Magazine article Marketing

Helen Edwards on Branding: Slavery Doesn't Pay

Magazine article Marketing

Helen Edwards on Branding: Slavery Doesn't Pay

Article excerpt

Brands that routinely rely on their customers to work for nothing could be in for a rude awakening.

When your grandmother bought a table, she got a table. When you buy a table you get a sheet of laminated chipboard, four legs, a bag of screws and a page of hieroglyphics. What you also get are lower prices, in relative terms, than your grandmother ever paid. Your IKEA Vika Amon dining table will cost you just pounds 28. Plus a weekend, of course.

There's the trade-off. That seductively low price-tag is contingent on your preparedness to work the final shift on the production line for nothing. Entrepreneur Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou gave this arrangement a name: outsourcing to the consumer. He practised it with his easyCar rental business, which offered attractive rates as long as customers cleaned the car before bringing it back. Canny outsourcing is how it might look on the supply side. From the customer perspective, it can look increasingly like slave labour.

The trend has been a while in the making, but it's accelerating now Petrol brands were early adopters, turning service stations into no-service stations in the late 60s. Today, supermarkets have adopted the practice, coaxing customers to check out their own loaded trolleys Meanwhile, anyone booking a holiday will probably need one after negotiating the Byzantine booking algorithms of the low-cost airlines - taking care to print their boarding passes before heading to the airport. Never mind the minimum wage - the going rate for customer labour is pounds 0 per hour, and it's often hard to reconcile the modest savings with the time spent achieving them.

A consumer backlash is coming, and it may not be too far off. The emergency budget on 22 June is forecast to hit middle-income families particularly hard. These are people who are already time-constrained, usually with both parents juggling the conflicting demands of work and home.

For many, putting in extra hours at work might be the only way to make ends meet. That is a practical factor, but there is an emotional one, too. With the government taking greater advantage of people's labour, there will be more resentment toward others drawing unreasonably from the same well. That includes brands - possibly yours.

There is a potential upside. Advantage will go to the brands that find ways to keep prices low but also respect consumers' time, streamlining processes and minimising customer workloads.

Marketers taking that challenge seriously will find two academic tools to help. …

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