Sunday, April 15, 2012
WHY MAKING CHOICES IS SO HARD
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on.
But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other
good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”
(Steve Jobs, June 2003)
“I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.”
(Steve Jobs, February 2006)
One of our favorite “how to think” tools is the one we call our “5 C’s of Technical Competence.” It’s a simple set of five words starting with the letter C, each of which represents an essential characteristic of strategic marketing documents, such as a Brand Positioning Strategy or a Strategic Target within that positioning. The idea is to apply each of the 5 C’s to the given strategic document as a way to bolster the technical soundness of the thinking. And the C’s comprise these: Clear, Complete, Competitive, Cohesive, and Choice-full.
Of these 5 C’s, the one that most marketers find most difficult to live up to is the last one. Making choices—about where to stake a claim, about where to focus, about where to invest—is among the hardest of things that today’s brand-builders must do. And yet, for someone like a Steve Jobs, making choices was not only essential to the Apple brands’ amazing successes, it was a source of pride.
This apparent paradox got us to thinking more about the forces, within most large corporations today, that conspire against us marketers as we pursue the making of hard choices for our brands. What follows is our take on at least some of the bigger reasons why making choices is so hard.
1. There is a fundamental disconnect between (a) an understanding of the role of critical strategic documents and (b) the Company’s approach to resource investment. We have discussed this disconnect in previous DISPATCHES™, particularly ones dealing with choices for a brand’s Positioning Target. The prevailing joke is (based upon real, typical boardroom actions) that the brand team recommends choosing two of five target segments to position the brand against—to “win” with; but senior management responds with a request for “more segments for more volume.” So the brand ends up targeting nearly every consumer or every doctor in the market…in other words, electing NOT to make any real choices. The heart of the disconnect, of course, lies in the reality that broadening a positioning target inherently dilutes what limited resources the Company can supply to the brand—thereby limiting the effort against those “well-chosen” segments against whom the brand has the highest likelihood of success.
2. There is often intense pressure from other functions—to include more, rather than to make choices and focus on less. You need only look at any one of a hundred pharmaceutical or medical journal ads, iPad presentations, or Medical Congress brochures to see that the number of product benefits and features talked about is off the charts. That’s because, in so many drug and medical device companies, the primary “positioning customer” isn’t the pharmacist, doctor, or surgeon: it’s the Sales Force. And the Sales Force, still often designed to “cover” all doctors and hospitals in a given market, naturally wants the brand to stand for whatever a given doctor or hospital says its needs. No wonder brand marketers in many drug and device companies find it so hard to (a) concentrate the brand’s resource investments (both feet-on-the-street kinds and the usual marketing-mix kinds) against the highest-return target segments, and (b) thereby get the Sales Force to “stay on brand (positioning) message.” Such a system virtually defies making choices.
3. More and more, there is less market research to aid marketers and their senior management in making choices. So many traditional market research organizations have suffered big cuts in recent times—both in personnel and in funds. These cuts often include fundamental, syndicated marketplace data that, candidly, is essential for directing good resource investment choices. For example, a company that no longer tracks the “basics” like household penetration, purchase frequency, and consumption amounts per occasion has automatically taken away a marketer’s ability to set specific behavioral objectives (such as bringing in new users, driving switching, and incenting trade-up). This, in turn, leads to initiatives that have no behavioral objective…in other words, no accountability for results that link to key business results of increased volume, profit, and share.
Even beyond missing these basics, too many organizations these days are falling back on qualitative research methods—like in-depth interviews, whether on-line or in-person, and focus groups to make what few choices they attempt. So, in seeking the most competitive, winning positioning for a new product, it happens that three or four options are shared with, say, six or seven focus groups in three cities—with the goal of choosing the best positioning option. But, as invariably occurs, different brand team members and their agency partners use selected consumer verbatims to support the option they think is right. You have to give some credit to these teams: at least they are trying to make a choice. It’s just that the research methodology they are using to help make that choice isn’t the right one.
4. There is a tacit “fair share” mentality among more and more companies. With fewer employees and perhaps more parity-product performance than ever before, a good many senior management teams are opting for the path of least resistance: simply aim for a reasonable but dependable fair share of the market. Finding that meaningful differentiation requires too much R&D money (or is simply too hard to come by), rather than aim for a “winning” dominant market share, why not—especially in high margin categories—settle for a brand’s fair market share? Such a mentality automatically dumps the need to make very many choices. Instead, merely have our brand stand for the same “class effect” features and benefits that the other major brands stand for.
BOATS & HELICOPTERS—Some Tips for Making Choices Easier
1. To “push” your management toward making choices—whether choosing a market segment to target in the Brand Positioning or choosing the right innovation option to invest in—attach numbers to each choice. In other words, complete the due diligence for each choice by making clear, in dollars and cents, the relative value of each.
2. When you present a set of choices to senior management, always have a recommendation. Marketers must be the change agents within the organization; they should always have a point-of-view. Merely presenting the pro’s & cons of various choices makes it too easy for a decision-maker to “have it all.”
3. To garner more and better marketplace information (to support making the best choice for the brand), get more creative with your brand budgets. The best brand-builders we’ve ever worked with have always found clever (legal!) ways to find funds for better decision-making.
4. Above all, keep pushing until you get a Choice-full Brand Positioning Strategy approved by senior management—ideally, the Company President or Managing Director. Once you have this key, critical document in hand, you have the hard blueprint for making future brand investment choices.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
© 2003 Brand Development Network (BDN) International. All rights reserved.