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Category Archives: Marketing

Branding theories under scrutiny in “Absolute Value”

To call advertising as the ‘art of relative persuasion‘ is sure to get the major advertising practitioners to put you on their black list.

I just completed the book Absolute Value, and found it to be a larger thesis than the title implied. In some ways it’s a systematic take-down of several sacred cows of marketing, branding, the role of persuasion and much more. But what’s impressive is how the authors (Ithamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen) do it in a calm, intellectual fashion, trying to assure readers they are not really picking a fight.

Book - absolutevalueThey observe how we customers have a hard time assessing the quality of products, so we typically use ‘quality proxies’ such as a brand name, prior satisfaction, country of origin, image of the store at which the purchase could be made etc. Oddly enough, we change these proxies over time. Think about this: There was a time when ‘made in China’ meant superior quality, but not anymore. There was a time our prior experience with a brand determined its replacement. Today? (I recently ditched another carrier for T-Mobile because prior experience wasn’t exactly great.)

Absolute Value gives you a three-part theoretical framework of how to promote brands –the P-O-M Influence Mix. I find it interesting how the authors steer clear of calling it the Marketing Mix. It stands for Prior Preferences (P), Other People (O), and Marketers (M).

Does this mean the death of branding? No! But it does reveal serious cracks in what is typically considered brand management –tied to Positioning theory, Segmentation etc. Today we are nearer to having perfect (or ‘absolute’) information about a brand we are considering because of the abundance of reviews, and websites dedicated to testing, comparing, or even disparaging brands. Bloggers and journalists prod and pry a brand’s claims to see if it is living up to it or the market hype, exposing the slightest flaw, or lesser-discussed breakthrough feature. Social media is a big part of this, obviously.and marketers should understand that their primary role is shifting from persuasion to (and this should not come as a shock!) communication!

In this scenario –this has to be troubling to ‘positionistas’ and those running loyalty programs—customers can evaluate a brand for what it is, rather than how it compares with other “choice-sets” they are allowed to see.

Sidenote: There’s a great story about Jonney Shih, who created a brand following with hardly any brand advertising. I was in the market for a laptop a few weeks back, so having sworn by a Toshiba for many years, guess what brand I bought?

 

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How medium size ‘decoys’ mess with your head – ‘Absolute Value’ explained

As I mentioned, I am reading ‘Absolute Value, a book that will certainly rock the world of marketers who have sat on their bottoms with the idea of branding. The idea that the ‘brand’ equity they create, can determine people’s choices.

This explanation by Itamar Simonson on NBC, explains the concept of why manufacturers ‘frame’ the price to provide an imperfect set of choices.

Simonson is a really good interviewee –he firmly, and politely disagrees with the host of the show and others at the table) to make his point and clarify the thesis of the book.

Two things, he says, worth noting:

  • Marketing as we know it is no ‘trick’ – just an outdated way of providing consumer choices, so they make an irrational compromise.
  • Brands are not the same ‘filters’ as say Facebook is. They were proxies for value that do no work as well now. The best filters live outside of the control of brands.

http://www.viddler.com/v/bceefb4a

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2014 in Book, Marketing, Social Media

 

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“Absolute Value” confronts traditional marketing theories

We’ve all been influenced by customer reviews, right?

Whether it’s a low-ticket item (ordering food online) or not we use the “knowledge” gleaned from other users as a habit before we make up our minds.

Is this  new? Not exactly, because in the pre-Internet era, we bumped into this information in a haphazard way — chance conversations  during our commute, by trading opinions over our fence etc.

But it’s less haphazard now. It’s ingrained in our purchasing behavior.

In the just about to be released book, Absolute Value, by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen,  we see how this stream of information is what marketers must now lose sleep over.

I just received an advanced digital version of the book from Rosen, and I have to say it is a compelling idea –the idea of how “nearly perfect information” could disrupt the pillars of marketing we know of as segmentation, positioning, promotion etc. And if course the whole basis of branding and brand value would be in question, if their thesis is true.

The New York Times described it as a book that deals with the power of online reviews, based on Dr. Itamar’s decades-long research at Stanford, prior to this.

Here’s how they summarize how the power of information from ‘other people’ tilt the balance.

Customers’ purchase decisions are typically affected by a combination of three things: Their prior preferences, beliefs, and experiences (which we refer to as P), information from marketers (M), and input from other people and from information services (O). …

…If the impact of O on a purchase decision about a food processor goes up, the influence of M or P, or both, goes down.

For those whose business is all about the M — the marketing push and the brand strategy, you better start paying attention to how the hoi polloi, those “other people” might matter, after all.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2014 in Book, Marketing

 

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Meet the panel –for Chat Republic launch

It’s going to be an interesting round of conversations for the launch of Chat Republic in Colombo in a few weeks. The event, on June 18th, will focus on the power of social media across many disciplines.

The ‘knights,’ as Bates Chairman puts it, will include:

Shehara De Silva – GM, Marketing, Janashakthi Insurance

Virginia Sharma – VP of Marketing, Communications and Corporate Citizenship, IBM India/South Asia.

Dinesh Perera -Head of Digital Business / Creative Director, Bates

Nalaka Gunawardena – Citizen Journalist / LIRNEasia

Lakshaman Bandaranayake — Multi-Platform Publisher / Chairman, Vanguard Management

Shamindra Kulamanage – Magazine Editor

Ajitha Kadirgamar — Journalist, Social Media Specialist


Nimal Gunewardena
– Moderator / Chairman & CEO at Bates Strategic Alliance

Here’s how the media has reported it, calling this an ‘interrogation':

The interviewers will each straddle a different facet of the topic raging from social media’s use in marketing, adoption by ad agencies, vital value in PR, impact on mainstream editorial media, its mobilisation by citizen journalists and monitoring and analytics.

Not sure about a round table being interrogation technique. I’m there to learn as much as I could from these eminent folk. More details of the event, here.

 

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Brand Voices vs Brand Conversations

It’s easy to confuse the power of voice, when discussing ‘brand voice.’

(Don’t bother Gogling it, as there are some 441 million results, some of it with the predictable talk about signage etc.)

The Voice of the Brand belongs to two groups, depending on whom you speak to:

(a) The people who define the brand, and “know” what it stands for, and articulate it in their channels. This is really what I would call Brand Talk. Sometimes I cynically call it Bland Talk.

(b) The folks to buy it or use it, and talk it up in their own communities, and sometimes on the brand-owned channels. These are, arguably, more authentic Brand Voices. They tell you why people are using the product or paying attention.

But let’s cut through all this and look at brand conversations, to figure out what are the most valuable conversations? These are what social media helps us unearth: those incomplete, poorly phrased sentences, the angst-ridden, or cult-like exchanges in a forum, or comments section. Those self-appointed ambassadors and know-it-alls…

Sadly, brand managers are not always up to snuff on handling the latter; this sort of anarchy; of data-mining conversations; of engaging with those the bosses instinctively want to block or ban those outside voices from the website.

ONE OF THE FEW AD-MEN who bucks the trend and critiques one-way Brand Talk, calls for true brand conversations.

Nimal Gunewardena, CEO of Bates Strategic Alliance, happens to be moderating a round table discussion I will be part of, when I launch my book, Chat Republic, in Sri Lanka in a few weeks.

His screed about Brand Conversations, called for an abandonment of ‘sales talk’ and the 30-second-commercial mindset. It seemed akin to 1st century monks arguing against using calligraphy.

“It’s time to start thinking beyond that 30 second commercial. It’s time to combine the power of TV with the connectivity and engagement power of digital and social media. It’s time to explore new formats. Two-way conversations, rather than one-way broadcasts. It’s time to talk to communities who have common interests.

To which one person commented:

“oh how our vocabularies have changed recently! We are all part of a social media revolution and it’s simply not possible to have our heads deep in the sand any more.”

It’s so easy to provide knee-jerk responses to the role of conversations: To engage, to discuss, to share etc. I try to pry these apart in Chat Republic, and encourage readers to think of conversations as the ‘operating system’ for their community (OK, maybe the brand) they manage.

We cannot bury our brand-saturated heads in the bland.

 

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“Sending a message,” in a post-Bansky era

In my book, Chat Republic,  I feature a few examples of how ‘street talk’ has been effective, even sans the Internet.

“Banksymus Maximus”

This old, classic tactic from guerilla artist Bansky could take us into a whole new discussion of how to create buzz, often without words.

Here’s the set-up: In 2005, Bansky managed to place a fake “rock painting” in the British Museum. As you could see, it shows a caveman as a different kind of hunter and gatherer. The rock was stuck onto a wall in a ‘Roman Britain’ section.

Just plain ‘art-jacking’ or is Bansky an ingenious, much-ignored communicator? In a world empowering us to ‘speak out of turn’ do tactics like this feel relevant? Or are they too edgy for you?

Before you come to a conclusion, take a look at the modern version of this phenomenon, known as Culture Jacking.

I would love to hear your comments.

 
 

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Time magazine’s cover sells, enrages

I’m a great fan of and subscriber to Time magazine. I’ve been used to their shift to become more edgy over the past few years –perhaps in order to stay in business. But this caught me off guard.

Last Friday, when it arrived, I left the magazine on the counter, not thinking too much about the mother and child cover. Another mother’s day angle, I surmised. My wife was shocked, and my daughter probably was even more.

I could see the firestorm emerging. But it’s coming from several interesting sides, especially those enraged by the ‘Mom enough’ question, and also the challenging pose of the breastfeeding mom. The “this creeps me out” reaction from mothers was quite common, and I bet Time wanted This kind of reaction, as the buzz was good for newsstand sales.

Time magazine is not just a news outfit. It’s a marketing machine. I’ve noticed that recently it often makes a big point about how a story gets more web traffic than any other story, or has has more letters to the editor etc. I also get it. Covers need to be provocative, and even stimulate a conversation. But in this instance I think Time went too far. Here’s why:

The headline. Reading the article, it seems to have very little to do with adequacy or inadequacy of mothers, and their feeding methods. Connecting that headline to the stand-up feeding pose, seems like it is posing an unspoken question: “Would you be brave enough to do what I am doing? (with my one hand on my hip, too!)”

The eye contact. They probably took a lot of angles of this mother-and-child. (They had great inspiration, apparently)

 

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