Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Who the heck is the Quaker guy?

In 1901 when the Quaker Oats Co. was founded in New Jersey they used the trademark that they had previously acquired for the innovative product of packaged cereal. Notably, the company was not run by Quakers or associated with Quakers. In fact the guy who trademarked the symbol had simply read about them. I suspect he knew that people thought of Quakers as principled and honest folk - the kind of people who would put out a high-quality box of oatmeal.

It’s fair to say that in the 114 years since Mr. Quaker appeared consumers have been trying to see through the hype and manufactured imagery that brand owners have been flinging at them. The consumer’s challenge to suss out authenticity is not new. It has, however, been amped up. The first
big change is brand proliferation. The shopper has many more choices available in most categories. The second obvious influence is the information fire hose online – manufacturer sites, social, experts, consolidated ratings and reviews etc.

Until recently, there was a well-established brand strategy approach that was applied by most disciplined marketers and is still in use today. Put simply: identify the consumer need, articulate how your brand fulfills that need as a benefit and provide one or two nuggets that support your benefit claim. These “nuggets” are often called “support points” or “reasons to believe” or “proof points”.  Mass media, especially TV, only has room for one support point. A critical decision has always been what the winning support point for that benefit should be. In a classic sense it is an ingredient (Trident with Dentec) or a formulation (11 herbs and spices) and so on.
The opportunity for brand owners now is to exploit the new found dialogue with consumers to expose them to multiple support points in whatever ways are appropriate. Marketers rarely concentrate intensely enough on discovering and polishing these potentially valuable gems. They don’t always know what they are looking for and they don’t necessarily know how to look. That is why I developed a collaborative approach to doing that called Build Belief™.

Build Belief starts from a model of four key areas to uncover Belief Assets: Recognition, Observation, Intention and Action and roughly 20 specific triggers among those areas. The approach is a series of workshops and quantitative research to determine the best array of support points for a brand’s desired benefit.

 I think the Build Belief method is rigorous and valuable but if you prefer not to hire help I think that you can still make gains “going it alone”.   Get a broad array of operations, R&D and sales people who are intimate with the brand into a room with some facilitation and, chances are, you will discover assets you didn’t know were there.

Pepsico acquired Quaker in 2001. It was really Gatorade that they wanted, not so much the oatmeal.
I buy my grains, including oatmeal, from Bob’s Red Mill. There is a Bob; he wears a bolo tie. There are a lot of reasons to believe that he sells high-quality grains. You can read about them here.

On one side is Quaker with longevity but not really “heritage”. It is completely contrived. On the other is Bob’s Red Mill: founded by Bob Moore - entrepreneur, passionate about milling and its craft, single-sourced in Oregon, philanthropic and employee-owned. Back in 2010 Bob gave the business to the employees. I am sure he had offers. Maybe even from Quaker. Bob just felt better handing it over to the people who had built it. Okay, I’ll buy your quinoa.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How do you sell a $90 000 bed?




 I don't mean a rare and exotic antique or something that Elvis personally slept in, this is a brand. It is a bed pretty much like any other,  in the same way that a Porsche 911 Carrera  is a car and  Jimmy Choo makes shoes.  The bed is a Hästens Vividus and it does not have any special gadgets; it’s just the best bed money can buy.

Hästens is a Swedish company and they sell their beds around the world. In fact they have a retail store in Toronto and many more across the United States.  They have a wonderful marketing challenge justifying a premium price that is 100 times more expensive than competitors that are pretty much functionally equivalent. Their communication is a great example of articulating an array of substantial support points to convey the authenticity of their brand. Here is how they go about it... 

Climbing the Benefit Ladder

Of course Hästens does not try to sell you a bed. They even know better than to just sell you a good night’s sleep. They sell you all the mysterious benefits that flow from a kind of sleep that you have never experienced. They taunt you, “come discover how it feels to sleep for real”.  They offer you the success, well-being and energy that will come from spending a third of your day in a state of ultimate recharge. If you are philanthropically inclined, you can be part of enhancing the world by enhancing its sleep. 

It makes sense to move from functional to emotional benefits at that price point.
The benefit of better sleep getting you a better life is somewhat more believable at $90 000 but competitors can do the same. Simmons Beautyrest promises you “sleep that recharges” and “sleep that luxuriates”.  Kingsdown explains in its video that “your quality of sleep” is “ultimately your quality of life”.

In beds and mattresses  there is no safe haven of differentiation to be found by climbing the benefit ladder. Once upon a time taking the high road of emotional benefits could help differentiate a brand from  its functionally-oriented competitors. Nowadays though, there are too many competitors and too many “values-based brands”. There’s nothing wrong with deeply emotional benefits, provided that you can execute the strategy. The overwhelming challenge is to make prospects believe the claim.

Conveying Authenticity

Hästens does a great job offering a transformational sleep experience but to make you write that cheque for over $100K (sales tax!) they have to convince you that its true and they have to do it without a test drive.  The claims are be supported by genuine differences in the tangible and intangible attributes of the product and the company that makes it.

Here is what they convey to you in their video and website:
  • Hästens is a family company that has been making beds for 5 generations. They demonstrate it in different ways (Ownership, Creation Narrative)
  • They were founded in 1852 and have been making beds for over 150 years (Heritage)
  • Every bit of the bed is handmade by them with care. They show you beds being carefully crafted and the people who do it (Craft)
  • It comes from Sweden and the voice over sounds like a Swede (Place)
  • The bed is made entirely of natural materials: cotton, wool, flax and most notably horsehair that has near-magical properties. There is nothing synthetic.   (Ingredients)
  •  The unique layered design is proprietary and time-tested. It includes a flax layer that enables the discharge of static electricity (Design)
  • It has a 25 year warranty, but many last generations. They torture-test it. They once dragged a bed behind a car for a kilometer - it was fine. (Guarantee)
  • It’s the only bed that  meets the Oeko-Tex 100 standard  where “they often dismantle products to the molecular level” (Third-Party Endorsement)
There is more. Quite a bit more but you get the idea. In the relatively new world of always-on dialogue with consumers and prospects we have ample bandwidth to convey the authenticity of our brands.  We can go way beyond the one Support Point for the TV spot. We can demonstrate “Reasons to Believe” and “Proof Points” in a variety of powerful ways. This is an important pathway to developing authentic, engaging brands.

Opportunities to strengthen support are often overlooked. Which is why over the last few years Lighthouse has been developing and “beta-testing” an approach to improving brand strategies called Build Belief™.  It defines brands in ways  that strengthen  consumer belief in brand claims.  More about that next post.

Here is the link to the Hästens site and video. If you are desperate to try the ultimate bed but are a little short on cash, you can try one for a night  at the Ivy at Verity boutique hotel on Queen Street E.  I’m not sure what you do if you love it.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Consumer insights make marketing work.


I recently agreed to teach two marketing courses for “execs” at the University of Toronto, so in between shopping for a natty tweed with leather elbows and a burled walnut pipe I have been thinking about some brand fundamentals. One of the most challenging yet critically important concepts is the Consumer Insight. To keep our Marketing jobs we occasionally have to demonstrate that we can sell stuff by figuring out things about consumers that others have overlooked. Finding meaningful insight when you need it is a challenging task; a good first step is understanding what it is or is not.

It’s useful to make the distinction between THE Consumer Insight and Consumer Insights. THE insight is part of the Creative Brief (or sometimes a brand strategy document) as the link to the brand benefit to be conveyed. THE Consumer Insight might be: “Younger buyers still believe Cadillac stands for quality but are embarrassed by its lack of performance credentials”.  Consumer Insights, in general,  can happen at any level from merchandising to a great idea for a promotion. The principles are the same, but it is good to be clear on the context.

What’s your problem?

Consumer Insight is strategy work. Strategy is just a solution to a problem. Richard Rumelt one of my favorite strategy gurus says, “Unless you state what the problem is – and how to overcome it, then it’s not a strategy.”
A key component of any Consumer Insight is the definition of the problem (call it an “issue” or an “opportunity” if it fits better). The definition is not the preamble or just context. There is no Yin without a Yang.

In simple terms you can define the problem as a) target group plus b) action. As in, “get 19-24 year olds in Ontario to purchase Labatt Blue more often” Or, “get current Hall’s cough drop users to use the brand more frequently in the spring and summer”.  There may well be additional nuance that is useful in framing the problem. Go for it. In classic strategy work defining the problem, the depth of problem and the gains from solving the problem are essential parts of “insightful” planning.

Consumer observations

Having defined the problem, marketers can then set about looking for solutions by studying the target group in the context of the category. It’s obvious but the relationship between the consumer and our brand is only part of the story. You need to explore the buying process and the performance of competitors or substitutes.

It doesn’t matter HOW you do the research. Well, actually, it matters a great deal but the choice of methodology is idiosyncratic. Invariably, you will learn all sorts of things that, to a greater or lesser degree, shed light on your problem.  Some people call these learnings “insights”; I call them “observations”. You need to find the best solution to the problem at hand; that will be your Consumer Insight.

Choosing a Solution

Strategy is a solution to a problem. It is also matching opportunities to capabilities. Brands have limits to their effectiveness.  The limits, like the brands themselves, are a function of existing consumer perceptions. Having identified a particular problem the best solution will work with the “assets” of the brand in a way that is credible with consumers.

If Coca-Cola brand observes that it is losing consumers to beverages that are perceived to be more healthful, it strains credibility to pitch Coke as a healthful drink. This would likely be the case, even if they added vitamins and ginseng to it. While you may be chuckling at the absurdity of that example, the genuinely smart people at Amazon launched the Fire smartphone at $199 and are now flogging it for 99 cents.  Brand owners generally overestimate the capabilities of their brand. In my case on Labatt Blue in the nineties the problem was “Dad’s beer”, the DNA was as a fun/party brand and we had to figure out how to dip it in the Cocoon pool or market it to older drinkers. The Consumer Insight among the younger segment was that “the best kind of fun was spontaneous fun”. So, we chose to be the brand of spontaneous fun. Was it credible? Not so much.

The Consumer Insight is the observation about the consumer that solves the brand problem in a credible way. The insight is “leveraged” as a deliberate choice is made to follow a particular route. I suspect it is more of an “aha moment” only in the retelling of war stories years later. In practice, choosing a strategic path usually means rejecting a reasonably attractive alternative. They can be tough decisions.

Putting it into Practice


I often hear business leaders complaining that the Research team or Brand Management are failing to bring forward the “consumer insights” required for success. Assuming that the business is willing to do some studying of the consumer, the main cause of “no insights” is “no defined problems” to focus on. Use your planning process to figure out and define the important problems. Then allocate resources to studying the relevant consumer groups to reveal Consumer Insights that make marketing investment actually work.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Process and Creative are having an affair


Creative is the tall, curvy, sensual woman in the corner office. With her wardrobe and great hair she could have any man she wanted. Strangely she has been quietly hooking up with Process. He of the pocket protector and RACI charts. He is skinny and socially awkward but not without his own quiet intensity.  What on earth does she see in him? What do they have in common? Apparently this has been going on for a long time.

Developing Marketing Communications is not the least bit difficult; the challenge is doing it well. To get the kind of ROI most of us crave obviously involves applied creativity. That’s where it all goes sideways.  To achieve creative creative even the most experienced marketers can be challenged by the tango of Creative Development.  For over 10 years I have worked with Marketing groups and their agencies to install and train best practices in this regard.  Starting a recent project with a top 10 multinational reaffirmed for me the value of getting the process right in Creative Development.
The right approach is never one size fits all, but there are 5 simple practices that almost always help you get to better stuff and happier people.

Explicit Process:
Make it someone’s job on the client side to create, communicate and monitor the process.  Among other things it should include: who is the project team that should be in all the meetings, who is the ultimate “Decision Maker” and a realistic budget. “TBD” is not a budget. 

Have a Great Brief (ing):
Make sure that the Brief form you are starting with is reasonable. Sometimes they can get quite bent out of shape to serve a “distinct creative approach”.  Whether the Brand Manager or the Account Manager/Planner starts writing the Brief, make it a shared responsibility. In the end  It has to be owned by both parties. When the Account Manager briefs the creative team, a client should be there. It’s funny how some agencies resist this; usually this is a vestige from bad briefs that had to be ignored and reinterpreted or badly behaved clients.

One Creative Presentation:
Or, as close to one as you can possibly get.  Manage your client culture to have the important people in the first and only creative presentation, including the ultimate Decision Maker. To do this, clients need to learn to have a productive discussion about the concepts presented without too much regard for rank. They need to get over the obsession with making decisions on the spot and spend more effort on understanding the submissions and getting comfortable with risk. You can actually make the decision “tomorrow”. 

One Creative Presentation Part II:
I am not a fan of “tissue sessions” (rough/early idea presentations). Most clients have a hard enough time envisioning the end product at a tight creative presentation. It is hubris to think they need you in the creative process. You will enjoy the Creative so much more if you the skip the trailer.  Many agencies like to present “Creative Platforms” or Areas. What you really need is a good idea (subject for a later post).  Ask the agency to present ideas and executions concurrently.  Most of us are not skilled enough to judge a “platform”  divorced from its “output”.  Its only purpose, after all, is to create good executions, so let’s see it do that.

Provide Written Feedback:
Do it always.  Your response might be a one line email for a dangler or a three pager for a major campaign.  Writing has several advantages: it creates a record, forces alignment among clients (amen) and benefits from the precision of the written word. If the project is substantial, deliver this written feedback in person or at least on the phone to allow for conversation.


It is easy to find people who disagree with these practices. There are many ways to do it, and they are welcome to their methods.  The most popular ice cream flavour in Canada is still vanilla. I guess it just works. I have firsthand experience with both large and small Marketing teams witnessing improvement in their Marketing Communications when they apply these simple process improvements.  But simple is not the same as easy and they require both clients and agency partners to raise their games.

Lighthouse Clients

Cases, examples and client references are available upon request. Some of my clients over the last few years are:

Toyota Canada
Labatt Breweries/AB-InBev
Canadian Blood Services
Cadbury Adams
Constellation Brands/Vincor
Prime Restaurants - Casey's, East Side Mario's, Fionn MacCool's, Bier Markt
Sigma Alimentos - a large food company in Mexico
Multiple Sclerosis Society - MS WALK
Yellow Pages Group
New Balance Canada
Ideazon -(Gaming Hardware)
Edwards Builder's Hardware

Going further back:
Pfizer - Viagra, Detrol
Volvo Canada
Red Lobster USA
Xerox Canada
Sprint Canada
Absolut (Maxxium)

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