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Monday, September 25, 2006

Marketing in an age of 'disengagement'?

The world of marketing often seems to be functioning on an edifice of faux efficiency when it comes to information, communication and brand planning. Pressures on cost and time have arguably pared down processes and resources so that whilst important things still 'appear' to happen - they happen at 'half cock' and much of what's important may hardly touch the sides! Research is caught in the midst of this current phenomenon. Insights and sound thinking, so important as our bases for brand strategies, can feel lost in the mad panic. Do you recognise this syndrome? A deluge of emails where critical things get lost or swamped? A Conference call where no one's listening or too busy looking out the window or at SMS's on their mobiles…. or worrying about the next meeting. So electronic communications are partly to blame - miraculous and efficient at many levels but so ignorable at others. Is the problem really to do with the downscaling of face to face communication with focussed tangible written material and good solid hard 'team' thinking? So often we see things where clearly the various parties have just buzzed things around on email and not really given the problem, brief or whatever 15 mins serious collective thought. Result - a brief or an idea that's half cock. Elsewhere important bits of insight that could really feed your brand planning get aired but effectively lost in lip service telecons, over rushed meetings or in barely read email attachments. It also feels like 'MORE' (alleged communication and engagement opportunities) = 'LESS'! It's pointless spending money on insight if you're not going to make time to digest it and think about what it really means for your brand. I know time is tight but there's got to be a more effective way. It's not just me that feels this - I know the sentiments are shared by client marketers and planners too. "…we seem to rush into things and keep making mistakes so we have to go back and start all over again" What's the answer. Well tricky given the pressures we're all under. But I know for sure that if you can get the right people together in the right place at the right time - you will get a much righter answer. A focused hour vs. the false efficiencies of intangible minutes (or hours) with email, telecons or meetings where I'm too busy to attend. There's a great adage in the PADI Rescue Diver Course when something happens… STOP BREATHE THINK ACT. Lets make that our mantra - half an hour in a room with all the key people can make such a difference.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Vorsprung durch Werbung?*

Can see the idea but executionally bit lame and far too rational. Anyway that's my verdict on the effort by the German tourist board trying to capitalise on the small wave of post World Cup goodwill towards us Huns. One of the tougher Briefs in tourism advertising must have seemed a tiny bit easier after the Teutonic charm offensive over the summer. However, I just don’t think these poster ads really hit home … Making consumers reassess your brand is notoriously difficult and frankly, following a trite persuasion model when your brand's biggest problem is lack of likeablity won't quite do… The (presumed - of course I haven't seen it) Brief for these ads seems to have had a respectable, if somewhat unoriginal starting point - tackle famiiliar Brit conceptions about Germany head on and contrast them with other, unexpected sides of the country. Thing is, neither the images used here to convey the old nor the new Germany really take a British perspective and quite understand the strange emotional ambivalence towards Germany in the UK. Prejudice against Germany sees the country as technocratic and efficient, not particularly attractive, its people as overly rational, humourless, ugly and lacking in style. I'd argue that by taking an overly rational approach these ads do more to confirm than to change some of these perceptions. Given that Brits love to laugh at Germans, the visuals of well known Germany simply lack the humour they would need to cause an emotional recognition effect. Instead they're dull and are unlikely to attract attention. At the same time the 'surprising' visuals are (except at a stretch the fashion/sports brands) simply not aspirational or, er, suprising enough. Art direction and execution has something to do with this obviously - one can imagine more glamorous manifestations of Adidas etc than are shown here. But there's also something wrong with some of the examples chosen - That the mp3 player was invented in Germany isn't well known but I don’t think Brits would find it out of kilter with their perceptions of a nation known for its technology (for which there is actually some admiration)... As far as the Cologne carnival is concerned, you need to have been there to appreciate it and even then it's a bit of a Marmite amongst festivals (either love it or hate it). 0 What would I have recommended if I'd researched this campaign? Focus less on education and persuasion and aim more at engaging imagination and emotion. Amongst other assets Germany has beautiful scenery, interesting cities with great (youth) culture and yes, some quite stylish brands - they could have been shown off with a bit of visual impact. Some of them may already be seeded in British minds - and in ads it's always easier to build on existing perceptions than try to educate from scratch. One could have contrasted them with some amusing known stereotypes. Instead, it's all rational and dry and, if not quite a waste, not as effective as it could have been. Ich bin ein bißchen enttäuscht.** * advertising **I'm a little disappointed

Friday, September 15, 2006

Segmenting by numbers

I'm a big fan of John Grant - his blog is one of the few that I keep up with on a regular basis. I like his positive and humanistic approach to marketing. I hope to get round to reading his book soon enough. However, in answer to a question from one of his readers, he recently brought attention to a study he had conducted on behalf of the Ministry of Sound into the lifestyles of 16-24 year olds. His conclusion - that there are three sorts of young people Traditionals (25%): top indexing lifestyle statement is ‘my faith is very important to me’. Enjoy a good night in more than going out. watch gardening programmes. Big Radio 2 listeners. Moderns (50%). “the point of drinking is to get drunk”. Labels and brand avid. Like to drive a flash car, have the latest mobile, trainers, live & spend for today. National lottery is their favourite Tv programme & they listen to rap, r&b, dance and pop (and not scruffy indie stuff). Postmoderms (25%). Brand rejectors. No logo/eco values. Avoid packaged holidays and anything on the beaten track of culture. More into the internet than mobile. Quite posh - inverted snobs but still snobs. Watch arts programmes and their big music likes are indie and classical. Hang on a minute though. I'm 24 and I can't quite see where I fit in here. I like indie music but then I'm also into to rap and dance. I've read No Logo but I don't agree with everything Klein says. I'm certainly no brand rejector - I wear Nike trainers and buying a few nice things is... well nice. I like to think I take some interest in the environment but I'm sorry to say that I don't currently do much about it (I suspect like many people). Its not unknown for me to watch art programmes but I've also been hooked on Big Brother. I use the internet a lot at work but I couldn't live without my mobile. My point here isn't that John's categorisations of young people are well off the mark (if push came to shove, I would place myself into the postmodern box). What did strike me though was John's assertion that - Much understanding is lost when they are lumped together into ‘the youth of today’. Because inevitably something is lost in every categorisation - including this one. Of course, the media love these kind of categorisations. They fill column inches and they give a quick an easy explanation. But as a researcher I feel that segmentations need to pick up on more subtle nuances than this if they are really to mean something. Broad categorisations may paint a pretty picture, one that we can all understand. But how far do they get us in truly understanding our subject? I would argue – not very far. In fact, in this case I could see these same criteria being used to break down 30-50 year olds. Ok, priorities might change and people may have a little less time for popular culture but you could still lump them into ‘Traditonal’, ‘Modern’ or ‘Postmodern’ categories. Do they go to the Costa Del Sol (modern) for their holidays or do they prefer a quiet village in Tuscany (traditional)? Are they brand-rejectors (postmoderns) or do they drive flash cars (moderns)? We don’t stop acting out these kind of attitudes and lifestyles as soon as we hit 25. So on the one hand, John is saying not to look at the 'youth of today' as a homogeneous mass, but on the other hand he's giving crude segmentations that tell us very little more. I'm doubtful these breakdowns are much use for targeting or understanding youth culture. Do 25% of young people really listen to Radio 2? Is the National Lottery really the favourite programme of 50% of 16-14 year olds? I don't think so and I know that this isn't quite John's point. But if we are going to segment then we need to know what angle we are approaching the group from. In this case, the picture is painted with such a broad stroke that is almost as blurred as looking at the group as a whole.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

World Mobile Culture

Really interesting to read this article which ties in and expands on some of the issues raised by Sofia in her recent post on the American 'cellphone'. However, what struck me was the perspective being adopted here. A bit of the 'continent cut off by fog over channel' … Unlike the author and some other contributors I don't think there is a US vs Europe divide in mobile phones. Instead there is a global set of attitudes which the US (and Canada) don't share in! So mobile phones work as status symbols and express personalities (whether me as techno-savvy or me as fashionable) ALL OVER THE WORLD (don’t want to boast but to name some of the countries we've been to on this subject - … Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, India, Egypt, Tunesia, Iran (!), Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, plus most of the main Western and Eastern European countries…). North America with its commoditised attitude to 'cellphones' is the odd one out - for all the reasons mentioned in the article but also as Sofia points out because of a misguided focus on price vs benefits by US mobile operators. And another thing - I think the article is really on to something making a comparison with cars. It seems that in countries where fewer people can afford cars, mobiles step in as status symbols. So in China for example, people for whom cars are out of reach are spending huge proportions of their salaries on mobiles! I'd take issue with the article though for implying that Europeans don't LOVE their cars (come on, I'm from the land of the Autobahn) - but where the US may be unique is in a combination of real emotional attachment and much more practical reliance on the automobile, which are of course interlinked. So…maybe there's just enough space for one mobile in the US ('scuse the pun!)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Free Beer (as in free speech)

I've just finished reading Lawrence Lessig's book The Future of Ideas and so this article, published in Wired this week caught my eye. Building on the open-source software movement, the former chief of development at Carlsberg beer has come up with a new idea for free beer. To clarify, that's not free as in 'Woo-hoo, we're all going to get drunk for nothing' but free as in 'free speech'. I'll let Lawrence explain: What makes Free Beer free is the same thing that makes free software free: Its recipe is open and licensed freely. Anyone can make improvements. But anyone who distributes an improved version must release the changes as well. You can get updates on its latest development and place orders here. In his book, Lawrence talks about open-source software in the wider context of the architecture of the internet and the potential for innovation that the medium has allowed, a potential that is increasingly under threat from changes to this architecture. What the book does so well is highlight the importance of the technical workings of the internet to the wider context of societal development - and manage to make it all readable at the same time. In his examination of the gradual extension of intellectual property laws coupled with the increased control allowed (and increasingly allowed) by technology, he makes the convincing argument that limiting the resources in the public domain will lead to a world with stunted innovation. Anyway, highly recommended for anybody working in media. I now feel like I'm viewing the whole 'old' vs. 'new' media blogosphere debate in a new light. This about much more that just bloggers vs. newspapers. It's about either creating opportunities for new technologies to develop and be used to their full potential for the benefit of society vs. the protection of the status quo for the benefit of those who are currently in power. It's about sharing ideas vs. controlling ideas. Of course, Free Beer isn't free as in 'free beer' - the company can still turn a profit. But it allows its customers to add their own innovation into the mix. It involves its customers in the brand and uses their combined knowledge to improve it. This is something that brands in general are going to need to get better at as the internet gives new power to people to express their views.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Mmmmmm deli.cio.us

Yet more evidence that young people (in this case students at the University of Illinois, Chicago) are still turning to established sources for their news even when they're using the web as their medium of choice (slide 22). (Sorry, if you've already cottoned onto this fact, I'll stop posting on this subject from now, promise!) The Chicago papers come out as the most popular, only 1% claim to have ever visited Daily Kos or Instapundit and only 1.5% Boing Boing, three of the most visited blogs out there. But blogs are being used for more specific interest, albeit still only regularly by a minority (slide 17). Why are people visiting them? Seems to be more for the purpose or either communication or entertainment than anything else. 'Politics, economics, policy and law' blogs are by far the least popular. Maybe young people ajust aren't interested in these matters.Perhaps more likely is that they expect to read about these things from what they would consider an authoritative source, not an online journal. MySpace and Facebook along with eBay are the social sites that come out as the most popular, perhaps unsurprisingly (slide 20). Seems that the internet is being used by young people for what they've always done best - shopping & socialising (I suspect with people they already know offline or at least connected to people they know offline). Connected to that is music with 78.2% using the web for 'Downloading or listening to music'. Seems like the recent news of forthcoming free & legal music download service Spiralfrog could pay dividends then, because with 57% confessing to use Limewire, seems there's still a lot of P2P going on despite the RIAA's effort to crack down. What seems a crime to me is that only 1.6% are using Digg and only 0.7% deli.cio.us. Since I've discovered this service, I can't imagine surfing the web without it (for instance I would have had to search for ages to refind that link to news of Spiralfrog if I hadn't previously tagged it with deli.cio.us). Seeing as 90.7% of respondents are using the web for 'Getting information for school work' I can imagine this being a really useful tool, even if just for keeping track of one's own surfing. I suspect the problem here is awareness and inertia more than anything. So if you're not using it already and you use the web for research of any kind - then follow the link and downlaod it!