Perhaps the greatest mystery for Marketers is why some brands/products/ideas are wildly successful whilst others never get off the ground.
There seems to be no obvious connection between the amount of money spent on research, product development and marketing and the actual likelihood of success. As with the worlds of fashion and music many hits seem to come out of nowhere with apparently no major investment behind them and yet other launches flop spectacularly despite months of preparation, design and planning.
So what’s really going on? Should we not bother spending on research and advertising anymore and simply trust to blind luck?
Perhaps the answer lies simply in knowing where and how to focus your spend to maximise your chances of success. Rather than simply throwing money behind a product launch, consider what might be the smartest ‘strategy for success’ given the nature of your product and your customers.
The bad news is that there’s no standard answer to what this should be. What’s right for you will depend on the unique and complex mix of your brand, your category and your target audience - so you cannot simply copy what’s worked elsewhere and expect it to work for your business.
The good news though is that there are techniques you can explore that will help you uncover the right approach and a number of thought leaders have already explored this issue for us.
The ever thought-provoking Seth Godin uses the term ‘Edgecraft’ to describe what happens when an organisation achieves fame (or as he puts it become remarkable) through the single-minded pursuit of a radically differentiated customer experience.
He invites brands and their marketers to leave their traditional comfort zone, seek inspiration from outside their industry and consider whether seemingly extreme ideas could be adapted to work for them.
Success (at least in terms of standing out) can thus be achieved simply by behaving in a dramatically unexpected way. Or, as Tom Peters put it 15 years ago, we should take stock and ask ourselves:
“Exactly how are we dramatically different?”
But achieving differentiation is just the start. How do you spread awareness of this difference? How do you achieve a critical mass of people noticing you and talking about what you do?
Jonah Berger’s book Contagious is another great resource. He explores what characteristics cause all sorts of things (ideas, religions, fashions, brands…) to gain traction and identifies some common features.
Brands and products are thus more likely to become ‘contagious’ if they can tap in to one or more of the following drivers of human behaviour:
‘Social currency’ – whereby simply being associated with something deemed to be cool or exclusive gives kudos (think of a Prada carrier bag)
‘Triggers’ – fostering an association where people are reminded about your brand (think Ivy League colleges and Gant shirts)
‘Emotion’ – tapping in to strong feelings (positive or negative) that people are naturally inclined to share with others
‘Public’ – people imitate others (often without meaning to) so create a product with a unique visual identifier (e.g. the white Apple ear buds)
‘Practical value’ – make it easy to share by making useful content
‘Story telling’ - messages are far more memorable when delivered in this way
Any one of these characteristics greatly increases the chance of successfully creating awareness but you need to think carefully about which is most appropriate for your organisation and your customers.
Make it sticky
Finding a way to differentiate your offering and then achieving a tipping-point in awareness are tremendous achievements – but you mustn’t stop and rest on your laurels at this point.
How many ideas, products and brands experience a brief summer of success and then seem to fade into the background? What’s the difference between a short-lived fad and a sustainable idea?
Chip and Dan Heath’s 2007 book Made to Stick provides a useful checklist of attributes that help ideas last:
(i) Be simple – what’s the single most important thing you want people to remember? How do you best share this?
(ii) Be unexpected – surprise by breaking with tradition, hold attention by creating ‘knowledge gaps’ that provoke curiosity to learn more
(iii) Be concrete – make it easy to visualise
(iv) Be credible – provide the proof
(v) Use emotions – make people care
(vi) Use stories – use key plot lines to wrap up your message (e.g. overcoming a challenge)
These represent a natural overlap with the above techniques for stimulating differentiation and awareness so you should by now be seeing a possible pattern that could work for your organisation.
It’s clear that the question is not whether you should bother to invest in marketing at all but how best to invest in it – and there are many questions you need to ask along the way.
What is it about your brand that will get people talking about it (and keep them talking)?
Could success for your organisation lie in behaving in a radically unexpected manner?
Can being associated with your brand make someone feel good?
Should you make your product as visible as possible?
Is it better to talk about rational product benefits or focus on creating emotional outcomes?
Would the smartest strategy be to wrap your message within the context of a story and let that do your marketing for you?
So the secret success recipe is…
…different for everyone but has to include the same 3 simple (but difficult) elements:
1. Find the right way to be dramatically different – be remarkable
2. Find the right way to show how you are different – be contagious
3. Make it last – be sticky
Clearly there are many possibilities to consider and there is no shortage of potential success strategies but perhaps the first, critical step is to ask:
“What do I want to be famous for?”