Posts Tagged ‘consumer’

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The Truth Will Win Out – Sooner Not Later

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Immediate access to the world’s information means a bit of retraining for those of us who grew up in the one-way persuasion school of marketing. The task before us is to adjust to the much more challenging “interactive-objective” school of marketing.

Today, our claims cannot simply be louder than our competitors to win out. Our customers can easily find out how our product or service actually performs- and trust me, if it’s at all important to them, they’ll be checking. If you’ve misled them through your claims in any way, they’ll know. If you’ve mislead them, they’ll leave- and they won’t be back.

This last ‘they’re not coming back’ observation is important. Too often, marketers act as if there are only two possible outcomes to an activity on their part- it works or it doesn’t- a one or a zero. If only life were that simple and binary. The reality is that if you set up an expectation you can’t meet or, worse, you actively mislead, you may never see those customers again. No matter what you say or do, they will be lost to you forever- and even the quietest of them will take a few friends with them on their way out.

It is critical to your success to make the most of this new reality of open access to information. Use truth as a marketing tool.

A few years ago a BMW die-hard compared the official BMW website to his favorite BMW enthusiast site. At the time, the BMW site was recognized as being at the leading edge of the art. But this person’s perspective was different. He liked the corporate site, but found it too one-sided, too perfect and too sleek. By comparison, the enthusiast site was more ‘real,’ more down to earth. The contributors loved the brand, but they loved it in its entirety- warts and all. They didn’t shy away from the imperfections, but celebrated them. The net result was a much more honest, emotionally engaging and deeper conversation about the BMW brand.

There is nothing wrong with perfection, but don’t allow it to blind you to passion. Embrace the truth in your brand, allowing your customer to believe you and incite an honest passion.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling strategy

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Marketing in a World of Ubiquitous Information

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

The information on brands that is now available via the Internet brings with it a new approach to marketing. As marketers we must now actively manage noise, recognize and deal with lies, we must actively promote the truth- but ultimately, we must abandon the traditional, one-sided model of marketing known as “persuasion.” Product performance claims will be increasingly transparent to prospective customers. And once the truth is known, those customers will feel betrayed if they are lied to… and they will never return.

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Whether it’s a new car or a pair of jeans, shopping is just an equation that balances degree of importance against ease of information access. Soon no one will buy a durable good without first doing a little homework. Customers will do the online research and use digital channels to tell their friends. Transparency becomes assumed, and not making this assumption invites difficulty.

TripAdvisor

Your product doesn’t perform? Your service sucks? Before you know it a quiet buzz will be felt on the Internet. This type of buzz could leak onto influential blogs and with a day- hell even within hours- a lot of hard work and good thinking will be completely undone by the very people you were counting on to build your business.

On a positive note, if you product delights the customer or your service over-delivers, you’ll quickly find the tide of information working on your behalf. This is not a new phenomenon. Word of mouth has always been the most powerful marketing mechanism, but now it’s accelerated and universal. We have more “friends” than we ever dreamed of having, and we are instantly connected to information, opinion and expertise, wherever and whenever we want.

These days, your customers are knocking on your door and you have to let them in- and they’d better like what they see. We’ve always understood outbound marketing, but the best practices of inbound marketing are still unfolding before our eyes.

Marketing is good. Persuasion is good. Brands count. But also know that the facts will matter. Those facts, as seen from several different vantage points, will be applied ruthlessly and at great speed.

Be ready.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling’s strategy team

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What’s Your Back-Story?

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Almost all my thoughts on culture apply most completely to organizations in which the company and brand are one. But what about the consumer packaged goods category, where organizations are often built around multiple brands? After all, this is the birthplace of brand marketing. Such organizations are driven by management teams, R&D and marketing, not necessarily by the mission of a single and committed business entrepreneur.

Even here, I think there’s a cultural opportunity, but one better characterized as the creation of a back-story.

Consider a Hollywood character actor asking the writer: “What’s my back-story?” This question and answer helps the actor understand the role and properly position the character, an entire life might be created for her to draw from to create that perfect three-second shot. The ultimate goal is that we viewers, after a brief glimpse of a face or hearing a few lines, unconsciously assume an entire life and personality.

A classic example: Lexus and Infiniti

When Lexus and Infiniti were created, only one company was built on a back-story. The Lexus back-story was forged on an obsession with quality. The dealer and ownership experience was built upon the idea of an organization totally committed to quality and attention to detail, and the advertising drove that quality back-story home. Suddenly, established, venerable brands such as BMW and Mercedes discovered that many of the rational underpinnings (i.e., excuses for an emotional and ego-driven brand choice) they relied on to sell cars had been swept out from under them by Lexus.

Infiniti, on the other hand, failed to build a coherent and differentiated back-story. Instead, it created a Zen-like ad campaign, complete with rocks and trees. It was a storyline with no depth, a storyline few could understand. From the start, and despite a great product, Infiniti was destined to finish second in this race.

Cases in the CPG world

In the world of packaged goods, Crest created a successful back-story incorporating medical research and dentist approval. Tylenol did something similar, effectively using hospital and doctor recommendations as the back-story. Snapple marketed its (true) back-story as a small, passionate company as seen through the eyes and personality of its receptionist. Häagen-Dazs created the illusion of European ice cream. And every now and again, Gatorade trots out its real back-story, reinforcing its authenticity as the very first sports drink, one that was created for the University of Florida football team (the Gators) in the 1960s.

So what’s your backstory?

Use this question to give your product or service added depth, texture and personality. And while your back-story needn’t be completely factual, it must ring true. Think of it as the equivalent of Hollywood films that are “based on real-life events.” Not only will a back-story strengthen your brand, it will give your marketers the meat of a story to work with when talking about your brand. Your backstory is the anchor of all your communications. It makes talking about your brand that much simpler, and for consumers, it gives them a real reason to believe.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling’s Strategy team.

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Like to Watch

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Watch what I do; ignore what I say.

Watch your customer. Just stand around and quietly observe. Retail expert Paco Underhill (a man worth talking to) has made a very good living out of simply watching people shop, asking a few intelligent questions, mixing in a healthy dose of experience and intuition, and forming conclusions.

Beware of the Hawthorne effect (i.e. once people know they’re being observed they change their behavior). Only after you’ve formed a sense of how people behave should you start asking questions. How their answers match (and don’t match) their behavior is where insights often reside. Why do they say one thing and do another? What can you do to take advantage of this attitudinal gap?

For years, consumer research told Kellogg’s that our customers religiously read the nutritional label when selecting cereal. Does that smell right to you? The real-world approach was to stand in a few aisles and watch the process. Not surprisingly, very few shoppers took the time to even scan the nutritional content. But, of course, they want to be seen as good consumers and parents, so they tell us that they did.

Combined with the notion of “brand as experience,” I think there’s a lot to be gained by regularly watching your customers walk through the experience you’ve created. Watch and learn.

In the same line, television ratings are also a joke. The important question to ask is not “What did you watch,” but “What did you do while you watched?” As we all know, viewers typically flick the channel changer at commercial breaks, making that program’s rating irrelevant to whoever placed ads during that break. These real behaviors matter.

As they search for insight and opportunity, marketers are even daring to go where no one has gone before- into the bathroom. Consider the highly successful extension of Mr. Clean by Procter and Gamble. Ever impressive in their observational work, P&G made sure to observe people first-hand. Researchers were reportedly amazed to learn that people dreaded cleaning the bathroom. They discovered that some people even cleaned their bathrooms in raincoats and boots, just to avoid contact with that specific filth.

Even with a preconceived idea that people dislike cleaning, there was absolutely nothing like seeing the real thing. As a result, Mr. Clean MagicReach was created and the painful experience was alleviated.

So, watch and listen to real people before you interfere with that reality by asking your questions- as insightful as they might be. Get the real story. Read or listen to Paco Underhill for more detail and lots of inspiration on this subject.

As the old aphorism says, look before you leap.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy – stay tuned for more of his thoughts on the Customer, Positioning and the Future of all this stuff coming to the 3rd Button in the New Year.

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Introducing On the Future

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

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While you may read about a lot of trends as 2014 winds down, we’re happy to introduce On the Future, our first forecast of product and brand trends for 2015 and beyond. As you’ll see, our report is quite different. It goes beyond the coming year to see what brands and products will be up to several years from now. We deliver this in what we call Sterling Futurecasts. Each futurecast in an actual illustration depicting a product, service or item we believe will be brought to life thanks to the convergence of many aspects of our current reality.

Using a cross-section of cultural anthropology, market research, trends observation and forecasting, and industrial and experiential design, some of the Sterling Futurecasts include:

Urban Defense

The over-population of urban environments and the creation of more mega-cities will drive the creation of health and wellness products that help consumers navigate and fight environmental challenges. Sample products include pockets embedded with a silver-based antimicrobial nanotextile that sanitizes your hands on contact.

Augmentality

Wearables that track the steps you take or the food you eat are already falling behind the true potential for the convergence between health and technology. Future products will allow for up-to-the-minute reports on your blood composition in order to recommend changes to your diet and exercise regimen.

Frugeois (pronounced Froo-ZHwa)

Millennials and the generation that follows have each experienced the recent economic recession in their own way, and each has learned that conspicuous consumption and careless spending never ends well. For them, being frugal and finding new ways to reuse and repurpose what they already have is paramount.

We invite you to download the report and let us know what you think the future holds.

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The Importance of Why

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

You know the who, the what, the where and the how, but it all starts with the why.

It seems as if I’ve been running into this kind of situation a lot lately. The marketer has a ton of research on the customer, possibly all the way down to a working CRM model. The marketer also knows, from research that might range from huge segmentation studies to lots of highly creative qualitative work, what the customer thinks- of the product, the brand, the market and the competition.

In other words, the who and the what are well understood- but not the why. To me, the why is all about context- the real-life context into which our products and services must somehow fit.

Why do your customers do what they do, think what they think, and say what they say?

If you really want to get to the bottom of the why, you’ve got to be willing to step into the real lives of your customers, the real lives that will go on whether your brand and business is there or not. You’ve got to understand how these lives are working, how deep-seated attitudes determine how customers approach your product or service. This essential context is the medium within which you must operate- the medium through which your marketing stimulus must travel if it is to create the desired response.

Yes, there are trained psychologists out there with the knowledge and tools to probe the inner workings of your customer’s psyche. Some of them are probably worth their weight in gold. I just haven’t had the pleasure of working with one of them yet. My personal bias is that while I may be missing out on some deep-seated revelation, there’s nothing I can get from a therapist that I couldn’t get from a beer with a few friends. So, with this bias as context, here’s a simple suggestion: Just talk to your customer. Conduct a set of comfortable, natural discussions with your customers, and don’t ask them anything about your business. Just talk about them. Learn about their hopes, fears, ambitions, attitudes and points of view. Just let go and don’t worry about all that marketing crap- save that for a different discussion.

Now that you’ve stepped back and learned about the why, you should be able to link this context to the “what” that you already know. You’ll find yourself much more confident as you move forward, able to leverage how your audience really feels and connecting it to what you need to accomplish in the marketplace. And the consumer, who hopefully in the course of this book became the customer, now becomes a full-dimensional human being.

Stay tuned next time for more thoughts on the Customer from Austin McGhie, Head of Sterling Strategy.

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Research is Reality Television for Marketers

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

tvAs I’ve said before, only idiots and crazed entrepreneurs make decisions without research. A few of those entrepreneurs are legendary, precisely because they defied business or marketing logic and did what research told them not to do. This is how truly differentiated businesses are built and how many truly differentiated brands have been devised. This is why those legendary entrepreneurs were so wildly successful. But this is also why they are so few in number.

Smart marketers play the odds. On the occasions when they bravely ignore the odds, they do so at least knowing what those odds are. Smart marketers do their homework. They’re not bound by it or held hostage by it, but they do it. You’re not an idiot when you defy logic; you’re only an idiot when you don’t know what that logic is.

You must give a high priority to getting as close as possible to the real world. Participate personally. Get hands-on as much as possible. Stay in touch with your customer.

In the US, marketers and their agencies tend to live in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. They tend not to shop at Wal-Mart, not to ride the No. 2 bus to work and not to consider Denny’s a big night out. In other words, they tend to be out of touch with their average consumer.

At the 2004 Academy Awards, held in March 2005, host Chris Rock did a remarkable thing. He took the television audience away from the beautiful people in the theater audience and to a nearby Cineplex, where he interviewed real moviegoers. None of these people had seen any of the best movie nominees, and most of them cited Saw, Barbershop and White Chicks as the best films of 2004. You can fight reality if you’re on a mission to raise the entertainment bar, but you’d better embrace reality if you’re a marketer.

So what to do?

Hire a company to conduct ethnographic-style fieldwork for you, and insist on coming along. Spend time with people in their homes, at work, on shopping trips. Our strategists often like to talk to people in “friendship pairs,” so they’re more comfortable with the process and more likely to call BS on each other. (There’s at least as much BS in reality-based marketing research as there is in reality TV.)

And do not- do not- mistake focus groups for real life. Recruiting a bunch of people from a database and setting them in a room with strangers, a moderator and a two-way mirror is about as far from reality as any of us will ever get without pharmaceuticals. People who agree to do this for money cannot be considered representative.

For reality you need to get back out into the real world. The closer you get to reality- to real customers moving through real lives with real feelings, fears and desires- the closer you are to the kind of insights that can really make a difference.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy – stay tuned next week for more on the difference between data and insight.

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Sterling Buzz…

Friday, October 24th, 2014

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We’re happy to share the findings of some fascinating research conducted by Google in partnership with Ipsos and Sterling Brands! Now we can say without a doubt, that digital research has become more important than ever in combination with in-store shopping and linking consumers to local stores.

“Eighty-seven percent of shoppers research before visiting a store, 79% search during their visit and 35% look after, according to research released today by Google, based on an online survey of 6,000 smartphone users conducted in partnership with Ipsos MediaCT and Sterling Brands.” -AdAge

Click here to read the full findings from the study

And in a related story published by AdAge, retailer Macy’s has used these Google digital search findings to bolster local inventory ads to highlight what’s in local stores for shoppers who use devices to plan and complete a purchase. Read more on that story here<<

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Customers Not Marketing Advisors

Monday, October 20th, 2014

There is a critically important and logical order implied when it comes to strategy development, a priority that is often ignored by marketers, strategy consultants and (especially) communication agencies. It is a simple syllogism that goes like this:

-Know where your differentiated advantages lie

-Know what you need to do to win the game

-Then go to your customer and find out how to win

Rely on business strategy, competitive advantage and marketplace dynamics to tell you what to do, not the customer. Instead, the customer should tell you how to do it.

To find your strategy, there a number of things you must do, and an order in which customer feedback comes into play:

1.) Look Inside. Based on the vision and core capabilities of your organization, your competitive advantage and what you see as prevailing marketplace trends, determine  the strategic alternative or alternatives that are best for you from a long-term, bottom-line perspective. I’m making this sound easy, but finding the strategy that brings all of this together in one idea is a real art.

2.) Determine which strategy is best. It’s OK to talk to your customer to determine how to refine that strategy. Will they give you permission? Where does that permission start and where does it end? What sort of stimulus do you need to get the response that they’ve indicated they’re capable of?

3.) Find the easiest path to implement your strategy. Customer research is all about finding the easiest path, in that it allows you to find natural marketplace momentum and use it to your advantage.

To put it simply, don’t ask the customer – “Do you like this ad?” Ask them “Does this motivate you to do/buy X?” Customers are not marketing advisors, but they will tell you what they will or wont do.

Norwegian Cruise Lines once embarked on a beautiful, award-winning advertising campaign designed to entice young people to take cruises. The company essentially ignored the competitive realities of its own business. Surveys found that young people loved the ads- and so the campaign went full steam ahead.

But “Do you like the ads?” was the wrong question. “Will you go on a cruise?” was the right question. An even more critical question should have been posed to the older people who really do go on cruises, and that was: “Will this ad campaign scare you away?” Unfortunately, the answer was: yes. Older folks stayed away from Norwegian in droves while only a trickle of young people took the plunge. Bad for Norwegian. Good for its competitors, who had stuck to marketing to those older cruise takers.

Remember to develop yours strategy first, then go to marketing. And, if you are going to talk to your customer, ask the right questions.

Austin McGhie is Sterling’s head of Strategy

Next week we take a deeper look at research and its rightful role in support of brand strategy.

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The Consumer is Dead

Monday, October 6th, 2014

For what it’s worth, the term ‘consumer’ really irritates me. I still use it to make myself understood, but it bugs me. With time, I’ve concluded that the word bugs me for strategic reasons- not just because I don’t like the word itself.

‘Consumer’ conjures up a mass of people ready to blindly ‘consume’ my product. By comparison, the word ‘customer’ seems more singular and implies a relationship of some kind. Consumers consume. Customers purchase- if they are treated right. Consumers are the way of the past. Customers are the wave of the future.

This makes a difference on a couple of fronts. Right now, retailers have customers and most of their suppliers have consumers. For structural reasons, but also because of this schizoid mindset, the retailer often has a much stronger relationship with that person than does the manufacturer. Over time, this almost always leads the retailer to become a more trusted ‘guarantor’ of product quality than the manufacturer. Ultimately, this means that the retailer can source products and build brands that the customer trusts more than those from the manufacturer- and they’ll be cheaper for many of the same structural reasons.

I believe everyone needs to build a real, working customer relationship management (CRM) strategy. Forget the software for now; just embrace the theory. In the old world, terms like 1:1 marketing, segmentation and mass marketing were too often viewed as distinct alternatives. The fact is, for many marketers, inside their customer database reside customers who deserve to be handled 1:1 and can be profitably marketed to this way, customers who can be approached on a segment basis, and customers who can only be profitable if they’re treated en masse.

Depending on your business, you may even be able to determine the unprofitable customer- and although all consumers may seem like they are worth having, some are definitely best sent over to your competition.

So, let’s stop thinking about the people buying our products and services as consumers and promote them to the exalted status of customer… and then we can all go back to fighting over them.

If you’re a manufacturer and this creates confusion with intermediates such as retailers, who you currently call customers, I have another suggestion. Call them partners and treat them accordingly.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy. Stay tuned for a continued, in-depth take on the customer all month long.