Wednesday 30 September 2015

Please Mr Postman

I like ideas that aren't brand sparkly squeaky new, but make use of existing products, techniques or networks, with a new twist.

We hear a lot about the Connected World today, but in 2017, half the world's population will still be 'unconnected' - that is, not online. While many people may now argue that 'online' and 'connected' are not necessarily synonyms, elderly people in particular may find that they feel excluded because they haven't got all the latest technology.

With elderly people in mind - and that's almost a quarter of Japan's population - there's an interesting new initiative coming from a partnership between Japan Post, IBM and Apple. It's an extension of the Japan Post Watch Over service, in which the friendly local postman checks in daily on older people and lets the relatives know if anything is amiss.

A new programme has now been developed, whereby older folk can be given an iPad, pre-loaded with basic social and health apps. This can be used as a 'senior support service' to co-ordinate and remind people about medical appointments, household maintenance, grocery deliveries, taking medication, as well as the nicer aspects of life, like chatting to the grandchildren.

And who tutors the recipients in how to use it, and checks now and then that they are getting the most of it? Again, the friendly local postman (or woman.)

Communication meant letters when the elderly generation was growing up, so who better to coach and support older people with the new technology than the trusted employees of the post?

Friday 25 September 2015

Getting sentimental over you

I read an interesting article from The Book of Life recently, entitled Sentimentality in Art - and Business.  In it, the author makes the observation that sentimentality has moved from the art arena to the business arena. I assume it's meant that sentimentality hasn't completely decamped from the art arena, as I see it as alive and kicking, especially when it comes to popular art and entertainment - from the moody photos of hunky man holding vulnerable baby to the paintings of Thomas Kinkade - and a large percentage of what's shared on Facebook, if you can class that as art.

The article includes Oscar Wilde's definition of sentimentality from De Profundis: 'the desire to feed off an emotion without paying for it' - so all of the positive elements with none of the shadow side.

I would contest whether the move into the business arena is a new thing. Advertising has always been  escapist, larger than life, a utopia, escapism - right back to the impossibly cute Pears children and before. But, by and large, advertising plays by rules that people accept as part and parcel. No one is so naive as to believe that this is a representation of reality. Even if, these days, so many brands are trying to populate the same utopia - see Vignette Roulette for a cruel but amusing illustration of just how interchangeable these various brand worlds are.

But these days, as we know, the borders between brand and corporate, employee and customer, business and private are blurring in a social media fog that's actually far from transparent. Sentimental language and behaviour has crept into the boardroom - 'Lovemarks', 'embracing' this and that, 'reaching out' to all and sundry, 'passionate' about anything from loo rolls to insurance.

This has spawned all manner of sentimental company manifestos and employee brand statements about a better planet, about mother love, about future generations.

No longer confined to external advertising, the sentimentality is flowing through companies in a syrupy tide and no-one is looking at the shadow side.

And this is where it gets tricky, because no-one wants to pay.

Thursday 17 September 2015

Back to life, back to reality ...

This one is really for my German-speaking readers, as it's a review of a book that is, as yet, only available in German. The book is Markenerleben by Ralph Ohnemus, who is CEO of K&A Brand Research AG. Without any further ado, here's what I thought:

The way in which people experience branded products and services in today's world has changed fundamentally as technological advances lead to the blurring of boundaries between people, media, channels and brands.

Yet many marketeers are still rigidly brand-theory focussed, clinging onto the models, theories and principles of 20th century marketing, seemingly oblivious to the reality out there.

This book gives a constant reality check on what's really happening 'out there', in terms of how people encounter brands and how human behaviour constantly confounds the outdated theory. A transformation in how we think about people - our customers and potential customers - is proposed - from 'Homo Oeconomicus' to 'Homo Heuristicus'.

There is no magic formula or black box model for Marketing in the 21st Century proposed (thank goodness!), but a few interesting suggestions of approaches and a constant reminder to look from the human point of view.

Although German is not my first language, I found the book very readable. It's a long way from a dry textbook and there are plenty of examples and sources quoted to follow up on, if one is interested in reading in a bit more depth. A slight criticism (of sorts) is that the book is bang up to date for 2015, but may well be out of date in parts within a couple of years.

But my advice would be to buy it and read it now!

It was certainly refreshing to read a marketing text book that acknowledges the real world out there.

Monday 14 September 2015

"I have been memorising this room..."

One aspect of marketing of durables that I find fascinating is the process via which ownership develops. For consumables, ownership is brief. But if I buy a car, a house, a sofa, there's an initial period in which, even though I've paid for whatever it is, it doesn't really feel as if it's mine. Until I've lived with it for a while - until it has gathered personal meaning and accumulated memories. And then, years later, when the thing is as far from shiny new as you can get, it's almost impossible to throw it away, precisely because of those memories that it has accumulated along with the dust.

The clip from Queen Christina, apart from one of the most classy interpretations of a one-night stand in a dodgy inn that's ever been shot, brings the point home. Garbo, or Christina, knows she will never be in that room again, so she tries to commit every aspect of it to memory, through touch, sight and smell.

Maybe these days the dodgy inn could offer a similar service to this lovely idea from Minnesota-based Faribault Woollen Mill and their agency, Fallon. To add value to their woollen blankets, which are often passed on as family heirlooms, The Memory Mill can collect memories-yet-to-be made. Through the ID number on the blanket's metal tag, the new owner can access, for example, a letter that their gift-giving relative wrote years ago.

What I like about this idea is the combination of the real and digital world and the long-term thinking involved. And in these days where we're going to be owning less, and paying more by the minute or hour (Car Sharing, for example), it's a great way for a maker of durable goods to remind us of the joy of ownership - of the object and the memories associated with it.

Monday 7 September 2015

Take your time

One criticism that was levelled at me in early school reports is that I was always rushing to get things finished - and sometimes spoiling my work. This tendency nevertheless saw me through numerous exams and even my driving test ("you take the corners too quickly, but you're under control so I'm passing you").The past few years, I did like to think that this ability stood me in good stead to cope with the deluge, tsunami, eruption, call it what you will, of stuff I had to read on or via the internet.

All those 125-page reports that colleagues send round as pdfs with "I thought you'd be interested in this". All those books that GoodReads is challenging me to read to put my reading tally from last year in the shade. All those links on LinkedIn and other linky sites that contacts urge me I "must read."

But sometime in the last little while, my fast-reading really has turned into superficial skimming. None of this stuff actually enters my long-term memory. And I don't feel bad about it because the more I think about it, the chances that any of the senders of those 125-page pdfs have actually read or understood the thing are pretty minimal.

I've taken a decision to cut down on the amount I attempt to read. I'm either going to read stuff properly and thoroughly or not bother.

Reading is not the same as understanding.

Having a reaction is not the same as having an opinion.

There's a good blog post (which I have read all the way through, although I haven't followed all the links) from Farnam Street on this topic - the brain needs time to make associations, draw connections, form opinions. Maybe even as much time as advocated by The Long Now, with their 5-digit dates.

One thing I left behind when I left the UK was buying drinks in rounds. More often than not, you tried to keep up with the fastest drinker and ended up with memory loss and a stinking headache the next day.


Tuesday 1 September 2015

Anthropomorphisation gone mad

IKEA products have had names since donkey's years, apparently because Ingvar Kamprad found them easier to remember than numbers. And articles of clothing and accessories from certain brands also carry names, increasingly it seems. But while many of these names are people's names (for example, IKEA gives chairs and stools Swedish male names and textiles Swedish names), quite often they'll be a place name (for example, Ben Sherman have 'Romford' polo shirts.) For IKEA, I think this touch adds personalisation, specialness and a friendly feel to what could simply be a mass-market, functional brand.

And, of course, we've had a couple of years now of named Coke bottles - and it's interesting to see these change as you travel through Europe, but the intention here is to share a Coke with someone of that name, rather than anthropomorphising the bottle itself.

Where anthropomorphisation has gone mad is very apparent each time I return to the UK, where there's a growing tendency for packets of food to describe themselves in the first person, rather like the odd potions that Alice encountered in Wonderland. From 'I'm fresh and naked' to 'Keep me in the fridge', it used to be a ploy for the likes of Innocent, to be a little quirky. But now they are all at it, even Own Label. There's a good article about this phenomenon here.

As many of the commentators on the article suggest, this isn't really a big issue, in the great scheme of things. I personally find it twee and slightly creepy and hope it doesn't start appearing here in Germany, although wooly hats did pop up on Innocent bottles last winter, so perhaps it's on its way. But the point is for marketers that it's simply lazy. It's understandable that you want your brand to have a clear tone of voice.


Why does everyone in the UK food industry want the same tone of voice? A lickle cheeky, a lickle chummy, a lickle baby-wabyish?

And, to remind you of the absurdity of anthropomorphisation when it comes to your products, back to IKEA. The TV commercial is probably not such a runner in these days of sustainability, but it's still a classic.