Marketing is a Human Activity

Marketing-Jeff-Swystun

This article originally appeared in WPP’s Sparksheet.

As bots become more and more prevalent, as brands take an aggressive approach to social media, and as everyone drowns in data, it’s worth remembering that successful marketing has always been about one thing only: a personal connection.

Every marketer is bombarded with overwhelming and conflicting information. Most companies (and marketers) can barely digest the data they produce let alone turn it into actionable insights and strategy. Add the utopian promise of Big Data and we have a real issue because the most sophisticated systems will never spit out a marketing roadmap. More importantly, we must never forget that marketing is an intensely human activity.

There are an ever-increasing raft of studies, rankings and surveys that pelt the marketing community every day. In branding alone there are now 294 studies tracked on the website, Ranking the Brands. Most of these are celebratory lists pitting brands against each other on one dimension or another. And the tech industry is an expert at producing reports that skew towards ‘technology-as-savior’ conclusions. Add on consumer and market research studies and marketers are now buried in elephant-size data dumps.

Marketers have forgotten how to segment and to clearly understand the wants and needs of consumers. Marketers know this but get distracted by shiny new toys and theories promising better performance.

The practice and profession of marketing has never changed. It has always been predicated on human behavior. It exists to understand consumer’s motives and give them justification for making a purchase. Everything else either supports or erodes this fact.

The relationship between brand and consumer was pretty much a fair relationship until the Mad Men, mass communication era. That marked a point when brands took the appearance of control through the ubiquity of advertising. This went on for a few decades then the balance of power shifted back towards consumers…but was then interrupted by the advent of social media.

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Losing Sleep: The Mattress Industry is Burning

There is an adage in the advertising business. Don’t sell the mattress, sell the sleep. The lesson being, showcase the benefit, not the features. It is a smart guidance for anyone selling anything. If you are an internet provider, you do not feature “speed” alone, you show the customer what they can do with that speed and the time saved.

Selling the sleep is something the exploding mattress industry has failed to take to heart. What prompted me to write this was a whopping 8-page ad in the latest issue of Entrepreneur magazine. This spread is from the Tomorrow mattress company. It is a curious piece of traditional advertising for an on-line disruptor. The print ad looks like a software seller’s website.

It starts by extolling a host of company virtues: expertise, innovation, commitment…and American made. When it comes to the product, the “hybrid mattress combines the pressure-relieving comfort of memory foam and the unbeatable support of individually wrapped coils for deep, uninterrupted sleep.” Tomorrow is selling a messy mix of features and benefits in lofty language (their strategy and copywriting need help).

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