A Mad Message

Professor Marshall McLuhan is an interesting chap. His notable ideas: “the medium is the message” and “the global village” continue to inform (and to prompt debate). Some argue that McLuhan predicted the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented. His ideas also covered metamedia, media ecology, figure and ground media, tetrad of media effects, and hot and cool media.

Born in Edmonton, educated in my hometown Winnipeg, and notable while a Professor at the University of Toronto, McLuhan passed away in 1980. He was a celebrity intellectual and as the Globe and Mail points out, “For most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s, McLuhan seemed to be everywhere – on radio, in print, in film (most notably with a cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) and especially on television. The latter, ironically, was a medium he considered pernicious, a certain harbinger of the eventual demise of print culture. He distilled his genius, including phrases that became and remain part of the daily lexicon, such as ‘the medium is the message,’ into sometimes puzzling aphorisms, an early form of the sound byte.” Read more

The Origins of “Marketing”

“To Market, To Market”, so goes the nursery rhyme first referenced in 1598. It was passed from generation to generation for two hundred years until printed in Songs for the Nursery in 1805. As a result, it spread and it is thought that families changed the words producing relevant variations. My favorite stanza from the documented version is:

“To market, to market, to buy a plum cake; Home again, home again, market is late. To market, to market, to buy a plum bun; Home again, home again, market is done.”

 Light and fanciful, it ironically communicates shopping frustration: the market does not open on time and then is unexpectedly closed. Yet beckons the consumer as an early advertisement for a range of goods including plum cakes and buns along with hogs and pigs. Read more

Choice & Clutter

The average American supermarket now carries 48,750 items, according to the Food Marketing Institute, more than five times the number in 1975. Britain’s Tesco stocks 91 different shampoos, 93 varieties of toothpaste and 115 of household cleaner.

In addition to the range of choice in even the most basic brand categories, consumers receive over 5,000 media messages a day containing over 100,564 words. So in my opinion, the most important metric in the next ten years will be how many messages consumers choose NOT to see on a daily basis.

We are creating consumers with such thick skins and blinders that messages bounce off them – we are training them to ignore and disengage which is exactly the opposite of our objective.

In response to choice, many brand owners are now taking steps to rationalize their brand portfolios to simplify and reduce cannibalization. According to Sheena Iyengar in “The Art of Choosing”, Procter & Gamble thinned its range of Head & Shoulders shampoos from 26 to 15, and sales increased by 10%.

Regarding communications clutter, Canadian Marshall McLuhan presciently stated in the 1960’s, “One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with.”

In the next ten years, we will see cycles of brand proliferation and rationalization with corresponding communication cycles. So the brands that simplify people’s lives and speak honestly will stand a better chance of success than those who do not credit the growing power of the consumer, the stresses they are encountering, and how that will impact their choices.

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High Symbolic Value

Leading brands have a crystal clear understanding of how they interact with customers. The desired experience is planned and anticipated as much as possible. But perhaps their most admirable quality is the brand’s ability to learn from each customer interaction and adjust accordingly. One segment that does this well is luxury. Luxury brands are premised on offering high symbolic value to a select segment that responds to status, exclusivity, and perceived quality far more than price.

Luxury brands have long employed the notion of the Customer Journey enjoying a more longitudinal and continuous view of their experiential touch points. And, of course, they inherently leverage Word-of-Mouth (WOM) to build the cache associated with precious and limited goods. Read more

Is There “Non-Content Marketing”?

The marketing world has finally discovered that honest and valuable content makes a difference in interacting with consumers. Not surprisingly, marketers had to name and define this activity. It is called “Content Marketing” and definitions abound but it is meant to encompass all marketing formats involving the creation or sharing of content for the purpose of engaging current and potential consumers.

It begs me to ask the question…is there any non-content marketing?

Beyond my jadedness, the intent is to provide high-quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects and customers to drive brand awareness, consideration, and purchase. Content Marketing can take many forms such as custom magazines, print or online newsletters, digital content, websites or microsites, white papers, webcasts and webinars, podcasts, roadshows, roundtables, interactive online, e-mail, and events. Read more

The Pursuit of Mediocrity

“Today, even critical books about ideas are expected to be prescriptive, to conclude with simple, step-by-step solutions to whatever crisis they discuss. Reading itself is becoming a way out of thinking.”

William Henry wrote this in 1994 in his book, In Defense of Elitism. I have to report that he was accurate but may have miscalculated how quickly and, to what extent, this has taken hold in society. One only has to see the headlines in once-respected newspapers and magazines or take in the astonishing range of poorly written blogs or view scrolling tweets of perpetuating nonsense to conclude that we are losing the ability to search for, develop, and discover knowledge. This morning I was greeted with the following headlines from various sources “7 Things You Need to Know About …”, “13 Do’s and Don’ts of …”, “The 9 Most Common …”, “Top 10 Tips for …”, “5 Ways to …”. Read more

‘Top-Drawer’ Business Books 2011

Books are highly subjective – what appeals to some may not appeal to others. Business books specifically tend to resonate best when they address a pressing issue or interest and when they provide inspiration. In previous years, I have contributed lists of the “best” business and marketing books. I have assembled my own and conducted podcasts to share them. Those opportunities were cool but I was never completely comfortable labeling any book “best”.

So I opt to call my selections ‘Top-Drawer’. This slightly tongue-in-cheek honor is meant to describe books that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, well written, practical, thought-provoking, and innovative. Life is too short to drink cheap scotch – equally so there is precious little time to tolerate books that are not ‘Top-Drawer’. Thirteen make the list this year and are in no particular order. Enjoy and I look forward to feedback on the selections.

Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition by Stephen M. Shapiro

The author introduces a great premise … it’s time to innovate the way we innovate. Innovation tends to be episodic but Shapiro emphasizes the need to consistently produce fresh ideas and implement them with passion. He makes suggestions that are great in theory (a little harder in application but valuable) like hire people you don’t like, define challenges you want your employees to overcome, and create an environment that tolerates experimentation and failure. The bottom-line…reward success and failure equally, punish inactivity. Read more