Falling in love with Bose – again

When it comes to ‘marketing and brands” I have a split personality. As a logophile (fascinated by the meaning of words) I must explain that the definition of personality is “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving”

One side of my marketing personality i.e. pattern of thinking, the dominant side in recent years, has been to think a lot about the fundamentals of brand adoption and brand commitment since this has been at the heart of my work on Deliberate Marketing, or ‘D-Marketing’ for short. My contention is that a great deal of physical waste and most of the wasted marketing spend, still roughly half of all spend, is due to there being no explicit agreement on what makes people buy things and keep buying them. There are lots of theories and models but very few businesses consciously identify through rigorous discussion which they agree on. If you don’t really understand why people buy/keep buying then how can you efficiently invest in marketing? There may never be a perfect and complete understanding but if you are not curious you never progress. So my message has been ‘Be deliberate, have a hypothesis, continually learn and improve”. This will save money and save the planet. If you want the full version or the fun version of this argument see the links in the last post.

The other side of my personality ito my pattern of thinking, pops up every now and again triggered by a personal experience of either falling in or out of love with a brand. From time to time it feels to me that I’m witnessing in myself something similar to the Hadron Colllider, a collision of brand protons that creates a reaction, either positive or negative. I blogged about one years ago (you can find it in ‘Big Fat Marketing Tweets’, the one about falling in love with BF Goodrich off-road tires having known nothing about tires or off-roading). This week I had another real time change of heart about a brand, in this case falling back in love with it, and again it was down to a particular collision of events and stimulus.

I have been loyal to Bose headphones for more than 30 years. It was through Bose that I discovered ‘noise-cancelling’ and at a time when I was starting to do a lot of long-haul travel it transformed my life. I could block out the world and relax. I think I am now on my fourth set of headphones having upgraded a few times as new features came along. My one criticism is that the lovely soft ear pads degrade over time especially if, like me, you have a sweaty head. The first time I took them back to the store in Regents Street to see if they could be refurbished I was told about their trade-in scheme. For not that much money I could swop my old headphones for a brand new pair with the latest features – brilliant and ahead of its time in terms of recycling (the old headphones were refurbished and resold apparently). I did this twice ending up with my current pair which offer brilliant sound, very decent battery life and are wireless. I’ve had them a few years but last week as I came off a flight my ears were covered in a kind of black dandruff, the ear pads had finally started to disintegrate. So I decided to go the Bose shop – in Cape Town – and see if I could get them repaired but knowing I might get tempted to trade up.

A lot has happened in headphones since I bought my first pair of Bose. Back then they were super expensive compared to anything else available but if you could afford them, and I could, they were the best. There were really only two ways they got used, either listening to music at home if you wanted the purest sound without disturbing anyone else or being disturbed by anyone else, or else for in-flight entertainment (my first pair had all the attachments, I’ve kept them, that allow you to plug into the socket on any aircraft when watching  a movie or listening to your own stuff on your i-pod/phone).

Now headphones are much more integrated into everyday life both work and play. People want to be connected to their music, pod casts, games, TV and social media anywhere anytime. Whether in the office or WFH headphones are an essential tool. There are now lots to choose from, from in-ear like air pods to over-ear like my own  ‘Quiet Comfort’ Bose pair (I can only use the bigger over-ear headphones, hate things in my ear) and noise cancelling is common place across all the brands.

Since I bought my last pair of Bose, probably 6 or 7 years ago now, two other things have changed for me and I think most people. Firstly I never buy anything important without checking the reviews on-line and secondly I feel more guilty if I make unnecessary purchases and don’t try to recycle (I said more guilty, not paralyzingly guilty, I still like buying things). Thinking I would get offered the chance to spend a bit more money and upgrade I thought I better check the reviews of the latest Bose headphones. Were they worth it, were there better alternatives? If there were then I’d treat myself knowing that I could recycle my old headphones.

The quickest of searches unearthed two very relevant pieces of information. Firstly, Sony had some new headphones that were getting better reviews than the latest Bose set. Sony were ‘more expensive but worth it if you can afford it’ was the general consensus, you have my interest. Was now the time to switch brands and end a 30 year-long love affair? Secondly Apple had bought Bose and were planning to merge them with Beats. Beats were the headphones American rapper Dr. Dre backed, he made a fortune when they were acquired by Apple for $3 billion in 2014. With the exception of some Eminem, I loathe rap music, in my view the ‘c’ is obviously silent. Headphones by rappers for rap are not for me. They could be the best, most durable and cheapest headphones in the world and I would not put them on my head let alone buy them. Sony make better headphones and Bose have sold out to Beats of all brands. Was it even worth going down to the Bose shop?

How differently this story might have ended had I chosen to stop there and buy on-line but I have recently had a few really bad experiences buying on-line and it was easy enough to go to the Bose shop and see if they could replace the ear pads and better still, check out the latest Bose headphones for myself. I like shops, especially specialist shops. I like talking to the kind of experts you get at a dedicated brand flagship store. Thank goodness I did and thank goodness Paul, the manager who had persuaded me it was worth trading up to my last pair of Bose, was still there. What did I learn from Paul?

  • The story of Apple buying Bose is bollocks, a false internet trope to put it more politely. MIT (the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have a significant stake in the business which they use to fund leading edge research into acoustics technology and the business is proudly private and independent.
  • Bose were, and thanks to their MIT connection still are, the pioneers in noise-cancelling and many other areas of acoustics.
  • The latest headphones are better only in the sense that they have been optimized for both work and play. Bose offered the equivalent to the latest Sony product with, for example, more than one setting for noise cancelling and slightly longer recharge intervals.  For how I use headphones my set were still as good as any.
  • Bose have tried hard to find better material for the ear pads but can’t. More durable means less comfortable so they have accepted that they need to be replaced every few years and offer a replacement set at a reasonable price. Swopping them over takes just a few minutes and could be done while I waited.
  • They no longer offer the upgrade policy, but I guess they don’t need to if the headphones can be refurbished while you wait and your last pair are still excellent.

I have checked all this out. The Apple rumours are indeed fake news that started with an April Fool Tweet from an Apple employee. The founder of Bose, Dr. Amar Bose, donated some of his shares to MIT of which he is an alumnus. And having listened to the new, top-of-the-range Bose headphones I could tell no difference to the set I have which they still sell alongside the newer more expensive model. I’m fairly sure it would be the same with the Sony equivalent. So, I paid a fraction of the price of a new set of headphones and walked out with my old headphones looking, feeling and sounding as good as ever. I felt really good about this, I’d saved myself a lot of money and done the responsible thing. I also felt a lot warmer and better informed about the Bose brand. I’d fallen in love all over again on the basis of new information:-

  • Bose were driven by the passion and expertise of a founder, Dr. Amar Bose.
  • They work and innovate with the best people, MIT.
  • They strive to be the best not the biggest or most profitable.
  • They are proud of their products and only too happy to restore them rather than just try to sell you a new pair.

What’s not to love? And by the way check out their sunglasses with inbuilt speakers, brilliant sound, audible only to the wearer and yet you can remain aware of what is going on around you. Bought a pair of those too.

What learnings do I take from this? What has been re-affirmed in my mind?

the combination of Macro/micro marketing insight is imporant. Learn from looking at a market, examining the data driven models, the top-down analysis but also learn from personal experience.

Love/delight/positive emotion are the key driver for some brands. I did not want to buy Sony, I love Bose, I was looking for positive affirmation of my brand choice, a reason to stay with them.

Because, alongside the emotional connection, it is what you do that counts, not what you say or project. The products are brilliant, the service first class, the repair/refurbish/re-use ahead of its time.

Making people aware of waste is the goal, that will change behaviour. I am informed about, and now sensitized to, the issue of excessive waste and unnecessary purchases. A few years back I would have looked for every excuse to buy some new headphones I did not really need and not thought twice about it. Now I am responsive to doing the responsible thing, if it’s made this easy.

On-line shopping is potentially very bad for society. There are some occasions and some purchases when on-line ordering makes sense, for example if you know precisely what you want or cannot get to a store. But on-line research and peer group reviews cannot be totally relied on, the ability to just click and buy, thereby missing out proper consideration and first hand research, is what creates the very wasteful ‘reverse supply chain’ where one in three products get returned and often scrapped.

Much as I love Bose there are some lessons for them. Firstly their range architecture is not great in terms of how they position each product. It’s fine if you are talking to a knowledgeable Bose person like Paul but just looking at the names and features does not help you navigate their range as well as they could.

The Apple buying Bose rumour was very high and prominent on the list of search results – they need to fix that.

Bose is one of the few brands that I allow to have and use my email address – so use it, communicate some of the useful information I only found out once in-store. For example, scotch the Apple rumour, let me know about the replacement ear pad kit.

Finally, I’m not sure Bose have nailed their over-arching positioning. I think it’s something around “The art and science of getting much more from less” but what do I know?

One-eyed Dan – Doing more with less

The D-Marketing eBook is now live and can be downloaded here. I warn you, it’s over 90 pages long and important as the topic is – saving the planet by reducing waste and wasted marketing – it’s a chunky read with my usual clunky writing style. There is an ‘In a nutshell’ section and in fact all the sections can be accessed directly from the index page so the reader can skip any bits they want and get straight to what takes their fancy. But still, 92 pages, it’s a lot especially since I have always been of the view that far more business books are bought (or downloaded) than are ever read.

This was praying on my mind so I thought about the ‘business books’ that have been widely read, books like ‘The One-minute manager’ or ‘Who moved my cheese’. They are short, light with a bit of a story that makes you think. Then I thought about the most read books in the world – children’s books. I lost count of the number times I read the marvellous ‘Cops and Robbers’ by Janet and Allen Ahlberg to my kids (and lately to my grandson). Honestly I still know most of it off by heart.

Bingo I thought, I’ll write a short story that comes across as a kid’s book but which is in fact the summary of the arguments for D-Marketing. And so I did – you can download it here.

It’s the story of One-eyed Dan who saw more with less (get it?) and it breezes along in just over 20- pages including some illustrations. Enjoy, you’re welcome. Go change the world.

Teaser: D-Marketing is coming

I have finished the first draft of my latest book. It needs more work but here is a teaser.

In every corner of the globe concerns over climate change, pollution, resource depletion and environmental degradation are now taken very seriously especially, but not exclusively, among the younger generation. Governments and the business world have had to respond to this and for the most part they have. We have green energy policies, more responsible and sustainable sourcing, production and distribution, recycling infrastructure, to highlight just a few aspects of sustainability. Maybe not as much as we need to meet the climate change targets but a lot more than we had and moving in the right direction. Sustainability is mainstream in almost everyone’s thinking almost all of the time. But we are missing something, quite a big thing – excessive demand. We are buying and consuming too much, not everywhere, not among the ‘other 3 billion’ who live in abject poverty, but in the developed world we buy too much stuff. We are, as part of the drive towards sustainability, aware of waste as an issue but we have not tackled the root cause of this – marketing.

$1 trillion a year gets spent on persuading us not just to buy but to buy more than we need and this causes enormous waste both physical and obvious and hidden, ignored. We have not tackled the demand-side wastage and marketing’s role in that, so we are fighting the climate change and environmental battle with one arm tied behind our back. This book tries to lift the lid on that and offer an alternative, Deliberate Marketing – a more responsible approach that addresses marketing generated wastage but not necessarily by reducing profits and enterprise value. Because we also waste a lot of money on unnecessary marketing so we can cut that out too.

My argument in a nutshell are as follows:-

  • Rooted in free-market economics, the purpose of marketing is to sell more, more, more. This produces vast amounts of excess consumption and waste. Some waste can be recycled but that takes 50% of the resources it took to produce in the first place. Less unnecessary purchases = less recycling.
  • Sustainability does not focus enough on the demand side.
  • It is possible to reduce excess, irresponsible demand and the waste it produces without necessarily reducing profits or enterprise value.
  • We are not looking to impose austerity and fight human nature or progress. Just 5-10% reduction would be game-changing and reducing wasted marketing can more than offset the commercial risk of doing so.
  • We need a better more deliberate and connected way of doing marketing and a better way to measure and account for all costs.
  • There are strategies to reduce waste and safeguard commercial success. There is a simple process a business could follow but it needs to be holistic, looking at the whole business model.

Deliberate Marketing – think of it as marketing that makes you proud, socially and professionally.

The book offers a point of view on how to reduce wasted marketing and reduce marketing generated waste. It highlights areas to focus on to achieve this and suggest a process for D-Marketing. The objective is to generate interest, to start the conversation and pose some challenging questions. It is not offering ‘an answer’ or ‘a blue-print’, that’s impossible without looking at a specific business in a specific category. But here’s an interesting thing about waste, once aware of it, a well-intentioned person or leadership team finds it hard to ignore. There is no study to back this up, merely a lot of circumstantial evidence, but the majority of waste is probably down to thoughtlessness, a feeling of powerlessness and/or an assumption that it’s someone else’s responsibility. As a species we are sentient and most of us have a conscience. If we are aware of waste, if we think we can do something about it and it is our responsibility to do so, we will. At the very least we will try.

The audience for this book is business in general, and marketers in particular. Its purpose is to make people think about waste and believe there is perhaps something they can do if they try.

Case Study: The challenge of Demarketing

I’ve taken my idea of Demarketing from my eBook “So What’s wrong with Marketing” and turned it into a case study for Business Students. Even if people reject the premise that we need Demarketing I think the exercise of thinking it through will enrich one’s view of marketing in a sustainable world. Anyone interested in using it let me know.

The Demarketing Challenge

Background

In my eBook “So what’s wrong with Marketing” I put forward the idea of ‘Demarketing’, the re-purposing of marketing to reduce consumption.

“Marketing was developed for a world of economic growth. Its purpose, however you dress it up, was (still is) to make people ‘consume’ more. That’s why marketers refer to people as ‘consumers’. The problem, it would appear, is that we can’t just keep on consuming, wasting and depleting resources at the expense of our planet. There is no ‘Planet B’. So that presents something of a difficulty for marketing in the future – can it, should it, survive in a world where we need to persuade people not to buy what they don’t need or can’t recycle? Instead of marketing, should we not think about ‘demarketing’?”

Summarised like this demarketing makes absolute sense. We cannot just continue to invest $ trillions to persuade people to buy more stuff than they need and more than we can cost-effectively recycle or, in whatever way, re-engineer to be sustainable. And yet governments around the world (of varying political persuasion) for what they would say are sound economic models continue to strive for GDP growth to lift people out of poverty and improve the quality of life. Can the idea of buying less co-exist with the imperative to increase economic output? At a micro level can a company’s board of directors persuade their shareholders to support them if they wish to invest in suppressing demand? Investors move their money to wherever gives them the highest returns. Perhaps it might work if all companies faced legislation that required them to fully cost their products to take account of all their environmental and societal impact (no business currently directly bears the cost of the full life-cycle and total impact of their products or services on e.g. waste disposal, health, infrastructure, they just pay tax in a largely one-size-fits-all fiscal system and many avoid even doing that if they can). But it would be hard for a government to be re-elected on a manifesto that includes proposed legislation limiting what people can buy and raising prices. Demarketing might sound like the right thing to do, but how to do it is the challenge.

Nonetheless there are signs of positive movement albeit more in the name of CSR and sustainability rather than specifically this idea of actively demarketing. Blackrock, the behemoth of private equity, now insist all its investment portfolio have coherent CSR and sustainability programmes. There are a growing number of ethical funds like FirstPlanet, dedicated to investing in businesses that can deliver financial returns and build a better world. More and more big businesses like Ikea, Unilever, even Amazon have moved CSR and sustainability from something they should do ‘as well’ to being central to their core purpose. All for the good, but there aren’t many like Patagonia who spend money on ads asking people not buy their products unless they really need them and who offer free repairs to make previous purchases last longer (they will even repair competitive brands if you ask nicely).

Demarketing is a tough idea to get your mind around and some would argue is not needed. Oxford were early champions of the Circular Economy and this has now taken root in many top academic institutions. The industrial revolution (and the later technology revolutions) were based on a linear economic model – find/process materials, turn them into products or services, get people to buy them, use them and then throw them away to buy something new using the money you earn to help find/process materials, turn them into products or services, get people to buy them, use them and then throw them away to buy something new. While it was mostly Europe and America doing this we could cope with the energy demands and the waste. But with America and Europe, bar the odd recession, relentlessly consuming more and China, India, the rest of Asia catching up and set to overtake them, plus South America (maybe even Africa one day) following suit this linear economic model has become unsustainable, an existential threat.  It’s obvious, we need to make a linear model circular through recycling and repurposing. If we focus on this perhaps we can go on just consuming more and more and more. On the other hand, maybe events will overtake us……..

There’s a linearity to the environmental debate too – more people, more consumption, more carbon, more climate change. A great deal of the spotlight is focused on climate change and greenhouse gases. Let’s not argue the science, let’s just go with the consensus, the wisdom of a wise crowd, and accept that we need to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 c-degrees in the next two decades and thereafter reverse it. There are 3 ways to do that – reduce, replace and remove CO2. In this linearity there is no argument against reducing the consumption of carbon fuels, many argue it is the priority. Renewable energy sources may not come on stream (cost-effectively) fast enough, electric cars just push the issue further up the supply chain. There is investment into technology to remove CO2 but nowhere near as much as has gone into alternative energy perhaps because it’s hard to design anything better at removing C02 than trees. But no-one seems to be confident that we can plant enough trees fast enough to compensate for the rise in CO2 emissions, or indeed enough to replace the ones we are cutting down in places like the Amazon. A lot of businesses like Ikea have tree planting initiatives to offset their environmental impact but in the wider context it’s really just a sticking plaster. No, we have to reduce consumption, no argument. Well there is an alternative to this, or at least a different point of attack. We could reduce population growth, like China tried to do (for different reasons), but outside a totalitarian state that would be hard. Or we could reduce consumption of things we don’t need to consume and/or replace consumption with better alternatives, like reducing meat and dairy for plant based foods. Or we could try a combination of all of this?

My argument is – and I hope I’m wrong – reducing wasteful, unnecessary consumption of everything, not just carbon fuels, needs to be in the mix because the alternatives won’t kick in fast enough. There needs to be more Patagonia thinking, we need to stop spending money making the environmental challenge worse, and embrace the challenging idea of demarketing, perhaps not everywhere and not to the same degree for every category, but we need to think about using some new form of marketing to do the opposite of what we have been trained to do, to make people buy less not more.

To take just one example, and apologies to Gillette for singling them out, they forced people to throw away a razor they were perfectly happy with to buy a new razor with more blades (and some little ‘easy-glide’ strip). There are many other things people have been persuaded to throw away in order to buy things they did not really need but that is a choice people can make. Gillette gave us no choice, they took the replacement blades for our razor off the market and their marketing team invested millions of dollars to force us to buy a new razor needing a new type of blade not all of us wanted or needed. Surely that kind of marketing is just plain irresponsible? We are being told to avoid travel where we can for the sake of the environment. With just a little demarketing to reduce unnecessary consumption and wastage we could happily enjoy more guilt-free travel.

Can it be done? Can we square the circle between demarketing and government-led economic growth, between responsible consumption and shareholder returns? Honestly, no-one knows but it might be possible, if only to an extent sufficient to make an impact. It deserves the effort to try, if only as an insurance policy in the event of the other planet-saving initiatives failing to deliver in time. And it can be as creatively and intellectually satisfying as conventional marketing, perhaps more so. Selling more Gillette razors, or beer, or cosmetics, or fashion clothing or washing powder or burgers or biscuits or electronics etc etc is not actually that hard once you know the rules and tactics. Demarketing will be very hard and demanding of the best ‘marketing’ minds.

Exercise

Select a B2C company you are familiar with, preferably one with a reputation for high marketing investment.

You are to prepare a presentation for the board to persuade them to embrace and commit resources to a demarketing strategy. You don’t have to develop the strategy, you just have to persuade them of 3 things:-

  • There is a case for demarketing (building on the macro rationale make it specific to this business and category)
  • It can enhance enterprise value and shareholder returns in the long term
  • You have some feasible ideas for options to explore

Success would mean they would agree to set up a task force to explore your ideas.

Some starter thoughts

  • There is evidence that businesses that have really committed to sustainability have out-performed their peer group. Demarketing takes sustainability to the next level.
  • Enterprise value and shareholder returns are derived from a sustainable profit stream. The same or lower sales does not have to mean lower profits – you can grow share, or raise margins
  • Strong brands can have a much higher valuation even if they have lower sales cf Tesla versus Ford
  • Demarketing could result in far more efficient marketing spend “Advertising is the tax you pay for having an unremarkable product”
  • “What gets measured gets done” – a business committed to demarketing would choose to create better KPI’s that show the link to future returns. Engagement, loyalty, affinity are all believed to correlate to brand strength and from that to enterprise value and shareholder returns
  • Case studies can help your case – Patagonia is the one everyone cites, is this relevant to your business, what others can you find?
  • It is hard to imagine what demarketing looks like, some examples of what it could be in terms of customer communications, engagement, events, service etc might help. In what way does ‘good demarketing’ differ from “good marketing” in terms of skills, people, partners, spend?
  • It would also help to show how this links to, and builds on, other sustainability/CSR initiatives
  • Are there business model changes that could help make demarketing attractive e.g. direct to customer?
  • Break the challenge down ito market segmentation. Who/when/where is the opportunity? Reducing consumption can relate to purchase frequency, penetration, usage.

Mark Sherrington

mark.sherrington@marksherrington.com

Solving the Social Dilemma

I’ve just finished my article on my response to the Netflix documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma’. I ran a small survey to help me in the writing of this and results are still coming in so there may be some further additions and editing to be done but I wanted to get this first version out there and see what people think. Please let me know.