Category Archives: Marketing

Marketing, insight and negative advertising!

In the past few days an unfortunate local marketing campaign has gone viral. In it, Secom,  the distributor of an OTC health supplement markets their product under slogans such as “Hate your boy! Hate his autism”. “Hate your father! Hate his Alzheimer!” I believe I saw a later iteration that said “Don’t hate you father! Hate his Alzheimer”.

Either way, the campaign has sparked the expected controversy as families, medical professionals and the marketing community have criticized it on various levels.

Far be it from me to jump on the bandwagon. There has been a lot said about the campaign’s lack of ethics, its profound ambiguity, its needless shock value. There has been a lot of outrage. I would want to take a more academic tone.

1. On Insight

With the risk of sounding cynical, this campaign reminds me of a clip from “What Women Want”. Possessed overnight with an ability to hear women’s thoughts, Mel Gibson strides confidently into an advertising brainstorming session, and pitches an idea about Advil based on a thought he’d overheard from a female coworker, who was using the pill when she needed to fake a headache to fend off sexual advances. The idea flopped and the coworker who originated the thought vehemently denied she’s ever done such a thing.

The point of the anecdote is that capturing what somebody thinks at a given moment is not an automatic insight into how they will behave. Why?

First of all, because consumers can hold many contradictory thoughts simultaneously. Second, because when a thought is socially unacceptable, or morally wrong, consumers will often feel guilty or ashamed, and will not act upon that thought, or recognize that they held it . In fact, they will swing to the opposite end of the spectrum and combat it, and dislike the product or marketing that stirred their shame.

I am sure that a massive media expenditure, such as the Secom campaign described above, had some basis in research. I am sure that much as we are loath to admit it, we have at some point hated the relative who was making our lives more difficult with his illness. I know that my grandfather has Alzheimer, and when he was in my mother’s care, I sometimes hated him for what he was putting her through. We are none of us angels. But these thoughts are fleeting, and their memory painful for any decent human being. And herein lies the difference between information (knowing what people think) and insight (understanding how they will act, given their thoughts). The campaign missed the mark on insight, however accurate or not the base information was.

2. On negative messages

Social marketing and health related marketing has thrived on the negative message. Don’t do this, because you will end up dead, cancerous, impotent, fat and so on. It works, because it plays on information, and our fears. It works, because embedded in the negative message is a positive one: stopping the harmful behavior will let you lead a good life. Sometimes that message is even explicit.

In the Secom campaign however, there is no positive message. There is no corollary to “Hate Alzheimer”, no right outcome, no step to take to fix things. Presumably, this is a teaser campaign, and the gist of the message will come later. Unfortunately, it does not work that way.

The trouble with negative messages is that now, more than ever, what sells the product is the perceived benefit. Negative messages may shock, they may differentiate, but they seldom convey a benefit. In the case of negative messages in health and social campaigns the benefit is an implicit and widely held value (health, social acceptance), and negative messages are only used in parallel with awareness raising initiatives based on science and information, or when the awareness exists but additional motivation for behavior change is needed. What is the benefit of “Hate Alzheimer”? Will it cure my grandfather? Ease his embarrassment when he remembers what he’s done? What is the action that I am supposed to take, and what end? Hate? It is easy to hate. The disconnect is how that hate will help you sell a product.

And the simple answer is: it won’t.


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What’s in a name?

This post about product naming has been brewing for a while, but time constraints made it harder to write than anticipated. However, a Facebook link to an online shopping site reminded me that it’s long overdue, and very needed. The above mentioned female oriented site had several dresses, one of which was named “Rueda de Casino”. That irked me so much that I simply had to put, pen to paper fingers to the keyboard, and write this post.

Naming products is a difficult part of marketing. There are all sorts of subliminal clues that the name conveys. One of my earlier posts referred to the quandary of naming technology product series, and how names can suggest a steeper learning curve versus a functional improvement. In this case, it’s more of a question of names creating a personality for the product.

One one such Romanian site, the dresses were called Anelia, Daniela, Elena, Flory, and so on. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress called Flory, a pretentious way of spelling a common enough name. Flory is bleach blonde, pink lipped, and heavy-bosomed. Why would I want to associate with her? Joking aside, my comment above reveals the problem with such names. The brand / site, does not build the personality of the product they are trying to sell. Instead, that personality gets created inside the customer’s mind, using the subjective imagery that he or she associated with the name. Someone may have a friendly, pleasant Flory in their circle of friends, but for someone else she may be the highschool bitch, and the purchase, already iffy because you can’t really try on or even touch the product, ends up not happening. It is much better to use a descriptive: Knee length off shoulder satin dress. It also indexes better than Flory, should I want to find such a dress via websearch. I am not against naming products with people’s names, but there needs to be a reason behind the naming (is it a mascot, an embodiment of the brand persona, a virtual person?) A case in point is Siri, whose name is brilliantly discussed here.

“Rueda de casino”, as a name, is less problematic in terms of personality associations. Its problem is that it is too obscure (and too long). For those that don’t know, rueda de casino is a dance, originating from cuban salsa. It is danced in pairs, as part of the larger group who executes the same moves simultaneously, based on the signals of a leader called a “caller” or “madre”. Imagine a modern version of the reel, without the dosey do (dosado). 🙂 It takes a fairly knowledgeable person to recognize that the product name refers to a dance (other products on the site also have dance names, such as samba or salsa). Admittedly, there is nothing more obscure than  IKEA product names, and those still get bought, however let us not forget the equity of the IKEA umbrella brand, and that fact the products can be seen and tried in real life, not only virtually. Generally, though, a product name that means nothing to the customer adds nothing to the desire to purchase, and in fact can detract from it.

The second issue is that the dress itself has nothing to do with the style evoked by the name.  Certain words carry certain references. Samba is carnival, feathers, bare skin. Flamenco is ruffles, long skirts, bright colors. To name products that have none of those elements with words that evoke them creates a sense of disconnect. The customer is puzzled. Are there flounces that she cannot see in the picture? Or cut outs? All of a sudden, she is not convinced that the product will suit her, and she does not make the purchase.

It’s different when the customer can examine the product, but in online selling, naming and descriptions are paramount. The customer makes a leap of faith, and the goal of the seller is to make it as short as possible, eliminating any ambiguities the buyer might have about the purchase. Improper name creates ambiguities.

So what’s in a name? Sales. Or lack thereof.

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3 Mistakes Managers Should Never Make

DISCLAIMER : I’m speaking from a rather recent and disappointing personal experience, so please overlook (or enjoy?) the occasional raving and sarcasm.

1. Become enamored of their product

We all know that love is blind or, to be accurate, selectively so. It creates a filter through which qualities pass and are even enhanced, while defects are obscured. What’s going to happen if a similar filter is applied to the product? Design flaws, service interruptions, disconnect between the product and its customers can all be ignored by the manager who loves her product too much. Like disapproving family members, colleagues who point out inadequacies will incur animosity. Protective instincts kick in, so instead of taking criticism and working to fix the issues, the enamored manager begins to deflect, expending wits and energy to defend the product. It’s costly for the company, hard on the hapless colleagues, and detrimental for the enamored manager, as it ultimately leads to failure for the product and the manager.

2. Assume that quality is absolute.

In truth, very few things are. Except the ten commandments. Maybe.

But even if it were, even if the product is perfectly written, made with state of the art materials, designed to the highest standard, that inherent, indubitable quality is simply NOT RELEVANT.

In today’s market, the operating paradigm is VALUE, not quality. A perfectly good product that brings nothing that customers value will not be bought, despite the best effort of the crackest sales and marketing team.

Managers who overlook this, who constantly say “I’ve got the best product here, so I don’t understand why you nincompoops can’t flog it ” are in fact demonstrating a deep-seated incompetence. Sure, competent marketers with large budgets might eventually create a market for this quality product. After all, people once bought snake-skin oil, and that wasn’t even good. The effort and money required are, however, considerable. A responsible manager, custodian of the company’s resources, will tweak the product instead to fit with customer needs and expectations. Nowadays marketing is no longer about taking a finite product and arranging the 4Ps to maximize selling. It’s about feeding back customer insight, market info, competitive intelligence, into designing and evolving the product to bring that value to the customer. In a profitable way, of course. Managers who ignore this paradigm do so at the company’s peril.

3. Think that just because they know how to build a product they also know how to market it

Many managers believe that knowing the product is tantamount to being able to sell it. They have, of course, moved beyond the mere exposition of product features, and understand the concept of benefits, but actually articulating a benefit, understanding how a product or service, be it a ball, a magazine or a tire storage facility, fits into a customer’s life, and how to find that benefit to which most customers will respond, is a matter of an art and a science called marketing. Knowing how to put together a publication, store tires, or make sure that a ball is inflated gives you command over the product, but not over how people relate to it. As per point 2, rapport exists independently of the product itself and it takes skill and experience to connect people and products. Some people know how to build both product, and connections. Most don’t. And that’s ok, as long as they don’t try to lord it over those who do.

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Tweet, Tweet…

Back in April, a Twitter monitoring service informed me that I’d been on Twitter for 5 years. I checked, it’s true, and I think it makes me one of the early adopters of the platform. And yet, in 5+ years, I’ve never wondered whether I am doing Twitter right. My excuse is that most of my twittering was on my account, sharing thoughts and posts and resources that struck me as interesting. But I did use it for corporate purposes as well, under other handles, and while careful to post convincing, clear, well written, engaging tweets, I didn’t really consider when it is best to post.

Social media marketing firm Buddy Media did.

And they released a report on the matter. True, as most reports on social media tend to do, it looks mostly at the US market, but some insights are transferable to the Romanian market, or so my instinct tells me.

Brace yourselves for the first: While Twitter is about engagement, it is NOT about conversation. Less than 22% of users reply to brand messages, but they will frequently retweet, and therefore amplify the brand message.

Engagement levels vary by the days of the week, with different industries driving more engagement on different days. My current industry, publishing, would do well to tweet on Saturdays, the report says, and so would fashion and shopping, whose key interval is the weekend.

Tweets are better received when users are busy. This makes (common) sense, as quick bites of info are more suitable for office hours than leisurely posts, while people desire more substance when they have more time to consume it (and therefore would find tweets rather scarce in information or entertainment value).

Links = more retweets. ‘Nuff said.

#hashtags are underused (by only 24% of brands), which is a pity cause they deliver twice as much engagement.

A picture is worth… many more retweets.

Ask, and ye shall receive. Retweets, that is. And I am thinking that if retweets would also be rewarded somehow (while being wary of an outright bribe), the ask would be more successful.

Now let me go tweet this.

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Everyone’s an Expert :-(

A while back someone told me: I could do what you do in a heartbeat, but you couldn’t do what I do in a million years. She was an engineer. I, a marketer.

Granted, I can no more design energy systems than fly unaided (although, unlike flying, engineering can actually be learned), but I was still miffed at the implicit assumption that marketing’s a sort of fluff that anyone can do if they put their mind to it. In Romania, everyone’s an expert on football and politics, or so the saying goes. It now seems that marketing expertise is just as widespread.

But in reality, marketing’s neither easy nor accessible.

Marketing competence starts with nature: an affinity for people, a facility for language, an ability to synthesize, a propensity for innovation.

Then comes nurture : directing creativity to a purpose, transforming interaction into insight, generalizing, particularizing, synthesizing, balancing rigor in thinking with surprising leaps of imagination and many other habits of the mind that must develop early on.

Then comes education. Good marketers are generally recipients of a broader education than good engineers. They must know more than their own profession. Besides learning the tenets of customer behavior, statistical analysis, media buying, design, copywriting, public speaking etc., they need to master project management, budgeting, managerial accounting, HR, training of adults, etiquette, consumer technology and so much more.

They then need to learn whatever industry they’re in, understand its values, lingo, basic processes and limitations.

And then they must constantly learn. Keep in touch with marketing trends and tools, the industry and connected fields, and the world at large, for where metals will behave predictably under given circumstances, people won’t. And people are what marketing’s all about.

Sure, everyone can be a marketer in a heartbeat.

I’d like to see them try. With their own money, of course. Since it’s soooo easy.

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Filed under Consumer behavior, Management thought, Marketing, Strategies and campaigns

Why Burger King’s Exit from Romania Doesn’t Surprise Me

I used to mildly like Burger King in the US. It was a distant also-ran to favorite Taco Bell and runner-up Wendy’s, but I enjoyed my occasional whopper and onion rings. I tried it in Romania as well and found it uninspiring, with a vapid staff and indifferent atmosphere. I now read that they are insolvent and will be closing their last two premises this week. I’m sorry, but not surprised. Why? Here’s my take:

1. They didn’t advertise. Or at least not properly.

The goal of advertising for a food outlet should be, initially, to generate trial, assuming that the quality and value for money of the food, and the level of service (staff, waiting times, cleanliness) will create a positive impression and convince customers to return. However, that initial impression will not generate return visits over periods of time, and simply being available alongside other options in a mall or high street location will not remind customers to choose this chain over others, who make themselves aggressively more familiar. Where KFC and McDonald’s have developed a presence in the Romanian lingo (“Mergem la Mec? Am chef de niste crispy de la Ka Fe Ce”) Burger King didn’t.  Where the nation recognizes the  golden arches and hums along to “I’m loving it”, no such quick and easy brand icons exist for Burger King. Whatever advertising the chain put in place was either insufficient or not memorable, and therefore did not deliver traffic, stimulate trial, or generate notoriety. In brief clichés, Burger King didn’t get into the top-of-mind, so it didn’t get the out-of-pocket.

2. They didn’t differentiate.

Some people might say it’s a corollary of lack of advertising, but given the chain’s location mostly in food courts, with their inbuilt traffic, I’d say they could have played the differentiation game even without advertising outside those premises. While the lack of advertising made customers ignore/forget there is a BK, the lack of differentiation meant customers saw no reason to go there. I, who’ve spent the better part of the last 4 years in malls and their food-courts, marketing cinemas and opening stores, and checking places for our promo materials, have, despite that exposure, yet to figure out why I should choose Burger King. What is the dish that makes it worthwhile? Why choose their burger (Whopper) as opposed to the Big Mac?  What is there that I can’t find elsewhere? Mind you, the product line in and of itself is different, but it is not communicated as such, and the consumers see no reason for choosing BK.

3. Fast-food is taking a hit, globally.

Rising commodity prices, the slow-food movement, health conscious consumers, numerous substitutes and the economic crisis have all affected the consumers’ willingness and ability to purchase and consume fast food. And, as logic would have it, the most vulnerable are the less established (understood as the least entrenched in the collective mind and habit), which is, sadly, the case for BK, the latest big chain to enter the Romanian market, and the one with the smallest number of stores.

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