Marketing For Agency Strategists

Curiously, many people find their way to advertising agencies or in-house marketing departments at major brands without being educated or trained in the basics of marketing. And inside agencies, even more curiously, there is no additional training in marketing beyond the on the job variety. Which is a wonderful way to ensure that you will always be at least one step behind the MBAs.

Let’s cover some of the key concepts today starting with the marketing mix – the Four P’s which was developed in the late 1950s. Of the four, three of them – Product, Price and Place – are assigned to the agency 99% of the time. The agency gets to skin the last P, Promotion. This is flawed. Separating promotion from the other parts is an outmoded thought. This is especially true with digital products, which may actually only have 2 Ps. Product, Place and Promotion may all be the same thing.

Agencies have become much more involved in Place. There are countless great examples of experiential campaigns and executions that help re-contextualize the Product or brand for consumers. For example, 360i helped Nestle’s Lean Cuisine reframe the promise of the product by executing an experiential campaign in public spaces like New York’s Grand Central Station. They invited women to define how they would like to be measured instead of weight – choosing attributes and descriptions of their accomplishments instead of pounds. An artist helped bring each to life by painting a scale which the women were invited to hand in an exhibit showcasing all of the scales. Women used phrases like “Back in College at 55” or “Caring for over 200 homeless children per day” to show that lives are more than just one metric on the scale.

The most effective client/agency relationships allow for collaboration across the spectrum of the marketing mix.

When Crispin Porter + Bogusky found research that showed consumers were eating even more on the go than was understood in 2004, they created a product – not an ad – for Burger King: Chicken Fries. The packaging is designed to fit in a car’s cupholder. The product was an initial hit, and when the brand pulled Chicken Fries off the menu, fans begged for their return via reddit and other online forums. They’ve been on the menu ever since.

Takeaway: If you are going to make an impact on your client’s business, you need to be thinking about the entire business and not waiting for the last P. Understanding how they arrived at the product and pricing – if not advising on those elements proactively – is critical.

I’m not the first to suggest the Four Ps are no longer relevant. There were attempts to add three more P’s (People, Process, Physical Evidence). There are also dozens of models that have been introduced to replace it. For example, The Four C’s. There are probably five models called the Four Cs that can be found. Professor Bob Lauterborn introduced his Four C’s in the early 1990’s which updated the Four P’s with modern terms. Consumer Wants and Needs which replaces Product, Convenience to Buy which replaces Place, Cost to Satisfy standing in for Price and Communication for Promotion. Professor Koichi Shimizu authored his own updated version: Commodity, Cost, Communication, Channel.

Another version of the next Four C’s adds new dimension. Clarity means making your message simple and understandable. Consistency means reinforcing that simple message repeatedly to break through. Credibility means serving messages that consumers can find believable and worthy of paying attention to. Competitiveness means explaining how the brand or product is different or better than competitors.

Before we go too far with messaging nuance, let’s look at overarching modes of communication. Today, there is a push towards the societal concept of marketing management (think: Toms Shoes or Even Stevens subs). Some brands are thinking more broadly about their message, a far cry from product or selling concept. Product concept says if we create something great, we will not need to market it. Selling concept says if we promote the hell out of our product we will drive sales. Marketing concept says we should identify a consumer need and design products to meet that need. This is known today as product market fit. In the product concept, we are much more tactical and less focused on the brand promise. This usually applies to highly specialized products and markets today. Societal concept is most interesting because in essence it closes a loop back to a product focus, while hiding that fact in a brand message that is powerful to a specific audience.

Toms Shoes offers a powerful societal message. For each pair you buy you trigger a donation to someone with no shoes. That is a powerful and unique value proposition. Could this work with a luxury car or private jet flight? Not likely. Because most of us don’t consume those things, or think people are truly ‘in need’ of them. It wouldn’t work for private jet flight, but might work for coach domestic air travel. Pay attention to the types of products and brands that use the societal concept. They are typically lower in the commodity chain. In fact, the first designs of Toms Shoes were on the plain side. People didn’t buy them for looks. They bought them because compared to Keds or another utilitarian type of footwear, they served the same purpose, made a statement normally hard to share – and actually helped someone.

Ridesharing brands like Uber and Lyft would never be able to use the societal concept. Until maybe now. Initially, Uber was treated like a luxury; the private driver for everyone. In fact, the approach used was initially marketing concept, then transitioned to product concept. In Uber’s case, 70% of the communication you’ve ever seen has been recruiting for drivers – not recruiting customers!

With the emergence of Lyft, Flywheel and dozens of other brands the time might be right for a rideshare brand to use societal concept. In fact, Lyft was initially conceived as a social good to reduce the number of cars (and their ecological damage) on the road but this hasn’t made it into their consumer marketing as they’ve scaled.

Now that ride sharing has become widely accepted and commoditized, a brand could shift. For every ride, we donate to a transit service in Haiti or donate subway cards in inner cities. That might be a meaningful differentiator between Brand A and Brand B in this space.

What I’m describing is part of product positioning. How do people think about the product in the context of their category. There are a lot of shoe brands, Toms is the one that gives back. There are a lot of rideshare brands, Uber is the evil one. Axe deodorant creates desirability for those who wear it but Degree keeps you drier longer, a factor in social acceptance.

Takeaway: All of this is usually decided by the brand’s marketing team before they brief you. Sometimes, the claim they ask you to make isn’t very strong or might be true but isn’t compelling. Make it your business to understand and have a point of view on how you will sell, based on what will motivate the audience.

Joy – Pain = Value

To describe all the mental processes we make when we consider a brand I would have to write all about neuroeconomics. Luckily, Phil Barden already wrote Decoded.

To boil down what is critical for strategists to understand – different sets of mental operators drive the way we think as consumers. We essentially weigh the joy we will derive from a product. This is heavily skewed by our perception of the brand.

Once our brains score how much joy the thing will provide, we begin deducting points for pain. This could be things like high price, effort to buy or waiting for delivery. If the pain doesn’t cut too far into the joy, we act. We click. We subscribe. We buy.

Inside an agency, there is often fierce debate about brand ads versus promotional ads. It’s possible to do both, as many great restaurant brands have proven in their TV ads, with 25 seconds for branding and five seconds for the value or promotion.

But this goes further than the brand and the offer. People lose joy whenever they encounter friction. Starbucks has mastered reducing friction. Customers walk in, order, wave their phone and leave. Better yet, they order on the app before they arrive, pick up their drink and leave. It’s no coincidence that sales increased shortly after they introduced this feature to their app. It reduced pain and increased value.

But, sales started to wane because there was different pain being caused. Non-users waiting while mobile orders were prepared ahead of theirs. A reduction in conversation and engagement with baristas due to technology. For non-users of the app, pain increased and value decreased.

Takeaway:  As you think about messaging in campaigns, find the right weight for increasing the joy and diminishing the pain. As you think about execution, find ways to make it easier for people to engage. Increase joy. Decrease pain. Whatever those may be to the end user.

Satisfaction Is Not Enough

Satisfaction is a traditional and now weak measure of brand or product success. This is often measured and reported by Consumer Reports and J.D. Power among others.

When you last ate at McDonald’s were you satisfied? Were your very basic needs and expectations met? Most likely yes. Great! Success for the brand! What if I asked if you to rank the experience at McDonald’s on a scale from 1-10 with 10 being Nordstrom service with Lyft convenience and Houston’s food? Still satisfied?

What if I asked you the basic Net Promoter question – would you recommend this McDonald’s based on this experience? Comparing the value of ‘satisfied’ customers to the value of Net Promoters tells us that satisfaction is baseline. If customers aren’t satisfied you don’t have a business. But it takes much more to sustain and grow.

Takeaway: Satisfaction was a common measurement device before brands began designing delightful experiences. Just satisfying customers means losing them soon. Design programs to overachieve and measure more significant indicators to prove success and brand growth. Satisfaction is now meaningless. Aim higher.

You don’t need an MBA to think strategically about brand marketing. But you do need to understand the key concepts well enough to communicate and to know what they’re trying to do. The concepts above are basic items that are often discussed on the brand side, and rarely mentioned inside the agency.

A lot of the foundational pieces of marketing don’t make sense anymore given the way consumers find products. And the way consumers market for products on behalf of brands. But it’s important to understand. Most musical virtuosos don’t start that way. They learn the basics before breaking the rules and creating their own. Understand how marketing works so you can know how to bend it to your goals.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Adam Pierno. Excerpted and adapted from his book Under Think It.

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