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Nick Winkleblack Marketing Strategy, OEMBA 1/26/2013

MAS Holdings
Q: Which plan would best convert MAS philosophy of doing good into a profitable differentiator for the MAS brand? In this case study, MAS is held up as a leader in corporate responsibility, and the case cites numerous examples of MAS successes with ethical labor practices through its Go Beyond program. This inspirational program has created positive outcomes for its employees and in turn, positive PR for its key clients. Retailers such as the Gap, Victoria Secret, and Nike have all benefitted from the positive image reflected in their partnerships with MAS. However, the financial benefit of the program to both MAS and its clients has always been in doubt. Even though the Go Beyond program was highly touted as a success for workers rights, an internal survey indicated that the buying habits of the brands and the demand of their customers were not directly influenced by the program. Rather, it was viewed as a convenient public relations message for retailers, which ultimately provided little financial benefit for MAS. The survey was the first hint at confusion between MAS inspirational and financial goals. Despite being an inspirational program, there is little evidence that MAS positioning as a leader in ethical labor practices is of significant and lasting value to its clients or its end customers. MAS challenge, then, is to create a financial value proposition for what has historically been largely an inspirational goal. Further complicating this challenge, it is tasked with doing so in an environment where responsible labor practices are emerging across the industry, deteriorating their existing competitive advantage. MAS must ask themselves is this differentiation sustainable financially? What is the value proposition? And is further differentiation financially beneficial to its clients, and in turn MAS? Any successful marketing strategy will depend on MAS ability to prove the value of this differentiation, and strategically sway consumer sentiment to the point where the financial benefits are realized. MAS identified four different strategies to achieve this goal: co-branding, engaging with end customers, building a credibility coalition, or expanding potential from a sustainability angle. Each of these approaches has advantages and disadvantages, but I believe the most feasible and effective strategy is co-branding.

As a supplier, MAS success is still largely dependent on the success of its buyers, and therefore walks a delicate line between being a purveyor and facilitator of brand messages. Any strategy that leverages the clients end customers against the client could create turmoil and a deterioration of the partnership the opposite of what MAS is trying to accomplish. MAS must work alongside its clients in order to demonstrate the value of its products, and co-branding strategy best reflects this effort. Fortunately, options for accomplishing this are more numerous than they were in 2008 when this case was written. No longer simply constrained to co-branding on apparel tags, brands now have the option and incentive to connect with their customers in more meaningful ways. In fact, through the use of social media, we can argue that the co-branding strategy would be much more mutually beneficial: the brands involved would be able to launch a feel-good campaign to draw more attention to its brand, and MAS would be able to ride the coattails of its clients to better visibility. Additionally, MAS and its retail partners would be able to develop in store campaigns that could effectively test the demand for products within the stores. The advantage of this strategy is that MAS would be able to help their retail partners succeed financially while also demonstrating the value of their process. Together, they may be able to shift the demand curve up to a new price point, allowing MAS to charge a premium that retailers could pass on to willing customers.

Steps for Implementation:


1. Cross Promotional Social Media Campaign A successful cross promotional social media campaign could potentially open doors to improved relations among the brands MAS supplies as well as improved understanding of what MAS stands for. Inspirational messages play very well in social media, and could be the answer to breaking down the resistance to other co-branding campaigns. Social media offers retailers the opportunity to ask their customers what they think is important and respond. A well worded campaign outlining the unique position of MAS and its products could spark a national conversation about labor practices in the apparel industry and generate more publicity for the brands involved. Leveraging a social good message, MAS could utilize its partnerships with the UN and other fair trade NGOs. Such a campaign could begin to create a brand identity for MAS independent of its clients, and fortify brand loyalty with their customers. The effectiveness of

these campaigns, especially by internationally recognizable brands, has been well-documented: Pepsis Refresh campaign, for example, got more votes than the presidential election1. Finally, the importance of demographics cannot be understated here. Social media is a tool for the youth, and an effectively tailored message, highlighting child labor tactics for example, could help to push teens and in turn parents of teens to commit to a higher price point much more effectively (cheaper) than developing an entire outreach program within schools, as it had done in 2006. (Possible slogan: FOR the kids, not BY the kids).

2.

Co-branding: In-store

Here, MAS has an opportunity to not only reward its clients for their commitment but also to demonstrate the MAS difference. Leveraging the power of the social media campaign, MAS may negotiate to implement in store displays of its products. Identifying these products as sustainably made and separate from the other products allows MAS to not only tell its story, but allow customers to make more informed decisions about the apparel it is purchasing. This would also serve a dual purpose of continuing the conversation that was begun online, eliciting customer feedback, and accurately assessing end customers purchase priorities in real time at the store level. Such a campaign would effectively test the MAS product against other products, allowing retailers to determine the value of sustainably manufactured products for themselves.

3.

Co-branding: Apparel

For those retailers that are not exclusive for MAS, this is an opportunity for MAS to prove the power of their message. With the cooperation of retailers, MAS could present a distinctive message adopted from the social media campaign (For kids, Not by Kids, etc), which could boost sales of individually branded apparel products. Having a defined message and logo allows MAS to think beyond label branding an even emblazon their message on certain products:

http://mashable.com/2010/09/21/pepsi-refresh-project-racks-up-more-votes-than-last-

presidential-election/

Conclusion
While the co-branding strategy is the most effective of the options presented, MAS must reevaluate the overall effectiveness of this strategy in general. Each of the options presented is costly, and arguably detracts from the core competencies of MAS. As expressed above, combining strategic with inspirational goals can be very fruitful for the company when implemented at the operational level. The problem arises when a company tries to turn its inspirational goals into a differentiation advantage unto itself without any corresponding operational compliments. The complementarity of MAS practices and its operations up to this point were its advantage, not simply the practices themselves: a logistical advantage was gained when factories were built close to potential labor force, which provided the additional benefit of allowing workers to remain in their homes; a safety-first focus, which is a key factor in reducing work stoppages, created an atmosphere of above-average working conditions for employees, whose productivity is valued at a premium. While the Go Beyond campaign was a great success for inspiring its workforce, perhaps in the future MAS should consider leaning on its core competencies - operational effectiveness and lightning fast responsiveness to consumer demand - when determining its differentiation strategy.