Remember to put the market in marketing

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Many moons back I used to have a corny line that I would, it shames me to admit, trot out every now and again. “I put the Mark in marketing”. I was joking but then one night, over too many glasses of wine, my good friend and highly talented advertising man, Mark Fiddes decided we should use this idea to start a new agency staffed entirely by people called Mark. We started to go through all the Mark’s we knew and admired in the industry and quite quickly came to the conclusion we could field a great team. The more we talked about it the more we convinced ourselves this was a brilliant idea. It was distinctive, everyone would hear about it, we could have endless fun with the idea – ‘Top Marks’, ‘Advertising that always hits the Mark’, ‘MARKeting that cuts through’. Anyone calling the agency would be greeted with “Hi, you’re through to Marks, which Mark would you like to speak to?”. In pitches we would say “Mark is going to take you through the overall strategy for the campaign, then Mark will share the creative work and finally Mark will explain how we want to execute the idea in media and brand activation”. Hilarious. One obvious flaw, not a lot of diversity, so we decided that anyone else we wanted to bring on board, male or female, would have to change their name to Mark. Amazingly the idea never went any further.

So, forget the Mark in marketing, what about the market? Who puts the market in marketing thinking? Let me explain. Even with the best marketing in the world you can still experience catastrophic sales decline, even brand oblivion, if you get the market wrong. It’s not that hard to look back and see where and to whom this happened – if you are of a certain age. No-one under the age of 30 years old will remember Kodak, Motorola, Toshiba, Tie-rack, HMV. They will know about IBM but as a diversified software business not as the titan of computers. Not all these businesses/brands had great marketing, some did, some didn’t need to such was their grip on the market.

Kodak is the saddest case study. In the 1980’s Kodak were a massive global business with a brand name as well-known as Coca Cola. They employed hundreds of thousand people, had revenues well over $10 billion a year with 80% plus market share of both the film and camera market and a strong photo-copier business (not as big as Xerox and who remembers them now?). What happened – the market changed, it went digital.  In 2012 Kodak filed for bankruptcy. If you judge marketing by advertising and promotions Kodak was pretty good. If you judge marketing the old-fashioned way, access to market, Kodak was outstanding. They had the best sales people and as near as makes no difference 100% distribution in any outlet worldwide that even thought about selling film (for the youngsters, that is what we used to put in cameras). Did they fail to see digital coming? No they didn’t, they under-estimated it, both the speed at which it would happen and the impact it would have on cameras (and eventually phones). Kodak had digital-imaging patents worth $3 billion it had to sell off to buy more time. If you don’t read the market – ideally lead the market – then no amount of marketing will help you.

If you are old enough you can easily look back and see who failed to read the market. You can recall incredibly well known brands that died off because the market moved away from them. No-one could ever imagine that IBM or Kodak or Nokia would ever drop off the radar but I guess we all know that changes in technology are hard to assess. But that doesn’t explain Blockbuster, Tie-rack, Watney’s, HMV – they were not technology businesses per se and though technology played a hand in some cases it was not technology that was hard to acquire. In the case of Watney’s or Tie-rack they just failed to see how the market was changing but they must have known. Levi’s very nearly made the same mistake. I remember meeting the CEO of Levi’s Europe, an American. They were a client and he and I were about the same age. He was not as enthusiastic as his more junior colleagues about the work we were about to do for them, some ethnographic research among young opinion leaders in Paris, London and Milan. I pointed out to him the problem they had to tackle “You and I are well into our 40’s and we’re both wearing Levis because we think they are cool – that ‘ the problem, we’re not cool, they are, and they’re not wearing Levis because we are.”

Watney’s must have known all their mates wanted to drink Stella Artois. Tie-rack must have noticed that fewer and fewer of the commuters arriving at Waterloo were wearing suits and ties. Someone has to ask the big 3 questions:-

1. What is happening in the world?

2. How will that affect our market?

3.How and when do we need to adapt our product and brand, maybe change our whole business model?

It should be the most senior marketer but it rarely is, they do ‘marketing’ not business strategy. I have said many times and still believe that Steve Jobs was the world’s greatest marketer. He did ask those questions, he did develop his brand, his products and his business model at the right time, slightly before he needed to. And he was really good at what most people think of as ‘marketing and advertising’. With no formal training in marketing he understood market segmentation, targeting, the power of different, the impact of a creative idea, bold media choices, building disciples not consumers, brand events etc etc.

“It’s a funny sort of memory that only works backwards”, said the Queen to Alice.

We can look back and be astonished that brands as big as IBM or Kodak failed to read the market and/or react but, ‘remembering’ forward, which brands among the huge behemoths today, the ones we think of as ‘too big to fail’, might do just that? Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix – which ones will still be as big or bigger in 50 years time, which ones will even be around?

I think only Apple because they have built on the legacy of Steve Jobs – great marketing and a great ability to read (lead) the market. Apple is a market focused brand.

Facebook are not reading the world or the market – public opinion is turning against people manipulating OUR data for THEIR benefit. Facebook are more like a self-serving ideology than a market focused brand.

Netflix is just a platform with little in the way of barriers to competition or brand loyalty. Anyone can do to them what they did to Blockbusters.

Ditto Google – the day a search engine with the latest/best AI offers us something better with just one click Google are no longer the default. All that might be left is the verb, ‘to google something’.

Amazon – don’t know, they do seem to be just way too big to fail with a highly efficient business model and innovative mind-set. But they are not a brand, no-one cares about them. If they stuff up it would be the biggest shocker but like IBM no-one would shed a tear.

Kodak still makes me sad. I guess they did not have anyone like Steve Jobs and I know for a fact they did not listen to their product, sales or marketing people. One of Kodak’s engineers, Steven Sasson, invented the digital camera in 1975. It was big and heavy but they did not do much to perfect it, others did. By the late 80’s their own sales people in Scandinavia, where digital was taking off, were warning of the potential impact but they were told just to work harder to hit their target sales of film.

The pre-requisite of reading a market is to be able to define the market you are in, not the business, the market. I have wonderful memories of Kodak because I associate them with happy occasions, loading film, taking pictures, waiting to see which ones turned out well when you got them back, vivid colours. Kodak advertising in the 1980’s/90’s used this insight, the ads spoke of lasting memories and the importance of lasting colour which is why you had to trust Kodak (ignore the French campaign, that had a couple of munchkins running around, it kinda worked but only the French understood why).

I believe Kodak were in the memory market and that is a huge market growing every day, forwards and backwards. Where does that insight get you? Well what market are Google in if not the global digital memory market?

How to build brands and influence people

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I had coffee this week with an old friend who for years had a really successful Luxury Brands marketing company. He shut down the business and has now happily moved on to other interests. Does he miss the old life? Not at all, he said, it all changed. Over years he and his team developed a very successful model to launch and build brands using all the levers – events, advertising, sponsorship, direct marketing etc – deployed in the right sequence. “These days it’s just one lever you need to pull, influencers” he lamented. “No skill in that”. Well maybe but I wanted to start with the premise – can you successfully build brands with just influencers?

To narrow this down I rule out celebrity endorsement – we know that works. Princess Diana was photographed wearing Gucci loafers and sales exploded. Harry Styles has the same kind of global fame and is a global ambassador for Gucci but unlike Diana he gets paid. I’m sure it’s great for Gucci but not as good as unsolicited celebrity endorsement. However, no question, if you can get George Clooney to be the face of your coffee it will work – but it will cost you.

I also rule out influencer sponsorship. Nike has always sponsored the best, most iconic sports stars or teams from the New Zealand All Blacks to Tiger woods to LeBron James. They still do it but so do other people – and it still works. Sports brand Castore has gone from ‘never heard of them’ to ‘must have’ in just a couple of years by securing a very wide-ranging bunch of sponsorship deals. England play South Africa at Cricket – both sides are wearing Castore. But again expensive – Castore have raised over $60 million and have a credit facility of $75 million from backers such as Andy Murray (nice one Andy), HSBC, BNP Paribas and Silicon Valley Bank (whoops).

No, I want to focus on the relatively much less expensive on-line influencer model to which my old mate was referring.  If you google ‘Successful influencer case studies’ as I have done you will get a lot of hits. There are loads and loads of curated sets of case studies – I’m not going to repeat any of them here, you can look them up for yourself. They include big brands like Nike, Boss, Olay, and a host of small brands. As a general rule – there are exceptions – the big brands did not only use on-line influencers because they can afford to do a lot more and the smaller brands did because they can’t.

Some case studies offer hard sales data e.g. number of mattresses sold (yes, on-line mattresses is a fertile area for start-ups who use influencers). In other cases they quote reach/eyeballs. I love sales but I also value fame, awareness and brand saliency. Many moons past the late Jeremy Bullmore (whose wisdom cannot be gainsaid) explained that most of what makes a brand successful is widespread fame. Top of mind awareness is proven to be a lead indicator of brand sales. Saliency – “yes, I’ve not only heard of you, I know something about you that interests me in a context relevant to my life and your brand” – is the jack pot. So I put great value on the reach of influencers and the engagement they generate. They have followers not just eyeballs. Let me elaborate on that. Most advertising – posters, TV, press – gets eyeballs, if they are any good they may get a reaction and they build fame. But unless you are Gold Blend (very old TV ad case study – they created a kind of mini soap opera so you looked forward to seeing the next one) advertising does not get followers, people who put their digital hand up to receive your next missive.

Sifting through all the various case studies I harvested a number of best practice guidelines:-

  1. Choose the right influencers – bang on for your target audience would be a good start. So would value for money and there seems to be a trend towards using micro and ‘nano’ influencers rather than the big macro influencers. I guess that allows you to be very precise with your targeting and they are cheaper as a rule. One great piece of advice was to look at follower engagement not just number of followers.
  • Have a strong creative idea (I’ll come back to that).
  • Collaborate with the influencers, let them produce the content they think will work with their followers based on the creative idea. The result is often more creative, more authentic, and more ‘native’.
  • Give them product coupons they can give away – they love this since they are looking for ways to reward their followers.
  • Drive multi-channel – there are only 5 platforms to focus on: Facebook, Instagram, tik tok, Pinterest and Twitter

The beauty of all this is that the influencers produce the content (not totally free but really, really cheap) and, if good enough, the audience drives the spread of content across channels.

I said I wanted to come back to the creative idea. One case study did catch my eye, Boss. It does involve a celebrity and it was part of a big campaign including a lot of advertising, press and posters. But the top spin was provided by influencers.

Chris Hemsworth is f****** cool and he is the face of Hugo Boss from fragrances to clothing, doubtless you’ll have seen the ads. As part of this multi-million $ campaign they made a great piece of youtube content – Hemsworth surfing in a Boss suit.

This was picked up by several influencers who undertook various stunts wearing suits for the #suit challenge.  Great idea, but Boss drove all this and spent a lot.

Now let’s illustrate this with a fictional example for a brand with little money.

Imagine you’re a new kind of energy-giving and sustainable breakfast granola. Target market is the yoga set, students, environmentally aware, health food conscious mums etc. So you know how to pick your influencers. You have an overall creative platform that this new granola is just one small thing you can do to make a difference to your life and the world. Every day is a fresh opportunity to try something new. That kind of thing. Specifically, you want to create brand saliency around breakfast and the start of a great new day.

So line up your army of micro-sponsors, give them bucket loads of free product to give away and free rein to produce the content they want but with the general idea of ‘#how did your day turn out?’

Say I’m a sports science student & influencer producing content on keep fit ideas. I get a few mates on the morning of exams, give them the granola, my unique warm-up exercises and then track what happens, did they do well, how did they feel later in the day.

That took me 5 minutes. Maybe not the best idea but you get the point. Pulling the influencer lever is not that hard and it’s a lot cheaper.

The only limits to your influence are the limits of your imagination and ambition, even if you have virtually no budget.

Jordan Peterson and the Ancient Greeks

Acclaimed, and controversial, academic Jordan Peterson has founded his own university, Ralston, with two campuses, one in Savannah, Georgia USA, and the other on Samos, a Greek island, home to the Goddess Hera, the philosopher Epicurus, the astronomer Aristarchus and the great mathematician Pythagoras. I suspect JP might also have a holiday home there.

The ambition behind this new humanities-focused university is the creation of a new unifying ethos (that is to say ‘character’ based on a coherent set of values) achieved by reconnecting with the Ancient Greek philosophers. Students are required to learn Classic Greek in order to study directly from the original texts of Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius et al.

I really like the sound of this. Indeed, if I was 40 years younger I’d be applying to enroll. There are sadly two problems with this wishful thinking. Firstly, 4O years ago I would have had no interest in philosophy, ancient Greek or otherwise, and having given up even Latin as soon as I could in my not-so-classical education the idea of having to learn Greek would too big a hill to climb. My interest in philosophy, Greek philosophy in particular, has grown slowly over the years as career gave way to time on my hands. If only we could live our lives backwards, starting with a lot more wisdom and some financial freedom and growing towards the youthful energy to make best use of both. Secondly, admission to Ralston is very limited and very meritocratic. I am not smart enough to get in I fear.

So I will just commend the opportunity to attend what sounds like a really interesting new, yet in terms of ethos, ancient University to those who are both younger and smarter than me.

I do admire Jordon Peterson and I am sure the personal one-on-one sessions students get with him will be a major draw card. Like the ancient Greek philosophers, he is trying to make sense of the world, to debate and  think his way through to a better vision for humanity. In the process he challenges intellectually weak thinking at either end of the political spectrum although it is the left who he seems most to antagonise. He walks head up, back straight (something he commends in ‘12 Rules for Life’) into the trans and feminist debates armed with the most irritating of weapons, well-researched facts and well-structured argument. Misogyny is only one of over 20 factors that explain the pay gap between men and women and by far the least important. There does appear to be a pattern of questioning gender when civilisations collapse as was the case with Greeks and Romans. Transgender and the right to self-identify is more of a decadent (my word) social contagion than a justified assertion of human rights by a significant and repressed minority (as was the case for homosexuals). He may or may not be right about the latter but he is entitled to air his opinions and his opinions are always worth listening to.

Yes, I’d love to be a student of his if I could go back in time but not so much Socrates. Challenging philosophical thinking might attract some very negative press and social media these days, as JP has discovered, but back in the day it got Socrates and some of his followers killed.

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 b*******s, 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?

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 in ebooks. 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 find it in “Books” – just click the “Buy on amazon” and you can download it for free.

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.