Chapter 3 and 4. Brand and story-telling: the Philip Morris International case.

By November 26, 2019 No Comments

Brand positioning aims at perfectly matching brand values and consumers’ attributes. A brand is a human being aimed at raising trust and loyalty among customers

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The Brand is today the most relevant strategic asset for a company because of its role to create a bond with the customers beyond what the product alone could achieve. To be successful, a brand must know how consumers think, feel, and act in order to offer clear value to each target in terms of cultural, social, personal and psychological factors. A brand positioning strategy must be able to build the right brand attributes and to perfectly fit them with consumers’ preferences in order to create consistency with brand promise and to make sustainable the competitive advantage. A successful brand positioning is made of

  • alue proposition, related to how a brand provides customers with key benefits and values aimed at satisfying needs and wants, and at creating value;

The importance of a competitive brand positioning should be based not only on specific attributes or benefits, but basically on a story to tell. Narrative brandingaims at connecting people’s memories, associations, and values with the story of the brand, as shown by the Philip Morris International analysis.

At the beginning of 2018, a PMI advert appeared in several UK newspapers claiming it aims to help people quit and, if they do not succeed in quitting, to replace cigarettes with smoke-free alternatives. The tobacco company, known for its Marlboro brand, used the advert to claim its resolution to stop selling cigarettes in the UK. The big effort of Philip Morris is characterized by three steps of this re-positioning strategy.

The first step has been the product development and the IQOS launch. The financial effort amounts to about $ 6 billion in R&D investment since 2008 to the aim to switch hundreds of millions of current adult smokers to smoke-free products thanks to breakthrough products that are better alternatives. More than 400 world-class scientists, engineers, and technicians are working at R&D and the development of new smoke-free products that use technologies to produce a flavourful and satisfying nicotine-containing vapor without burning or combustion. PMI created a new brand, IQOS, and over 6.6 million adult smokers have already stopped smoking and switched to IQOS. In addition, PMI is publishing its findings in more than 340 peer-reviewed publications to the date, while all the clinical studies are registered on clinicaltrials.gov. In order to support its transparency policy, PMI presented its results at over 150 scientific conferences around the world over the last years. To date, about 30 independent laboratories and government research institutes have already confirmed important elements of PMI research in Germany, Japan and the USA.

The second step has been the communication and story-telling

Philip Morris International wants 30% of his customers to switch to smoke-free products by 2025. That is a tricky factor in terms of communication since people who smoke deserve information about better alternatives. To that aim, PMI enhanced its presence at scientific and policy events such as the Global Nicotine Forum (GFN), the Food and Drug Law Institute Annual Conference, the Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting, the World Economic Forum Summit, just to cite some examples, in order to share its scientific work. PMI, a tobacco giant, aims to be a ‘disruptive insider’ as it targets in the smoke-free market. That kind of impressive re-positioning strategy necessarily requires a lobbying and public affair effort in order to persuade government that regulations on tobacco and nicotine are 30 years out of date and need to be revised to be consistent with new technologies.

The third step has been Mission Winnow, a cultural revolution.

Mission Winnow is the ultimate strategic step to carry on the PMI repositioning thanks to a sort of cultural enhancement able to tell the “right” story about PMI. Not simply a tobacco giant, but a responsible company strongly committed in claiming and facing a concerning health issue. The word “winnow” (pronounced: “win”–“oh”) was selected because it perfectly describes the PMI ambitious vision of a smoke-free future: focus, transparency, care and single-minded determination. Mission Winnow is not a product, but it is a promise about the way PMI is working to drive a better future in a smoke-free world. To make this happen, PMI is fully embedded with outstanding innovators and change-makers in their R&D Department, such as the historical partners, Ferrari and Ducati. Saying that PMI is winnowing means that it is leaving behind old ways and methods and embracing new ideas and ways of doing business while setting new benchmarks in technology and innovation. Winnow aims at telling and ‘merchandising’ a story of people and technological innovation through which to change the things.

Every marketing, communication and public affairs activity should aim at overcoming scepticism and how it is disrupting an entire industry to lower as much as possible the health risk.

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