Posts Tagged ‘consumer’


Market to the Brand Broadcaster: Are you tuned in?

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Marketers talk a lot about people we call influencers. Depending on the industry in which you work, you may hear them referred to as trend leaders, gadget geeks, early adopters/adapters or fashionistas. The implication is that there is a group of people in each market whose knowledge and passion for the category makes them worth more than their weight in gold thanks to the influence they can have on people who are not as “category involved” as they are.

Influencers might lead because of passion and knowledge, or they might lead because of status. Hip-hop artists are huge influencers across all kinds of categories, from cars to liquor to clothes. Movie stars can make or break brands.

These people, and others, influence us because they have access to media. They can easily broadcast their tastes.


But media is quickly being democratized by vehicles that go by such mash-up names as blog, vlog and podcast. Personal playlists can be marketable commodities. In theory at least, everyone can be a broadcaster of some kind. Anyone and everyone can lead- so long as others choose to follow you.

These days, broadcasters are simply people who pass on their thoughts, opinions and passions to others. The number of those others represents the order of magnification these broadcasters can bring to their ideas. They can help you disproportionately, but they can also hurt you to the same order of magnitude.

At some point, perhaps we’ll be assessing media plans on their “cost per broadcaster” as well as their “cost per point of purchase,” having long ago done away with such archaic terms as “cost per thousand.”

In many categories, these citizen broadcasters have become the most important population of influencers. Know what they look like, have someone dedicated to reading their blogs, and realize that broadcasters can work against you as easily as they can work for you.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling’s strategy team


Catch a Virus

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Word of mouth has always been the best marketing mechanism. It always will be the best marketing mechanism.

Just take a look at this chart from the UK’s Henley Centre, which puts numbers to something we inherently know.


This is not exactly news. People trust people they know more than people they don’t know. This is particularly true when the people they don’t know have a vested interest. And it is especially true if those people are involved in that nasty business of advertising.

Thanks to technology, word of mouth is on steroids. Technology makes word of mouth- these days called viral marketing- a very potent ally of great products and smart marketers… and a very potent threat to bad products and ham-fisted marketers.

If you look at marketing that goes viral as a bullseye model, you can see that as you move outward you find bigger circles of less influential people. Meanwhile, packed into the center are a group of super-influentials. Depending on your task at hand, these super-influentials might be anyone from a movie star to a rapper to a passionate person with a well-read blog.

beyonceBy definition, a marketing virus must start slowly and while you can start the process, your management of that expansion process ranges from loose to non-existent. Be patient.

A few additional things to always keep in mind:

-Recognize that going viral can be good or bad: Monitor the marketplace vibe. Pay for a good search tool to scan the web to alert you when people start to work against you and your strategy. Get on top of it early and often. Fight back, but softly and from a position of truth. If you try to bullshit someone in this arena, it most definitely will come back to haunt you.

-Understand that this type of marketing effort fits some tasks better than others: Marketing with the aim to go viral has a place within a surprisingly wide range of categories. It’s inexpensive, so go through the process of applying it to your business- then decide whether to actively use it as part of your larger marketing plan. Don’t dismiss it before you’ve fully explored its potential- but don’t ignore the potential harm that can happen if you’re not sufficiently on your guard. This type of marketing is definitely a two-way street.

A great example of a successful viral campaign was one organized by the folks behind the film The Blair Witch Project. The movie was average, at best, but because such a mystique had been built up around it before its premiere, by the time everyone realized what they were watching, it had already made more than $100 million.

Tellingly, there have also been a number of accidental viral marketing events. The television drama 24 had its hero use a specific cell phone number. Hard core fans of the show attempted to dial that number to discover, humorously, that the writers had used one of the crew members’ numbers. As the phone rang ceaselessly, crew and cast took turns answering. It was all very spontaneous, and it felt that way- and because of that, the number spread like wildfire on the web. Now you can find many more planned examples that followed in the footsteps of this happy accident- bridging product and fans with a genuine experience in connectivity.

Take these lessons to heart. Experiment. Be smart and be patient. With some truth and a lot of luck, your efforts will pay off.

Austin McGhie is Sterling’s head of strategy


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


Introducing On the Future

Thursday, December 4th, 2014


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.


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.


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.


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.


Sterling Buzz…

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 3.19.11 PM

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<<