Smart public relations can help put a new brand on the map or burnish the image of an older one. This year, businesses face perennial questions like how to maintain customer loyalty, as well as fresh challenges like changes in federal regulation laws and the tax code.
But, with change comes an opportunity to tell new and different stories or appeal to emerging audiences. So, in the spirit of forging ahead into 2018, we offer a look at some brands poised to find their way into consumer hearts and minds this year.
Brands to watch in 2018
Bulletin experiential retail stores for women
Tapping into the zeitgeist much? On the heels of a year featuring many men behaving badly, Bulletin bills itself as a store for women featuring only goods “dreamed up by a female entrepreneur.” The brand boasts an all-female workforce and also gives 10% of profits to Planned Parenthood. Just over a year old, the company started out online, then developed a loyal following and opened brick-and-mortar stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn “by popular demand.” The model works like this: participating brands rent space to feature their products in-store and they’re involved in all aspects of marketing and sales. The flagship store has 30 brands in residence and Bulletin has become known as “the WeWork of retail space.”
We like Bulletin’s PR positioning, because it taps into two important trends – female empowerment and the shared workspace. Both are movements that resonate with media and customers. And as long as stories like this dominate the news, we’re likely to see some competitors in the category as well.
The Virtual Agents: Alexa, Cortana, and Siri
The trio of top virtual assistants have made themselves indispensable to millions of users who crave the ease of the connected household. Alexa has even achieved SNL skit status, which may not result in greater sales, but seals its reputation as a product of the moment. And although Alexa has become the “Kleenex” of the crowd, each assistant offers something a little different, possibly as a result of a shrewd brand differentiation strategy by each. And there are many improvements planned in the coming year. These include moves to integrate the technology into vehicles, with BMW and Ford opting to add Alexa, for example. There’s also a push to make the technologies a bigger part of the workplace, with Microsoft, Google and Amazon revving up business services. Each assistant has also made news by announcing new features. Siri can control lights. Cortana lets you command your computer with your voice. And Alexa recently announced handsfree calling and texting.
Features and benefits are great coverage drivers, but the PR home run for many of the brands involves newsworthy personal-interest stories like helping solve crimes or offering aid to kids with disabilities. There is virtually nothing the AI devices can’t do; their abilities and irresistible anthropomorphic “personalities” will continue to place them in the spotlight for the foreseeable future.
Hello Fresh, hello success
The Avis to Blue Apron’s Hertz? Not anymore! Berlin-based home meal kit Hello Fresh, which became a publicly traded company in November, is valued at more than twice rival Blue Apron. On the face of it, both brands deliver a very similar product to busy working people who are too tired or bored to cook. Where the two differ seems to come down to user experience, an area where no digital business can afford to disappoint in the battle for hearts and wallets (and stomachs). A recent battle of the boxes gave Hello Fresh props for its ability to customize meals by dietary needs, excellent customer service with a strong focus on user feedback, ability to skip weeks and easy cancellation – areas where Blue Apron’s customer recipe just can’t compete.
More importantly, the company has leveraged its user feedback, creating innovative initiatives that also made news. This past fall street teams said “hello” to college students with an outreach to entice kids to home-cook meals rather than opt for costlier and less healthful takeout options. Then the brand broke the 30-minute prep and cook time barrier with the very PR-friendly “20-minute meals” aimed at those who asked for an even quicker meal and less clean-up.
Making mattress companies green with envy
The digital landscape is full of bed-in-a-box brands claiming product superiority. Many have the same claims of basic comfort and value, and a few have entered the organic, all-natural space. Avocado Green is one of those. But this maker of all-natural, organic mattresses is carving out a niche by billing itself as the most luxurious of the “natural” varieties. As more discerning bed buyers decide to buy online, those catering to a very specific segment seem to be winning the day. Avocado mattresses are made to order, by hand, which carries a certain cachet. As a business story, Avocado is also unusual in that the company is self-funded with very little advertising. But, between some very strong online reviews and early PR, they are making a dent in boxed bedding.
Have you ever been out for a run but unable to achieve the full exercise benefits because you were worried that the house key you stuck in your shoe would somehow dislodge? Or the iPod you’re wearing around your arm wasn’t really that secure? This is a real problem, one that prompted the founders of WOLACO to develop practical, “worry-proof” high-performance compression gear with trusty, slim sweat-proof pockets guaranteed to hold your keys, phone, device, and more. WOLACO is pricier than Under Armor and Nike, but the founders’ bet on security as a selling point appears to be paying off. With serious influencer muscle from former NFL running back Tony Richardson, WOLACO has attracted a loyal fan base.
While none of these brands are in the same category and they may not appeal to the same target audience, they do have some important things in common. Each has a very specific positioning, target audience and, importantly, a story (or more than one) to tell. There are lessons to be learned from each as new brands come on the scene in 2018.