What could possibly go wrong? Part III

To end these insights into some of the situations in marketing best avoided, we cover a couple of very different issues:

Firstly: never underestimate the complete inability of many non-marketers to understand their customers.

For a marketer, it’s second nature – it’s what we do and it’s what makes us marketers: we take an ongoing interest in our customers.  We have an innate desire to understand what makes customers tick and how they see the world, and to find ways to improve the products and services being offered to them.  It took me many years working as a marketer to realise why this is so difficult for so many non-marketers – it’s simply that the human ego gets in the way.  We spend our lives wrongly assuming that we know what other people are thinking, or – perhaps even worse – not caring. Two examples illustrate this.

I was a retail buyer at Boots in the ‘70s, responsible for the gardening ranges, when (a little-known fact) the company was the second largest garden products retailer in the country (Woolworth’s was the biggest).  We were developing an extensive range of own label products in both Boots and its Timothy Whites chain, taking the highly successful strategy of providing customers with products and advice to help them up a ‘ladder of learning’ as their confidence and knowledge increased, which had been used in areas such as photography and home winemaking.

The main suppliers of garden products, however, had previously dealt primarily with outlets where customers already knew a fair amount, or a great deal, about gardening.  The reaction to a request for information leaflets or labels to explain how propagators or seed trays worked, for instance, was astonishment – “but everyone knows”.  It was inconceivable to them that there was a huge market of aspiring amateur gardeners who needed help in setting out on the right road.

Many years later, in the noughties, I was working with the largest organic milk supplier in the UK. Like any marketer I understood the critical importance of establishing the consumer viewpoint on milk, their understanding of it and the role it played in their lives.  The fact that “milk comes from cows” and that “cows graze in fields” was about as far as most consumers had progressed in their understanding of the provenance of the product they consumed every day of their lives. That many herds spend all or most of their year inside, that they are routinely given antibiotics, that the pastures are regularly sprayed with pesticides and artificial fertilisers, that most male dairy calves are slaughtered at birth, etc. was completely unknown to all but a tiny minority of milk consumers.

We had invited some of our farmers along to the focus groups to listen and observe first-hand what these consumers knew about milk and dairy-farming.  The farmers were completely gobsmacked – it was beyond their understanding that most people had not the faintest idea as to what went down on the farm.

The second issue is: If you create a valuable property, protect and cherish it.

Duracell’s New York advertising agency, Dancer Fitzgerald & Sample (DFS) created the iconic drumming bunny for its client in 1973.  The intention was to add warmth and femininity to what was seen as an admired, but rather cold, functional, masculine brand.  The success of the property in the brand’s North American advertising was such that it began to be used in the advertising for Duracell batteries in most overseas markets, often with home-grown commercials.  In the UK its use began in the late ‘70s and, although during the ‘80s and early ‘90s other creative executions were also used, the brand never stopped using the iconic bunny – particularly at Christmas. It remains the creative centre of Duracell’s promotional campaigns in the UK, as in many other global markets.

Unfortunately, in the mid ‘80s Duracell USA and its ad agency got bored (as marketers and agencies often do) with the bunny and began using other creative executions, having parked the pink leporid.  All was well until, astonishingly, Duracell’s great rival Energizer began to use a drumming bunny in its advertising; for a while this presented a minimal problem as research showed that much of the time viewers of the Energizer advertising thought they had been watching Duracell advertising (the power of a valuable brand property!).  But in time the bunny in the US and Canadian markets began to be associated with Energizer, a situation that remains to this day.  How did it happen?  Because the company had not thought to adequately protect the bunny as a Duracell property, as a result of not recognising its critical role as an embodiment of brand values and its yet to be realised full potential.  Eventually the two companies managed to come to an agreement as to which of them could use the bunny in which territory, but it represents a text-book case of throwing away a valuable asset.

So, in summary, learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before – there should be no excuse second time around…

Further discussion of this topic is welcomed.

Check out the ‘How to’ resource library for a comprehensive range of documents relating to the preparation of marketing plans, as well as the practical and conceptual issues surrounding their preparation and role within the organization.  The resources include some downloadable templates and guides.

Image credit: mirage3 / 123RF Stock Photo


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