This is a question I asked in my very first post, ‘Are you pushing on a door marked “pull”?’. And one I have returned to repeatedly. I’ve even done a talk (available on video) and written a ebook on the subject. There’s a list of these posts at the bottom of the page and email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like a free copy of the book.
You read it here first
Despite enthusiastic feedback from some readers it’s easy to feel like a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Is there anyone out there? Hello…?
I was therefore surprised, and delighted, to read an article in last week’s Economist magazine that made many of the same points that I’ve been banging on about for two years and more. It also cited a Nobel prizewinning psychologist whose academic research lends compelling academic credence and validity to my subjective observations and intemperate rants. Hooray – I’m not alone!
The message still matters – doh!
The gist of my argument is that consumers are sated with information and choice – they’re zoned out and hard to reach. And that most products are “me-too”. Most marketers therefore find themselves in the awkward position of trying to flog mediocre stuff to people who couldn’t care less.
Some pin all their hopes on a hi-tech approach, believing that the answer lies in the intelligent use of media, mechanics and metrics: utilising new ways of engaging with consumers, getting better at using these innovative tools, and getting better at measuring results, gathering numbers and utilising Big Data.
This cold, clinical, geeky, number-crunching approach is more task-orientated than people-focused – they almost forget the people part of the equation altogether. In so doing they lose sight of the fourth “M” – message. The result? Communications that are pure vanilla.
The big successful brands – look and learn
The short-sightedness of this becomes apparent if you observe the more nuanced and all-encompassing approaches employed by the world’s biggest and most successful brands. Of course they focus on media, mechanics and metrics. But they also give message the attention it deserves.
To make a compelling message it helps to have a product or service that’s remarkable. But in today’s overcrowded and fiercely competitive marketplace a real tangible point of difference is rarer than rocking horse shit. Like, how different is Vodafone from Orange or T Mobile? How different is Travelodge from Premier Inn or Holiday Inn Express?
Stop asking the wrong question
The smart marketers have therefore stopped asking “what can we say?” and started asking “what do they want to hear?” Their marketing and brand building efforts have become less product-centric and more consumer centric.
As part of the same process they’ve started to target the consumer’s heart, rather than their head. Why? Two reasons. When you have nothing truly different and meaningful to say about your product or service it’s hard to construct a logical argument for buying it – attempt to sell to the head and you only expose the product’s inadequacies. Also, people are more emotional than they might like to admit. They generally make decisions based on emotion, then justify that decision using logic.
Joy of branding
That’s why so many big successful brands now sell a feeling. Why Hyundai exhorts us to “Live Brilliant”. Why Microsoft Dynamics has the strapline “Make Happy”. Why KFC now brings us “The taste that unites” (are they for real?!). Why Guinness promises friendship. Why John Lewis has gone Disney for Christmas. Why Cadbury gave us a Gorilla playing the drums with the line “A glass and a half full of joy”. Why UPS gave us “We love logistics” and why Royal Mail have taken exactly the same tack with “We love parcels” and the Beatles’ classic “All you need is love”.
Like I’ve been saying all along
Before you dismiss this as just an interesting idea, but one that carries little weight (It’s just Jim, what does he know?) check out what The Economist had to say.
The article, entitled “Nothing more than feelings” cites Daniel Kahneman, “a psychologist who won a Nobel Prize in 2002 for showing that people are not the rational agents that economists had thought they were. He argues, most famously in “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, a 2011 book popularising his work, that the mind incorporates two systems: an intuitive “system one”, which makes many decisions automatically, and a calculating but lazy “system two”, which rationalises system one’s ideas and sometimes overrules them.” So, like I said, people make decisions based on emotion, then justify that decision using logic.
The article explains that the psychologist has become a marketing guru and that “For Mr Kahneman’s disciples advertising is above all a way to groom system one, to nudge consumers towards a buy.” It adds that “Kahnemanite advertising prizes emotion over information and pays more attention to a brand’s “purpose” than to its products.”
Amen to that.
For free copy of e-book “How to make your marketing irresistible” email email@example.com
Previous posts on this subject:
Hi-tech hi-touch – a concept that’s at the heart of the world’s most successful brands