Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A New Definition Of Marketing.

As adopted in October 2007 by the American Marketing Asosciation.

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

I hope you find that communication to be as clear and useful as I did.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Taking Aim With Flexible Branding.

Thanks to Ben's fabulous post, I read this one about flexible identity.

The fact that the visual representation of a brand can be flexible and still recognisable perhaps illustrates that brands are molecular, mean different things to different people and that single messages are overly restricting.

Designers know that people are smart enough to recognise variant logoes. Marketers should have similar faith in their ability to receive a number of different messages without becoming confused and know that this way lies the elusive grail of being able to engage with them in richer ways.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Branded Utility Has To Be Useful.

A lot of the talk about the interesting concept of branded utility being the wave of the future seems to me to focus too much on the brand and not enough on the utility. If you ignore the latter, you'll end up with gimmicks and there will be no consumer memory of your actions.

This might be because the cited examples are always sexy products like Nike ID, but Tide got it right and proved (maybe emphasised) that even "boring" commodity products can have a huge impact.

It's all about remembering that little things make a real difference.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Geek Marketing 201 - Don't Buy Our Product.

When I first saw Buglabs modular "computers", I had no real idea what they were but I knew that they were worth watching.

Then they won an innovation prize at CES and more people started paying attention. More impressive for me is that this uber-geeky business is not acting like a geek business. Here's their first sales announcement.

If this were 1997, this post would be chock full of blinking content as we announced our store's opening with pride. Instead, we'll be only slightly more subtle as we open the padlocks, and welcome you in to browse around. I want to take a moment to (and boy is this going to sound odd) potentially discourage certain shoppers:

For those of you who have ZERO programming experience, this isn't a great time to buy a BUG. It'd be like having a Web browser on your computer in 1988 (which would've been quite a feat, by the way): the platform works, but it doesn't have much going on. Right now, and for the next few months, our focus is building a developer community...

Now that's smart marketing. It recognises that a disappointed user is probably lost for good and that early adopters are not where the money is made. The geek content resides in the product - some people will care about it, most won't. It has no place in the marketing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In The Long Run We Are All Dead.

"There are no solutions, there are only rearrangements of problems."

David Mamet: November

So quit procrastinating, analysing and planning, just get out there and do something.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Unchained America: Customer Service RIP?

The photo is of Taylor's diner in Independence, Oregon on the occasion of its closing in November 2006 - not because it wasn't profitable but because the newest Taylor generation have careers elsewhere. It's reproduced here courtesy of Dave Gorman who, last night, presented the first UK showing of his tremendous new film Unchained America documenting his attempt to cross the USA coast to coast in a 1970 Torino station-wagon while patronising only independent hotels, restaurants and gas stations. "Paying Mom & Pop and not The Man."

This romantic quest was inspired by his revulsion at the homogenous experience of touring the US as a performer that prompted a desire to find the true independent spirit of America. In doing so, he has created a lovely film about the changing face of small-town America that is filled with the humour you'd expect, but also with innumerable quiet insights into business and customer service - as was the Q & A session that followed the screening.

For me, one of his most telling remarks was that his hated corporate America experience had not been bad per se. Indeed it had been entirely acceptable and that was the problem. Think about it. When it comes to customer service, acceptable is such damning praise.

The essence of authenticity/experience/service is not mere consistency, it's much deeper than that.

1) It's about respooling till rolls from the 50s and sewing together typewriter ribbons because you can no longer get spare parts for your ancient but perfect cash register (paying attention to the small details that have huge impact).

2) It's about the people, not what they sell (there are always people - they may be virtual, but they are there in every business and they are who your customers remember).

3) It's about making the effort to make a difference (and realising that the customer notices when it happens because it makes a human connection).

It was suggested last night that such a journey could not even be attempted in ten years time, but the lessons of the film are timeless. If you can, make sure you see it.

(If you're not in the UK, I can only direct you here).

Monday, January 21, 2008

Now That's What I Call Marketing.

"The best way to get a kid to go to bed is don't ask them if they want to go to bed, ask them what color jammies they want to wear"

Merlin Mann

Friday, January 18, 2008

Marketing Needs Attention.

A number of recent posts have focussed on the supply-side of attention. There are a number of things to consider.

Attention: In the face of rampant demand for our attention, the nature of that attention is changing. It's not continuous partial attention, which has increasingly proven to be unsatisfactory. Rather it is intensive attention. This can be a fast burst of intensive attention or a much longer, absorbed, interactive attention. But in both timescales, we are increasingly moving towards a binary world - you get intensive attention or you get totally ignored. Knowing this affects how you go about getting that attention.

Approach: Your approach must encourage people actively to absorb what you're saying. There are many elements to this, but what it does not include is the recent trend in UK talkshows. Here ad breaks have been moved from the end to the middle of guest interviews in the belief that absorption in an interview will translate to absorption in an ad break for fear of missing the interview's continuation. The latter will potentially get intensive attention, the ad break however will be totally ignored unless it is specifially accessible to the viewer. (Iain makes a similar point about download times today.)

Accessibilty: Making content glanceable seems to me to have a lot to do with knowing what it is that our brains process first. I've blogged in the past about how colours are processed at different speeds and how it is surprising that retail stores are not filled with yellow signage, but it's also a question of whether a visual, a headline or a combination of both is most effective at grabbing attention. However, while there is a debate to be had about whether dialogue (written or spoken) is necessary in a visually literate age, let's not forget that some people are visually stimulated and others verbally stimulated.

Attitude: Just as important as the hard-wiring of the brain in registering attention is the mindset of the person you're trying to attract. Context is all. Google adwords work so well in a search contaxt because the act of searching implies a better than average chance that the searcher is closer to a purchase state of mind. Other web 2.0 businesses that are dependent on ad revenue might be in a less happy position because the personalised ads that are generated are targetted on a word in the text or someone's comment or social network preferences, none of which, to my mind, speaks directly to a likelihood of the purchase mindset prevailing.

The nature of attention has changed - marketing has to follow suit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

There's A Word For It.

The evolution of language and specifically new words is an indicator of emerging trends of which the marketer should be aware. This antipodean competition for word of the year features some great ones and means that every time I go to the gym, the phrase arse antlers now springs to mind.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Free And Quite Good.

I had intended to write about the great phrase "peak attention" that I spotted via Russell, but he's done it superbly himself.

His mention of the rise of "free and quite good" alternatives to existing products and services is key and not to be underestimated.

Secondly, there are lots and lots of non-commercial alternatives that are free and quite good. And 'free and quite good' is really hard for regular commercial media to deal with.

But, these do not have to be small, amateur operations. As I constantly write, being remarkable is not about being world-class (though that is preferable), it is about being different. About meeting a demand in a different way that customers think is better than the alternatives. Free fits that bill for many.

Those of you who have clicked through on some of the video links in this blog will already have seen Markus Frind - the king of free and quite good - speaking on some panels. In 2003, he created a low-fi, ad-supported online dating site that was free to users.

In doing so, he showed that the big bucks lie where an existing demand is; that you don't need bells and whistles; and that the strength of that demand can overide the need for perfect user experience (for his users, the overcoming of the hardship of meeting people in real life perhaps outweighs the inconvenience of navigating the site).

He runs Plenty of Fish on servers in his apartment, works maybe 10 hours a week and curently has annual profits of around $10 million. Free and quite profitable.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Frequently Unanswered Questions.

While struggling with the shortcomings of the upgrade of The Times's online registration system, I have received a number of communications urging me to consult the FAQ page on their website.

But if your customers/users are asking a number of questions that frequently, maybe an FAQ page is not the best solution. Wouldn't it be better if those questions were answered (intuitively or explicitly) at the point when they occurred to them? The problem with frequently asked questions is that they need to be asked at all.

Their prevalence shows that the creators of a product/service have not only failed to put themselves in the shoes of the customer in the first place, but have also failed to react to the feedback that the frequency of those questions provides.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Inspiration Marketing.

J J Abrams, creator of Lost, talking about the impact of the design and usability of his Apple Powerbook.

It asks me "What are you going to write - worthy of me?"

The Power Of The Blog.

As with 300, a movie review on this blog leads to box office gold. Tiny little Juno is just the latest of my picks to top the US box office. The causality is undeniable.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Champagne, Roses and Marmite?

Last year, around St. Patrick's Day, I picked up a jar of limited edition Guinness flavoured Marmite at the supermarket. Needless to say, it remains unopened and not just because of the stories at the time that you could sell it on e-Bay for twice what you paid. Today, I hear that they are trying a similar trick for St. Valentine's Day by producing 600,000 jars of Marmite with, wait for it, a hint of champagne.

Yes, they'll earn a lot of media coverage and yes there'll be some extra sales, but I can't help but think that this is a social object that will be talked about because of itself but is too removed both from the original product and from the actual event (who toasts their true love with Marmite anyway?).

It makes perfect sense to associate your wine with Valentine's Day but the sociality of a savoury spread surely lies somewhere else.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Go Tell New Hampshire.

When I first saw a spreadsheet automatically update, I immediately wondered how businesses had ever been able to test scenarios or assess data without one. Of course, since then number-crunching has grown exponentially, but as New Hampshire Democrats showed the prevalence of data is a double-edged sword.

Twenty-four hour news coverage led to a proliferation of polls that non-statisticians conflated into average findings and interpreted on the fly without paying attention to the large margins of errors that quick data collection must allow. Accordingly Clinton's victory was seemingly a big surprise though not such a big one if you had looked quizically at the soundings and kept in mind the bigger picture and data that had gone before.

Measurement in marketing is increasingly important and rightly so, but perceived preferences can oscillate rapidly, so make sure you understand what you're measuring and how and why it has been measured. It's easy to get more data, it's not so easy to unplace your marketing bets.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Is It The Best You Can Do?

A new year brings a lot of talk about favourite advertising of the year that's passed and new campaigns being launched. It's interesting, but it also serves to remind me that agency people and media commentators look at advertising in a totally different way from the target audience due to their investment in the work and their attachment to the ironic referencing of cultural and, yes, advertising staples.

The whole process of pitching, working up ideas and then having to get them past the client is bewildering to me and is surely not the best way to do things. Despite the efforts of a lot of talented people, it is undeniable and unsurprising that a lot of wasted advertising is produced. The system places the focus on jumping a series of hurdles and it is a strong person who ignores that momentum and asks what I think are the vital questions - namely what's wrong with this ad in terms of its strategic message, its creative execution and its media buying? Is that the best we can do?

Even if it is the best that a bunch of very smart people have so far produced and normally cautious and uncreative marketing directors have approved it, should that be the end of it? The clutter above which you have to rise is louder and denser than before. We all know that, but let's not just pay lip-service to it. If it's not the absolute best you can do, then frankly what's the point of doing it?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Marketing 2.0 Is Groucho Marketing.

The belonging/copying debate that is emerging from the world of Herd and Social Objects will get very loud this year as people seek to understand the social influences on buyer behaviour.

One of the discussions I'm having with various people involved in it is just how good/different your product/service has to be before people will view its possession as something worthy of copying. In other words, is your club worth joining? Groucho marketing if you will.

Coincidentally, Cynical Rob alluded to the same thing in the comments yesterday when he wrote

we've just done some work in Indonesia and found that the real reason behind certain brand choice/desirability was because it gave people a sense of 'belonging' [to the wider population] as opposed to it offering any inherent desirable quality.

Personally, I've always believed that, outside of the fashion/craze realm, the answer is that it has to be pretty damn good which leads back to one of my abiding beliefs - that marketing starts with product development. Maybe I'm overestimating that.

Image via

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Fan Or Fantasy?

Economic conditions have proven difficulty for retailers this past year and today there are announcements of profit warnings from some of the "pile it high" stores.

By contrast, the managing director of Waitrose supermarkets apparently receives 50 letters a week from people asking him to open branches in their neighbourhood.

They're definitely supermarkets, though physically smaller with a focussed product range aimed at a slightly upmarket clientele. Their market share may only be 4% but their differences clearly appeal and this creates the loyalty that other retailers lack.

The managing director can genuinely declare that "We don't have customers so much as fans." That's something that any contemporary would dearly love to repeat and which critics of the economic underpinnings of certain social network businesses should note.

Think of making people your fans rather than passive customers with "loyalty" cards and business gets a lot more interesting.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Joined Up Marketing.

Holidays over, so let's get back up to speed with a pop quiz.

A letter arrives from a major national electrical goods retailer in response to my customer service query. It explains that

It is not always possible for the store to be aware of each of the television advertisements that we display. However, they can quickly check with our marketing department in order to establish this information for (you)

Can you spot the mistake?