On this cyberest of Mondays – a day dedicated to discount prices, rampant sales and clamouring consumers – it seems apt to report on an APG event I went to this Wednesday about marketing fundamentals.

Les Binet and Sarah Carter from adam&eveDDB were on stage at Google HQ London, delivering some key insights from their recent book – How not to plan. The book, a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in marketing, covers 66 ways to screw up a strategy.

The pair covered four of the most painful possible pitfalls:

#1 Alienation

A common concern from clients is the worry that they want to attract a different (generally younger) audience, but they don’t want to alienate existing customers.

The fact is, according to Binet (Head of Effectiveness at adam&eveDDB), alienation never happens. And in fact, in all his years of research, he’s never seen any ad anywhere have a negative impact on sales. Ever.

The act of marketing or advertising is actually more important than the content. Of course, with better creative comes better results. But if you want results, do something. The exposure is effective in itself. Much scarier than customer aggravation is customer indifference.

#2 Communication

Without having assessed the 3 Ps (product, pricing and place), a comms strategy is a waste of time. All good strategies start with the business objectives, then the marketing objectives and then the comms objectives.

Binet gave the example of a planner who came to him with a ‘really cool idea’ for a beer brand. It was an app that offered free beer to people on a sunny day. The planner asked for advice, Binet said ‘don’t do it.’ They did it anyway. It was a disaster.

The app may have been a ‘really cool idea’, but it was an expensive way to reach a small number of people. They offered free beer at a time when people would be drinking the product anyway – sunny days – and the app appealed mainly to loyal customers, who would have bought the product anyway. The problem? They thought about the ‘cool idea’ first, not their business and marketing objectives. An expensive mistake.

#3 Making sense

This point tapped into the irrationality of customer choices, and the fact that we’re neither logical nor rational beings. Marketing that focuses on cold facts and figures is missing the crucial emotional element. Bill Bernbach made the same point a long time ago: ‘There are two attitudes that you can wear, that of cold arithmetic or that of warm human persuasion. I will urge the latter on you.’

Carter compared a hilarious (real) slide showing the decision matrix and customer journey to make a ham sandwich to one of their campaigns, a web app for cat food brand Felix, which did nothing more than add a cat to customers’ desktops but delivered huge ROI.

The message? Leave the door open for magic and don’t over-rationalise

#4 Efficiency and ROI

You might look at these and think, ‘yep, all great’. But efficiency and ROI lead to short-termism, where the best return comes from long-term thinking. The example Binet gave was The AA. They had a strong brand in the UK and cut their spend to zero, focusing instead on performance marketing, email, paid-search and offers-based promotion.

This ‘whoring and milking’ strategy (BIG up-front discounts followed by large increases in renewal rates) was profitable in the short term, but brand metrics went into freefall. People weren’t searching for ‘The AA’ on Google; they were searching for breakdown cover which led them to comparison websites, which led to a race to the bottom – a commoditisation of the industry.

BBD came in, launched the singing baby ad and reversed brand market share in 12 months. The point? Short-termism can be the death of brands, effectiveness is more important than efficiency, and ROI can lead to myopic thinking.

Plenty of food for thought.

Anyway, I’m off to Tesco now to wrestle a granny for the last 4k TV on the shelf.

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I’m the Head of Content for Future Content and the man in charge of words. As a former journalist for a number of publications, from Chat to MailOnline to that’s Shanghai, I have a wealth of editorial experience and a way of making words do good.

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