Posts Tagged ‘positioning’

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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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Keep It Real

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Welcome to 2015! We are going to usher in the new year with a few of Austin’s thought on effectively communication your Position. Let’s dive in with a lesson on keeping it real.

People don’t deal well with concepts. They prefer reality. Brand positioning is a good thing so long as it isn’t entirely conceptual. Instead, a brand position must be real, and it must be brought to life through the product or service itself. If there are multiple products under a brand umbrella, find the catalyst- the one that best exemplifies the position and makes it real to the audience.

All this is especially true if you want to change the way people see you. Yeah, maybe you can convince them you’ve changed just by telling them so, but wouldn’t you be more certain of their response if you could present some evidence?

When Oldsmobile told you it was “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile,” the unspoken response was “Um…yeah, it actually is.” Oldsmobile had a catchy line, a good communication strategy, but didn’t have a product to back up its claims. Cadillac, on the other hand, didn’t need to say a whole lot about its new and younger outlook. It simply showed you the Escalade and- perhaps just as important- who was driving it.

Consider these additional examples:

-Target doesn’t claim to be hip. It just is. No amount of claiming to be chic can substitute for real-life presence of top designers and brands in its stores.

-Sun Microsystems may have been “the dot in dot com,” but it was the Java programming language that brought the company’s Internet-centricity to life, getting Sun into thousands of offices where it was subsequently able to sell a lot of profitable servers.

-You can say you’re in the entertainment business and that intuitive design is important to you. Or you can be Apple and simply introduce the iPod. And then follow it up with the iPhone.

-Motorola called itself Moto and tried to act very, very hip, but it didn’t work until the company launched the Razr. (Unfortunately, although the phone looked great, it didn’t work well, so success was fleeting.)

Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, a real product or service that brings strategy to life is worth millions of marketing communications dollars.

And lately:

The recent increase in ‘environmental branding’ is a testimony to the benefits of keeping it real. Niketown, Levi’s, Disney and Apple stores are all great examples of a brand being brought to life in a controlled retail experience. ‘Pop-up stores’ can also showcase a brand for the same purpose. That purpose, that focus, is almost entirely on creating a great brand experience.

So keep it real. Never forget that a real product and a real brand experience are generally worth more than all the words you write and all the marketing communication money you spend.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy

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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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Drowning in Information

Monday, November 17th, 2014

In the words of Rutherford Rogers of Yale: “We’re drowning in information and starving for knowledge.”

Most marketers don’t need more research or more data. They need more insight.

That may seem a small point, or even an obvious one, but I remain astonished by the high ratio of money spent on research that doesn’t lead to action compared to money spent on research that does lead to action.

Information is useless in its own right, and far too many people and organizations are satisfied with spending millions of dollars on useless information. Yes, you need to know what’s going on out there- but only if you are actually going to do something with the knowledge. Only if that information somehow yields competitive advantage.

The missing ingredient can sound trite. Insight is a much-overused term in the world of marketing. But it’s insight that you’re looking for. It’s insight that’s worth paying for- not information.

So try this: review every “research” expenditure you have. Ask the same two questions of each program or project:

-Will it lead to an action?

-Will it lead to insights that will yield competitive advantage?

If the answer is no to both questions, don’t do it. Save the money and- perhaps more important- save the organizational time and focus that can be much better spent on insight generation.

Many companies seem to be so busy processing information that they lose track of its purpose. What if all that processing time and the minds that like to do that type of processing were replaced with insight-generation time and minds that like to create insight? It’s time to find out.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling’s Strategy team

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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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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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Make Yourself Famous

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

“I’m gonna live forever. Baby, remember my name.” - Irene Cara, Fame

It’s okay; admit it. You’d like to be famous. You want to succeed. You want to make a difference. You want to win.

Well, act like it! I think that anyone with ambition wants to make a difference. That said, for some reason, most of us simply don’t act that way. We’re just not ruthless enough. We let politics, niceties, organizational structure and time itself get in the way of doing what it takes to win. We’ve all seen managers make the easier choice, one that leads to losing, instead of the tough decision that might lead to winning.

Over the course of a year, a senior marketer will face a host of little decisions and only a couple of make-or-break decisions. The trick is to make the small ones quickly and intuitively to only get the majority right- and then fix the minority that prove to be wrong. Bat above .500 on the small stuff and you’ll be just fine.

By comparison, you simply cannot get the big stuff wrong. Here, you have to be completely ruthless. Think about these decisions, but then make them boldly. Make them count for something. Make the big decisions in the right ways, and you could become famous. Always adopt that attitude, even if it’s unlikely that you’ll really become famous.

One illustration close to my heart is found in advertising.

I’m all for ongoing agency of record relationships – but it needs to be based on performance. Once every few years a business needs a brand new campaign, a campaign that could possibly transform the business. You’ve seen it happen in the past:

-McDonald’s turns a few syllables into a more contemporary position

-A real live Jack helps save Jack in the Box

-A gecko transforms the culture of an insurance company

-An introduction to The Most Interesting Man in the World pushes Dos Equis into the spotlight

-A new Old Spice Guy ressurrects a brand on life support

These campaigns can transform a business, but we also know that they are a distinct minority.

So when you arrive at an inflection point and need the campaign to make you famous, you need to be ruthless. For example, offer a couple million dollars to the top three creative agencies in the country. Better still, locate the top three creative teams in the country and make the offer to them directly. Winner take all. Once it successfully runs, thank the creators for their work, pay the winner, and tell your agency of record to get back to work.

On the other hand, if the winning campaign idea is merely good, and not the earthshaking concept you need, do not say yes. Start over, and over- until you are truly ready to make history.

Keep in mind this is an inflection point for the entire business. A chance to elevate. How can you not do everything possible to create this kind of marketplace leverage- including putting your maintenance agency on hold and rewarding one of its competitors for a great idea? Your job is to succeed, not to protect the feelings of your partners. Your partners are smart. They’ll get it, even if they don’t like it.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy

Stay tuned as we turn to thoughts on the customer in the coming weeks…

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Build an Experience

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

A brand is a promise of a customer experience.

This definition should be fairly obvious when you look at immersive or experiential brands such as retailers (and many services). But it is also at play in a more subtle way in even the simplest product categories.

In these more subtle cases, you may have to shift your mindset from that of a consumer buying your product to that of a consumer experiencing your brand. In order to do this, try walking through a real shopping experience, from start to finish, with an assortment of your customers. Map the ‘experience trail’ for each. Where are the highs? The magic moments? How can you take advantage of them? Showcase them? Where are the lows? The dissatisfiers? How can you fix them?

A great example is when I once walked through a bunch of department stores with a group of women shopping for apparel. Stores like these still separate their apparel into departments with anachronistic titles from the 1950s, such as ‘misses,’ ‘petites,’ ‘juniors,’ and ‘women’s.’ The conversations you hear in these walk throughs are a complete downer, as women describe one section as meant for ‘older, bigger women,’ and wistfully recall the days they fit into anything from the colorful, ‘junior’s’ department. The worst thing about this scenario is that just down the mall corridor are specialty stores such as the Gap, where all women are treated exactly the same, regardless of their size.

Walk throughs like these almost always yield surprises, and often, it’s not those seemingly more critical parts of the process that please or piss off your customer, but the trivial stuff that you might have over-looked— and you can fix.

Okay, so you’ve mapped out the shopping experience step by step and you know where the issues and opportunities lie. Some questions you should now ask yourself:

-How does each step in the experience hook into the next?

-How do you maximize the efficiency of the transition from one step to the next and thereby minimize the odds of competitive intervention?

-How can you deliver each step in a way that ensures that the trail consistently delivers the desired brand experience?

The next step is to map out your competitor’s brand experience. Where are their customers most vulnerable? What are their competitive strengths? What are the weaknesses you can exploit?

Look at your brand as an experience rather than a product or service. See it through the eyes of your customer. Pull that experience apart, get it right- both step by step and as a whole- and then put it back together again.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Brands’ Strategy team

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Change

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Change is good. Change is essential.

The marketplace is a downward-moving escalator. If you stand still you go down. You only go up by running- hard.

Last year, on behalf of your brand, you executed a marketing plan. It worked well and the brand grew. But now that is old news. What will you do this year? Theoretically, if you do more of the same, you might hope at least to hold steady- but that hope assumes the marketplace itself hasn’t changed and begun to work against you. The escalator is moving down.

So what’s new in your plan?

If you’ve written a marketing plan, put it through the change filter. That is, ask yourself what is the one significant change you’ve created that will grab the attention of the target audience? That one difference that will cut through all the other ‘change clutter’ in the marketplace? Change can be good.

However, change has a dangerous flip side, particularly within organizations with short-tenured brand managers (such as packaged goods companies). There’s a need, sometimes perceived, sometimes very real, to do something different- anything different- rather than stick for one extra second with the status quo, even when it is successful.

To do change right, get to know your brand inside and out, and pick one thing to focus upon. Find the one thing that will really make a difference- the one thing that will make you and your brand famous. Build critical marketing mass behind it, execute it flawlessly and then move on to the Next Big Marketing Idea.

Beware the small changes to strategy. Before you know it, they can add up and throw the brand off track. Change with a specific purpose and a planned impact is the type of change you want.

Case in point:

A great example of change-gone-wrong can be drawn from my days as a very young brand assistant working on a ‘luxury’ cat food. We had just replaced one ingredient with another, cheaper ingredient. Like good little brand managers, we’d done due diligence and knew that the taste trade-off was minimal. Yet as soon as we made the switch, we started getting complaints from cat owners. As is always the case, it’s your most loyal customers who notice first, your best customers who write to you first. But how could they possibly have noticed something so small?

Checking back into the brand history files, we discovered our little change, wasn’t the first. In fact, we were just the latest in a long line of similar, ‘insignificant’ trade-offs. We just happened to be the ones who pushed the ‘tipping point’ and fell flat on our face.

As customers, we’ve all experienced this phenomenon. That is, we can’t quite put our finger on what’s happened, but somehow the product or service just isn’t what it used to be- an we quietly move on. No call. No letter. No purchase.

When all is said is done, change is just change. Good change builds. Bad change destroys. The trick is to recognize the difference before it’s too late.

Austin McGhie, Sterling Strategy


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Stop Thinking Outside the Box

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

box

If niche marketing is the most misdirected object of contempt in my profession, then “thinking outside the box” is the most misdirected object of admiration.

In fact, the box is the strategy.

The truth is, any idiot can think outside the box. You can make noise there, but it’s’ irrelevant. To be fair, the most unimaginative manager can easily stay in the middle of the box. It may be relevant, but it’s awfully quiet in there. The real challenge is to punch the hell out of the edges of that box- from the inside, because that’s the only way to change the size or shape of that box.

You spent a lot of time building that box, so why abandon it now? Spend too much time outside the box and everyone gets confused. Moreover, the position gradually loses relevance as too many creatively driven tactics assault the customer. In the end, while going outside the box is almost always presented as brilliant rebellion, it is, in fact, the easier road to take and a recipe for failure.

Of course, staying dead center is obvious, predictable and boring.

Moving from strategy to execution, it’s always interesting to review work from inside an ad agency. Too often you see brilliant, creative ideas that are disconnected from the strategy- outside the box- and when these go to air, we are left scratching our heads. You also see ideas that are dead-on strategy- so much so you could have written them yourself. When these ideas air, no one notices.

Ideas that delivery the strategy in a highly creative, intriguing way are few and far between- and al the more valuable because of their rarity.

Again, your task is to create innovative and fresh ways to punch the edges of that box from the inside out. Hit those edges hard. This is the only way to make that box bigger and to change its shape. After all, who says the box needs to be a box in the first place?

Take Nike and ESPN, two powerful and highly differentiated brands in related markets. As defined by results, their architects were geniuses. Over time, they have moved from strength to strength, and many layers of business and meaning have been added to the original brand and business definitions. They never left their boxes, they have continued to push their own boundaries, dramatically changing the size and shape of those boxes.

In addition, these two are particularly well maintained and remain flexible. Both are also served by an agency that “gets them,” and it’s the same agency for both companies. Coincidence?

This leads me to another point: There are noisy boxes and quiet boxes. In other words, there are noisy strategies and quiet ones. Noisy strategies grow out of positioning that is inherently provocative. Positioning that contains a strong point of view, an attitude, and an edge. In contrast, quiet strategies don’t make you think. They don’t provoke. They don’t inspire.

You measure the effectiveness of your strategy by marketplace response. The noise isn’t in the stimulus, it’s in the audience recognition. When everyone is yelling, you measure your strategic volume by who’s listening.

So take a look at your strategy and ask yourself:

Is the basic idea around which the strategy is built compelling?

Does it have creative energy?

Does it lead to great tactics? If you test them was it easy and fun?

Were lots of options created by the team?

If you answered yes to all of the above, you’re ready to make some noise.

Austin McGhie, Sterling Strategy