increase in sales revenue in the food retail sector (including non-barcoded outlets) point to a change in trend from 2014-2015.

The CEO of Shufersal is looking forward to digital transformation of retailing and shopping experiences, involving innovation both in online self-service customer-facing platforms and in the preparation and delivery of online orders. He expects great advances in the operation of logistic centres where robots and humans will take part in collating products from shelves for online orders and packing them for dispatch and delivery to customers. Three centres are in development. Enthusiastically, he proclaims that the online apparatus will involve a lot of automation, digital (features) and robotics.

Shufersal is clearly adopting the new language of data-driven marketing, Big Data, and digital automation of interactions with its customers-shoppers. The company is said to pull together to that aim its information systems, supply chain, and data pools from its customer loyalty club and club of credit card holders. This will enable it in the future to customise offers and services much better to its customers. Aberkohen talks of providing services to suppliers based on their platform of big data but he may have to think more in terms of collaboration, especially with the stronger manufacturing suppliers (i.e., sharing data on shopping patterns in exchange for support and aid in resources for analysing the data using advanced tools and methods of data science). Aberkohen believes that in the future we will see fewer stores, and smaller ones, due to transition of shoppers to online ordering and direct delivery to their homes or offices (currently online orders account for 12% of sales at Shufersal).

Moreover, the CEO is expecting a considerable expansion in ranges of products the retailer will make available to its customers via online shopping. This will include also orders from overseas (e.g., through partners in the US). He refrains from likening Shufersal to Amazon but is surely getting inspiration from the international online master. It could relate to: (a) A wide variety of products that a retailer can offer on the Internet (besides, Amazon could be getting more deeply engaged in food retailing with the recent pending acquisition of Whole Foods); (b) Employing robotics and humans in logistic centres; and (c) Advanced and dynamic analytics to customise offers to shoppers.

  • The measure of consumer-based brand equity of Globes/Nielsen is based on three key metrics: willingness to recommend, intention to buy tomorrow, and favourability. The top brand of food chain stores is Rami Levi (discount stores). This position may be credited to the personal character and initiative of Mr. Levi and his high media profile (e.g., proclaiming to fight and act for the good of consumers). Shufersal is in the second-best position in the eyes of consumers. The original brand of Bitan is ranked 7th whereas Mega City has fallen down to the ungracious 11th place (one before last).

Shufersal’s own brand currently captures about 20% of total sales. The CEO aims to increase this share to a level of 40%-50% to be in par with similar retail chains overseas. The retailer will have to walk on a thin rope when cutting down purchases of branded products from national manufacturers without ruining relations with them. Shufersal already offers milk, cheese and meat (beef) under its private label (a precedent in Israel), yet the CEO admits they still value and need their relationship with the leading national producer of these food products (Tnuva). In the past Shuferal has also had a bitter battle with another producer of dairy and other food products (Strauss). Other categories in which the retailer markets under its name include baby diapers and milk formulae; the CEO has the full intention to add more product types to this list and expand the shelf space and volume assigned to Shufersal’s own brand. The proposition according to Aberkohen is to bring quality products at value-for-money. Shufersal has taken additional strategic steps in recent years to tighten their control over the display of products in their stores: assigning their own workers to place most products on shelves in-store instead of allowing representatives of suppliers to do so, and bringing-in most products to stores independently from their logistic centres.

The CEO of Shufersal is cognizant that many consumers do not strive to shop in large discount stores that are usually located at the outskirts of cities or in industrial areas. Often enough consumers prefer convenience to lower cost. People who work long hours, including young adults early in their career, and even students, cannot afford the time or pass over the option of shopping in those stores. It may be added that for older consumers (e.g., pensioners), discount stores may simply be out of reach, especially if one does not drive. Supermarkets in shopping malls (so-called ‘anchors’) are also considered by Aberkohen as obsolete. These consumers-shoppers prefer visiting (at least during the week) a supermarket or even a convenience store in their neighbourhood — they are too pressed in time with duties or other engagements to bother about the somewhat higher cost (Mr. Aberkohen brings his own daughter as an example). Nevertheless, if the neighbourhood stores do not work out as a practical option, they will probably order online.

To top the list of the plans of Shufersal’s CEO, he sees the retailer engaged in a variety of peripheral services consumers may like to have at easy reach such as non-banking financial services (e.g., loans), insurance, travel (including holidays abroad), and optometric (eye-glasses). Some of the services are likely to be made available only online (e.g., insurance, travel), next to additional shopping options Shufersal expects to generate. Although Aberkohen does not refer specifically to the mobile channel, it is reasonable that much of what he describes in relation to an online channel is necessarily applicable these days in a mobile channel.

Shufersal’s CEO has high aspirations for the retail company he leads. Aberkohen’s plans may change not only the consumption culture in the country, as he maintains, but also the nature and character of the company itself. Hence, Shufersal’s management will have to watch carefully what areas it is about to enter and how qualified the company is to make those extensions. They will have to consider, for example, how to integrate the business areas of New-Pharm into the portfolio of Shufersal. They should not underestimate the trouble that discount retailers can cause them. Moreover, as Shufersal makes more moves to fortify its retail business, its management must act with sense and sensibility amid tensions that such moves cause, and are likely to continue to cause, with suppliers as well as consumers. The expansion and addition of products and services for the benefit of consumers is a positive venture, but Shfuersal still has to convince them as such, every day.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

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