Yorkshire Day: Branding God’s Own Country

As the only Yorkshireman in an Oxfordshire office, it probably comes as no surprise I was alone in my excitement over Yorkshire Day, just a few weeks ago.

Further afield, however, businesses, celebrities, charities and news outlets were clambering over each other to celebrate God’s Own Country in style on social media. From NME tweeting a list of ‘nine excellent songs about the land of the white rose’, to Sheffield shopping centre, Meadowhall, dropping its ‘h’ and becoming ‘Meadow’all’ for the day.

Some will look at this activity though, and wonder whether a business has anything to achieve by tweeting about Yorkshire Day. I would argue, yes; without question.

To lure in the modern consumer, businesses need more than just witty advertising or clever marketing. They need to build an emotional connection with their audience; to ultimately position the brand more favourably in consumers’ hearts and minds than their competitors.

In short, they need to think about how their ideal customer perceives their brand.

The original meaning of “brand” was to literally mark something – usually livestock – with a hot iron, in order to identify it as being from a particular source. But in recent years, the rise of the intensely sceptical, want-it-yesterday consumer has brought the concept of “brand” to mean much more than simply a name and a logo. Today, the most successful businesses understand that connecting with their audience on an emotional, personal level is the aim of the game.

It’s about how people actually feel when they see your logo. The connotations that first spring to mind when they hear your name. This is where marketing and advertising simply aren’t enough.

One of my favourite examples of this approach in action is Spotify’s 2016 campaign, in which customer data was used to craft phrases like, ‘Dear 3,749 people who streamed “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” the day of the Brexit vote, hang in there.’ No marketing jargon. Not a whiff of “sign up today and your first month is free.” This is a brand that simply understands what its audience will respond to. The humour, the tone of voice; even the political outlook. Just as many people probably listened to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” or Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” when the Brexit vote was announced.

Consumers are bombarded on a daily basis with adverts via every possible channel. Jay Walker-Smith, President of the Marketing Firm, Yankelovich, claimed that we have gone from being exposed to 500 ads a day in the 1970’s to 5,000 a day in modern society. An eye-watering figure, but one that is very plausible when you stop to really think about the number of ads you see during the average day. But how many of those do you actually remember?

Social media, television, billboards, email, even bus stops and shop windows are just a few of the channels by which we have adverts endlessly thrust upon us in daily life, and audiences are becoming numb to their appeal. Brands like Spotify are showing us that to cut through the noise and win the attention of a target audience, an emotional response is key.

We connect much more readily with brands that show they understand what’s important to us, and who show more sincerity than simply adding our precious contact details to a marketing outreach list.

Which brings us back to Yorkshire Day.

Tapping into a regional or cultural source of identity or pride is a powerful way of demonstrating an understanding of an audience’s values, and Yorkshire Day is by no means a standalone example. At least once a year, I hear someone say that Christmas hasn’t come until they’ve seen the Coca-Cola truck, or that it isn’t really Easter until you’ve taken the kids to a National Trust Egg Hunt.

It’s important to remember though, that as with any public-facing strategy, there are always risks. Appear too keen to please, and you’ll turn your audience off. Try to jump on the every opportunity that passes by, by claiming your brand aligns with an identity or culture that it simply doesn’t, and you’ll push them away.

Meadowhall’s Yorkshire Day tweet, for example, was simple, but effective because of its status as a local landmark in Sheffield. If the Oracle – my local shopping centre in Reading – had tried to do the same, it would have fallen flat on its face. For a famous example of just how badly this can go wrong, look no further Kenneth Cole’s epic fail of a tweet, in which the fashion retailer tried to shoehorn its new spring collection into the news coverage of political unrest in Cairo and received a healthy dose of backlash for its troubles…

My advice to any brands looking to build a stronger relationship with its audience? Engage, listen and invest time in getting know the people you are trying to drive into your store, read your magazine or buy your product. Find out what makes them tick and what’s important to them. Then, when you have something to say, get involved in the conversation.

We are naturally drawn to people who share our values and our interests, and brands are no different. A potential customer might not see you celebrating Yorkshire Day and rush to your nearest outlet, arms outstretched with cash in hand, but then, what advertising has that effect? What they will do instead, which is more important in the long term, is notice, appreciate and remember you.

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