Posts filed under ‘opinion’

Product Site Worst Practice: Geberit

Someone just asked me: “Hey, you wanna blog about a really bad user experience?” and I said: “Not really.” But after I saw this, I couldn’t help it, because missed brand engagement opportunities make me mad.

This is a Microsite for Geberit, makers of Bathroom applicances. They are trying to introduce the Japanese way of, you know, cleaning up after you are done with your business. Any creative would have had a field day with this briefing. Instead, what this brand ended up with is a stale, boring, marketing-speechy, product website that is neither engaging nor credible. No pun intended, but this looks too watered down to make this something people would want to send on to others.

Compare this to the Philips Shave Everywhere campaign. Personal grooming for men: also not an easy topic for brands to dare make engaging. Brand managers at Philips could have argued that the concept for the site was way too racy or impromper. They didn’t, and they won lots of awards, and more importantly: the site became viral. Geberit missed the chance to make this a fun, engaging experience. And don’t come to me with: oh yeah, but the target audience is older and more conservative. Conservative people are folders or crumplers, too. That’s an insight for you, right there. What a shame.


March 23, 2009 at 5:47 pm Leave a comment

How brands can learn from people’s crisis coping strategies

OMG, another crisis-related blog entry?

To be honest, I don’t know what’s worse: the crisis or people talking about it constantly. Which is why I thought, how do people cope? And, what could brands do?

Whatever the crisis, usually it follows this well-known process.


What’s interesting here is really the area of coping, because this is a) the phase that usually takes the longest b) is the most visible character building one and c) for our purposes probably the place were brand can play a role. What’s more inspiring that people that master a crisis? Without crisis, there are no heros. And, boy, don’t we love heros?

However, most brands and the companies behind them are still struggling with the crisis themselves, and, in a way are still coming up with their coping strategies. As usual, the bigger they are, the longer it takes. But the biggest ones are the ones that  people are waiting to hear from, and the ones that could make the biggest qualitative difference in people’s lives. In other words: it’s nice when my local restaurant is offering me a recession burger, but what if someone could do more?

More interesting therefore are the different coping strategies people adopt, and, this is the theory, brands adopt as well.

Coping strategies

1. Rejection of reality:

This essentially means you stay in lethargic denial, and invent ways of pretending none of it, or certain aspects of the crisis aren’t happening. You see the crisis, but you are too paralysed and uninspired to actually convert the crisis into something new. If anything, you’re just hoping it’s a bad dream.

One great example for this are financial institutions. Not only are they faced with utter loss of trust, but they also stand for a failed system who got us into this mess. So, what do most of them do?

They run the same advertising as before the crisis, promising the same stuff that is now proven to be a pipe-dream.

Bad idea.

2. Regression to previous behavioral patterns, ego-centricity:

Instead of looking at the crisis dead-on, you use your arsenal of previous crisis coping strategies to distract yourself from it. This is visible in the typical “après-nous-la-deluge” behavior, where people buy that expensive car and caviar in a egocentric spiteful hatred of the world at large. It’s a reaction to having become a victim and not wanting to be one and showing the world: “hey, buzz off. I am doing good, let’s get a drink on.” I am reminded of the pink-slip parties of the first dotcom crash.

To some degree this helps, as you are less likely to get mired in total lethargy and inaction which makes your more likely to stumble upon new opportunities. Finding a way to  celebrate a crisis can be therapeutic. Problem is, it might make you feel better, but doesn’t address any of the systemic issues in the long-run. You are setting yourself up for a bigger crisis in the end. And how long can you sustain a regime of Louis XIV type partying while there is a revolution going on? The chopping block is waiting, and they don’t even serve you a drink there. This kind of reaction can be seen in the luxury brand segment. Things are getting more expensive, not less, due to the crisis.

3. Acceptance of reality

This coping strategy is characterized by a feeling of letting go, looking for new avenues, infomation, new strategic partnerships in your life, and by a sense that “hey, there is some good sides to this crisis”. Maybe the crisis even helps in re-orienting yourself and questioning the values that might have brought you into this crisis into the first place. It’s like “Well, it’s not business as usual, but business as usual wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be anyway, so that’s an opportunity, right?”

So while this is the most constructive strategy to deal with it also has a dangerous side: if you are not completely honest and precise in your assessment about the ramifications of the history of the crisis, you just see the good things in it because you have to, and you are actually, in a way denying it through imposed optimistic behavior. Back to square one.

Also, you become more vulnerable to rescinding your responsibility and follow the expert’s advice or some kind of “leader” without question his/her motives. Manager magazines and financial publications are full of this expert stuff. If you thought you were great at managing your portfolio, you now are in pre-school again. You can’t do it alone. So, anything that looks positive and actionable suddenly becomes a way out at the price of disenfranchising yourself. The most dire historic examples for this kind of thing: any dictatorial leader that took over because there was a crisis beforehand, getting away with murder.

So how is this relevant for brands?

It could be avered that brands behave like people, meaning they have or will have the same coping strategies for this crisis, which, if true, it means you know what to avoid.

So, the tough ticket is this:

First of all, don’t wait. The crisis is gonna end. But sticking your head in the sand will mean that you either gonna be out of business, or, if you survive, you will have no role in the new lay of the land. You will have missed your chance to be a hero, or at least will have made no difference.

Secondly, as a brand, do all you can do to reassess the situation carefully, and know the part you may have played in it. Then accept the crisis and don’t jump on the band wagon of promising an unrealistic relief or offering gratuitous and self-serving distraction: instead, find a new human purpose that utilizes the new insights from the crisis.

Thirdly, people are already talking about it. The web is full of people reaching out to each other, sharing information, and coping with it their own way. The last thing they need is someone to shout at them with big bang messages. Join the conversation credibly and offer your honest opinion and be ready for heated arguments. Be inspired by what people do, so you can come up with acts and solutions that make a difference, one act at a time.

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December 9, 2008 at 4:40 pm Leave a comment

People are not the problem, marketing warfare is.

What’s been frying my goat for a while lately (like 10 years or so) is looking at how we conduct our business in the agency landscape. We use military words like Briefing, Strategy, Tactics, Campaign, Target, Territory, Launch and Positioning everyday. I am wondering what good it does using this language of war. Everyone says that marketing is war. Is it? War against what?

Let’s ask Billy Bob, a traditional, gun-toting marketer who believes marketing is war:

Billy Bob: I tell you who we’re fightin’, buddy. It’s them dang evil-doer consumers. These folks are conspirin’ against us, leadin’ a lawless digital lifestyle, creat’n’ all this brand brouhaha for us marketers, destroying our brand values and shooting web2.0 flak right down from the blogosphere and what have you. If we don’t strike them with a big nice nuclear promotion, we be fixin’ to go down with our brand reputation. So, I am asking you: are you with us or with the consumers?

Personally, Billy Bob, I believe war is not an answer. We’ve been seeing this for a long time and we’ve been turning our faces away, hoping this Internet thing would just go away. Fact is, we’ve just made it a war because we see human behavior as something we need to manipulate and change, and we made it marketing’s job to manipulate that human behavior. Also of course, it is our job to build a ridgid brand fortress, that can defend itself against its enemies, the competition. Now that digital technologies have empowered people and changed the rules of the game, it isn’t as easy to manipulate people, and advertising just doesn’t seem to work anymore. And, for lack of a better idea, what’s our response? More troops for the trenches, bigger defense budgets, more artillery.

Because the Billy Bob Marketing budget for ineffective advertising, whether in “traditional” or “digital” channels, is steadily rising, no matter how inefficient. As a result, to stay within the militaristic metaphor we seem so used to, “consumers” soon become “casualties of war.” Well, I guess, you know, such is war. I mean, we tried to use our smart micro-segmentation bombs and even put 10% of our budget into our magic digital targeted media bullet, but you’re always gonna get some collateral damage, right? After all, this is why we call those casualties consumers: this way they remain abstract and we don’t have to connect with their actual life.

Seriously, this terminology, and more importantly, the warped thinking behind it isn’t appropriate anymore, and maybe never was. So if you’re asked by Billy Bob to support the troops in advertising and marketing , it’s just not black and white anymore. All I know is: I don’t wanna support the troops and their strategic goals of “increasing brand awareness” or “building brand preference” or “driving brand consideration” if all I get is an unhuman, purposeless advertising carpet bombing campaign. This marketing warfare myth has to go. The point is, you can’t work like that anymore.

Ok, sure. Let’s say we all agree. How would we go about everything if we stripped out all this militaristic lingo and the thinking behind it?

  1. Don’t just think about positioning in “what is…”, think about “what if?”
  2. Don’t start with the category, the product or the brand. Because, guess what, you will end up where you left off.
  3. Instead, start with a purpose. A purpose, mind you, not a promise. A purpose needs a conviction, a reason for being and a fuel that amplifies it. Fuel comes from a human behavior that we want to enable.
  4. Based on this purpose, think of acts that a brand can create to enable that human behavior in positive ways, instead of just cranking out ads.
  5. Don’t think of creativity as idea generation for campaigns, think of creativity as ideas for experiences and valuable exchanges.
  6. Don’t message at people, message for something they believe in.
  7. Don’t call them consumers, call them people.

Peace out, y’all.

November 12, 2008 at 3:34 pm Leave a comment

Tobaccowala on the evolving role of marketing

Sometimes, you get good articles from all these newsletters you subscribe to. In this case an article by Lori Luechtefeld from iMedia Connection.

She interviewed Denuo’s CEO Tobaccowala. I like some of the things he says, such that business models have to change the way software does. You can’t keep flailing a dead horse, such called advertising agency business model, or even traditional marketing business model, you have to move on. Also he says that, much more than marketing officers, you need facilitators:

The rest, he says, is all about facilitation. “We need to basically organize the facilitation,” Tobaccowala says. “We need to have chief facilitation officers.” Rather than spending their time crafting messages, marketers should be spending their time helping consumers gain access to companies and their resources — thereby making it easy for consumers to market to themselves.

This totally reflects our own agency philosophy which we call HumanKind: go from milieus and demograhics to actual human behavior, from messaging to experiences, from campaigns to sustained value exchange, and from rigid posititioning and idle brand promise to a human brand purpose. Essentially what he talks about is how marketing organizations and their agencies have to change in order to actually deliver product innovation which can be translated into marketing innovations as well.

To me, the idea of faciliation, seen from the agency side is an important one. If you actually retool your agency structure and process that allows you to deal with creating experiences leading to value exchange that gives people access to companies, you immediatly realize how much more involved your stategic and creative delivery gets. Planning and designing experiences is just much more complex than a catchy claim and a key visual.

But there is more in the article which actually is more specific that lofty philosophies. Check it out.

October 30, 2008 at 3:34 pm Leave a comment

Excursion into normalcy: everyday normal guy

Ok, warning first: what you are about to see is, well, let’s say: it ain’t smooth jazz, so be prepared for expletives.

Jon LaJoie’s is seemlingly stating the obvious: most of the rapper scene’s make-believe is going on our nerves:by copying style, clothes, language and gesticulation of the rapper set, and juxtaposing the actual live story of a normal customer service representative who makes paper planes, hurt his back and makes pretty good spaghetti sauce, debunks the aspirational hype that works so well for performing artists in this genre.

But there’s more for me in it: this made me think of our tendency as ad and marketing people to construct “target audiences” which, in reality don’t exist, and how we should, you know, stop that. Fact is, yeah, we would like to be able to choose which people buy our products, but it just doesn’t reflect real people and real behavior. As a result, it is a big mistake to construct personas based on mapping them to brand attributes. While brands can adopt an aspirational quality and tonality, the observation of people and their true behavior is paramount, not target strategies that inject brand attributes into the social milieu of our choosing, and hence turn upside down the very thing we are supposed to accomplish. It’s not about brands manipulating people to achieve marketing objectives. It’s about people influencing brands, so brand can enter a real value exchange with them.

I take this video as a reminder, to, like, get real.

Thank to Simone and Peter for the inspiration!

October 28, 2008 at 3:21 pm 1 comment

German Discounter discovers brand image advertising

One of the largest German discount retailers, Lidl, recently started airing a brand campaign. The campaign itself, well, nothing special: the campaign is strongly reminiscent of Mastercard’s “Priceless” campaign, using people situations and using price tags for those situations. Also, the scenes look like they were selected out of stock film reels. Furthermore, it has a brand promise (“A trip to Lidl can be anything but expensive”) that, still reminds everyone: it’s about cheap prices, for which, if you’re honest, you don’t need a brand image campaign, cuz, duh, everyone knows that Lidl is a discounter, not Harrod’s. As a result, it probably tested really well in the pre-tests because it’s not saying anything (that can offend anyone).

What’s really more interesting is the fact that a German discounter actually started thinking about a brand image campaign in the first place. This is highly uncommon. The only “brand” communication we’re used to from discounters is inserts with pork loin offers, at EUR 2.99 for 500 grams for which discounters like Lidl and Aldi shell out a good 200-300 million Euro a year making sure we all have kilos of dead trees in our mailboxes. But a brand film? That’s new. So, what’s going on here?

I basically see it as a discounter’s desperate attempt to stop some trends in the making as far as the market situation is concerned. In Germany, there is a fight over market share going on among the different supermarket retail business models. Like elsewhere, we have three competing models:

  1. Discounters (Lidl, Aldi, Penny…)
  2. Hypermarkets (Real, Globus, Toom, Kaufland…)
  3. Supermarkets (Edeka, Rewe…)

In the past, discounters really ate away the huge amounts of market share of Hypermarkets and supermarkets because of a couple of people behaviors: a) while in the past, discounters where frowned upon for having bad quality, they now established that you can even drive to a discounter in a Porsche if you don’t mind a stripped-down shopping experience: the quality is right, and it is cheaper than local supermarkets b) People’s lives and their shopping behavior has changed: people (especially the younger demographic) don’t shop for the whole week anymore, quick trips to the supermarket around the corner become more common, so hypermarkets with their huge assortment of goods are too far away, less convenient and, frankly, too huge for daily shopping convenience.

However, there are also 3 other trends that might force discount brands to rethink their strategy: a) discounters are everywhere now and have reached maximum proliferation, competing with supermarkets for local relevance which still own local convencience and quality of products, so you can’t grow more by building more outlets b) local supermarkets themselves have responded to discount pricing by increasing their share of private labels, allowing to approximate the price of discounters in a shopping environment that is more tasteful c) Organic foods are everywhere, and expected by people, and while discounters now also carry great organic food, the ambiance of organic food is still more trustworthy and personal in a more upmarket supermarket brand than picking it up from crates stored on pallets and high-fluctuation staffing structure.

So, with discounters having a hard time to grow beyond their proliferation, pure price communication not being sustainable (ever!), and shopping experience becoming a more and more important asset, discounters seem to have discovered brand advertising as a necessity, in order to mitigate the shopping experience strategies of supermarkets, such as REWE and Edeka.

However, I am not sure advertising can really help discounters here (especially if the promise is still just about price). At the very least it can’t help if discounters don’t also rethink their shopping experience strategy. Ads, after all, are just ads. Reformulating your reason for being and providing people with acts that improve their lives, in the context of their shopping needs should prove more successful in building trust than running some ads.

October 20, 2008 at 1:38 pm Leave a comment

Can design save advertising?

Here is the thing: advertising really doesn’t work that well anymore.

At least, it doesn’t work for all of the things it used to work for. I won’t go into the reasons for that, because, frankly, the topic is so hackneyed and over-discussed that it is more likely that indigenous tribes of the south-west Amazon have already come up with digital strategies to address the issue, than Sara Palin knowing that the Amazon is a river in Latin America, and not just where she buys maternity literature for her daughter.

My story is more around design. “Funny,” you might say “because isn’t design a completely overused topic as well?” Well, yeah it is, but no so much in the context of what it means for advertising agencies which have made their money with development of messaging.

If you think of design as a mindset of creating acts that lead to valuable exchanges with brands, rather than just a specific design discipline, such as graphic design, as well as if you allow the inclusion of other design fields, such as software design, interior design, product design, you at some point might ask yourself the question: if advertising bombards people with messages they don’t want, and if advertising makes promises brands can’t keep, whereas design actually delivers experiences that people want, can design save advertising? And you can see it’s a timely question because all types of agencies now dabble in or with design.

Why do they do that? Because design delivers experiences, whereas advertising only delivers messages. And, of course we all know, there is a rich market for experiences and not so much for messages. For example: if the design of a software leads to a new algorithm which allows to more successfully rank pages of a search result, you end up getting a brand called Google which doesn’t even have to do advertising. In fact, the software design success of Google’s new algorithm created a platform that is so successful, that everyone who sells stuff has to advertise there.

“If that’s the case, why bother with advertising?” you might say, “why don’t you just do design then? Why save advertising?” Because, here is the cincher: if you have great design, you’re gonna need advertising. The problem isn’t that advertising is evil. The problem is that many brands don’t innovate anymore, so they got nothing to say. Or even if they have innovations, they stick to their advertising/marketing process that doesn’t consider people and their true behavior. The end result: they just advertise stuff people don’t want or in a way they don’t want to be advertised at.

As a result, advertising people need to think about creating acts that deliver experiences for marketing and product innovation even if, in the end, you also deliver ads. This means talking to all sort of designers who can help you come up with solutions that make a qualitative difference in peoples’ lives, no matter how small.

The most important thing though is that whatever we do, we give brands a purpose so they can deliver experiences and communications that are valuable to people. Because, just as with ads, acts that don’t have a purpose with people in mind, are useless just the same. In fact, purposeless brand acts can be even more annoying that purposeless ads.

So, in the end, it’s not about whether design can save advertising. It is about coming up with a human brand purpose that is based in actual human behavior.

A brand purpose, mind you, not a promise, not a positioning, can deliver the necessary reason for being of brand, so it can innovate and create acts for which, ultimatly you can create ads for.

And BTW: hasn’t it always been a fact that every successful brand we know is here because it has or used to invent a new design for a challenge in people’s lives? You need to innovate and do so something before you say something and tell people about it. There is no room for messaging without substance, no room for ads without acts.

October 10, 2008 at 2:59 pm 2 comments

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