Marketing Speak Hijacks Business Minds

A bad habit of marketing ‘experts’ (and for that matter any other experts) is the over use of jargon. Specialised language is used to indicate that you ‘belong to the club’, to simplify conversations between experts, to shut out people who don’t belong to the club, and to pull the wool over the eyes of the less well informed.

An old idea that has been around for nearly 15 years (probably originally attributed to Tom Peters) is Personal Branding. In plain English this has been known for centuries as Reputation. We don’t need an expert to tell us that personal reputations matter. We don’t need an expert to tell us that we are responible for putting across our worth and value. Robert Louis Stevenson was saying this way back in the 19th century when he said “everyone lives by selling something”. Personal branding is nothing new and it is not complex.

Let’s get the toes curling. Paul Johnston – ‘transforming open minds for a competitive future’, Paul Johnston – ‘enthusaneer’, Paul Johnston – ‘defender of marketing innocents’. It is of course true that people and their names come to symbolise what they stand for. This is also known as celebrity. Mention a name, see a photograph and as Bob Cialdini says, ‘click whirr’ we make the association. Brand Management is in the business of pushing into the foreground the associations we want people to believe. The positives. In social influence terms it is a form of ‘landscaping’. Personal Branding is a compelling idea because of what it promises. However just ask Tiger Woods about the consequences of the difference between rhetoric and reality.

A curious habit we have is the way we ‘make sense’ of things through conceptual lenses. Jostein Gaarder in his wonderful book Sophie’s World explains it this way. The character Alberto Knox is talking to Sophie.

“Could you bring me those glasses from the table over there? Thank you. Now put them on”. Sophie put the glasses on. Everything around her became red. The pale colors became pink and the dark colors became crimson. “What did you see?” – “I see exactly the same as before, except that its all red” – ” That’s because the glasses limit the way you percieve reality. Everything you see is part of the world around you, but how you see it is determined by the glasses you are wearing”

The type of glasses we wear determines the way we deal with problems and solutions. I was recently told a story by John Kawalek of Sheffield University about someone he met who was utterly convinced that solutions to his company’s problems was ‘TQM’. Probing further John discovered that the person had recently joined the company a few weeks previously after being TQM champion for several years in his last post. Every problem was a TQM problem with a TQM solution.

You may have come across people who have been on management training courses and who have been introduced to Myers Briggs personality typoligies. All of a sudden, that’s how the world works. A new set of glasses and everyone is explained by four letters!

Problem. Credit Crunch, redundancy, fear of losing home, wife and kids. Solution….now let me see, which glasses should I wear? Is it a TQM problem? Maybe I need to sell my ESTJ-ness? I know, pass me my Marketing Glasses. The new, breakthrough, indispensbile glasses for guaranteed results. Hand me my Branding Glasses. I need a clear identity, I need to capture my brand personality, to create my image and develop the ability to convey my unique value differentials in an emotionally powerful way that taps into the hearts and minds of my audience.

For more CV power words I recommend Kevin Hogan, The Psychology of Persuasion and Covert Hypnosis. The real question of course is how has this post affected my personal brand I wonder?

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Of Course My Spend On Marketing Is A Good Idea

Human beings are rationalising not rational animals. Rationalising our decisions is very important to us. We do it to justify to ourselves that have done the right thing and to convince others of the ‘logic’ of our choice. There is no necessary correlation between reality and the rationalisation. Unless of course you agree that reality is entirely constructed in the mind. Some of the most adept rationalisers are  marketing executives.

In the film The Big Chill Jeff Goldblum played a character called Michael Gold who made an observation about rationalising behaviour.

Michael: rationalisations are more important than sex

Sam: Nothing’s more important than sex!

Michael: Oh yeah, have you ever gone a week without a rationalization?

Let’s imagine for minute that we have spent a large sum of money on a marketing communications and re-branding  project that we sincerely believe in, which attracts criticism and ridicule from some people. These two competing cognitions (I think its a great idea vs. other people don’t) create what Leon Festinger described as Cognitive Dissonance.

He articulated his ground breaking theory in his 1956 book When Prophecy Fails. In a nutshell the argument runs that if a person has made a serious commitment to a belief or  course of action that is difficult to undo, the moment they are confronted with (and accept as a reality) new  disconfirming evidence it causes great personal psychological anxiety. The individual then strives to re-establish psychological balance.

People do this by gathering around them social support (people who don’t, won’t or can’t disagree with them out of ignorance or fear) Irving Janis called this ‘group think’, and they  proselytize. They attempt to persuade people of their rectitude, and the reasons they have spent the money.

One of the unfortunate criticisms of everyday marketing communications is that it is very good at spending money and less good at generating it. The mud that is thrown regretably sticks to the strategic task and role of marketing in general. Marketing communications executives have had a long time to become skilled at rationalising the sunk costs of campaigns.

Common rationalisations for sunk costs in expensive re-branding projects include:

Somebody had to do something rather than just sitting on their hands

It must be good because look what we paid for it

People have worked very hard on this so far

Just look at all the things we got for the money

Sunk Costs interfere with rational behaviour. The behavioral economics literature offers some helpful insights here.  Cognitive Dissonance kicks in and…

The price becomes the indicator of the value, when the price paid should be irrelevant.

The chance of a good return on investment is poorly judged due to over optimistic probability of success bias.

I’m responsible for this campaign, it was my decison to spend the money so we should press on regardless of consequences

Of course I’d have to say that my decision to spend money on this new re-brand campaign was a good idea. Though As Mandy Rice Davies said

“Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

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The Challenge Of Creating Compelling and Competitive Value Propositions

What comes first the chicken or the egg? What comes first the communications campaign or designing and delivering an appealling value offer that matches or exceeds the expectations of customers not what we ‘think’ they want.

A Marketing Communications strategy is not a Marketing Strategy. Crafting a Competitive Strategy a.k.a Marketing Strategy is fundamental to the success of any enterprise. It is, at its heart a strategic management process concerned with creating and delivering products and services that people want to use and buy.

As we know there are various levels of understanding about what the term ‘marketing’  means. A significant number of people exclusively and erroneously equate ‘marketing’ with advertising and promotions. A significant number of people understand otherwise. It’s purpose is to deliver competitive advantage.

There are various posts and comments on this blog which give a flavour of the ways in which the term ‘marketing’ is understood and how it should be deployed. Alexander Repiev (on this blog) uses the metaphor of the Augean Stables to discuss the amount of ‘marketing manure’ that has built over the years in the marketing profession. Regretably even some seasoned marketeers sincerely believe that the role of marketing is primarily one of marketing communications and thereby reinforce the misconception. This is sometimes given extra gravitas and importance by describing it as Branding. Jean Noel Kapferer amongst others explain Strategic Brand Management otherwise. Much to the chagrin of many marketing professionals they are sometimes ‘cast’ in that role by people who think the marketing job is to merely sell what the enterprise has on its shelves, or hopefully transform worn out products with a new wrapper.  This is invariably a forlorn hope. President Obama described activity such as this in more candid terms recently.

One of the snake pits of the ‘marketing is communications’ approach is that it invariably puts the cart before the horse. It predisposes management to hyperbole and self agrandisement. It fools people into believing that if you say it loud and often enough it is the truth.  Experience has taught many businesses the hard way that if you approach competitive strategy from that perspective its has its costs. A more effective approach in this sequence.  (see Kotler et al):

1. Define the value based on deep customer insight to create key benefit segments. Not all customers are alike. Don’t rely on guess work, high hopes, conventional wisdom, personal assumption or preference. What if Bill Oddie look alikes  and wellingtons symbolise a  significant high value customer segment? Do you disparage them because they don’t fit with a personal idea of the ‘ideal customer’?  Clearly and objectively gather evidence to answer the questions ‘why should anyone  buy from us?’, ‘what benefits do they tell us they are seeking?’, ‘what differences make a difference to our target customers?’

2. Produce and deliver the value. Not all customers are alike. Do the good stuff that transforms customer experience of products and services. Segment the offers. Provide the value that people seek not what you think the value should be.  Create a solid evidence based platform from which to shout from.

3. Finally communicate the value. Not all customers are alike. Talk about proven benefits in terms that are meaningful to the customer not in language that we ‘think’ is meaningful or could be meaningful if only the right meaning is used. The meaning of communication is the way it is received. Different segments want to hear different things said in different ways about the benefits they seek.

Communications preferences in a commercial context should never be judged by whether someone likes or dislikes them on entirely subjective grounds. Talking about strapline preferences ‘as if’ they are merely the stuff of subjective opinion tivialises their true purpose. It’s not about whether somebody ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ a strapline its about whether the strapline is effective in purpose.   Marketing Communications has a purpose. It also goes much further than ‘salience’ or capturing peoples attention through shock or controversy.  I prefer to judge a communciations campaign on the commercial effectiveness of its  social influence.

Marketing Communciations is what it ‘is’ and Social Influence is what it ‘does’.  Any communcications endevour can therefore be measured in terms of how effectively it changes attitudes and consequently behaviours. There is however no guarantee that a change of attitude will translate into a change of behaviour (see criticisms of the Hovland Yale model and AIDA).   It can’t ever be described as money well spent simply because the advertising ‘stands out’, or the thing advertised has become more ‘top of the mind’, it can’t ever be decribed as good value for money just because people have worked hard on it and created alot of ‘stuff’ that people can use.  However commendable the effort, this misses the point.

It should also be remembered that changing a behaviour can change an attitude without the expense of marketing communications collateral. A positive experience is often more powerful than any ‘top down’ marketing communications claims.

If you communicate what you believe to be the value before you’ve provided it, you preach before you practice, you have no evidence that you have matched customer expectations. It is nothing more than a well intentioned aspiration. Actions speak louder than words.

There is a crucial philosophical and theoretical point here and as Kurt Lewin said “there’s nothing so practical as a good theory”. Our theoretical understanding of marketing determines how we do it in practice.

So let’s imagine we are deeply involved and experienced in a particular business sector. This business is facing some competitive challenges. We know that our competition has increased over the years  and there are more appealling choices for our once loyal customers. We also know that the experience we have delivered has been below par in some instances. We also know we have good things to sell too and we can’t rely on other people to do this for us. We know that if we stand idly by then our business is likely to dissapear. What do we do about that?

A good place to start is point 1 above. It seems self evident that we should provide ‘quality’ but and here’s the rub… What does ‘quality’ really mean? Whose ‘quality’ are we talking about? We can only establish the ‘quality’ that should be delivered by understanding the needs and expectations of the diversity of customer segments. What does ‘quality’ mean to them? What are the critical choice factors that customers, present, lapsed and new say they want. Do we have evidence directly from them.  Is there any correlation between what we think is of value and what they think is of value? Getting this right is marketing.

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A Non Expert Comments On Brand Management

I am not an expert. As Erich Fromm the renowned critical theorist said in his book To Have or To Be “beware of people who claim to have the answers”. Thousands of years ago Socrates is reputed to have said “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” One thing I do know is that observations such as these help to guard against being locked in Psychic Prisons (Burrell, Morgan) and encourage self reflection on the prior assumptions on which our beliefs and actions stand.

There are three things that I believe about Brands and Brand Management:

1. The purpose of Brand Management is to contribute to the creation of compelling and sustained value propositions. I say ‘contribute’ because it is a ‘systemic’ contribution that includes other organisational capabilities such as the ability to sense opportunities, devise revenue models, and deliver the value offer that customers that people are willing to pay for. (David Teece)

2. We are rationalising not rational animals. A Brand makes an emotional connection with the people. These emotional perceptions might be positive or negative. (Burberry? Toyota? Macdonalds? The NHS? David Beckham? Skegness?)

3. Brand Management is not a marketing communications exercise wherbye organisations ‘tell’ customers what the brand stands for. Gone are the days when , it has never been the case that organisations define their brand meaning. Organisations do not ‘give’ a brand to the market, the market gives the organisation its brand. Whilst initial perceptions can be modified through rhetorical devices and social influence, ultimately Brand meaning is ‘owned’ by the people who don’t use, intend to use, and use the brand. Brand meaning is defined post-hoc. It is created after an experience.

The ability to transform  brand perception is achieved through re-vitalising customer experience not through a new letterhead, logos and straplines. This is not to argue against the power of perception and that perceptions cannot be accessed through techniques such as Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation or Ad Liking. Such methods provide some insight. A starting point. They are also fraught with interpretive dangers.

Find out that a key segment of your vistors are young and come from the UK. Run a campaign that asks ‘Where The Bloody Hell Are You’ and end up offending the Prime Minister of Australia, a significant number of locals who don’t ascribe to the sentiment and where most of the audience you are targetting would reply… Brisbane. Get the essence right and you achieve what Tim Rice has done with his colleagues in Glasgow.See Glasgow

Much of the branding mantra is built upon the notion of ‘dream making’. Setting aspirations. ‘We don’t sell handbags we sell a dream’, a Gorilla playing drums symbolises pure unbridled joy that you will associate with…(so it works!) Although imagine if the product didn’t taste very nice or made you poorly.

The foundations of this approach rest on two assumptions. Firstly, the classic marketing argument that people buy what something ‘does’ not what it ‘is’. Solutions not products. Therefore if that vaccuum cleaner makes you feel cleaner and modern it transcends (yet still includes- Wilber) the need to suck up dirt. Secondly, aspirational differences have to be created when there is no discernable difference in what a product, service or place really does!

To create a difference where there is no difference we have to play mind games. To chunk up from the ‘thing’ to the ‘dream’. From the loo roll to happiness, from the deodorent to sex appeal, from rural landscape to magical kingdom. The challenge with these higher aspirations is that they are by any other term also expectations. They are promises and as J.N.Kapferer states “A brand is a promise of value”.When promises are broken people remember and don’t come back.

And that reminds me of story orginally told by Henry of Huntingdon in the 12th century who lived close to the Fenlands of the Norfolk Broads. The tale is about King Canute (Knut) the 11th century King of England who put his throne by the sea. As we know he commanded the tide to stop but the tide failed to do so. No matter how strong his self belief in his power, capability, and infallibility, no matter what he believed was possible, no matter what he said ‘ought’ to happen, the reality of the matter was another thing. He ensured his entourage were ‘on message’ and they stood right behind him. Nevertheless he could do nothing to stop the tide coming in.

The difference of course for any destination is that they can do something. It’s the experience that counts.

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Some Interesting Marketing Guru Observations

“Branding is a topic that can turn a room full of marketers into a herd of experts…owning a brand is like having an orgasmatron, that machine in the film Barbarella” cited in Marketing Payback – Prof Robert Shaw and David Merrick

“I’m not saying customer awareness and brand equity are not important metrics…so before I hand someone £10 million to spend on advertising, I want to see fact-based analysis demonstrating the economic benefits”
Sir Roy Gardner CEO Centrica and non executive
Chairman of Manchester United 2004

“Most firms…prefer to fumble around in the dark. It’s easy to see why: fumbling has a lot going for it. More adventure, creativity, more
surprises and more fantasies. But you may not like what you see when the lights go on”

Tim Ambler 2003 – Marketing and The Bottom Line 2nd ed.

“Do you want fine writing? Do you want masterpieces?
or do you want to see the god dammed sales curve start
moving up?”

Rosser Reeves cited in Ogilvy on Advertising

Deacon: “Dry land is not just our destination, it is our destiny!” Dennis Hopper Waterworld – 1995

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Norfolk Broads Brand Guru Dilutes Marketing Credibility?

One of the intellectual games that marketeers love to play is the ‘Brand Management’ game. Like most conceptual ideas, games like this manifest themselves in two broad (sic) forms. One form is based on a deep grasp of purpose and intention and the second is based on flimsy ‘word smithery’

The BBC report today that “Brand Strategy Guru” Simon Middleton has…now wait for it…a new logo and a new “toolkit” of images and slogans to transform the perception of the Norfolk Broads. This will be done by describing the Norfolk Broads as – “‘Britain’s Magical Waterland”. No wonder the role of Marketing gets such a bad press such as Nigel Richardson’s Telegraph article. Perhaps there are some branded golf balls and pens available too?

Pick up any decent book or article about the notion of branding and it defines it as a complex notion that communicates a promise a value. Something that taps into the values and aspirations of customers, clients and consumers. Something that represents meaningful benefit.

How on earth does the notion of ‘magical waterland’ do any of these things? Why the abstraction? Why not convey precisely what the Norfolk Broads do for people? I totally agree with the feelings of local residents that the whole idea is ridiculous and arrogant.

So what do the Broads ‘do’ for people – help them relax? get away from it all? explore culture, history and heritage? what are the signs and symbols – the waterways, the wildlife, how do the Broads make them look and feel? healthy, happy, great parents? Whatever the answers I don’t know for sure, but somewhere in there will something better and more meaningful than ‘Magical Waterland’

off the top of my head…

The Norfolk Broads:

Places Peace and Pleasure.
Timeless beauty. Time for you.
At your pace.
Space to breathe. Time to think.

…and not a magician in sight

What would you suggest?

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The Penny Drops About Social Media & Networking

Its funny how you think you understand something and then you have an experience which gives you a new and deeper grasp of what’s actually going on.

The other day I had the good fortune to spend a little time with some people who work for the Woodland Trust. These people are at the forefront of what I would call ‘Cause Related Marketing’ in the digital space. They have a really deep sense and understanding of the notion community engagement and how getting it right can transform the sense of a Brand in the mind and experience of key stakeholders.

If you glance back at previous posts on this blog you will find that a common theme is a questioning of the validity and effectiveness of the so called traditional ‘managerialist’ mindset. In particular there is an implied concern that ‘career marketeers’ remain broadly unaware of the philosophical foundations on which their ideas and actions stand.

Let me make myself clear before going on. I am all for gathering helpful evidence, I am all for metrics and trying to articulate the likely return on a resource investment and I don’t think self indulgent creativity has a place in organisations with specific goals and purposes. Crucially though the ‘metrics’ should help not hinder (Norton and Kaplan) the achievement of goals, they should leave room for entrepreneurial spirit and innovation, not strangle it to death. There has to be the will and realisation in any organisation that the future can’t be known with absolute certainty and that re-ploughing the same furrow might keep you on the safe and familiar but it results in increasingly deeper furrows that are harder to get out of.

Now I realise that ‘bottom lines’, ‘bums on seats’, ‘cash in boxes’ are unequivocal measures of immediate effectiveness. They are also very short term and very simplistic. When I worked in the gaming industry people claimed to make rational decisions on the R.O.I. of the product purchases they made on a weekly basis. Sure enough there was a correlation between value and volume. What nobody could explain was the ‘affinity’ that buyers had for certain brands that guided their purchase decisions when the ‘numbers’ weren’t so clear cut. This affinity made a monetary difference over the longer term.

Affinity is subjective. Causes are subjective. A ‘Cause’ is an emotional concept. It is an ‘attitude object’ held in the mind of the individual. Causes are inextricably tied to people’s sense of identity and purpose. These are the deepest of values. People support causes with money if and only if they ‘believe’ in them. That’s not to say there aren’t utilitarian reasons for supporting a charity such as tax benefits or educational benefits. Nonetheless people can choose where to put their charity dollar, and supporting a belief runs deeper than a mere exchange of cash.

If you aren’t measuring values, affinity and beliefs as well as financials its like just measuring someone’s height and overlooking their diet to check how healthy they are.

You only have to dip into the digital space to see that there is a continuous conversation about justifying social media and networking activities, about how to convince the unconvinced. Give the decision makers the ‘numbers’ and they will jump on board is the line of some. Many nevertheless have a strong sense that is only part of the story because the ‘social space is different’. This line invariably gets shot to pieces because traditional ‘marcomms’ see it as not very different at all, just old wine in new bottles, what we’ve always done…but with a computer or mobile phone.

This is where the penny needs to drop.

We can talk about getting customers, consumers, subscribers to engage, to take part in the conversation, to have a sense of community. We say we need to get them ‘to engage’, ‘to converse’ to join ‘the community’. Two things to ponder here. Firstly traditional marcomms minded managers might pay lip service to these notions because they are new and trendy, yet they will revert to media management type when doing the day job. Second if you talk about digital marketing in this way you are unwittingly expressing yourself in typical positivistic objective management language therebye unwittingly reinforcing the ‘status quo’.

The point is that digital marketing is done ‘with’ others not ‘to’ them. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the traditional seller and buyer sense of the arrangement. The people who work for a cause are not separate and different from the people who support the cause, they are one and the same. The cause is the unifying theme. This has profound implications for traditional product and service industries too. There are glimpses of this with for example Apple workers, customers and fans, and Norton motorcycle workers, customers and fans. (see Adamson, Garry; Jones, Warwick; Tapp, Alan. Journal of Database Marketing & Customer Strategy Management, Jan2006, Vol. 13 Issue 2)

It has a basis in ethical trading and a sense of providing value and service, of care and concern for others rather than seeing them as a financial resource from which to extract as much cash as quickly as possible.

What digital marketing seems to be saying is that the issue is not ‘what’ money should we make but ‘how’ we should make it. Traditional marketing may have developed relationship and service flavours in its migration from 1960s consumer marketing. Maybe ‘community marketing’ is a conceptual evolution of marketing in the making. An ethically grounded way of doing business. Conventional business might take a serious look at charities and causes as a way to enhance their brands.

The Woodland Trust are walking the talk.

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