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PG, Tetley and Twinings: Who is winning consumer hearts and headspace on National Tea Day?

By Nick Ward | Head of Planning



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April 21, 2017 | 6 min read

With National Tea Day upon us, tea is likely to be on the minds of many today, but how can tea brands make sure they stand out from the crowd?

The UK tea market has suffered a long-running volume decline since 2010, yet, from a branding perspective, it remains a stable category, populated by solid, well-recognised marques.

Today’s tea marketers find themselves under growing pressure from within and beyond their category. All manner of drinks now vie for the drinking occasions that were once classically held by a ‘nice cup of tea’. The sector’s largest segment, black tea, is failing to attract the levels of loyalty from younger generations that were once par for the course. And while fruit, herbal, and green tea are all growing with the younger market, their sales are not enough to offset the heavy losses seen in black tea.


/ Morgan Sessions

We are bombarded with choice every day, and tea faces massive competition from both within and from outside the hot beverage sector. And, with consumers typically shopping on autopilot, becoming stickier in their minds is increasingly difficult for brands in all sectors, including tea.

Consumers often shop to address a specific need or situation, and so unsurprisingly, the tea bought for a visit from a health conscious friend will be quite different to that bought to impress the in-laws. For each situation or need, the brands that spring to mind may be quite different. Trying to be the default choice against every occasion and need is almost impossible. However, there are ways to pilot the autopilot.

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Fame, creativity and salient signposting are tried and trusted ways to make brands stand out from the crowd. However, recent thinking from the likes of Professor Byron Sharp and Jenni Romaniuk has begun to show that there are also more underlying ways brands get stuck in consumers’ minds. To better understand this, we recently pioneered a research and planning tool, Headspace, which identifies and prioritises the main reasons and situations that bring categories to mind, ‘category cues’. Importantly, brands can connect themselves to these cues, helping improve the effectiveness of their creative work and aiding growth.

Headspace revealed that for the tea sector, category cues ranged from functional occasions, such as wanting something to drink with breakfast, to more emotional reasons like relaxing for some ‘me-time’, making visitors feel welcome and rewarding yourself. At face value many of these cues seem obvious, but when we surveyed UK tea drinkers, we were surprised by just how poorly linked brands were with these seemingly predictable reasons. As a longstanding FMCG category with prominent advertising over many decades, and products signalling different occasions e.g. breakfast tea, you could reasonably expect better association with the main cues that bring the tea category to mind.

This lack of mental availability was seen across numerous sectors we surveyed, not just tea, and it was eye-opening from a creative perspective. The key is to stop thinking just about what brands evoke and start delivering campaigns that address the needs and situations that could potentially evoke brands as well.

Currently, success in the tea category is typically driven by mainstream, entertainment-orientated campaigns, with a brand positioning led approach e.g. ‘posh tea’, ‘fresh tea’ or ‘British tea’. However this approach can lead to the inclusion of multiple cues within single pieces of communication, and begs the question whether effectiveness could be improved if creative messaging was a little more focused with regard to category cues. By triggering these more general needs, brands can come to mind more naturally, working with what’s already going on in peoples’ minds rather than having to force their way in.

For example, Yorkshire Tea’s ‘Brewtopia’ and Tetley’s ‘Britain Built on Tea’ campaigns both proudly shout “proper, everyday British tea” in different ways. They both carry implicit connections to several cues, like drinking tea as a reward, having it with breakfast, or sharing a regular brew with friends and family. But these cues are not sustained explicit messages, and the campaigns traverse multiples cues, potentially resulting in none of them really sticking in people’s minds. We’re not saying that these campaigns are not effective, just that they could perhaps be more effective if they were a bit more focused with regard to cues.

A focus on a specific cue that both ranks highly in importance and is not already ‘owned’ by a major competitor, gives brands a better chance to effectively build strong Headspace. Our research showed that Twinings did this very effectively with its campaign built around ‘me time’, which ran for several years and clearly made an impact on our data.

All channels are capable of helping build frequent links to key cues. By identifying the most important cues for a brand, and then building clear consistent links to them across all customer touchpoints, tea brands can reinforce their position over time and become stickier in consumers’ minds. Tea brands that recognise how the brain really works and tailor their creative accordingly, can have their cake and eat it, making every day National Tea Day.

Nick Ward is head of planning at London-based creative agency Cubo.

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