Thursday, November 20, 2008

Marketing Lessons from the Battlefield

Recently, I was thinking about some of the lessons I have learned thus far in my career. I tend to think of “lessons learned” as the wisdom gleaned from firsthand experiences.

Wisdom can seem trivial when discussed in abstract terms so I am providing specific examples of how some of my former clients’ marketing experiences led to the formulation of those “lessons” that I now encourage my current clients to embrace.

Never forget that emotion plays a significant role in most purchase decisions. I helped launch a new Gillette hair care brand, Mink Difference, in the fall of 1981. The brand’s point of difference was that it provided a softness to hair because it contained mink oil -- the same chemical that makes mink fur so soft. Our TV commercial contained numerous scenes of women adorned in beautiful, soft, luxurious mink coats. We tested the commercial prior to launch and found that the strongest marketing elements in the commercials were the camera shots of women in furs in the commercial. The brand had a very successful launch, in part, because of its ability to tap into the aspirations and associations that women (at that time) held for mink coats.

Assess your competitor from their strongest suit, not their weakest. In 1983, my Carnation Company client launched a new dog food brand named New Breed, claiming “best tasting” compared to the leading brands. Within weeks of the launch, General Foods Corporation called the TV networks and disputed our claim against their Gravy Train brand. When challenged, our client admitted (to both the agency and the networks) that their product tests were performed on a dry version of Gravy Train rather than on the “water added” recipe recommended on the package.

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door – as long as it is well promoted. In 1984, my team at SSC&B:Lintas helped launch the very first camcorder in the U.S. JVC’s VideoMovie was a significant departure from the “strap-hangers” that every home movie buff was using to shoot their home movies. With VideoMovie, the consumer had a one-piece, approximately 20-inch camera that was much more convenient than traditional video cameras.

Interestingly, JVC was not sure VideoMovie would be the success it turned out to be, so they pre-sold half of their production to Zenith Corporation so Zenith would bear part of the task of marketing the concept of a one-piece camera to the American public. Zenith merely had to put their logo on the new product and market it. I used to joke about this using Zenith’s advertising campaign theme saying, “Yeah, but the quality went in before the name went on!” JVC’s VideoMovie was so successful that the product was back-ordered for months.

Don’t define your competition too narrowly. In 1985, I was developing and managing the advertising program for Lipton Cup-a-Soup, the instant dry soup brand. During the ‘85-86 soup season, Campbell’s introduced a dry “cook up” soup targeted at adults. During that same season, Lipton also introduced two new dry “cook up” soups (International Soup Classics and Hearty Soups). During the media war and shelf space battles that ensued that season, Cup-a-Soup was hurt significantly in terms of dollar share and volume -- even though they were an instant soup and not directly competitive with those “cook up” soups.

Small businesses can learn a lot from the “war stories” of Big Business. And while budgets may differ dramatically, the strategy lessons generally apply no matter what size the company.

[This article first appeared in GSA Business. Photo used under the Creative Commons License courtesy of Flickr.]

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