Monday, 17 October 2011

Chase success

You see this deceptively simple marketing question rear its head a lot, both in agencies and client side. I'd love to know what answer is taught on marketing courses, or even if a straight-forward answer is taught at all, because marketers seem to jump to the wrong conclusion so frequently.

The basis for my answer comes through in statistical models of marketing response, but also fits with a simple view of what can be achieved by marketing. For me, these are all fundamentally the same question:

"We've got a loyalty card and our card-holders don't often redeem their points for certain of the rewards on offer. Should we feature those rewards more prominently in the brochure to boost their take-up?"

"Most of the shoppers in this store come from the east side of town. Should we run some marketing in the west, to let those people know we're here?"

"Some of the holiday packages that we offer are selling much faster than others, should we 'fix' the under-performing ones by marketing them?"

The question being asked in all three of these is, "should I try to persuade people to do something that they don't seem to want to do, by marketing to them?"

The answer - nine times out of ten - is, "no; absolutely not."

It sounds obvious when the question is phrased like that, but think about how many times you've been asked to market an under-performing product, in order to 'fix' it.

Whether a product is selling or not is the single, best piece of market research that a marketer can lay his hands on. If it's not selling to a group of people, then they don't like it. Telling people about products that you already know they don't like, is just throwing your money away.

The basis for trying to boost an under-performing product comes from an over-estimate of the magic that marketing fairy dust can sprinkle onto a product and also a belief that the product you're selling should fundamentally appeal to a wide audience. Both of those come from being too close to the product that you're selling. People who aren't close to your product, who really don't care about your product but are being asked to buy it, have already told you what they think.

The only exception to this rule is if you can genuinely say that people might not be buying your product because they don't know about it. Before you decide that lack of awareness must be the issue and splash the cash on some marketing though, look at the products you've got that are selling. Do people really know that much more about those?

The reward card example I used above is a real one; the marketing team thought that more people should want to redeem their loyalty points for music CDs and wanted to push that message. Unfortunately, up to that point, music CDs hadn't been starved of marketing coverage compared to the other options available and people still weren't choosing music in large numbers. That's a loud and clear piece of the best market research money can buy. You offered free CDs to millions of people and only a few said "yes, please."

It's the same for the store that appeals to only one side of town. People on the other side either can't get to your store easily, or they don't want to. You can tell them all about where you are and they'll just keep on ignoring you.

For me, when a product is under-performing, you've got two options.

1. Save your money and stop pushing it.

2. Find a way to change the appeal of the product. (That's likely to be a product solution before it's a marketing one)

The reverse of all this gives a key piece of marketing advice. If you haven't completely saturated the market, then always chase success. Support your biggest sellers and make them even larger. People are telling you that they like these products - not just by saying nice things in focus groups, but by spending their own money on them. Your marketing will be much more effective if you listen.

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