Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Needs must

As a marketer with a background in psychology, I'm always interested in discussions about human needs and how these can be classified. In the course of my working life, I've lost count of the number of times that the Maslow Hierarchy has popped up on various Powerpoint presentations, like a biblical plague of pyramids. And, apart from Maslow, there are all manner of other systems and classifications, such as those mentioned here and here.

The latest Needs Model that I've seen is the ladder, above, from The Book of Life. I'm happy to pass this on, as I'm aware that even if a particular ladder isn't my cup of tea, it may well float someone else's boat.

My first observation about the ladder is that there's some judgement going on here. In Maslow's model, the pyramid deliberately describes needs as 'lower' order and 'higher' order, as the higher order needs cannot be fulfilled unless the lower order ones are satisfied. But in this model, I feel that someone at the School of Life has made a decision that self-understanding, maturity and wisdom are more worthy needs than status, indulgence and entertainment. After all, that is what the School of Life is selling.

I am wary about the movement described in the article, which suggests that brands in the 21st century should strive to meet the 'flourishing' needs. Two reasons. First of all, I believe that a brand satisfies a basic need, first and foremost, through its product or service - something physical or physiological. There is then a psychological need (want, or desire) that the brand addresses on top of that (the added value of the brand), but this is likely to differ from individual to individual.

And, secondly, I believe that many of the needs in the 'flourishing' rung of the ladder - if they are needs at all - can only be satisfied through other human beings (and maybe nature, and spiritual beings if you believe in such things), not through packets of washing powder or cans of beans.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Small ads and Big Ideas

I read an article in the FT magazine from Ian Leslie recently, entitled How the Man Men lost the plot which rung a few bells for me. It starts off with ad man Jeff Goodby's observation that cabbies used to know about our ads and what we did, when the Saatchis were as big as Persil and 'we made famous stuff, and we made stuff famous.' The author poses the question: has the ad industry, through 'embracing the digital gospel... lost sight of what made it valuable in the first place?'

The internet has changed how the game is played, but certain rules still seem to hold. Mass marketing works. Fame works. Emotion works. And so does a long-term coherence in the sum total of what a brand says and does. All of these work to inject the brand into what the author calls 'the cultural bloodstream' - so that those cabbies know about the ads.

Reading through, it did strike me that in the past, we also had a mass of cheap, throwaway ads that even a member of the general public could afford and compose themselves. They were called small ads. But in those days, small ads didn't frighten the industry, neither did we try and use them for our clients, except in cases where we were being clever and disruptive and ironic. We concentrated on our skills, our talents, what we knew how to do.

We had big ideas, we used big, bold media that we knew would generate emotion and build fame.

Surely there is a parallel here?

Friday, 6 November 2015

Lust for Land

For the last year or so, a massive (42 sq m, so I'm told) patchwork blanket has hung on a house wall opposite our town hall. The blanket is made up of individual squares, knitted or crocheted by everyone from primary school children to pensioners.

For me, this comforting and colourful piece of art, along with the explosion of festivals, Tchibo weeks and Aldi special offers celebrating crafts, and home cooking, jams, marmalade, gardening, growing and making, characterises a particular aspect of the 10-year 'reign' of Angela Merkel.

Despite the fact that Germany is becoming more urbanised, German hearts still yearn for a simpler, slower, less technology-ridden life closer to nature. Probably the clearest manifestation of this trend is the success of Landlust magazine, which was launched 10 years ago and now enjoys a circulation of over 1 million - more than that of Der Spiegel.

And, yesterday, Landlust launched in the UK, with its German title and the tagline 'spirit of the countryside'. The British edition carries the same mix of crafts, nature and recipes, with a distinct German touch - the recipes include hazelnut cake, baked apples and Rouladen.

I suspect that an unashamedly German title launching in the UK would have been met with derision 10 years ago, but times have changed. I blogged about the subtle German invasion here. Can Landlust tread in the footsteps of Aldi and Lidl? Will the W.I be renamed Die Landfrauen?

Monday, 2 November 2015

Memory lane

The Autumn school holidays took us to the UK and the inevitable trip up to London. On something of a whim, I dragged my family off to Charlotte St to see if tales of the demise of the Saatchi building were exaggerated. Thankfully, I was able to take one last look at the place where I started my advertising career, back in the 80s.

And, not too far away from 80, Charlotte St, I spotted two newish brands that I'd loved to have worked on back then (and wouldn't say no now.)

In the Carpenters' Arms, our old watering hole, I was delighted to see that Madness have started brewing beer. While other rock stars may favour giving their names to wine or Bourbon, I think the nutty boys have a brilliant fit, branding-wise, with pubs and pies and pints. The section of the website dedicated to The Madness Brewing Company ('Beers that go one step beyond with flavour and style') presents the wares - Lovestruck Ale, Gladness Lager and Night Boat Porter. I had a quick half of Lovestruck, which was tasty indeed. Good one, chaps.

And a bit further down Charlotte St, I saw an idea that I wish I'd had. Well, actually, I have had this idea, only someone else has been much quicker off the mark. Herman ze German is a German fast food cafe selling sausages 'made in the Black Forest' by Fritz. Clever idea, great branding.
And, how could I resist their slogan?

'Our Wurst is ze Best.'

Friday, 23 October 2015

Piggy in the middle

I do wish that all those companies that rabbit on about being customer-centric would realise that it's not enough as a way of thinking, or a philosophy. It's an outcome: the proof of the pudding is, as they say, in the eating.

In the last week, I've had two instances of large service companies demonstrating a lack of customer-centricity in practice. In one instance, I did at least receive a satisfying resolution, which made me feel more pre-disposed to that company. But the other case still remains unresolved. In both cases, I had that well-known feeling that they were playing 'pass the parcel' with me to the tune of call-centre music that rarely stopped.

With Lloyds Bank, I made the mistake of trying to correct an error (on the bank's side) at my branch involving paper, stamps, letters, paying-in slips and human beings. The call centre system eventually realised that this could only be resolved through people from my branch picking up the phone and calling me. I also took the opportunity when I was in the UK to go into the branch and talk to a very helpful and friendly woman who offered me recompense for my time and trouble. But that's a rare opportunity.

With T-online, I wasn't so happy. I have a couple of email addresses. One is a simple t-online one, while others are associated with my Homepage (which is one of T-online's products and services). Now, get this. When something is amiss with my email, I have to go to completely separate departments to deal with the two addresses - which both come into my inbox - as that's how T-online is set up. I won't bore you with the details of different phone numbers, waiting times, passings around and all the rest. It wasn't just pass the parcel this time, it was piggy in the middle. And I never caught the ball.

There it is. Lack of customer-centricity in action. It shouldn't be so difficult in this day and age, I say to these companies. You have the technology. You have the people. Now, put the two together and get it right!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Great Minds

60 years of TV advertising have recently been celebrated back in Blighty, with the first ever TV commercial - for Gibbs SR toothpaste - airing in September, 1955.

To celebrate, Marketing magazine has run a vote to find out the public's favourite ad from the last 60 years, and the marketing and advertising industry's choice. The results can be seen here.

No huge surprises, maybe, with Cadbury's 'Gorilla' carrying off the top slot for the public, Guinness' 'Surfer' from 1999 being voted No. 1 by Marketing readers, and 'Compare the Market' bagging second place for both groups.

What I find most interesting, as you scroll down the lists for both groups, vision bouncing off the usual suspects, old favourites and happy memories, is the similarity between the two lists. To some extent, this is inevitable, given the methodology (the public chose from a list, which had been generated via suggestions made on social media). But, apart from Smash 'Martians' on the public list and BT 'Maureen Lipman' on the marketeers', the same ads crop up in both.

What all these ads have in common is that they evoke a reaction in the viewer - you laugh, smile, giggle, think, wonder, maybe even cry. None of them are purely about pushing information into your brain or moving you along the attention-interest-desire-action customer decision journey.

They are all made by humans, for humans. And maybe that's the best pre-test of all - we probably know better than we think, through instinct, what makes for good advertising.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Slow Fashion

Image: Richard Pflaume for Manufactum

The fashion industry and sustainability is not exactly a marriage made in heaven, and the juxtaposition of 'fashion' and 'responsibility' is one that throws up a mass of contradictions. There's the whole ethos of the fashion world, with its ever-changing collections, trends, fads and must-haves. There are the horror stories from Asia associated with the cheap mass-production of fashion items. And then the throwaway mentality and problem of landfill - where does yesterday's fashion end up?  

I was delighted to attend an evening event last week put on by Manufactum in Frankfurt. One of my favourite retailers, Manufactum is known for quality household and garden products produced as they were in the good old days - 'the good things in life still exist.' Manufactum has always offered clothing, too, but it has to be said that this has had little to do with fashion. Rather, it's been the epitome of the high quality and sensible - the kind of thing Miss Marple would wear.

That has all changed now as Manufactum introduces a number of new designers to their range of women's clothing. The question posed is:

How can fashion and sustainability work in harmony, rather than at odds?

Last Thursday evening, we took part in a journey to meet 5 different designers, who have answered that question in different ways with their collections, available at Manufactum. From the Goodsociety  jeans, produced with minimum use of water and chemicals, to the striking Japanese-inspired designs of twins Anja and Sandra Umann (Umasan) to the beautiful silks of Johanna Riplinger, dyed using flower petals left over from Indian temples, there were fashions that not just look good, but feel good in every way, too.

Image: Richard Pflaume for Manufactum