5 Minutes on the Importance of Timing

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OK….Go! Question: “What is the secret of good comedy?” As person starts to answer, you interrupt and say “Timing!” Hilarious but it does depend on the delivery. My theme for today – timing in marketing (with good delivery) in under 5 minutes.

I used to use a warm up exercise for training sessions on brands and marketing. I’d get people to call out brands they thought were “Great” and then, with a list that always seemed to include Nike, BMW, Apple etc I’d ask them to identify the characteristics of a great brand and this list would always include great product, clear identity, consistency etc. I always found it an interesting session, what did people think were the most important characteristics, the nuances of each of them (great brands are inconsistently consistent), but after 10 years or more, rarely did anyone come up with some wholly new characteristic of a great brand. Until, in one session, someone said “Timing – great brands have great timing”. We then had a really interesting discussion about this in the context of innovation because we realized that Nike, BMW, apple etc were not always the first to innovate. Sometimes they were, sometimes they weren’t. You think of a great brand as a category leader, but as often as not a great brand would let someone else introduce a new innovation and then, with great timing and great delivery, they would trump it. Apple iPod would be one example of this. The other aspect of timing for innovation we discussed was how great brands innovated just before they needed to rather than just after. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” has always struck me as the most useless of management bumper stickers. Innovate from strength has proved to be a better maxim.

Great timing goes deeper than just when to innovate. The perpetual drive for a brand is to make suggestions to people. “Might I suggest you buy me, perhaps you’d like to think about using me on this occasion, you might like to experience my new flavour, might I trouble you to recommend me to a friend?” We are always trying to suggest to people that they change their behaviour (not their attitudes, that is just a means to the same end) in relation to our brand. If we think of this in human terms – as it always helps to do for fairly obvious reasons – life has taught us that however good or well intentioned our advice to friends and especially family, timing is everything. You have to pick your moment. Your sister is going through a really messy divorce – probably not the best time to advise her on the benefits of a long engagement next time round. Your best friend is celebrating their engagement to the partner of their dreams, probably not a great time to stress the importance of pre-nuptial agreements. You are right on both counts but your timing is off. You get the point. Of equal importance as the quality of advice is the timing with which it is given.

How much thought do we give to this in marketing – really? Financial services – your choice of bank for example – is really only considered on a few occasions in your life – when you leave home, maybe when you get married, when you retire, if you change job – and one sees instances of this being used in the timing of financial services marketing. But what about beer? When is the right time to suggest to someone that they might reconsider their choice (repertoire) of beers? Work I did a few years back, a project specifically focused on uncovering how to influence beer brand adoption, threw up two interesting and actionable findings. Firstly, the best time to suggest a new beer is when people were out of their comfort zone, for example they might be with a new group of friends and/or going to an unfamiliar venue. Secondly, the time to run an on-premise sampling campaign is early in the evening. We had been doing it later in the evening when the bar was full – obviously. Less obvious was the fact that this noisy, high-energy period when people had lots of other things on their mind gave the impression that you were getting a good conversion but you weren’t. In the early evening the mood was lower-key, you had people’s attention and they were more suggestible. So run a campaign where you incentivize barmen to promote a beer only to new customers. Time your on-premise sampling for early evening, perhaps also targeted at newcomers.

A lot of innovation in digital is focused, directly or indirectly, on improving timing – innovations around geo-targeting and content relevant pop-ups for example. Knowing where someone is, what they are doing or reading can help improve your marketing timing. But I make this more general suggestion  – and trust that my timing is right. Get the team together and focus on timing – talk about people’s lives in relation to your brand and your plans. Get under the surface of it, look for the moments, occasions, triggers when your target market is most suggestible and then think practically about how you might, dare I say it, exploit this to your advantage?

Times up.

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