Thursday, June 29, 2006

NZ - a brandless country?

Being right now on vacation in New Zealand (Thank you Scott and Norman!) I experience the weird feeling of living in a society that seems pretty far away from the industrious hectic of big economies. Besides the normal differences of a small, still heavily agriculturally country with beautiful nature, there is one particularity that keeps me wondering: New Zealand has no internationally recognizable brand. And no one seems to care. The closest to having an international brand are: Air New Zealand (the national airline), The All Blacks (the national Rugby team), Katmandu (The REI of New Zealand). That’s it.

So, why do I care? I am trying to figure out the reasons for this lack of internationally well know New Zealand brands – is it the size of the country or something culturally different that hinders the design and building of an international brand? The size of the country alone does not persuade me since similar small countries like Switzerland developed world wide famous brands. After talking with several New Zealanders the lack of big brands seem to be a combination of the young age of the country (the westernization of New Zealand barely started 150 years ago), its small population (just over 4 million citizen), and the shadow of the big Australian brother which dominates significant parts of the New Zealand economy, and imports aggressively its own branded products.

But there is one big change in the brand and marketing world of New Zealand: the country itself is becoming the biggest New Zealand brand, especially with the unbelievable success of the “Lord of the Rings” and the long running campaign “100% pure” that portrays New Zealand as the tourist destination for ecologically minded individuals. Now, in the mind of millions of consumers anywhere in the world, New Zealand is merged as a mythical place of the different “Lord of the Ring” landscapes and a physical place of pure and untouched nature. When you arrive in New Zealand the tourist office hands you a map of the traditional physical roads and cities, and a map of the locations of the “Lord of the Rings” universe. Now, New Zealand is becoming the amalgam of the country of “Lord of the Rings” and the positive utopia of a “green” society.

It seems to me that there is a strong connection between the lack of international New Zealand brands and the just now slowly emerging brand “New Zealand”. Only a country that has gone through the branding of its own identity and physical and societal particularities has the strength (and arrogance) to develop global brands that stand for something relevant across the whole globe. Now, New Zealand is getting ready to start this journey of defining big, big brands. I am curious of discovering the first one.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Globalization of Marketing?

Since at least 10 years you hear a lot about Globalization, about the shrinking physical and mental distances between countries. Thomas Friedman calls is the “Flattening of our world”, other describe it as the “Globe as our village” phenomena. Is the same happening in our beloved marketing field?

There are probably four different marketing constituents that need to be considered if one analyzes the extent of the globalization of marketing: The Consumer, Brands, the community of marketers, and the academic field of marketing. Let’s review each one separately:

The Consumer – There is no doubt that today’s consumers are much more globally oriented than ever before. The internet makes physical boundaries seem obsolete, the exchange of ideas and communication appear more borderless. But, but most consumers, especially in the US, still spend most of their discretionary income on US brands, on products and goods that are sold (definitely not manufactured) in the United States. There is only a very limited global sourcing and purchasing behavior of consumers. This is very different from businesses which are getting used to buy goods and services from anywhere. Still, the US consumer is used to shop non US brands, and thinks more and more beyond physical country boundaries but there are only a few (very rich) truly global consumers.

Brands – The number of truly global brands (e.g. Apple, Nokia, Hugo Boss) have increased over the last decade. One just needs to look at Toyota and their increasing leadership in the automotive industry on a global level. One can imagine that the world of brands morph into two extremes, of very global and very local brands. Brands will have to decide if they want to focus primarily on their local or their local identity.

Marketers – It’s still pretty rare to find really global marketers in the CMO’s position of Fortune 2,000 Firms. It’s much more common for CEO’s to have the global work experience with stints on multiple continents. CMOs still seem to follow the old rule of originating from a brand’s motherland. While this is partly understandable (you first need to understand the consumer’s mindset of the brand’s mother or fatherland), CMO’s need to become much more global players. Unfortunately there does not seem to be a growing community of global marketers, not even within the big marketing services firms, that actively promote the global CMO.

Academics – The biggest lack of globalization resides within the academic community. Most US marketing academics are too busy enough in reinforcing their own US superiority while non US academics don’t like to rely heavily on the US marketing leadership. Just recently I asked US academics about their favorite non US marketing personality or stimulating book. I did the same with some of their European counterparts and inquired about their favorite US marketing academic or book. In both cases I only received blank stares and uncomfortable silence.

This brief assessment of the globalization degree along the key marketing constituents shows that leading brands behave and think much more global than the practicing or the academic oriented marketer. We Marketers have to be careful that we don’t fall further back but instead keep up with the speed of globalization. Currently it’s more driven by brands and opinion leading consumers instead of a community of global marketers. Let’s change it.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Soccer or Basketball?

Do you follow the worldwide excitement about the 2006 World Cup? Or are you part of the parallel US universe where the NBA finals get significantly more attention? Or are you part of both sports universes? Asking these questions any serious marketer might trigger the intellectual exercise of searching for parallels or differences between both sports and marketing.

Let’s first analyze the key differences between these two sports with focus on its scoring particularities. Soccer is a low scoring game where one big move can decide a whole game, whereas Basketball is about constant scoring till the last minute. The basketball is much less about one big move but about the art and constant pressure of scoring 40 or 50 times.

My hypothesis is that marketing has evolved from being a game of soccer to a game of basketball. Why? 10 years ago marketing was predominantly about the one big idea, the one big bold move that decided a game, the one huge score that decided the winner. Nowadays marketing is much more an aggressive game of continuous scoring, much more about a multitude of different ways of making points and defending than the one moment of brilliance.

Therefore it might not be as surprising that the US is perceived as the global marketing leader, since a high scoring game like basketball has such a tremendous support and fan base. Global Marketers might all start to think more like basketball coaches despite our personal preference for a beautiful game like soccer. Definitely one aspect of modern marketing is different from both fascinating sports games: The game is never over, there is never a real winner, just someone temporarily ahead which could change any minute.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The veil of statistics

When most Marketers hear the word “Customer Data”, he or she likes to look at the Statistician in the room, to ask him what the data means. If there is no statistician in the room, then the conversation stops and is redirected into safer waters. That’s where the problem starts. It’s sad but most marketers have only two attitudes towards the Marketing Statistician: Blind Ignorance for any value of this field or blind admiration for the mathematical skills of deciphering hidden treasures from stream of data. Both is not just plain wrong but also dangerous.

Wikipedia calls Statistics a “mathematical science pertaining to collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation of data.” Please notice it doesn’t talk about truth, action, or meaning; it talks mathematics. Mathematics is an attempt to build a parallel universe of connection and correlations that mirrors as closely as possible the world that we experience everyday. Mathematics is a descriptive tool set to better understand our world, so is applied statistics in our marketing world. Therefore, every marketer needs to have a basic understanding of how statistics work, what its limitations are, and how it can be used as a parallel marketing universe of understanding customer behavior.

Here are my simple and short guidelines of how Marketers can deal with Statistics and the analysts who love talking about it.

  • No tech speak: Don’t get intimidated by the statistical jargon that a lot of marketing analysts use. Tell them to explain the problem, their approach, and the insight in basic terms without hiding behind meaningless technicalities. Example: If the analyst talks about regression analysis, let him/her explain what it is until you understand it.
  • No Analytics without hypothesis: Start every analytical problem with a clear definition of the problem and what you expect as the outcome. The projected outcome should be used as a guiding hypothesis that can be verified or falsified, not as a description of what the analytical exercise should demonstrate. Example: Don’t tell the analyst to build a behavioral segmentation. Draw your best guess of this segmentation and give it to the analyst as a guiding principle in his/her data mining practice
  • Visuals, Visuals, Visuals: Guide the Analyst to show the analytical outcome in a visual manner, not in a 30 folder large Excel file. It’s not about oversimplification but about being intellectually rigorous to distill the results into an understandable mode
  • Ask, what’s the 60 seconds story?: Ask for the 60 second version of the statistical outcome and its relevance for marketing. If there is not a 60 second story, then there is no story at all. You can even tell the story of Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot” in 60 seconds.

The successful application of statistics into the field of marketing is about pushing aside its veil which is too often very comfortable for both the statistician and the marketer. The statistician can hide behind it to be perceived as the highly sophisticated data geek. The marketer can hide in front of it, so he does not have to deal with all these more complex data issues. The solution resides in inviting the Analytical Geek out of his dark room into the bright light, where he or she can be part of a productive marketing discussion. It will be quite a bright light for most of us.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What's up with Co-Creation?

The term “Co-Creation”, meaning the consumer’s participation in creating marketing content and experiences, has seen quite some popularity over the last year. You just have to look at the Firefox success of receiving almost 300 submissions for the “Firefox Flicks” ad contest last year, or GM’s Chevy Tahoe’s attempt to solicit consumer ads (backfiring a bit with some strong Anti-SUV messages). Rob Walker in this week’s NYTimes calls the phenomena of “Co-Creation” less a significant change in the marketing value chain than a symptom of our consumer society, where consumers become “Co-Promoter” of their capabilities to produce marketing content. It’s sounds more like individual career enhancement than interactive brand dialog.

What’s really going on here? I believe the phenomena of Co-Creation plays at the intersection of three significant movements:
  • The “consumer society” where the Consumer becomes the Marketer: Most Individuals act either as consuming entities or as value creator in today’s consumer world. There are only rare moments when they are not part of either the consumption or the value creation part. The consuming part exists in the moment when they either shop or buy something; the value creating part is in their professional lives of earning a living. Both roles are fully integrated in today’s consumer world, one passive consuming, and one active creating. The Co-Creation of Consumers combine both normally separate universes into one unified moment of the simultaneously shopping and creating consumer
  • The “consumer in control” doctrine where the Consumer is the Boss of any marketing interaction: The consumer is not just anymore passive victim of the marketer’s communication strategies but active creator of its own network of trusted informer and relevant brands. The marketer always pretended that the consumer is the boss; now the consumer took this claim at face value and acts like the real boss. P&G was one of the first companies who took this movement seriously and follows this doctrine relentlessly.
  • The “media layering and weaving consumer” where he creates his own media world. The consumer rejects most attempts of being informed by a masterminding marketer who decides how the different media are smartly orchestrated to stimulate a particular purchase decision. Nowadays the consumer creates his own personal media world which is extremely individual, changes throughout the day, all depending on the purchase intent and stage of the consumer.

These three movements will ensure that the currently hyped up phenomena “Co-Creation” will transform itself into a stable part of the marketing tool box. It will be one of the tools like a loyalty program or value add services to drive brand loyalty and engagement. This growing tool box will not be owned anymore just by the marketer but by the consumer, too. We marketers should focus on creating more engaging tools and ensure their relevance in building successful marketing.