Monday, December 8, 2014
WINNING MARKETING’S BEST-KEPT SECRET
“The first problem of communication is getting people’s attention…the most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns. Consistent sensory stimulation makes us tune out. Think of the hum of an air conditioner, or traffic noise, or the smell of a candle, or the sight of a bookshelf. We may become consciously aware of these things only when something changes: The air conditioner shuts off. Your spouse rearranges the bookshelf.”
--From Made to Stick, Chip & Dan Heath
It was a little over twelve years ago or so that, while doing some work with Gillette (before the Procter & Gamble acquisition), we had an opportunity one evening to be at a dinner table with some Gillette marketers and the president of Duracell. He was asked about their just-launched TV campaign, “Trusted Everywhere,” and he obligingly shared some of the backdrop to the campaign’s development. It seems that after years of dueling the Energizer Brand for the leadership battery share (what he termed a never-ending “horsepower race” to imply both brands had a longer-lasting benefit—which neither did in fact), he explained that the Brand team had proposed it was past time to “do something different to win…rather than settle for merely a lead-share tie.”
More specifically, the brand and their agency were aiming to significantly change the conversation in the category, but not simply change it for change’s sake. Rather, they wanted to change the way a good many consumers thought about name battery brands, such that Duracell would establish a relevant emotional connection with the many battery “agnostics” and thereby gain a winning advantage in one of the battery category’s least held prizes: brand loyalty. The “Trusted Everywhere” campaign launched in 2002 continues today; and not only as evidenced by P&G’s concurrence to sustain it after their Gillette acquisition, but also by many published accounts, it has worked the way the Duracell Brand Team intended.
Looking back on this move now, nothing could be clearer than that Duracell marketers had broken a pattern. Here’s what one article had to say about that pattern which was being consciously broken back in 2002: “In a bold departure from its traditional battery advertising, Duracell today announced the debut of its ‘Trusted Everywhere’ campaign…(which) represents a significant departure from the brand’s historical performance-based communications to a new emotional platform that leverages trust as a powerful equity of the Duracell Brand” (from TheFreeLibrary.com). One of the things that articles about the campaign back then failed to capture, though, was how Duracell marketers and their management were feeling about breaking such a long-lived category pattern in communications.
That night at our dinner, the Duracell president frankly admitted that, while concept tests had resonated well with a range of U.S. battery consumers (from heavy Duracell buyers to heavy Energizer buyers to “any-leading-brand-will-do-just-fine switchers”), there was a broad-based conviction inside the Duracell Company that communications which touted an emotional benefit or connection would take a lot longer to change consumers’ behaviors than communications which touted functional benefits. What got the team around this conviction and gave them the fortitude—even determination—to go with “Trusted Everywhere”? Simple—years of trying to up the ante on battery duration with their off and on co-share leader had proven that touting the same old functional benefits and pseudo-claims had not changed anyone’s behavior at all: consumers continued to interchange one leading brand with the other.
While the “Trusted Everywhere” story is only one example—and mainly a communications example at that—we’ve found example after example in product and packaging design, merchandising equipment, promotion ideas and so on that dramatize the principle: you want the brand to win, sooner or later you’ve got to break a pattern. Most marketers and their senior management readily value the notion of a product innovation that represents a discontinuity, which the Thesaurus labels a “breach or break.” In fact, business schools typically showcase product discontinuities as the epitome of breakthrough, winning marketing and business strategy. But they also emphasize that pattern-breaking discontinuities in innovation are more the exception than the norm. Actually, they’re the exception across virtually all the marketing mix elements.
Who can say for sure what makes sustaining a pattern the usual choice over breaking a pattern? There are some obvious hypotheses, however:
- Since most leading brands in a category or class tend to sustain long-held patterns, not many marketers are “trained” (and definitely not habituated) to breaking patterns. Besides, the path of least resistance tends to be to “keep on keeping on,” doing things perceived to be “category safe.”
- Figuring out clever ways to change the conversation in a category means generating a number of consumer/customer ideas that will really resonate with them, that will (as Chip and Dan Heath say in their book) have “stickiness.” You need clever and insight-rich research methods—along with the time to thoughtfully pursue them—to come up with such ideas. Not many marketing organizations or their management teams seem very keen on providing these.
- Bald fear. Face it, even the biggest and long-established market leaders in a category will pose the question: “Has anyone else done this before?” And then quickly follow up with, “I’m not sure we should be the first.”
Whatever the reasons, our take is that breaking a pattern is the best-kept secret for winning marketing: so many marketers, perhaps along with their senior management, are aiming to hold onto their “fair share” and therefore contentedly pursue marketing initiatives that mimic their competitors. But if you study the real, big winners in the marketplace, you will nearly always discover that they have broken a lot more than their fair share of patterns to get where they got. Even more than this, if you’re honest as you study their initiatives, you’ll likely admit to yourself, “I wish I had thought of that—or at least, been a part of that.” Winning Marketing almost always operates in the same way, and it’s the complete opposite of the way Fair-Share Marketing operates…it gets noticed, it changes consumer or customer conversation and behaviors, it breaks a pattern!
BOATS & HELICOPTERS
Just a couple of simple actions to suggest toward breaking more patterns:
1. Stop and conduct an audit of your 2015 Marketing Plan Key Initiatives, across all of your brand’s main marketing mix investments. Determine which ones, if any, represent the breaking of a category or class pattern; do the same for your main competitors for this year. What do you conclude from this comparative audit?
2. Going forward, each time your brand proposes a key investment-initiative, ask the team to spell out exactly in what ways this initiative breaks an established pattern. If it doesn’t, ask yourselves why not?
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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