Finally getting caught up on my blogroll reading, and found this gem of an interview with Tom Fishburne on Church of The Customer. Tom recently published “This One Time At Brand Camp,” and Ben McConnell had a few great questions for him about the state of the marketing world today. Here are some choice cuts from Ben’s post:
Q: What’s the biggest challenge in being a brand manager today?
Remarkable thinking. Then shepherding that thinking through the organizational gates. Too often the edges of a great idea get sanded, eventually launching as a pale shadow of the original idea.
I love this quote from Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad: “Advertising is a tax you pay for unremarkable thinking.”
Q: What’s the biggest trap most brand managers stupidly fall into?
The mass market trap. Chasing market size. Trying to appeal to everyone and avoiding alienating anyone. By trying to appeal to everyone, no one gets excited.
In my past brand lives, we joked that our target was “a woman, age 25–39, with a pulse.” Instead, if you cater to a passionate and vocal niche, you become more meaningful. Consumer loyalty follows. Niche marketing isn’t just for small brands. General Mills does a great job of training marketers to find and truly understand your niche’s brand champions. You create your products and marketing just for them. When you do, much of the mass market will follow, too.
Q: How serious is the disconnect when brand managers work 12-16 months on product then, because of the nature of the employment game, move on to a new one? How can you build customer loyalty with such a short timeframe?
It’s like that game of telephone we all played in kindergarten. A departing brand manager whispers their insights and brand plan to the replacement, much of which gets lost in the transition. Often the replacement brand manager starts from scratch with research and navel-gazing. As soon as the replacement brand manager gets a feel for the job, they move on, and the telephone game continues.
Q: Who typically has the more insanely inflated ego: marketers or professional wrestlers?
Most of the marketers I’ve worked with have been down-to-earth. That’s why I think ego inflation comes from hierarchy.
For instance, when I was at General Mills, all of the executives worked in a separate wing that even had its own parking garage we called the Bat Cave (where all the Jaguars went to park). They had a different dress code in the executive wing and there was very little mixing. The hierarchy was reinforced at every turn. As you progressed in marketing, you moved from a cubicle to something called an “officle” to eventually an office. You could tell the seniority of someone with an office by counting the number of ceiling tiles. I remember an official memo that stated that marketers above a certain level were entitled to leather Filofax binders. Everyone else received pleather. I swear I’m not making this up.
All of this resulted in a medical condition I call Title-itis, where it was assumed that the more senior the marketer, the better their ideas. It’s tempting to start breathing your own exhaust in an environment like that.
Q: Is branding dead and if so, where do we bury the body?
I don’t think branding is extinct. It’s evolved. I used the evolution metaphor to play with a couple stereotypes in the noble profession of marketing.
Doctors have Hippocrates. Lawyers have Atticus Finch. Ask most consumers what archetypes there are for marketers and the snakeoil salesman comes to mind. That’s because much of the history of marketing and branding has been about concocting a story consumers wanted to hear, even if the story was a wee bit phony. Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, famously quipped: “In our factories, we make cosmetics. In the store, we sell hope.”
Nowadays, consumers are often in the marketer’s seat. Consumers have always been the best source for what your brand means. The power used to be with the marketer to sculpt and shape that message. The question to ask now is no longer how your consumers play back the message you told them. It’s what message are they spreading to others.
The key is to tell an authentic brand story (but careful that you don’t overdo that like the authenticity hawker in the cartoon). Then find ways to help your consumers advocate on your behalf.
Instant fan. Just add water and stir.