Finance? Dry, dull and difficult! Insurance? Yawn! Pensions? Zzzzzzz! Production? Dirty, drab and noisy! Marketing? Wheeee! Let the fun begin!
Marketing engages and involves us. Good advertising makes us smile, feel hungry, warm or sad, makes us want to support a cause, join in or buy. We think it’s fun or smart, and we often think we could do better.
In the last 60 years or so we’ve been immersed in marketing. We’ve become marketing aware. Everyone’s got an opinion. We’re so familiar with famous adverts that, like hit songs and films, we vote in the best of the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. The TV series Mad Men, based at the birth of modern advertising, was a recent hit.
Marketing is at the core of modern life. It’s hard to imagine life without it. Marketing? We love it!
And that’s the problem. There’s a lot more to professional marketing than front-end fun. If it’s not based on fact, and your strategy and communications aren’t based on sound evidence, and go with the grain of the market, they won’t work, no matter how much budget you throw at them.
And here’s the interesting thing. We like to think we’re close to our customers, and we think we know what they think. We know our markets, and how they’ll react to new initiatives and new competition. Don’t we? So why spend all that money, slowing things down doing research to see what the market thinks, and how people will react when we already know? Skip the research and let’s get on with the campaign.
But such confidence is easily tested. Get the management team to complete a questionnaire when the research is conducted. Ask them to say how they think the market will answer. Then compare what they say with the market. Some companies are poor at reading the market on any dimension. Most are good at judging it on one or two, product and price for example. But it’s rare for companies to know how their customers (or prospects) think on all dimensions, so it’s sobering when comparisons are revealed. The thing is, we see what we want to see, and disregard the rest, as a song writer put it.
The larger the company, the more likely it is to justify action and budgets with research because management is often obliged to justify its plans with research. But since few of us are gifted with second sight, it’s good practice to base our plans on research, whatever bean-counters demand.
We recently worked on a campaign with leading independent builders’ merchant EH Smith. The company had lost collect-share at its flagship Shirley branch as new competitors set up on its door step. It wanted to recapture lost share and grow in Shirley, then roll out the new format to other branches.
We measured their market share; price-tracked and benchmarked the competition. We researched what customers came in to buy and what they managed to buy; what customers wanted and how they rated the branch; how customers and the market saw EH Smith and competitors.
The findings overturned perceptions, and we developed a strategy and revamped the collect business model and format. We changed the pricing, and priced so builders know they are getting the best deal; expanded the product range, and gave builders a choice of good, better, best. We used the pulling power of brands to attract, and used space to sell not stock. We changed signage, shelving and layouts to make it easy and convenient to buy.
Then we communicated the changes with an integrated marketing campaign using old-school posters and bus adverts alongside Facebook, Twitter, short-format videos and a microsite. We involved staff and customers to attract potential customers. The campaign and revamp boosted collect sales by 34% on a sustainable basis, and gave EH Smith “a growth map for the next 10 years”. The investment paid for itself within one year, not three as planned, and it’s being rolled out to the rest of EH Smith’s network.
The argument against research is famously put by Steve Jobs the co-founder of Apple: “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then give it to them. By the time you get it built they’ll want something new.”
But for the less gifted, I find the argument for research, from Steve Wozniak (Steve Jobs’ co-founder), more persuasive: “You need the kind of objectivity that makes you forget everything you’ve heard, clear the table and do a factual study like a scientist would.”
No one can guarantee marketing success, but good research ensures your marketing points in the right direction. And it stacks the odds in your favour.