Thursday, November 29, 2007

Stirring Bulletin #5

This is a departure from the usual Stirring Bulletin format.

Normally we contrast Middle Ages thinking (pre-enlightened marketing practice) with Renaissance thinking (post enlightenment marketing practice).

OFD has come across such an outstanding example of Middle Ages Thinking that it merits its dedicated focus.

This satire brilliantly captured the misguided ways of yore: where self-indulgent agencies and their clients were obsessed with espousing their own message, but falling on the deaf ears of consumers who saw through the gesture and artifice. A glaring example of what approach NOT to take.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Stirring Bulletin #4


Brand actions make more impact - and count for more - in the eyes of prospects and customers.

People are more sophisticated and savvy about marketing practices than ever before. They have become increasingly aware of marketing techniques and strategies that companies use to appeal to them – it’s not just the younger generations that are seeing through it and reacting indifferently when something looks and smells like marketing.

Rising consumer economic power, more informed choices driven by internet-driven information and social networks had shifted the balance of power towards consumers in how they think and feel about brands.

Compounded by a market situation of product and brand proliferation at shelf and on-line, communications ‘promise-making’ is no longer as effective.

Brands that engage in actions as a way to connect with people will be more successful because, as with people, behavior speaks louder than words.


Middle Ages Thinking

Communications is the dominant strategy to reach and shape perceptions of prospects to attract them towards the brand

Renaissance thinking

It is through actions - and dynamic interactions - that brands deliver value to the prospects that experience them, who in turn fuel a buzz which enable other people to connect with it vicariously.


Charmin’s brand action in New York City

The brand delivered a welcome experience for tourist about town (and one presumes, locals too) with its 20 individual restrooms staffed with a dedicated team of attendants and cleaners, along with a comfortable waiting area. The communications’ wit and style only added to were charming too.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Stirring Bulletin #3

Companies need to embrace the latitude to vary brand expression that the current marketing era provides and use it to their advantage.

We live in an age of fragmentation. The domination of a few networks and a limited number of channels has given way to an ever expanding distribution of content through the web, in which narrow-casting when sufficiently precise is substantial enough to be a viable business model (the long-tail).

More than anyone else, Gen Y and Millenials are particularly comfortable in a world of fragmentation; through the explosion of channels and content they see no pervasive homogeneity in a fast-moving world. They live in a world full of contradictions, exceptions and differences that complexity brings and accept it is they who have to put the pieces together and fashion them into a personal understanding.


Middle Ages Thinking

Ensuring consistency in the brand across all points of expression and across product lines delivers clarity of consumer understanding and ensures the company controls what the brand stands for.

Renaissance thinking

Driving effective brand–consumer connections means it is inevitable that the brand will talk to different groups in different ways. People who witness a brand marketing to other groups accept it as a natural reality of marketing practice, not identity crises.


VW markets its cars to a number of different groups spanning at least three life stages. The communications are vastly different in idea and executional form, yet speak to each specific group authentically and with real insight about their outlook and relationship with driving.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stirring Bulletin #2

For communications to be more effective, they need to exercise appropriate restraint to successfully engage an audience on their terms.

In the quest to ‘stand out from the clutter’ and ‘do more with less’ there is a greater (and less discriminating) use of shock tactics to grab attention. Equally troubling is the trend of communications towards more telling and selling than engaging with people on their terms.

Engaging in a communication is a contract (albeit an intangible one). People give their time and attention in exchange for a reward. It goes beyond the rational acquisition of facts and information, it is the possibility of a psychic reward. This is not just an emotional reward that comes from the content of the ad, such as humor. It’s the lift one gets from the figuring out an ad, which comes from active not passive participation. It makes people feel clever.

There's another important bonus not to be over-looked. Investing something more than mere attention to figure the ad out – imagination, creative problem solving, deduction – and getting a psychic reward inspires a psychological bond. It may not itself motivate people to drop everything and go an buy the product. But it creates a openness, a positive disposition towards the brand that is separate from whatever the content might be.


The Middle Ages

Communications are created to be complete in design, containing all desirable elements and requiring the audience to bring only their attention

Renaissance thinking

The notion of the audience as participants in communications is taken into account in their creation. It requires restraint: leaving room for the viewer to fill in the space to complete the comprehension.

Example: McDonald's Outdoor Board

Requires the viewer to realize it is acting as a sundial to show that it is time for McDonald's foods and beverages throughout the day.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Stirring Bulletin #1

Marketers and their brands need to shift the orientation in how they go to market. They need to engage people on their terms.

The rise in consumer affluence coupled with rising sovereignty from access to knowledge and choices – both driven by the internet – puts people at the center of driving decisions of what and how they want their needs fulfilled. The internet has also spawned a people-driven dialog about issues and brands that is apart from the previously order, controlled and dictated by media companies, marketers and advertising agencies who dominated the channel and the message:

There are so many examples of how marketers can change in order to engage people on their terms, it will be the subject of the next several Stirring Bulletins (TM). Volume 2 will focus on giving ideas to the people they can grow.

Middle Ages thinking

Advertising ideas where communicated at people, as passive recipients. Success was often measured and tracked in terms of whether or not people played back the idea the marketer had defined

Renaissance thinking

Give people an idea they can take, engage with and make their own heightening their involvement, as well as in the process reach into new areas and interpretations not previously planned.

Example: Axe Click

The idea of young men using a clickometer to record how many times they were checked out took on a new life beyond the original idea. Young men debated what the scoring should be, how it should differ in different situations, etc. giving it a life well beyond advertising exposure and penetrating popular teen culture

Stirring Bulletins - a jolt of enlightenment for a new age

Poor George Samsa. As the protagonist in Kafka’s classic novel, we might think him unfortunate. In waking up to find he’d turned into a cockroach overnight it was he who had changed rather than the world around him.

It is the reverse problem facing many marketers today, for it is they who have not changed while the world around them undoubtedly has, the one they live in, work in and make profits in.

A Darwinian Mandate
The consumer, cultural and technological landscape has so dramatically been recast that it calls for a different approach that fits the times, not only to how to connect with people but in a companies’ primary goal of building profitable brand relationships.

To do so however requires a corollary shift in thinking. Existing ways of thinking and marketing have become outdated over night. Companies are scrambling to re-orient their practice. But it’s a time of unprecedented opportunity for those who are able to adapt quickly and seize the initiative.

We’ve heard that one of the things getting in the way of companies adapting the demands of the new era is in understanding what the existing ways of thinking and principles are replaced by. You can’t get rid of something unless the replacement is clear.

To that end, we're providing some pointers to the way ahead and comparing it to the immediate past. Thus....

‘Middle ages thinking'

describes the old 20th century thinking and approach

'Renaissance thinking'

characterizes the new thinking required for the future

We hope this shines a helpful light on the way ahead. Stand by for next dispatch.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Advertising needs more orginality and less copycatting

It is said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

It is also a sign of lack of originality and creativity.

A Hitachi banner at The Economist's website invites readers to learn how Hitachi has helped light up the small town of Bandon Oregon as a 'real world' illustration of its product benefit and brand reach.

If this sounds familiar, rewind about a year ago when Nikon launched the very same initiative in Georgetown South Carolina. Dubbing it Picturetown USA, it aimed to showcase how the ordinary lives of its town folk were transformed by the picture taking qualities of Nikon cameras.

Surely Hitachi could have taken a more distinctive and brand differentiating route?

A goldmine in plain sight

The standards of service at many mass market retail outlets has fallen to an astonishing low point. It is a huge opportunity for the right minded marketer to capitalize upon, even in circumstances in which they are selling a commodity offering, or in situations in which the normal consumers freedoms are not in place.

Take two shops literally opposite each other on a particular concourse at San Francisco airport. Both sell largely the same items. When encountered yesterday, both were ineptly run. Long lines snaked through and out of the stores because counter staff moved slowly, thought slowly and reacted slowly. Even an activity as simple as handling payment and operating a till became an unnecessarily time-wasting undertaking.

Friends have remarked that there is no value to making either of these operations more efficient. The consumer is a captive one: their choice is confined. There is literally nowhere else to go other than a place selling the same stuff at the same inept service. The friends are also quick to mention that it's not possible to get better employee contributions and commitments when paying minimum wage.

They miss the point in dramatic fashion:

1. Where products are commodities - even of basic staples - service is the opportunity to be a differentiator.

2. Doing so can sustain a modest price premium, one which (presuming the consumer notices) he is probably prepared to pay if he understands that speedy efficient service is part of the transaction beyond the actual item being purchased.

3. It makes sound economic sense to pay employees MORE for retail positions in which higher productivity translates directly into a greater volume of customer processing and therefore sales (to expect minimum wage earners to perform higher is unrealistic)

4. The fact that the consumer is captive - and does not have the typical freedom of choice to exercise - does not mean she or he does not still want better service.

5. The economic benefit for the shop delivering faster, more efficient retail service is to have a greater share of customers. It would require disrupting an existing consumer belief and behavior. Most people don't ever stop to consider where else to buy what they're after: they presume product prices and service are identical in an airport.

6. Promoting the service advantage where and when it matters - before prospects have wandered into a store - enables them to be conscious of a service that may be very much needed and preferred over an unknown alternative, even if that alternative is just a few yards away. This is not unlike the pitches that stall owners colorfully deliver against competing vendors in a marketplace, bringing awareness of something special to attract greater than fair share of traffic.

It is hard for any one who has been on the receiving end of retail service in an airport recently not to come away without being painfully aware of how much room for improvement there is. And where glaring potential for improvement lies, gold is often to be found.

Be careful what you look for. You just may find it.

It is often the case that one sees what one is trying to find. It's a common but dangerous tendency. Belief is, after all, merely a matter of perspective.

Lambasting current TV programming as a scourge is a popular pastime, criticized for its influence upon the younger generation's values and responsible for the decline in moral fabric of this country. One writer suggests that Sweet Sixteen is a case in point, in that it violates the principles upon which this country is built: "the idea of being a do-it-yourself, hard working, striving individual, who fights to achieve success and prosperity for themselves"

There's plenty of programming out there that upholds these qualities directly if you look at them in an open-minded way. Take I LOVE NEW YORK on VH1. A collection of men compete for the affection of a sultry woman (and one presumes more than that..) and in so doing demonstrate the qualities needed to pursue the American Dream. Survivor is another. Project Runway, The Apprentice. In fact, much of the reality TV genre could be seen to support the American Dream in a significant way.

Don't get be wrong, I LOVE NEW YORK is in my view terrible, terrible entertainment but that is besides the point: in its content it upholds the priorities on which this country was built. It is also good to see some contemporary role reversal, with men subjugating themselves to women and pandering to their arbitrary whims instead of the other way around.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Rediscover the lost art of conversation

Maligning focus group has become something of a sport over the last few years.
Bad recruiting, the ‘group think’ dynamic, an unnatural discussion environment have all been given as the reasons why this research forum consistently delivers under-whelming results.

In this moderator’s opinion, the over-whelming reason why focus groups don’t provide the actionable insights and inspiration Clients and agencies need comes from the craftsman, not the tools. It is simply mediocre moderating.

Moderating is not about soliciting people’s opinions in capturing reactions, either in feelings or thoughts. Its greater value is in challenge people to engage their imaginations, to make them willing collaborators in evolving concepts, executions or positions. Too often, the focus is upon establishing what the reaction is and what drives it, without engaging participating in a ‘what-if’ type exercise.

Tapping into our imagination is something we all do in our basic experience of every day life: our perception of reality is shaped by it. And yet all too often stimuli are presented in a way which doesn’t encourage people to engage their imagination.

Perhaps the greatest flaw that comprises research value is the tendency to follow a linear line of questioning. Insights come from conversations that mirror the real –world character. They are fluid and evolve dynamically as the exchanges flow. All too often, the imposition of a rote list of questions comes from a client’s restrictive (yet understandable) desire for consistency. Yet what is gained in consistency is lost in quality of discussion because no two groups think the same way and evolve ideas in the same pre-determined order.

At OFD we’re all about maximizing the Return on Research investment. So for all clients and agencies out there here’s a list suggestions for how to get more out of a much maligned research method:

Identify a core range of ISSUES to explore not a prescriptive list of questions
This will keep the discussion focused but allow the moderator to tackle the issues in the way that make sense for the character of each group.

DON’T over fill a group with too many issues
It will compromise the key quality of focus groups which is have the time to explore issues and get a deeper understanding.

Don’t over fill a group with too many PEOPLE
Conversations are richer among discussion of six people than eight. Facility value and moderator time is not improved by talking to more people. Guaranteed, two of eight people will sit back and not say much. It means the moderator will spend more time soliciting opinions than exploring opinions, ideas and reaction, and what-ifs.

Build time in for the moderator to EXPLORE an issue ‘off topic’.
All too often, there’s a moment of magic possibility in most groups when an exciting idea emerges that hasn’t been predicted. Give the moderator the freedom to explore at least one such idea per group. It can often unlock the most powerful learning of the group. In many cases though, the opportunity is passed up by the moderator in order to follow the strict list of question.

Listen as much to what is NOT said as to what it being said.
It requires more active listening and thinking on the fly, but it can provide extraordinary insight. Once you’ve got the hang of it, after a while you will hear them as loudly and clearly as if they’d been actually said.

Pay attention to WHEN comments come up in the evening.
Avoiding group think can be challenged and minimized by a good moderator, but part of being a good back-room attendant is learning what NOT to be influenced by. For example, when the room has been discussing a topic for 20 minutes and only then do problems and issues start to emerge, these are likely to be from venturing into ‘over-think' mode rather than issues that anchor people’s reactions.

Encourage a climate of EVOLUTION

Exposing the same stimuli across multiple groups delivers consistency at the expense of maximizing return of research investment. Far better to evolve the ideas or work to leverage learning and tighten up the form for expose in later groups, than unequivocally prove why the in-going stimuli has failed.

Brands creating revenue streams for customers

We at OFD made a discovery recently. It was more of an awareness of a pattern, and while it happened suddenly we disagree with our friend Malcolm Gladwell that is was the result of rapid cognition, the core thesis of his engaging book Blink.

Our 'ahah!' was much more likely the result of expansive processing in the human mind happening below the radar; realizations, epiphanies and Eurekas being consequences of mental activity and creativity emerging from the depths of our sub-conscious rather than the spontaneity and randomness or rapid processing it might otherwise seem.

We noticed a pattern of companies that create value for themselves by creating a revenue stream for its customers. A few examples of this are

Ebay unlocks money previously frozen in objects that have become less valuable to people over time. Some people make a living out of this.

Babajob rewards people who are the referral backbone for connecting job seekers with job oppportunities. Two kinds of people - the person encouraging a possible candidate to sign up and the person providing a character reference are compensated.

The German government by law, must buy any excess electricity that a home owner produces by solar means, beyond what he consumes in running the home.

This could be an important clue for marketers. People understand they possess more than possessions but knowledge capital that they want to be rewarded for. Perhaps in a web2.0 world the way to make social networking pay is it create a way for consumers to be compensated for the kinds and caliber of connections that they make possible.

Food for thought.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Making Social Networking Pay

An article in yesterday's New York Times represents a brilliantly inventive example of how social networking can be used to drive revenue. It comes from India, and it is helping the countries poorest people access a job market that connects them with badly needed sources of income.

The genius behind the idea comes from creating an on-line network by leveraging a critical and highly valued off-line network: world-of-mouth. In India, personal referrals are the way people typically get ad-hoc access to job openings. By paying individuals a very modest sum once the candidate they have had a hand in referring gets placed, the social network site babajobs is acknowledging the inherent value of a reliable referral and the risk that accompanies vouching for someone else's character.

Some inspiration here for marketers in first world countries.