Repositioning the competition

Jim Carroll, writing on his blog:

“You may be going merrily about your business, doing a decent job, progressing steadily along the tracks. Your brand may be well regarded by consumers. Everything may be OK.

But then out of left field the competition does something radical that rewrites the rules; that reframes the market; that changes the way you’re viewed. Suddenly you no longer seem quite so relevant. You appear a little off the pace, a little out of sorts. Suddenly you look like yesterday’s brand.

BA was solidly respectable, thoroughly dependable. And then irreverent Virgin arrived on the scene and made it somewhat stuffy and old-fashioned. Levi’s was cool and contemporary. And then dissident Diesel appeared and made it safe and conventional. Orange made Vodafone feel corporate. Apple made Microsoft appear square. Sipsmith made Gordon’s look dreary. Fever-Tree made Schweppes taste sweet. Eat made Pret seem over-sauced. And so on and so forth.”

Positioning a brand can feel like an isolated exercise in an otherwise stable category.

But you are always doing more than positioning just one brand.

You are also repositioning a category.

This holds true if you use an ‘about’ approach or a ‘versus’ approach.

There’s a parallel to draw with politics here. The Overton Window describes the acceptable range of political views within a culture. When a new party finds traction at the fringe, they expand the window, and in the process shift the public’s perceptions of where the middle ground lies.

A new position changes all other positions.

Or as Dave Trott wrote in Campaign:

“When you position yourself, you also reposition the competition.”

Market orientation

Mark Ritson, writing for Marketing Week, describes a fundamental problem in how marketing people think about the brands they work on:

“It turns out that, as marketers, we quickly start to lose the perspective of the market as we spend hundreds of days a year inside a company that is launching or managing a product.

We start to think the product is the centre of the world, not the customer that we are designing it for. We begin to assume the claims we make in the advertising are what the customer should care about. We start using dumb verbs like ‘convert’ and ‘educate’ to describe what we will do with our marketing rather than smarter ones like ‘listen’ and ‘serve’.

We go native, and the product cart starts to pull the customer horse. Even though there is a mountain of evidence and precedent that shows that the best way to make money is to find out what the customer is doing and wanting and then design products for them, we start making ‘innovative’ products in a vain attempt to change what they want and how they currently do things.”

This reminds me of Dave Trott’s telescope analogy:

“It’s like looking down different ends of a telescope. Clients, naturally, look down the end that magnifies the brand or the product. Until it takes up their whole world. But the consumer is looking down through the other end. Where the brand/product may be a tiny part, if it exists at all.”

Beach use of this misalignment, Ritson describes the first lesson a marketer should learn:

“A good marketer who is well trained will have been schooled in the discipline and will have started their training with extensive exposure to the concept of market orientation. It’s the bedrock theory of marketing and, paraphrasing somewhat, essentially points out that the first rule of marketing is that you are not the market. All your thoughts, feelings and immediate responses to things like advertising, price and packaging are not just incorrect – they are dangerous.

You help produce the product, ergo you are not the consumer of it. Learning to separate your own instinctive thoughts and feelings from the actual insights from real consumers is, literally, the first thing a trained marketer learns to do well.”

Later, Ritson shows how being more market-orientated leads to being more successful:

“We know from groundbreaking work by a host of American academics in the 1980s and 90s that the more market-oriented a manager and the company she works for is, the faster it will grow, the more profit it will make and the more successful its new innovations will be. It turns out knowing you’re not the customer bestows massive marketing advantages.”

Strategy vs tactics

The following excerpt is taken from a Seth Godin blog post titled ‘The difference between strategy and tactics’:

“Here’s the difference: The right strategy makes any tactic work better. The right strategy puts less pressure on executing your tactics perfectly.

Here’s the obligatory January skiing analogy: Carving your turns better is a tactic. Choosing the right ski area in the first place is a strategy. Everyone skis better in Utah, it turns out.”

Strategy is the long game. It’s the broad, overarching direction. It’s the big decisions. Tactics is the short game. The individual moves. The many, small decisions that move you towards the bigger goal.

Dave Trott puts it best:

The best strategists do the ‘what’ and let the tacticians do the ‘how’.

Creative curiosity

Buried in all the books by advertising legends, there is one remarkably consistent insight: creative people have voracious appetites for information from diverse and eclectic fields.

John Hegarty writes in his book of advertising life-lessons, ‘Hegarty on Creativity‘.

“The truly great creative people I know are constantly working. Looking, thinking, watching. They are curious by nature, fascinated not just by their own interests and experiences but those of other people too. Everything they encounter is being absorbed, processed, and reformed, eventually to return in some new shape as an idea. I think of these people as transmitters – they absorb diverse, random messages, influences, and thoughts, then reinterpret and play them back to an audience in new and fresh ways.

Being fascinated, inquisitive, informed, and engaged is an all day, every day activity. It doesn’t have an on-off button. It doesn’t have a stopwatch attached. It is constant. A way of living and of being that never switches off. If you don’t want to live like that then don’t follow a creative profession.”

From James Webb Young‘s famous manual, ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’:

“Every really good creative person in advertising whom I have ever known has always had two noticeable characteristics. First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested – from, say, Egyptian burial customs to modern art. Every facet of life had fascination for him. Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information. For it is with the advertising man as with the cow: no browsing, no milk.”

From Dave Trott‘s book Creative Mischief:

“Really creative people are fascinated by ‘new’ stuff.

But that doesn’t just mean the latest technology.

It means stuff that is new to them.

It might be 100 years old, but they’ve never seen before.

It might be an African sculpture, a Russian film, shocking piece of graffiti, agraphic one label, a strange chair.

The cleverness, for them, is finding something original and unusual.”
From Carl Alley, quoted in Creative Mischief:
“The creative person wants to be a know it all. He wants to know about all kinds of things: ancient history, 19th century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, flower arranging, and hog futures. He never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen in six minutes later, or six years down the road. But still creative person’s faith that it will happen.”
“Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well-informed, or your idea will be a relevant. Stuff your unconscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret. Suddenly, if the telephone line from your unconscious is open, a big idea wells up within you”

The experience of working with and observing many talented strategic thinkers (mostly, but not always, Account Planners), has led me to the conclusion that there is, in the best ones, a highly developed sense of curiosity. I hesitate to call it innate, since I believe it can be honed and sharpened as a skill, though I suspect the kernel must be there at the outset.

I think it’s fair to say that creative curiosity has become widely acknowledged as a fundamental requirement of a creative thinker.

Zero sum game

According to the Financial Times Lexicon, a zero sum game has the following definition.

“An economic transaction in which whatever is gained by one party must be lost by the other.”

To put it another way, in a zero sum game if the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses subtracted, they will sum to zero. Many have applied the zero sum concept to industries.

Continue Reading →

Knowing that you don’t know

A solicitor friend of mine was recently asked for his opinion on the Oscar Pistorius case. His response was typically lawyerly. He said that he couldn’t answer because he didn’t know the case. He only knew what the media had published. And the media often spun the truth to create drama. He said that even if he knew everything about the case, he didn’t know anything about South African law. Or their legal system.

He reserved his opinion until he could justify it. Until he was willing to back it up.

Many wouldn’t have done that. Maybe would have presented their opinion with conviction despite their position of relative ignorance. People do that because they believe that is what is expected of them.

In Dave Trott’s book, Predatory Thinking, he discusses how accepting a lack of knowledge can be enlightening.

There was a time when each of us didn’t know anything. Not a single thing. In fact there is still an infinity of stuff we don’t know. Maybe, rather than defending the tiny bit of knowledge we do have, we should be embracing what we don’t know. Lao Tzu said, ‘The wise man knows he doesn’t know. The fool doesn’t know he doesn’t know’. We think it’s a sign of strength to have an immediate opinion on everything. But actually all that does is shut down the enquiry. It can be much more powerful to say, ‘I don’t know’. That opens up the way for something new.

It is Ok to not know. In fact sometimes it can be valuable. Rather than force it, accept that this is the case. Search for the deeper knowledge that is needed to justify a real opinion. Don’t shortcut the real work. Don’t argue with conviction from a point of ignorance.