Reinventing the wheel
I think it’s time that brands and marketers took a good look at reinventing the wheel. We’ve been adding to, tweaking and re-shaping the wheel for far too long. The result – commoditisation of products and services and an underwhelming proliferation of choice.
The root of this problem lies in a number of areas. A colleague highlighted some of these in a presentation to marketers recently.
One of the root causes of so much sameness is the way we research products. Every brand has access to the same data, asks the same questions and gets the same answers, often in an isolated and sterile environment (behind a one-way glass window). We talk about consumer needs, being consumer led, but fail to realise that they don’t always know what they need and don’t always take to new products and innovations positively. Change can be uncomfortable, for them and us. Indeed, brands and products like Absolut, Sony’s Walkman and the TV show Seinfeld, would never have seen the light of day if Executives had listened to consumers.
I’ve witnessed research of opinions around a media product for young men. Sales had declined by more than 10%, but the blokes still talked about how much they loved the product. The recommendation from the research was a ‘10% tweak’. If a brand is in decline a ‘10%’ tweak will never be enough. Declines start slow and gather pace, it’s not a tweak that’s needed, but reinvention.
I believe another cause of this is the way the annual planning and reporting process works. How often are marketing plans written using the previous year’s template? How often is research commissioned to update findings from a previous wave? How many annual reports are written in the same way by the same copywriters?
We’ve lost our ability to create and think big. We’ve fallen into the habit of editing, not writing (as another colleague of mine often makes the point around a brand’s tone of voice). When we write, we create. We start with a fresh slate. When we edit, we assume the rules, conditions and challenges are the same. When editing becomes the habit we and our brands, all look and behave the same.
Finally, I look at the imitation and mimicry plaguing many markets. Brands that are leaders and that successfully innovate often have a unique, compelling idea at the heart of everything they do. FedEx offer peace of mind, Apple is driven by the idea of human technology. It’s human technology that drove the invention of the iPhone. For every other brand it’s the iPhone that drove the invention of their touch-screen competitor. The differentiating big idea isn’t present.
There are of course many other drivers of commodification. The power of retailers, market regulations, the existence of monopolies. But, hopefully there’s enough in the examples above to help you to question if you’re stuck in your own editing rut. I’ve certainly been guilty in the past. But rising to the challenge really can help to create stand-out, market exceeding results. So next time you’re planning – consider reinventing the wheel.
I’d love to hear your feedback on your own experiences…