How Brands Grow – A Higher Form Of Ignorance?

mark I came across a quote by Theodore Dalrymple recently. It referred to the increasingly common – and understandable – use of the internet to obtain information on medical conditions.

“Information without perspective is just a higher form of ignorance”

Theodore Dalrymple is the nom de plume of Anthony Daniels, a retired doctor (and the most wonderful writer as any Spectator magazine loyal will know). I can see where he’s coming from. The doctors have years of experience and that gives them the perspective to make the best use of information, both old and new.

It made me think about the increasing amount of information available to marketers. This comes not just in the form of “big data” about the market and the target audience, their profile and their precise behavior in different contexts, but also in the form of new models and theories. The information coming from the latter that interests me most is the information derived from social sciences and an increasing, although admittedly still very limited, understanding of how the brain actually works. And like any rational person I become more interested if it is supported by empirical data.

The ones that interest me less are things like “How brands grow” by Byron Sharp that I have been hearing a lot about. I am not uninterested, just less interested. I understand that Mr. Sharp is quite defensive about his work and any doubters or critics, like my good friend David Taylor, are accused of being luddites, typical marketers who believe in logic with magic and not just ‘scientific evidence’. Well let me help Mr. Sharp brush off any comments I may have to make by declaring right up front that I have not yet read his book, only some of the critiques including those from David. I did however have the privilege of knowing Andrew Ehrenberg and hearing him explain first hand his findings on the relationship between category penetration and average weight of purchase for a large, statistically robust sample of FMCG brands. I am given to understand “How brands grow” is a continuation of Andrew Ehrenberg’s work.

I remember at the time thinking the findings were challenging and profound but, in Andrew’s own words, they really only explained why some brands are bigger. He explained to me that his findings were like Boyle’s Law (pressure of a given mass of gas moves in a constant relationship with volume). It is an immutable law of physics. So I asked Andrew what he thought might be the immutable laws in marketing that would, in effect, compress the volume and raise the pressure (if you follow the analogy). He laughed and said, “I am just a statistician, that is for you clever marketers to figure out!”

What was clear to me then, and is just as clear to me now, is that Ehrenberg’s work was not a theory of how brands grow but an observation about what happens when they do – useful but only up to a point. I suspect Mr. sharp’s book is more of the same – useful but only up to a point.

What concerns me is that in the hands of inexperienced marketers and business people it runs the risk of being a higher form of ignorance.

That said, let me defend the use of information about medical conditions by the general public – I have to for no other reason than the best practitioner of this (or worst offender) is my wife. She would argue, and I will not argue with her, that, at the very least, it enables you to have a better conversation with the doctors. But I support the idea that without perspective and experience it is well short of great insight, which is to say an insight that solves a problem or presents an opportunity – like how to grow your brand.

Let me illustrate what I mean with this old riddle. A man lives in a high-rise block of flats. Every morning he gets up to go to work and takes the lift to the ground floor. When he returns in the evening he takes the lift to the 7th floor and walks up the remaining flights of stairs to the 14th. Why does he do this?

Here are some of the most common explanations offered:-

  • He wants to keep fit
  • He knows someone who lives on the 7th floor and visits them before going back to his flat.
  • The lift is faulty

All are plausible theories (although each can be challenged – if he wants to get fit why doesn’t he walk all 14 floors every other day or indeed every day, if wants to get really fit?).

The answer is that he is a dwarf and he can’t reach the button for the 14th floor in the lift. That is something you would know immediately if you lived in the same building, would have figured out pretty quickly if you were a dwarf and perhaps eventually if you had any experience of dwarves. I would further argue – but have no statistical proof – that a curious, creative, lateral thinker is more likely to solve the riddle.

I will read Mr. Sharp’s book and I am sure I will find it interesting but I doubt it will give me a comprehensive, foolproof scientific model for how to grow brands. Hopefully, it will improve the conversation.











Would I Lie To You?

mark1 With one child still left in the nest with a chance to go to Oxford, an article in the Telegraph about Oxford interview questions caught my eye. David Leal at Brasenose uses this question for aspiring philosophy students – “Lie, deceive and mislead seem to mean a similar thing but not exactly. Help me sort them out from each other”. Great question. Even if you had a dictionary it wouldn’t help you. What Mr. Leal wants to see is how you tackle the question for which there is no real answer other than “You can’t, without a context”. As a failed Cambridge applicant (Economics) I am tempted to provide an answer that I might have given in the context of a university interview just to show the opportunity they missed. I applied to Selwyn, a college, I was told, was so poor no-one with half a brain could fail to get accepted. My humiliation upon receiving a firm rejection was thus all the worse, slightly eased by discovering that the friend I made in my first week at Bristol had also tried the same strategy and had also been refused by Selwyn. No names, no pack drill, but you know who you are Charlie K (still one of my best friends).

No, I shall attempt to answer the question in the context of marketing. I will seek to prove that only one of them is unacceptable in the promotion of a brand. In the Oxford question, had one said the answer lay in the context, one would have had to go on to show that who was doing the lying, deceiving, misleading, to whom and with what motivation might indicate nuances of meaning. In marketing we can answer that straight away. It is the brand, they might be lying, deceiving or misleading “consumers”  (people) for the purpose of making profits by gaining an unfair advantage over their competitors. I will argue that in which case, there is really only a difference in acceptability.

It’s OK to deceive your “consumer”, brands do it all the time. We spend millions of $ and engage the brightest and most creative minds to deceive people into believing that our brands are better and will improve their lives. It is not just part of what we do, it is what we do. We seek to persuade them that the smallest of performance difference will actually make any difference, that our brand will make you more of a man or woman, a more attractive and confident person, that it will earn you the respect of your peers and the attention of the opposite sex. Oh yes we do.

We mislead people into thinking that our brands are terribly popular among people who, according to our research, our target consumers will find credible and motivating. You don’t think so? So how many Irish people drink Baileys or Magners, how many Aussies drink Fosters? Did Michael Schumacher really help develop that premium petrol, does he deliberately drive out of his way to find the gas station that sells it to put it in his own car? Do all those starlets actually use that shampoo and derive their self-esteem from it? Do they ‘ecky thump. Are our shoes hand crafted in grottos by little elves, is our whisky lovingly scraped from the wings of angels by men in kilts? Or are they, respectively, knocked out in Chinese sweat shops and distilled as a chemical in something the size and appeal of a school science lab?

These days we twitter and post to create ‘a human face for the brand and to engage our consumers’. A slight deception as there rarely is one human guiding the brand, rather a large cumbersome team acting on behalf of shareholders. You are being misled if you believe we really want to engage with ‘you’ because we care about ‘you’. We only care if there are millions of “you” buying our brand. We engage because we have to not because we want to. The old didactic days of marketing were far easier.

Yes we both deceive and mislead people and revel in the focus group findings and Nielsen results that show we have succeeded.

We are magicians, we simply but cleverly misdirect. We use sleight of hand, theatricality, the set-up (is there any difference between planting someone in the audience or paying George Clooney to flog your coffee?).

But we don’t lie and if we do we get caught, which is probably why we don’t lie. You think this is harsh? I imagine if you had been born 100 years ago you would have been convinced Guinness was good for you and Marlboro cigarettes were part of a healthy outdoor lifestyle too. (I still believe both).

I did not get into the easiest college in Cambridge let alone the philosophy department of Oxford. I ended up a murketeer and in the context of murketing, “deceive” and “mislead” mean pretty much the same thing. They are not just acceptable, they are aspirational. A lie is not acceptable and it’s bad for business. That’s the difference.

Or put another way – great advertising is “truth, well told”  not a pack of lies. (Did I pass?)




That Special Ingredient

mark4 Someone gave my wife a 1960 edition of Vogue Magazine (yes you can figure out why but please keep your inferences to yourself) and I could not resist having a quick thumb through purely to check out the Ads. The comparison with today’s Vogue is hilarious – they all feature demure Audrey Hepburn look –alikes. It was interesting if not unexpected to see that only a very few of the brands advertising are even close to famous now. Selfridges had a spread as did dear old Bentalls but most are long gone – any of you ladies wearing Polly Peck tights by any chance, I thought not. But one defunct brand caught my eye in particular. There were two full page ads for Bri-Nylon. I recall in my youth that nylon – bri or otherwise – was heavily promoted and for a while we all aspired to wear this new miracle material, sleep in it and, as Vogue 1960 was featuring, use it for our ball gowns. A few years later it was a by-word for cheap, nasty and smelly. Polyester took over and while seen as the poor mans cotton or wool still finds widespread use but I don’t remember seeing any ads for it anywhere.

Courtaulds were a well known purveyor of materials and there was an ad budget for them as well back in the day.

It got me thinking about the potential for marketing ingredients or components and whether this has any role these days. If people can only ever buy your product as just part of many other peoples’ brands is there any point doing any more than B2B marketing? Is it worth going over the heads of your business customers and talking to end consumers to create some pull, increase your leverage and therefore margins?

Until recently we used to know all about Intel and demand only those computers that had their chips. I don’t hear so much about them now and doubt many people care who makes their micro-chips (do you know who makes the ones in Apple products – thought not). Will we pay a premium for any brand of outdoor wear that uses Gore-tex or just the Northface brand irrespective of what material they use? Who makes the electrical components in your car? Most of you will answer BMW, Ford or whoever has their badge on the car, the rest will simply say they don’t care. Back in the ‘70’s when I used to do a little work on cars I knew all about Lucas, I even knew the relative merits of SU versus Webber carburetors and would pay a premium for Castrol Oil.

Back to the world of tech, are we witnessing the demise of the Microsoft brand? It is still famous but do we care far more for the hardware than the software? Shell and other petrol brands used to advertise heavily and those of us of a certain age can still remember going well on Shell or putting a tiger in our tank with Esso. The Oil brands now market themselves much more on the service station, even the coffee they serve, rather than the petrol you buy. You spent thousands of pounds on your car, one of the biggest capital investments you make, and yet will not drive 100 yards to buy a better petrol.

On the other hand, what is your emotional attachment and loyalty to your washing machine? You cared a bit when you were buying it and were possibly persuaded by the sales person – or on-line reviews – to fork out a bit more for a Miele or Bosch (or anything German rather than Italian or British frankly) but the brands you still care more for are the detergents you use in them.

The question here is what is the chicken and the egg? Did ingredient or component brands lose their points of difference, did we lose our naivety or did they stop investing in marketing (which ain’t just advertising, it is also innovation which delivers meaningful points of difference) just as all the end products upped their investment? The Persil/Ariel versus washing machine example would suggest it is the latter. The white goods industry has always been so f*** up and fragmented and in my experience – somewhat dated I must acknowledge – home of some of the worst managers, and their marketing reflected this. On the other hand P&G and Unilever have ploughed billions into their brands and this money has been invested by some of the very brightest and best managers and marketers.

I once gave a talk on this theme to a group of Shell senior managers. One them, the head of technical development, stood up at the end and said “I don’t think you understand, our petrol is only 3% better and that would never be noticed by anyone”. As a former detergents boy I replied that we would kill for a performance difference as big as that. The trick is to make the difference relevant and important and find ways to explain the benefits and consequences.

“But who on earth would really care?” he came back at me. It is 3 o’clock in the morning and you have to rush your sick child or pregnant wife to hospital in the family car. You have just taken delivery of your highly expensive sports car and are about to fill it up for the first time. An expert explains the savings in service costs and the increased residual value of your car if you protect the engine by using the right fuel.

Marketing starts with differentiation and ends with the investment to make sure the right people know, care and trust. On the way you make sure you create more value than you add cost.

Those are the ingredients for success. If you stop investing in your brand because in truth you have stopped believing in your ability to deliver something different that is worth paying for then you become a commodity.









Legally High

mark Like many others I suspect, the news that a company in Washington State, USA is launching a range of soft drinks infused with marijuana caught my attention (big time).

The cheekily named “Mirth Provisions” is, equally cheekily, calling their new drinks “Legal”. There are 3 flavours, Cherry, Pomegranate and Lemon plus Lemon Ginger, which can apparently only be drunk while listening to the Grateful Dead (I made that last bit up, the bit about Grateful Dead not the bit about the Lemon Ginger version which is, they claim, quite a bit stronger).

I’ve been to Washington State but the once, to Seattle, home of Starbucks. I think I may be going back and I don’t plan on drinking coffee. This is the biggest news in the drinks industry since they lifted prohibition. How long will it be before you can pick up a 6 pack at Tesco’s and lose an entire weekend? Soon I hope because Seattle is a bloody long way.

I just love this news because it shows the power of a real product benefit and encourages us all to dare to dream the impossible.

I recall a few years back, in 2002, asking one of the brand managers at Miller Beer what he thought the game changers might be in the future. (I should explain that  Miller was built on introducing Lite (sic) beer which was the first decent product based innovation in beer for generations. It was pushed through to the market by people from the new owners Phillip Morris – it worked in fags, why not beer they figured).

He couldn’t see one coming. “What about when they legalise cannabis”, I asked. He was both shocked and incredulous. But I was the Global Marketing Director so he couldn’t tell me I was being both inappropriate and daft although it was clear from his reaction he thought I was both. My intention was to shake up his thinking so I had some fun with him. “Why not?”, I pressed on. “You do know it’s an accident of history that alcohol and caffeine are legal while cannabis is not. LSD was legal until late into the 1960’s. So why shouldn’t a relatively harmless drug like marijuana be made legal at some point? And if it was how would that affect our industry?” He wasn’t having it. “I don’t know about the rest of the world but it just ain’t going to happen here in the Sates”.

Well it is happening, buddy, and it’s brilliant and it will change things forever. All booze is based on ethanol – forget all the hype and bullshit, ethanol produces just one kind of legal high. Marijuana produces an altogether different high – that is progress in my book. Maybe some marketers like the kind of marketing you have to do when the truth is there’s bugger all difference between your product and any other. Personally I like the kind of marketing you can do when you have something new and different, and yes, for some people on some occasions, much, much, better. Imagine the fun we can have transforming a whole bunch of categories in food and drink. That line was, by the way, very deliberate. We can consume our new products and let our imagination run wild and we will laugh out loud while we are doing it because some suckers are actually paying us to do this!

And of course we will dream of other previously unimaginable product breakthroughs. Cars that run on water, phones that tell you what shape you’re in, clothes with smart fabrics that adapt to the environment, insurance that rewards you for being a good driver based on your actual driving data – hang on a minute, I think all those things are available now. Well, shit, we can imagine a whole bunch more.

Back to the soft drinks with dope, who do you think will be first to get this into their cola, Coke or Pepsi? Here is what I think – I think it will be Coca Cola because they’re big and awesome. And then, with a fabulous sense of irony, Pepsi will launch a cola with cocaine extract called Pepsi coke. And they will resurrect one of the best slogans in advertising history….

Lipsmackin’ thirst quenchin’ acetastin’ motivatin’ good buzzin’ cooltalkin’ highwalkin’ fastlivin’ evergivin’ coolfizzin’…Pepsi coke!

Because it just works doesn’t it? It was a line ahead of its time. I wonder what they were on when they wrote it?










Death by PowerPoint

mark1 I’ve always had sympathy for marketers at workshops, you know the ones I mean – off-site, lots of flip charts and post-it notes, inspiring case studies, break-out groups, big bold ideas and no such thing as a bad idea. They are great fun, especially if run by a classy facilitator, who earns more in a day than you do in a week or even a month if said facilitator has written lots of books. They remind me of the great speeches made before the battle – everyone gets really fired up and then rushes out mostly to meet some grisly death in the mud and the gore.

The contrast between the workshop and the reality of day-to-day business in a marketing department could not be starker. In the workshop you get to say what you think backed up by just a few words on a post-it note and a lot of conviction. Back at work you spend your life writing PowerPoint presentations in which what you really think is buried beneath a mountain of charts and summary charts that also includes what everyone else thinks. I once described this corporate environment as like trying to score a goal in football but first having to get the ball past 10 of your own players. Corporate life has an immune system designed to attack change and minimize risk. You have to have your ducks in a row and your act together. In essence this means you have to get past your bosses, divisional heads and regional/global team – so really you have to get your dicks in a row and put on a PowerPoint act to do so.

So for today’s lesson from the digital pulpit I want to focus on some simple tools that help marketing teams cut through this lethal morass of PPT slides.

I have 5 points to make.

  1. Always have 5 points to make – no more and no less. People can just about remember 5 points and it forces you to make choices and be concise. Dare I say it – you can put them all on one slide.
  2. Limit all presentations to 5 slides – and don’t cheat by using a font size so small only owls in the front row can read them. If you can’t say what you want and back it up in 5 legible slides you don’t know what you want to say.
  3. Organize any meeting agenda under 5 headings a) “Information Giving” for when you need to tell people about what is happening b) “Information Receiving” for when you want to hear back from people about some topic c) “Problem Solving” for when you want to put an issue on the table for which you want ideas and suggestions d) “Decision Making” for an item that requires a decision e) “Celebrations” where you take time to celebrate some milestone or success. Allocate time for each item and have someone run the meeting to this timetable. Just try this, you will be amazed at the results. No more than 5 slides for each agenda item – see point above.
  4. Make everyone’s role in a project utterly explicit – there are only 5 roles. One person is responsible & accountable; other people (as few as possible) are required to support the project; a few more need to be consulted; one person – a small working group if you insist – signs the project off; somebody keeps everyone informed and organized.
  5. Spend one fifth of your time determining and monitoring the, maximum 5, KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). Any sporting team or coach will tell you that performance only changes when you change what you measure. Mark Twain told us many years ago,  “If you measure what you always measure you get what you always got” or words to that effect. One the biggest causes of interminable PPT presentations is that the KPI’s are not highly selective, laser sharp and targeted to an outcome.

I only allowed myself 5 points but hey, everyone cheats, so here is my bonus item. Apply some of the workshop protocols to the way you run meetings back at the ranch. Here are just a few of the golden rules of workshops:-

One person has prepared for the workshop and runs it to a pre-determined timetable and desired outcome.

People are disciplined to say what they think and then explain why – not the other way around.

There is a warm up where people can get things off their chest and issues out in the open (these can be any issues not just topic related). Having done so they are better able to listen and participate.

Post-it notes are actually of great use – forces you to capture the thought concisely, acts as a record, can be moved around and grouped with related ideas or issues etc etc.

PowerPoint is kept to a minimum and other stimulus and visual aids are used. Background material is pre-circulated (see point about preparation above).

A decent facilitator never allows a session to run for more than 90 minutes without a break or change of attack. There is a reason for this. They also ensure everyone gets a chance to contribute using a variety of techniques the most simple of which is just to break the people down in twos or threes and get them to share what they think and feed it back.

I could go on so just try this for yourself. In the next workshop, one that you really enjoy, just think about how much of the process could be used in real life.

Marketing is hard enough – make running it simpler. High 5!






Big Bang Marketing

mark6Grabber of a headline but probably not what you think. I was running a strategy session in New York last week and I came up with a new opener that worked well in terms of raising the energy level and shaking up the thinking. I got the idea from listening to a programme on Radio 4 the night before while I was fighting to try to get back to sleep. It featured a panel of scientists, including the rockstar physicist Brian Cox, talking about what came before the Big Bang.

This is a subject I had looked at before when I was researching a book I was writing called “God’s Marketing Brief” (it’s on Amazon but I really don’t recommend it unless you too are struggling to sleep at night). Despite the fact that I flunked out of Physics aged 15 years I am actually quite fascinated by the Big Bang. The two sides of physics, the General Theory of Relativity (gravity, light, time etc, the big stuff) and Quantum Physics (atoms, protons, quarks etc, the really small stuff) can explain everything from just after the Big Bang, which was roughly 13.7 billion years ago. When I say just after the Big Bang I mean 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001 of second after, or 10 to the power of -37 of a second. Now that is not long is it?

Science can also explain quite a lot about where the universe is now and where it is going. The most important thing it supports is that the universe continues to expand, and going back to the Big Bang it was not actually a very loud noise, it was in fact the moment when the universe started to expand. It did so very rapidly at first, explosively fast, so I suppose that is kind of like a ‘bang’.

Bear with me here – I am going to talk about marketing soon. One thing about which scientists speculate but cannot prove is that there may very well have been a series of “Big Bangs” in those very first milliseconds, which could mean, theoretically, that the ‘Big Bangs’ gave rise to an infinite number of parallel universes.

Hang on in there – one last point to make. For reasons that would take too long to explain (alright, I admit it, for reasons I don’t entirely understand) the scientists cannot reconcile the General Theory of Relativity (big stuff) and Quantum Physics (small stuff). They explain the big stuff and the small stuff but they don’t explain each other. That is where String Theory comes in, or as it is sometimes called ‘The Theory of Everything’ (I am not making this up – check it out on Wiki). String Theory poses that little tiny atoms, the really, really small stuff, are not little dots but are long stringy things. But even more curiously, String Theory suggests that there must be at least 10 dimensions – another 6 plus dimensions beyond the 4 we know about (3D plus time).

Relax, we are done with the physics. In fact to lighten the air you might recall that Sheldon in “The Big Bang Theory” is studying String Theory – quite brilliant and quite mad.

So, I explain all this to my folk in the strategy session and invite them to see if it gives them any insights on what we are about to do – which is to develop a new strategy for a recently acquired business.

Well, let me help you, as I helped them.

1. It is worth looking back in time if it helps explain the future but beyond a certain point, the Big Bang, who cares?
2. If scientists can figure all this out surely we can come up with a solution to our little challenge.
3. There probably are a series of parallel universes and there is definitely more than one strategy – so let’s develop a few and choose the best, the one that creates our universe the way we want it.
4. We live in a universe that is always expanding – change is not our enemy it is our friend.
5. We are dealing with two theories of business that cannot be reconciled – finance and marketing. Or rather they can be reconciled but only if you bring in some new dimensions.

I must say it went on to be a very successful workshop although a lot of the credit for that must go to the caliber of people in it and not the facilitator. We did come up with new dimensions and several new strategic options.
If you are interested in knowing the new dimension to our thinking that made the most impact it was the concept of Triple Bottom Line. I’ll leave you to look into that.

But I think I’m on to something with Big Bang Marketing.







The Big Brand Bang

mark It took CERN 10 years and several billion euros to build the Hadron Collider with the purpose of recreating the Big Bang, the birth of the Universe. They claim to be getting very close although in fact they may never actually get there, just close enough to be able to understand the absolute fundamentals of particle physics and the creation of life as we know it, Jim.

As a brand marketer would you not want to witness the birth of a brand? Not the launch of a brand, but the birth of a brand in someone’s mind, the very moment when all the attributes, associations and artefacts of the brand collide to form one coherent whole. Nike, Google, Coke all exist now, part of the Universe, and we can only speculate and guesstimate precisely how the particles all came together. To know for sure you have to see (feel might be a better word) the actual physics of how it happens. Does this possibility not excite you, give you a hadron (sic) so to speak – sorry, I just couldn’t resist. Well you can. I know this because I recently did. And you don’t need a multi-billion euro collider.

Enter, as a consumer, a new market – go buy something in a category you have never worked in nor ever previously taken much interest but which suddenly matters to you. I will share my recent experience of doing just this and you will get the idea.

I have what is known in South Africa as a ‘Bakkie’ (pronounced ‘buckie’) – the Americans would call it a truck, Europeans a SUV. It’s a Double Cab, 4 x4 Toyota Hilux, the top selling car in South Africa for very good reasons. It is not bad on the road, sits 5 fairly comfortably, goes up the side of mountains and is built like a very robust lavatory. In the rare cases it breaks down or runs into something harder than itself you can repair or replace any part of it in any remote part of Africa. Mine has now done 40k, barely run-in, and needed new tires. So what brand of new tires should I buy? Not a category I have ever worked in professionally and frankly not very high interest for me – until now. The choice of tire is now crucially important to me, I cannot hide behind what the manufacturer supplied the car with, I have to make a choice. That choice has a functional dimension, I must choose the right tires for the driving I do (70% on-road, 30% off-road). I won’t buy the cheapest as that is a false saving, I must buy the best value. But my choice has a badge dimension as well. If I rock up to my mate’s farm in the Karoo (very beautiful and middle of bloody nowhere) with the wrong brand of tires I will be derided as a wimpy towny (accurate but hurtful nonetheless). I have done well to buy a Toyota Hilux, a car that commands ultimate respect among the people who make full and daily use of a ‘Bakkie’. My choice of replacement tires has the potential to deepen that respect to the level where he might even let me take a turn doing the brai (Bar-B-Q).

I am standing in Tiger Wheel & Tyre, the biggest and most highly advertised of all the many purveyors of tires – guess why – and the very lovely Lizette is explaining my options and the various deals available. I am in luck as there seems to be a ‘deal’ on all the ‘top brands’. I have no idea whether these deals do or do not in fact reflect any true saving, but there is a lot of point of sale assuring me they do plus the gift of a free Bosch power tool should I buy a full set of 4 (as I intend to do). I don’t think the Bosch power tool would persuade me to buy tires if they didn’t need changing nor, I think, to buy a brand that was not my first choice but it would tip a lot of people into changing all 4, the sensible but not essential thing to do (they wear and drive much better if they are all new but you can sometimes get away with replacing just one pair). Anyway, this is not about understanding the real time effect of promotions, this is about the very moment when a brand arrives in you head, not as disassociated scraps and particles but as a coherent whole. Lizette is now asking me what brand I would like.

I can see the various brands of new tires on display. I recognize some names – Continental, Michelin. There is one Japanese make I’ve never heard of but, hey, it’s Japanese as is my cherished Toyota Bakkie.

“What about the BF Goodrich All Terrain?” I enquire tentatively. “A very good choice” Lizette replies without hesitation. Would she have said that about any of the big name brands? I don’t think so. She seems very capable, has already advised not to spend the extra money on the more expensive fully off-road tires so I trust her, and there is something about the smile she gives me. It’s a knowing smile. Choosing BF Goodrich, it seems, has impressed her.

Let’s examine the particles that existed in my mind. I had heard of BF Goodrich and had noticed them on the kind of SUV’s that mean business – the ones with extra jerry cans, winches, snorkel exhausts etc. The reason you notice BF Goodrich is because the branding is very prominent, a big chunky white logo, and the tread is also very distinctive. A few years back I had briefly flirted with the idea of buying a Land Rover Defender to which the previous owner had fitted BF Goodrich. This was talked up by the dealer as a selling feature – “The previous owner loved this car and really looked after it, look, he even fitted Goodrich”. In other words the previous owner had paid extra to have the new car, not just any car but a Defender, upgraded with more expensive tires.

I am not 100% sure but have a feeling that BF Goodrich are American. The yanks know nothing about cars but when it comes to trucks and the tires that go with them they do have a certain reputation.

And then there was the price – the BF Goodrich were quite expensive, not unaffordably so but noticeably so.

“I’ll take the BF Goodrich”. “Would you like the white lettering on the inside or outside” Lizette enquired, apparently it makes no difference which way round the tire is fitted. Guess which I chose.

Distinctiveness, (relevant) opinion-leader endorsement, country of origin, price, coherence (tread, logo, name, function and badge), multiple points where the brand has touched me and a degree of familiarity, a sense that you are not the only one, that maybe the brand is becoming more popular.  The Big Brand Bang.

As I pulled into the car park of my local just as a car-mad mate was also arriving, the new tires (on my 3 year old car) were instantly noticed. “Decent set of boots, China” he said appreciatively.

I can now tell you with total conviction that if you have a choice in tire for your SUV there is only one brand to buy – BF Goodrich. A brand is born  – in my mind.

PS It turns out that BF Goodrich are now owned by Michelin –would that have made any difference? Who knows. Big Bang Brand Architecture – but that’s another story…….


Justin Bieber and Persil

mark1 Back at the turn of the Millennium the venerable Jeremy Bullmore delivered a lecture to the British Brands Group entitled “Posh Spice and Persil”. Victoria had apparently declared at an early age that she wanted to be more famous than Persil and Jeremy took this as his theme to expound the importance, and the magical mystery, of brands to CEO’s. I wasn’t there but like many thousand others I read the transcript. I had heard him talk before about the powerful quality of fame that brands have which, if nothing else, will create preference. When found at the heart of a coherent, yet never fully definable, set of relevant associations it can drive loyalty to a brand of soap powder or baked beans (or at the very least deep, deep inertia).

Was he the first to see celebrities as proper brands? Who knows, probably not, the notion was becoming popular and even back then it was clear the Beckham brand was being managed (and to great effect). I recall many years earlier hearing Peter York (aka Wallis, he of Sloane Ranger fame) liken brands to soap opera stars. We like them because we know them yet every now and again they can surprise us. Product brands hope to surprise us in an appealing way, celebrities often surprise us in a disappointing way that has them reaching for Max Clifford’s number on speed dial. Anyway, my point is celebrities started to realize they were like Persil and more recently Persil et al realize they need to learn to be more like celebrities. They envy their social media status, their content, their multi-media ubiquity – their loyal following. Brands want to be newsworthy.

I am in Cape Town, as I write, and my wife and son are off to see Justin Bieber tonight at the impressive Green Point stadium. The whole city is buzzing, young Beliebers have been camping out all night to get the best spot in the Golden Circle, the traffic tonight will be awful. Justin, I am sure, will be amazing. What a great brand he is, if you happen to like his music, which I don’t.

But here is my point – one I intend to focus a lot more on in my writing, in terms of the marketing technology businesses I am investing in, and for the occasional client I am advising. Justin is a lot more than a strong brand. Justin is a global media channel. This diminutive 17 year old crooner has 45 million facebook followers (his most recent post attracted 2.5 million likes in an hour, I just checked) and 21 million Twitter followers. ”Baby” has been watched 750 million times on Youtube. His total album sales since 2009 are only 12 million – I say ‘only’, obviously this is good going but can’t you see? His music is not the product, the numbers are tiny in comparison to his audience, his reach and frequency. Justin – or one presumes his agent – is amassing a valuable portfolio of investments in social media platforms like Spotify and other internet start-ups. Because Justin can make or break a social media platform. Because Justin is the Social Media Platform. And then there’s Lady Gaga, Oprah, Jamie Oliver, WillIam etc etc etc.

If Justin tweets today that he is wearing his favourite white jacket that he insists is washed in Persil and only Persil wherever he is in the world, a gazillion young girls and future mums will be hooked for life, more than any campaign dreamt up by Jeremy’s and Persil’s old agency JWT could ever have achieved. Am I just pointing out the obvious and age-old power of celebrity endorsement? No, I am pointing out that with his endorsement comes a global audience of his making and under his control, one that will amplify the message with their own audience via re-tweets and likes.

Celebrities are the new media platforms and Social Media is their prime weapon. The top/smart celebrities are managing themselves not just like brands but like social media platforms. And here is just one thing that interests me about this. Most of the technology start-ups I talk to are very keen on securing brand support. They want to charter with the Persils, Cokes, Nikes, Samsungs as their partners because they are the ones with the budgets and inferred credibility. Some are now realizing that if they charter with celebrities (which in Justin’s case means he wants equity in the business) the brands will follow. But the reverse is not true.

Jeremy my old friend – it’s gone way further than any of us could have imagined. Justin Bieber is not just bigger than Persil, he is bigger than commercial TV. He, or more realistically he and all the other savvy celebrities, may end up being bigger than facebook.

So should brands be looking to celebrities for clues about the new model of branding and brand communication? Perhaps, but more importantly they should be looking at celebrities the way they used to look at ITV and have started to look at facebook. Persil and all the other big brands need a Bieber strategy and budget.


Which Brands are Winning the Medals?

mark4 I am very scared of using the ‘O’ word in case I’m infringing some IOC regulations and will provoke litigation from their venal lawyers, but you know what I’m referring to. At the time of writing we are nearing the end of the first week of London 2012 and I don’t think it’s too early to start asking which brands will carry off the medals. How, as a brand, do you win a medal you might ask? Well I am setting the rules and they are very simple – you get a Gold, Silver or Bronze if your brand emerges much stronger, stronger, or a bit stronger as a result of the London 2012 Olympic Games (there – I’ve said it, do your worst). You get a lemon if, by my judgement, you should have saved your time and money and steered well clear.

Let’s start with the obvious – the sponsors. There are three levels in case you didn’t know. You can be a Worldwide Partner, a London Partner or a London Supporter. If I asked you to name more than two in any category you’d struggle. In fact there are 11, 7 and 7 respectively so there are a few lemons to be awarded.

I’m going to give both Adidas and Omega Gold – this is the greatest show on earth, it’s all about time and sporting kit so however well or badly you might have activated it, however much it cost, well done. Rolex does Wimbledon, Omega does the Olympics, Nike do, well, just about everything else, Adidas does the Olympics. Perfect.

I’ll give Coca Cola a Silver – it is arguably the best brand in the world, it has supported unarguably the best event in the world for years now and they always seem to do it with class.

Bronze for P&G – some nice ads, I suspect some good awareness and saliency scores (you can bet the boys from Cincinnati will analyze the numbers more closely than any games official for any event) and I reckon they will have added some warmth to a corporate brand that has lacked it. Bit like the British gymnasts – unexpected but a nice result.

Lemons for just about everyone else, but especially McDonalds and Cadbury. What were you thinking when you signed the contract? About as smart as an Arms dealer sponsoring Amnesty International. Do you need the awareness – No. Does it in any way relate to your brand values – No. But what about Coca Cola, couldn’t you say the same thing about them? It’s not fair! No, it’s not fair but that’s the way it is. Coke can get away with it, they have heritage, they do it with class and actually yes I can imagine many of the athletes, from China even, enjoying ice cold Coke pre and post an event. It’s an authenticity and status thing.

Now let’s move beyond the obvious brands – there are many other reputations to be enhanced or undermined by the London Olympics. What about the personalities?

I award Gold to Boris Johnson and David Beckham – I think both will emerge much stronger brands as a result of these Games. Boris is really starting to look like a future PM and dare I say it, World Statesman. Like all great brands he has added something new to the mix in his category, politics – humour, honesty, the ability to make the odd mistake, own up to it and be liked all the more for it. In David Beckham we are witnessing the transition from Football Icon to Sport Icon, almost a national treasure.

Silver for Stella McCartney and Danny Boyle –they’ve been brave, they too have added a whole new dimension to their reputations, well done.

Seb Coe – Bronze. Why? I just think we admire him a bit more but we don’t like him any better. I confess this is very subjective – I always preferred Lennon to McCartney and I always liked Ovett more than Coe. Mind you, if Boris, Seb, Cameron and Miliband went head to head for President of the UK the day the games finished, might that be the result, Boris first, Seb second…..?

Of course we don’t have a President, we have a monarch, indeed we have the monarchy. They don’t compete in anything or seek election to anything or sell anything (except Britain Plc) so I can’t award a medal. Pity because it would have been gold. (And I’m a Republican).

I’d like to award a Lemon or three to some nations but am far too scared to name names or explain why. There are many reasons why the Olympics are the greatest show on earth but central among them is the coming together of nations in the universal appeal of sport and sporting values. Nations competing in the Olympics can reinforce their brand perceptions, they can worsen them. If I was the marketing director of a country – and I think every country should have a marketing director that is not called Head of Tourism of Chief Spin Doctor – I’d see the Olympics as an amazing opportunity to promote the brand. I think some national brands will emerge weaker after these games and it has got nothing to do with who won most medals, just the way they won them and the way they, officials and athletes handled themselves. But there is one Gold that should be awarded to a country/city brand.

My final Gold goes jointly to London and Great Britain – worth every penny it cost.


Going Native

mark6 The hottest topic in media (advertising, marketing – take your pick) is Native Advertising. It seems everyone is going native when it comes to their brand spend. This wild enthusiasm is only matched by the total confusion about what exactly is Native Advertising. There are a bunch of definitions flying round. The most all-purpose definition is probably something like “Brand promotion messages or content on the internet that fit so well into the context in which they appear you hardly know or care whether you are being sold to”. So this will span everything from Google Adwords (ads appear alongside natural search results in exactly the same format) to sponsored stories, videos, images, music on respectively facebook, youtube, pinterest or spotify and their ilk.

Native can include the internet version of an “advertorial” – an on-line publisher will include some story about a brand in their normal content flow, some bloggers will simply get paid to write stuff about a brand or company. These are supposed to be clearly indicated but many are not and many would claim that no-one cares. If it is a good read, it is a good read, and it’s not like you paid for it. The Red Bull case study gets trotted out over and over again. Red Bull promote its energy drink by associating itself with derring-do – whether Formula One Sponsorship, Extreme Sports or some bloke parachuting from a great height. The point about the latter is this specific, fully Red Bull funded, stunt found its way into a gazillion blogs and newsfeeds on the web. Good old fashioned PR? Well yes, but specifically designed and presented for the on-line publishing world.

What is behind all this? Simply a frustration with banner ads. I’ve mentioned before that advertisers have done the same thing in digital that they did when commercial TV came on the scene. They adapted what they knew for the new medium (in the case of TV they ran radio ads with pictures, in the case of on-line publishing they ran press ads) rather than learning new tricks or at the very least re-learning and reframing old tricks.

Advertisers’ willingness to pay for banner ads here, there and everywhere allowed any old crap blogger to make a bob or two out of their sites and gave major off-line publishers the false idea that they could recreate their business model on-line. But what is the one dominant feature of on-line? You can measure almost everything and pretty soon everyone has figured out that “You have more chance of surviving an air crash than clicking on a banner ad”. Native advertising works better, brands and agencies are prepared to pay more for better results, the trend has caught fire. There are new agencies who know how to do it, new platforms that know how to get it out there, new opportunities on every major social media site, all looking to cash in with numbers and metrics to back up their case.

The old guard will say – as they always do – that there is nothing new here. With the right connections, budgets and brand stories you could always lean on editors and journalists to big up you brand. The Gold Blend ads (I know I am going back a while here) worked because they were a brand relevant 30 second soap opera that got flighted in the ad break of, yes, a soap opera. How native is that? What is the difference between sponsored content and event or celebrity sponsorship?

As soon as attention and eyeballs move away from one activity to another, brands will eventually find a way to shoe-horn themselves into that new activity be it watching TV, surfing the net, keeping up with friends and trends or playing games. Yes fundamentally it is the same game but scale, data, algorithms, real-time metrics, fragmentation, pace of change and user empowerment make it a game with new rules and new potential to win or fail.

I try to keep pace with all this and am lucky enough to spend most of my time with people who know a lot more than me because they are out there building new marketing tech businesses. One person I keep up with on a regular basis here in Cape Town is Will Mellor. He is better known (and he is very well known) as Seth Rotheram, the alter ego he created for his blog site, 2Oceansvibe. Except when he started the term blogging had not been created and the software did not exist. He began posting pictures of the Camps Bay in-crowd with amusing little stories and gossip. He started to add cool lifestyle content he found on the internet. In those days he had to take the site down and then reload it every night because there was no WordPress. His popularity and unique visitors grew, he could start to get all manner of freebies and some cash to talk about brands, events, restaurants. No-one cares he is getting paid because 2OV is just such a great read and the first place to go to find the funniest and sauciest stuff on the net. He has also always featured brands and magazines for which he does not get paid simply because he thinks they give his brand the right vibe. He then launched an on-line radio station, relaunched the blog as an on-line magazine and is currently re-naming and rebranding all the neighbourhoods in Cape Town – the Hoods Project – and in the process creating a whole new geo-cultural cluster.

Will, aka Seth, has not just understood celebrity he created one, he was blogging before we knew what blogging was, he turned this into the new model for on-line publishing and is at the forefront of on-line media. And yes – he has been making money (funding his lifestyle) with native advertising long before the rest of us went native. He is the ultimate local/global and now micro-local. If he was in London or New York he’d be mega rich and famous. But as he says – work’s a sideline, live the lifestyle.

And the lifestyle is good in Cape Town, at least for the some of the natives.

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