Caroline van Turennout & Michiel Rijshouwer – Zeeman

Caroline van Turennout & Michiel Rijshouwer – Zeeman

Caroline van Turennout & Michiel Rijshouwer – Zeeman
Caroline van Turennout is Manager Marketing & Communication Europe at Zeeman, responsible for the Zeeman brand, its marketing activities and the communication for the 1290 stores in 7 European countries. As well as Caroline, Michiel Rijshouwer also participated in this interview; as the Managing Director of branding agency Persuade, his involvement in Zeeman marketing goes back more than 11 years.


Growing penetration as key ingredient for growth
Zeeman has overcome the severe crisis in the retail landscape with a strong strategic focus aimed at enlarging the target audience, outlined in the ‘Strategy for growth 2016-2020’ book. The brand DNA can be defined as being ‘Opmerkelijk Eenvoudig’- remarkably simple. Caroline: “The strategy book really is our bible, and for everyone in our organization being remarkably simple is the guiding principle.”

“When I joined Zeeman, 4 ½ years ago, it was time to have a thorough look at the brand,” Caroline recalls, “Zeeman’s original strength, affordable basics clothes and textiles for people with a small budget, was attacked by new retailers, such as Primark, but also by an increased offer of clothes and textiles by discount supermarkets and drugstores. Which resulted in a pressure on market share within a declining market. We couldn’t get the growth that we needed from our existing group of buyers. Instead of panicking, Zeeman realized that it had to proof its relevance for the big group of people that didn’t consider visiting the stores before. Resulting in a single-minded key ingredient for growth: grow penetration. Zeeman defined 2 target groups: 1. Existing buyers – people who need to be budget conscious and 2. New buyers – people who choose to be budget conscious. These are people who might buy an expensive winter coat but want their basics to be cheap and good quality – but at the same time responsibly produced.

Caroline: “We use the Brand Asset Valuator to measure our performance on the target audience growth objective; KPI’s for this are brand strength and brand associations, with relevance and appreciation as the underlying pillars. This data is only available once a year, but we have a strong shared belief in our strategy, which has proven to be right.”

“Of course, price perception still remains an important KPI as well,” Michiel adds, “especially for the existing buyers. It is not obvious to communicate one message that appeals both to the existing buyers and the new target. To become relevant for the new target, Zeeman had to proof to offer good quality, produced in a sustainable way. At the same time, we had to reassure the existing buyers that Zeeman’s price level remained the same. The danger of evaluating from discounter to value-discounter is that the existing buyer would think that Zeeman is becoming more expensive.” Caroline: “We also aim to serve this group better by increasing the personal connection. For example, with the Facebook pages that are managed by the local stores.”


Confirmation of the penetration strategy
Both Caroline and Michiel are familiar with Byron Sharp’s work. Caroline: “The biggest eye opener for me was that it is not true that existing clients are cheaper than new ones. For us this was a confirmation that we were making the right choice to focus our strategy on penetration growth.”


Not addicted to door-to-door leaflets
Caroline: “For decades most of our media budget was reserved for the door-to-door leaflet. The choice to focus on penetration disrupted the media mix completely: although the leaflet was appreciated by the existing buyers, it didn’t reach the new target.” Michiel: “Many retailers still see the leaflet as a holy cow, but a strong dependence on the folder as traffic builder is often a signal of a brand issue. The message that a leaflet can convey is also limited, it didn’t allow us to tell our story that was needed to attract the new group. We needed video to really show the products.”

Caroline: “We have reduced the frequency of the physical leaflet strongly, although a weekly leaflet was continued online, as it remains important to have frequent contact with our clients. The online leaflet is mainly used to communicate new assortment. With our online leaflets and Facebook-presence of the local stores, we operate an always-on layer in media. We do still distribute physical leaflets, but only four times a year.”


Communicate the brand story on TV
Michiel: “TV has proven to offer the best combination of securing a mass reach on one hand, and a strong carrier of our brand story. With hero-products from ‘remarkably simple’-categories, that normally are not advertised, such as underwear and panty hoses. We are unique in focusing on basics, and therefore we do not need to compete in media attention on the busiest media weeks – we can choose our own moments. Because of the recognizable style and the remarkable themes, the TV campaigns generate lots of buzz, despite the limited budget.  And people start seeing Zeeman as a destination category for these product groups, we are claiming a strong brain position, in for instance towels.”

We strongly believe in the importance to be always-on in media, with a storytelling layer. This is what we use our website, social media and online leaflet for. Although we believe that the focus of our media mix must reach a mass audience – we do have several programs aimed at specific groups, such as our newborn baby program, offering a free romper to new parents, and our creative ‘knutsel’ page for hobbyists.”

Caroline: “Probably one day online video will enable us to reach a mass audience, but today there is no alternative yet for TV advertising. Outside of the Netherlands and Belgium however, we don’t have the budgets required for TV; there we mainly use online and out of home advertising. In the Netherlands we use out of home occasionally, with the objective to flag our price level – especially targeted at the existing clients to reassure them that Zeeman still offers the lowest price.”


Pragmatic, ‘nuchtere’ approach
Caroline: “We only have a small marketing team, and that forces us to focus on things that are really important. We are pragmatic, nuchter, in our approach; we simply don’t have the time for all types of experiments. We work closely together with trusted advisers for advertising and media, specifically with Persuade and with Feli Hansen – we don’t work with a traditional media agency. And we are confident about what we do; one of the characteristics of our organization is that we don’t spend hours re-discussing everything that we do. I am convinced that this is one of the reasons why our campaigns are this successful.”


Underwear & wedding dress
Zeeman may choose to be traditional in its media approach, and not to invest in new technologies that are not yet proven, in the content of its communication it’s not afraid to test the limits.

Caroline: “We always aim to find an unexpected twist in our commercials, based on the tension model, the commercial needs to have an element that is different from what you’d expect and thus draws the attention. A good example is our underwear campaign, which was based on the insight that 1 out of 3 Dutch men wear underwear with holes in them. (The same is true for even half of all French men!)
Next to that we have been very successful in media, with our limited-edition wedding dress for € 29,99, which generated an enormous media value. The phone on the head quarter was red hot for several day with journalists calling.” Michiel: “We always say that a good idea travels, and this case proved again that it was true, it didn’t really need much media support. And even in the longer run the wedding dress remains popular; it had a record breaking search volume at Marktplaats.”