We're all deluded.
I read a very interesting article the other day that neatly pinpointed the main problems facing anyone wanting to promote their business. To paraphrase; former Ad agency CEO Bob Hoffman thinks that we’re all deluded; no one gives a fox’s poo about brand stories; digital ads are a con and we’re obsessed with customers who have neither interest in, nor money for our products.
Of course he’s dead right, but in the parlance of ancient and modern philosophers, ‘the obstacle is the way’, so Hoffman’s three delusions actually offer a handy guide to the way modern marketing can work effectively.
The brand delusion
Hoffman acknowledges the power and importance of a strong and credible brand, but as my friend Mark Shayler pithily points out “… It can all get a bit much when even your slippers have a story.”
Hoffman drilled it home, “People have shaky jobs and unstable families, they have illnesses, they have debts, they have washing machines that don’t work, they have funny things growing on their backs, they have kids that are unhappy, they have a lot of things to care deeply about. It’s very unwise to believe that they care deeply about our batteries, our wet wipes and our chicken strips.”
The idea of consumers wanting deep engagement with brand stories is the deluded piffle of a deluded industry, but it’s not so very far from the truth.
People want to buy stuff from companies they trust and they want to deal with nice and trustworthy humans. Telling engaging stories about what your company’s humans do and how they do it, is one of the best ways to win trust, but how many of those kind of stories do you want to read in a day?
The best way to win a customer’s trust is to be very good at what you do. They’ll then tell the stories for you. Building great brands and marketing them is not the marketing team’s job any more. Being consistently excellent in the way you go about your business is the very best brand marketing and I believe that nowadays it’s the only way.
Your brand is your reputation nothing more, so building your reputation is everything. These guys know:
“A brand is a living entity — and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.” [Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner]
“What some companies fail to see is that that from their customers’ viewpoint, their products, services and brands are viewed as one entity” [Richard Branson]
“Your brand is created out of customer contact and the experience your customers have of you”. [Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Founder of EasyJet]
The digital delusion
Hoffman has particular scorn for digital marketing and digital advertising in particular. “The digital revolution was going to change everything. It was going to kill advertising, it was going to kill traditional marketing, it was going to kill everything in its path.” He added: “Just walk outside, it’s everywhere. It’s on every burger, every bus, every t-shirt, every bench, every theatre ticket, every square inch of the f — — — planet is covered in advertising.”
Recently a digital marketing executive proudly told me that online ads on his site “get over 1% click-thru rate — and they’re real not bots too!” Ipso facto, more than 99% of online ads are nothing but annoying and purposeless wallpaper. Only a penny in every pound buys you anything.
I’ve never met a (non-marketing) business leader who thinks that online advertising is effective for anything other than very vague brand awareness. Bus stop ads still have more real power.
Every surface on the globe — online and offline — are covered in brand messages, but the real promise of the digital revolution is that communicating your reputation is no longer limited to people passing a bus stop ad on the A36.
The digital revolution allows anyone to build, and more importantly to maintain, a brilliant customer experience. Yes, I flinched when I wrote ‘customer experience’, but the kind like Stelios means. If I stay somewhere great or eat somewhere amazing, I can write a gushing TripAdvisor review and everyone from Arbroath to Zanzibar can find it and read it.
I fear that Amazon may well be run by the Sith and is the dark side of the force incarnate, but my customer experience of their service has been consistently faultless. It’s damn easy and damn good. So I use it a lot….Damn it.
The age delusion
Hoffman thinks the advertising industry is far too concerned with grabbing young people’s attention, when, in reality, the most lucrative market is the over 50s.”You know all the awesome millennials we see in car ads? In the US, people aged 75 to dead buy six times as many new cars as people aged 16 to 24.”
Age and beauty and aspiration and buying are strange and complex bedfellows, but what Hoffman is correctly pointing out is that most companies are deluded about who really buys their stuff.
Former head of brand at Finisterre, Ernie Capbert, tells a very funny story about how he and the senior team used to argue about who their customers really were, all describing reflections of the kind of people who they’d love to be themselves. Obviously, the reality was far more prosaic and far less sexy. They weren’t often environmentally conscious supermodel yogis and millionaire gypsy surfers.
They were guessing and this ended up being a bit for a revelation for him, and Ernie now runs a company called Who Buys Your Stuff? where sexy customers are not the point. There are full wallets and willing consumers waiting for you, but it’s just bananas to be marketing to people who don’t and won’t buy your stuff.
The way past this obstacle is to know your customers. Really know them. Building and constantly maintaining a really detailed customer database is the most valuable and important part of growing a business. If you don’t know everything about your current and previous customers, you’re not only missing the biggest trick (it’s much cheaper and easier to keep a customer than have to go and find a new one) but you’re also hampering any chance of finding fresh new ones.
These are the guys who will — if you treat them well — tell your brand stories and spread your digital reputation in their own authentic ways, in their own unbranded forums. So know them, treasure them, and don’t hassle them.
It doesn’t matter if their sexy days are behind them. The only customer experiences they want from you are just you doing what you do brilliantly.