Why am I looking at consumer goods brands?

28 Jun 2010 by Randall Helms, No Comments »

In my ‘Refining the Concept Further’ post from several weeks ago, I discussed how I was scoping my original research question (how brands can use social media to reach out to and engage with their core customers) into a narrower (and hopefully better) form. As an update, I thought that it might be useful to spell out a bit more explicitly why I’ve decided to use FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) brands as the focus for my dissertation.

Before I explain why I’ve chosen FMCG’s specifically, it is worth discussing why I’ve decided to focus on a specific sector. Ideally, I would be able to look throughout the business world to try and find the best and most interesting examples of how brands are using social media for marketing purposes, but this is simply not feasible given that my deadline is the end of August and I can’t write more than 15,000 words. Therefore, I felt it was necessary for scoping reasons to choose a specific sector to focus on, otherwise I would need an entire book to cover everything of interest.

So, having established the necessity of a sectoral focus, why FMCG’s specifically? After all, since I am really interested in how brands engage with their core customers, why not choose something like automotive transport or clothes, where the consumer-brand relationship is very strong? If you look at a brand like Harley-Davidson, for instance, it has both a very strong brand identity and a very clearly defined brand community, with a powerful relationship between Harley-Davidson owners and the brand itself. Studying how Harley-Davidson engages with its core customers wouldn’t be so difficult, because it is quite clear who their core customers are, as well as how to reach them. Why choose FMCG’s, where this connection tends to be less apparent?

The answer to this question is two-fold. My first reason for looking at FMCG’s is that I think that, from a marketing perspective, it is an intrinsically interesting sector. For instance, yesterday morning as I walked around the big Sainsbury’s at Cameron Toll with my wife I was focusing on the different brands. Like most people, when I am in a supermarket I am generally on auto-pilot, focused only on finding what I am looking for, but when you actually pay attention it is quite remarkable how much choice there is in your average large supermarket. From household products to candy to beer to pasta sauces to toiletries and so on, the range and variety of branded options confronting the typical shopper is quite mind-boggling. This presents a fascinating challenge to the marketer – how do you make your brand stand out? How do you connect with the consumer so that they will choose your jar of pickles over your competitor’s?

To expand on this point, the second reason why I have chosen this sector is that it is not just interesting, but a challenge. As I mentioned earlier, there are some sectors where the core customer is quite easily definable, such as video game consoles like PlayStation3 or XBox 360. Consumer goods have much broader markets – who doesn’t purchase washing-up liquid or chocolate bars or deoderant? These are products that everyone uses and consumes, so marketing communications necessarily need to tend to the universal, but since my feeling is that social media is less adept at universal communications, the question of how to use this channel for marketing purposes becomes quite an interesting one. Who do you target, how do you identify them, and how do you communicate with them?

It’s an interesting challenge, one that I felt provided a nice way to scope the dissertation, although we shall see in the final result if I should have either defined my research question more narrowly or more broadly! Having chosen this particular sector, I am also going to have to decide after I have done my research how representative it is – does it present lessons to other businesses that are interested in social media, or is it sui generis? If it has lessons to offer, what are they? It is a fascinating challenge, and I am enjoying my work on it.


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