"To whom much is given, much is required." My mother used to say this to me and my brothers when we were using the powers of our creative brains to bedevil each other rather than "bring out the best in one another" (another of her favorites).
I thought of this life lesson after a recent encounter with brand badness. The situation was this: I bought lipstick from a brand called “Urban Decay.” At the time, the brand name didn’t register in my consciousness. Later, however, I realized that the tube of lipstick is designed to look like a shotgun shell and sold under the line: “What’s your vice?” Suddenly, I could picture how the brand’s product positioning might have been developed: a conference room where people doodled on flip-chart paper listing things that came to mind with the phrase "urban decay;" maybe photos of graffitied concrete street scenes pasted around the room. The result of that process? Urban Decay presents its line as makeup with a wild side for “beauty with an edge.”™ It’s “feminine, dangerous, and fun.” Those who are “addicted” to the makeup can sign up to be “Beauty Junkies, because "Addiction has its perks.” The mascara is called "Perversion;" the lipsticks are shiny bullet casings.
Giving this brand the benefit of the doubt, I looked to see if portions of their proceeds are donated to help high-performing urban students with scholarships, or maybe to build community centers in blighted areas.
I found that Urban Decay supports an initiative claiming to “empower women,” So far, they have given $528,000 to different women's causes ranging from legal care in New York to education in Uganda and Kenya. So that's something,
But is it too little too late? The brand is built on making light of the issues that contribute to the hell recipients of their donations experience every day. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that no one actually experiencing urban decay is buying shotgun lipstick for $17 a tube. Or, that women who have real addictions and might be perceived as “junkies” don’t worry whether their makeup brushes are vegan. I’m guessing that all the brand riffing is for the benefit of privileged people who want to feel edgy and colorful from a well-lit, easily accessible, strip mall in a safe, newly developed part of town. Donations aside, I find the disconnect between the brand and the realities the inspired it to be callously, shamefully indifferent and disrespectful.
If I sound more vitriolic than usual, sorry. In my mind, branding is a lovely combination of strategy and creativity with a hefty dose of psychology and sociology thrown in. To use the work of branding to make light of the real problems, of violence, poverty, human weakness and suffering is an irresponsible use of the practice. Urban Decay, use your powers for good. I will not be buying any more shotgun shells,
What do you think? Am I being too hard on Urban Decay? Do brands owe the world anything other than their ability to create loyalty, make money, etc.?
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
It was a lovely summer vacation day and the dulcet sounds of one child yelling to another “You’re not the boss of me!” ring through the house.
As I try to breathe and stay out of the melee, the marketer in me holds out this phrase and examines it. “The boss of me…” Who’s the boss? In this house and of those children, it’s me, of course. I’m the boss; I’m one of those kinds of moms. In the marketplace, however, it’s sometimes less clear.
Who’s the boss? There’s a couple possible answers to this question. One is leadership. I’ve been around the consulting block enough to see different leadership styles. There was that one president who liked his people to jump a little when he walked in the room. Then there was another who made a beeline for his Marketing Director after a board meeting so he could crow, “I win.” But most of the other leaders I’ve seen are more participatory, working to develop a team in which each person can contribute.
Another possible answer to “who’s the boss” is the customer. That answer seems obvious—sort of like reliably saying “Jesus!” when asked a question in Sunday school. Customers and the market need to be taken very seriously; you can’t sell it if they hate it. When I can (i.e., when leadership agrees), I like to start a competitor analysis project not by finding out who the client considers a competitor—because the client is often a little too easy on themselves or too dated in their assessment. I like to ask customers who they see as the client’s peers in order to provide the best sense of where in the competitive set the client organization might live at the moment.
But who’s the boss? If an organization lets itself be entirely swayed by the passing whims and opinions of a (distracted) market, will it ever strike out and try something really visionary? Can the market be reasonably expected to guide leaders into new terrain? Do they always know what they want but can’t yet get? As much I love some great customer insight research (and I do), and as much as we like to celebrate an interesting leader, I’m increasingly convinced that the real boss lives somewhere in the complicated relationship between markets and the intrepid leaders who engage them.
What do you think? Is there a formula? A ratio of leader: market?
Marketing is about change, right? We study and apply the best ways to connect because we want to move people to feel or do something.
Here is a case study of how a local pastor brilliantly applied the tips from a book called “Switch” to subtly influence and motivate behavior.
The situation was this:
In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Dan and Chip Heath describe 9 “prescriptions for change.” The pastor applied 5 of those 9 presecriptions:
Can you think of an initiative you’d like to move forward by about 250 percent!?
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation, LLC
In the last post, I posited a sort of back-to-the-village theory about the evolution of marketing. Little did I realize that within a month, I’d be in a Honduran, coffee-growing village talking about marketing.
I was there as a volunteer for a “Business Brigade” hosted by development organization called Global Brigades. The Global Brigade model emphasizes sustainability but recognizes that those in poverty have immediate needs that have to be met before they can plan ahead. So the first steps for working with remote and impoverished communities is to bring in medical and dental teams; then clean water; then latrines, then paved dirt floors, then “eco-stoves” that vent cook fire smoke out of the houses rather than in; then a small community staffed bank capable of micro-loans. The final step is to help the community identify a sustainable business so the community can earn more than the average $2 a day. That’s where the business brigade comes in. Our little brigade team was composed of marketing, merchandising, and process professionals. We met with the members of the El Zuzular community bank and learned about their approach to growing and selling coffee.
At first, if I’m honest, the challenges facing them seemed insurmountable. Imagine the typical difficulties of an agrarian life (e.g., no rain, crop disease, etc.) and then add to it dishonest middlemen, limited access to transportation, a high government tax on the final product, and zero crop insurance. When they’re lucky, the 23 co-op members grow about 6500 pounds of coffee a year and make a little over a dollar a pound. They have to live on—and reinvest—the profit for the rest of the season. Yikes.
As a team, we went back and forth trying to think of what we could offer to help the community. Finally, we went outside. We took a short trip to a popular tourist destination where we learned there is a growing Honduran interest in for fair-trade, locally sourced coffee. Small tourist shops were selling roasted coffee for $10 a bag.
We reported this back to our community members. As coffee growers, they confessed that they had never purchased a bag of coffee (they drink their own). So we shared what we’d learned and showed them how to think about their own brand strategy, do their own market research, and think of creative ways to make their product stand out.
The experience in Honduras was amazing for a hundred reasons, but it was also a good reminder to me as a consumer insights and research person. Marketing might be evolving to a more of a village in terms of the sources we trust as consumers, but as marketing professionals, it’s vital that you occasionally leave your village and see what new market opportunities might await one village over.
I’m cooking up a theory. It’s not fully formed, but I’ll put it out there and see how it evolves.
It goes like this: A long, long time ago, people lived in small, mostly agricultural towns. They spent their lives there. They knew everyone and everyone knew everything about each other. Family honor and personal reputations were all anyone really needed to know when it came to news they could use.
Over time, things changed, but communication was still slow. Marketing was primarily pushed through TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, etc.
Then, right about the time I got out of college, Al Gore invented the internet and things began to change. Quickly. Suddenly, it was all so fast and easy. Marketing people got giddy. We had all these new channels available to us. Email! Banner ads! Pay-per-click! QR codes! Short ad spots in front of YouTube videos! So many options, and oh-so-trackable!
Then, social media came along and we started in on that too. (And here’s where my theory picks up again…) People (especially young people) developed a savvy, cynical eye toward all of this communicatin'. They just assume most of the messaging is “spun.” So while they have access to all of the information they want; they trust very little of it. They regularly tell me that when they’re looking for information that matters, they “don’t trust” anything that comes from official channels unless it’s just the facts.
For example, prospective college students tell me they trust a college to accurately present the statistics about acceptance rates and average test scores, but they do not trust the college to accurately present information about diversity, or the student life experience, or the level of academic challenge. Those kids used to tell me they looked to social media for the real scoop; it was more relational, less formal, and seemingly authentic. Now, they tell me, they don’t even trust the college’s social media because they assume that too is a closely managed channel (and they’re usually right). Now, to get the real scoop, they say they look at the social media feeds from kids who graduated from their own high school and attend the college in question.
So my theory is that over the years, the experience of trust in messaging expanded suddenly and is in the process of contracting again. Our global society is still super global, but our locus of trustworthy sources might be shrinking back down to the village we know.
The question to us marketers will become how to cultivate the village?
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
P.S. Since this was posted, Ad Age published this article about the Hilton Brand trying to address the rising interest in community and authenticity. Check it out here: http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/hilton-introduces-hotel-brand-millennial-mindset/302310/
I know; I’m going to get myself in trouble with a headline like that.
There are people with doctorates in Communications (Hi Jeannette). There are people who call themselves “Futurists” (Hi Alvin Toffler). I am neither. However, I’m going to take a humble stab at this question of the future by sharing some of the insights discovered through the marketing and communications research I did for clients over the past year. So, in no particular order…
Have you ever sat down to do something and realized you’d forgotten what you meant to do? It happens to me all the time.
This is partially because I’m constantly interrupted by EVERYONE in my house and find it difficult to form a complete thought.
I’d worry, but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this experience. As a marketing strategy consultant, I’m routinely asked good and important questions posed by busy people who are getting interrupted by colleagues with their own questions and requests. There are times when I wonder if we as marketers get so caught up in the going, doing, producing, and getting it OUT that we forget to anchor it all back to the reasons we do it all.
So this is a post that takes us back to the beginning: What are the intentions of communication?
Next time you sit down to get something out, take a minute to root yourself if the real reason you’re doing it, and how those foundational reasons can inform the way you put your message together.
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
Picture this typical parenting moment: I’m driving my kids somewhere. The oldest and I are having a discussion. We’re talking about alone time, people’s relative needs for it, how it’s okay if your needs for alone time differ from another’s, etc. Then, from the back seat, her little brother adds to our discussion: “I’m going to floss the cat!”
God bless the little child. He’s happy; he’s friendly, and oh-so-interested in whatever. He’s also five years old so focus isn’t exactly his strength right now. Not so long ago, I found myself saying: “When you focus, you pay attention to your priority.” I’m sure that little nugget changed his life…at least until he’d located the cat.
Maybe it’s just me and the conversations we have around our house, but I find myself thinking about focus a lot. Clients hire me to help them research and focus their brand strategy and I’ll confess that as I head into my twelfth year of doing it, the more I find myself pushing focus.
The theory isn’t hard; you decide—for example—what type of audience you want to serve and you pursue those people.
The practice of focus, however, proves to be harder because it requires leaving all the other types of people out. That’s the downside—eliminating options. Do we find that so hard because it seems “mean” to the audiences we left on the sidelines? Or “narrow-minded” to foreclose against new and interesting directions that might present themselves if we kept all of the options open?
Focus takes confidence, yes, but that’s why you do research. Once you commit—true, you will no longer be free to consider awesome ideas like, oh, I don’t know, flossing the cat—but the upside of focus is that creates an opportunity to layer the limited resources of time, attention, and money on the same goal where they might make a dent. You have a better chance of knowing which marketing strategies will help you find the people you want. The right-fit customer will have a better chance of finding you because you’ll be speaking their language and hanging out where they live.
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
I’m the new neighbor welcome lady for my neighborhood. Anyone who knows me well finds this hilarious. But whatever, I got handed the job and I do my best.
When I meet new neighbors, I often ask them if they need recommendations for doctors, dentists, daycares, stylists, etc. I don’t offer my recommendations in any official neighborhood association capacity and I definitely don’t do it on the payroll of the places I recommend. I do it simply as a neighbor and mother who uses many of the same services and has been the new kid on the block many, many times. Word of mouth is how the world of information turns.
Generating “buzz” or “virality” on line has given reach and put metrics to what has been happening for millennia. In fact, in his recent book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Author Jonah Berger cites the statistic that only seven percent of word of mouth transmission happens online. SEVEN PERCENT. Berger says that even heavy users who spend upwards of two hours a day stalking the internet spend about sixteen hours not on the internet, but they’re still talking. If you haven’t read Berger’s book, go buy it; you can start here. Until it arrives or downloads to your device, here’s the summary of what it takes to help people start talking about your idea, your product, or your service.
Berger came up with an acrostic to help us remember the steps or “STEPPS” (Hah!) for getting people to talk.
Social Currency: Does sharing the information make them feel helpful? Smart? Like an insider? People like to look good; it makes them feel good so they’ll share if doing so increases others’ view of them. This is probably why I offer my list of contacts to neighbors—I like to be perceived as knowledgeable and helpful…or at least knowledgeable.
Triggers: Information gets shared more often when something about it is triggered by common events. Can you tie your message to the mundane crap we have to do in daily life? If so, your thing will get triggered every time anyone does said mundane crap—like pour coffee, or merge onto an interstate, or sneeze. Triggers don’t have to be glamorous.
Emotion: People remember and share messages more often if there’s an emotional component to them—even negative emotions. As a middle school student, did you ever share something shocking or disgusting? Me too! Now that you’re an adult, try to tap into emotions but make sure the emotion you tap into corresponds with the heart of your message [Note: Disgusting and shocking are awesome, but may or may not sell long-term.]
Public: Speaking of middle school, we’re all still basically trying to be cool and fit in. How can you capture the power of peer pressure in the transmission of the message? Berger shares the example of the “I voted” stickers—it turned a voting; a private activity, into a public behavior and it works! Didn’t you feel a little twinge of pressure to go vote when you saw someone wearing a sticker? I mean, all the cool kids were doing it, so, you know…
Practical Value: [I’ll be honest, I think this point is a sub-set of “Social Currency,” but to stay true to Berger’s presentation, I’ll include it.] If your message or idea or product offers practical value, others will be inclined to share it because it’s useful to people and they will be perceived as helpful (See? Social Currency.)
Stories: Everyone loves a good yarn. Stories create a rhythm and flow to what would otherwise be a static set of facts. Weave your message into a story that people will want to share. Try to avoid “Once upon a time,” and “Happily ever after” but definitely do tap into the conflict, the climax and the resolution.
Have you seen or used any of the above steps (or STEPPS) to harness word of mouth marketing? Share your story (See “Stories” above) now.
And if you missed the first brand blog post on content marketing, go here to catch up.
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
This summer in Colorado was absolutely beautiful. The days were warm. The nights were cool. The flowers were abundant. Nothing burned down and only a few things flooded. On one of those gorgeous summer evenings, I took the kids to an outdoor concert. In addition to the live music set-up at the front, there were a few booths where vendors hawked their wares. One of them gave my daughter a balloon. As soon as she was out of earshot, she looked in disgust at the “CenturyLink®” logo printed on the side and asked, “Advertising again? Whatever happened to just being nice?”
Now, then. The for-profit telecommunication company in question is not required to hand out balloons to children as they frolic in the grass. So, maybe she should just enjoy the free balloon already and stop fussing. On the other hand, she represents the viewpoint of others who are fed up with being bombarded with advertising at every turn. Does every interaction with public life have to be interrupted by needy, nosy demands to pay heed to someone’s brand?
I’m thinking the short answers are yes. Yes, stop kvetching and enjoy your balloon and some fresh air. Yes, public life has been infiltrated by marketing and there’s little likelihood that we’re going to get that toothpaste back in the tube so we’re probably going to have to deal with it. But also yes, maybe there’s a better way. Maybe, at least one of those ways is content marketing.
Content marketing differs slightly from simple promotion because it offers customers something useful but related to your brand. When Tollhouse includes the recipe for chocolate chip cookies on the back of the package; that’s content marketing. When AAA or CostCo send magazines with interesting articles about travel or tires; that’s content marketing.
The cool thing about content marketing is it forces companies to think more broadly and relationally about their brands—not just about their products but the context of the lives of the people who use their products. On the flipside, content marketing feels less pervy to customers who will therefore be more likely to use the content and even share it with others.
Consider these two tips for good content marketing.
In the next post, we’ll talk more about Berger’s excellent book. For now, though, have you seen any genius examples of content marketing you care to share with us?
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation