Remember to put the market in marketing

posted in: Business/Marketing | 0

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?

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