Thought Leadership

Is Your Brand Ready to Be Like Jeeves?

By Nigel Hollis
Chief Global Analyst, Millward Brown

Reginald Jeeves, valet to the wealthy and affected Bertie Wooster, is probably author P. G. Wodehouse’s most iconic character. Jeeves is imperturbable in the face of a crisis, resourceful and well-informed. He deals with his master’s needs with suave confidence and subtly shapes events to save his employer from embarrassment.

Why are we talking about a fictional character in the context of brands? Because the many brands seeking to expand their roles to take a bigger share of our lives would do well to imitate Jeeves. People are willing to give brands a greater role in their lives only if they empower them, and do so without imposition or undue fanfare.

The brands seeking to increase their influence in this way are following in the footsteps of giants like Apple, Amazon or Nike. These brands have managed to extend their ecosystem so that their products and services are integrally intertwined with multiple aspects of our lives. Apple spans our needs for entertainment, music and productivity. Amazon fulfills our need for convenience with effortless one-click shopping and relevant purchase recommendations for stuff we never knew we wanted. Nike, with its Nike+ Fuelband, has transformed itself from a mere apparel brand to a companion and coach for runners.

The assumption that having a greater share of consumer’s lives will have positive benefits for the brand may well prove incorrect if the brand cannot emulate Jeeves. So, with that in mind here are three things brands might learn from the venerable valet.

“I was given to understand that you required a valet.” Jeeves offered his services to Bertie Wooster in the knowledge that there was a need for them. No matter how much brands might want to be part of someone’s life, they need to make sure that there is a real need for what they have to offer and that the recipient believes them capable of rendering that service. A broad positioning that does not limit the brand to a specific category improves the brand’s ability to expand its footprint in our lives.

"I endeavor to give satisfaction, Sir." Jeeves proves his worth on first meeting Bertie by proffering a “little preparation” in order to remedy the after-effects of a night on the town and subsequently proves not only invaluable but infallible. This is a tough act to follow. The bigger the role a brand has in people’s lives the bigger the risk of failure. This is particularly important when a brand extends its reach across product or service categories. People do not separate out different incarnations of the brand in the same way that a business does. Tesco’s financial and mobile phone services are just as much part of the experience of the Tesco brand as shopping at one of its stores. Do your homework and make sure your new offering lives up to the experience of the existing ones or it may undermine the whole franchise.

“The mood will pass sir.” Jeeves sometimes takes a dislike to one of Bertie’s latest affectations: a new mustache, vase or a pair of breeches Jeeves considers suitable only for the musical hall. When he does so, Jeeves manages to subtly shape his master’s whims for the better. He has a clear set of values and sets in motion a series of actions that will result in a change of mind and behavior. Many brands could learn from his example. Rather than simply exhorting people to buy, they need to step back and consider exactly what associations and feelings they need to change in order to get people to choose their brand.

To imitate Jeeves, marketers will require the same intimate understanding of people’s requirements that Jeeves has of his master’s. Brands need to anticipate people’s needs and desires, not just respond to direct requests. If successful in doing so then the brand will have established a meaningful place in people’s consciousness, one that allows it to take a bigger share of their lives.

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Methodology and valuation by Kantar Millward Brown

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