Part 2: Marketing In The Age Of The Metaphysical Tapas Bar

Redefining Marketing Fundamentals

We rely on coherence, systematic thinking and logic in an incoherent world.

This should not come as a surprise, as humans crave resonance. Our minds play all kinds of funny tricks on us to eliminate any hint of cognitive dissonance. The facts don’t matter as far as the id is concerned.

Businesses, like people, also aspire to resonant thinking. They take complex brands, often with multiple benefits and a wide range of users from all over the world, and piece together single-minded, straightforward, universal and easy-to-understand narratives.  Sometimes the bigger the brand, the more things are over-simplified to a “global” template. Many global marketers go to the extreme of limiting market-by-market changes to a few words beneath the logo or other very minor packaging elements.

This is the way it’s been done. Find the emotional essence of your brands and focus, focus, focus. Cut through the clutter with your meaningful, proprietary message and keep banging away until people get it.

However, the most successful global marketers remind us that one size does not fit all. Starbucks didn’t force feed coffee to the Chinese. They developed green tea drinks to appeal to local tastes and promoted the kind of dine-in service favored in China.

Cultural differences are easy enough to identify between the U.S. and China, but are we doing enough to acknowledge psychological, cultural and lifestyle differences here in the U.S.? Are segmentation studies, the way they are now employed now, providing adequate direction?

More important, have an infinite array of choices and the narcissistic, “just give me the hits” nature of consumers irrevocably changed how we think about marketing fundamentals?

The days of a target defined as “busy working moms living in heartland states” are over. We have to recognize that every mainstream brand must cater to a wide spectrum of psychological and lifestyle needs, not just “primary” and “secondary” targets. True, moms with kids of a certain age will have a lot in common. But that doesn’t mean they think of themselves or how your product fits into their lives in the same way.

Just look at Facebook pages of moms. They vent, brag and dish, seeking “comments” and “likes” and other affirmation for their unique lives and their unique beautiful children from their “Friends.”

Brands still need “core values” to stand out from competition in a meaningful, emotional and proprietary manner. However, as iconic brands such as Starbucks and Apple teach us, both in the U.S. and abroad, it is essential to create a space for consumers to personalize and own those values without making a “major commitment” to the brand.

As to be expected, trailblazing, iconic brands show us the way. No matter where in the world or the U.S. you are, Starbucks always allows you to personalize your experience. Choice and customization are deeply imbedded in their core values.

Variations of iPhones, iPads and MacBooks may be limited, but all are designed and marketed to under an umbrella of personal creativity. Once the Apple choice is made, users are magically infused with expanded imaginations and unlimited creative potential to help them fuel expressions of their one-of-a-kind essence.

These “MegaCool” brands combine a singular vision with an aura of personalized access that envelops their users with feelings of specialness. This is much more difficult for more “everyday” brands. There’s a lot of badge value in your iPad, but not so much in your soup, breakfast cereal, deodorant or toothpaste.

Most “MegaCommon” brands don’t have a shot in the world at every becoming MegaCool.  There’s the rare case of an old, dying brand like Pabst Blue Ribbon making a comeback with a younger target, but packaged goods are just not as inherently sexy as high technology, fashion and places where people gather like Starbucks.

However, there is a huge upside to applying MegaCool analysis to MegaCommon brands.  Take the very different cases of two of the most iconic (though still MegaCommon) brands in the U.S., Campbell’s Soup and Cheerios.

For the past two years, Campbell’s Soup has been running what I had always believed to be a brilliant campaign, one that seemingly checks every box on the “How To Make Great Advertising” checklist.

There’s emotion and aspiration.  Campbell’s Soup will put you on the “road to happiness.”  How?  “Delicious Campbell Soups fill you with good nutrition, energy, farm grown ingredients, and can help you keep a healthy weight.”

The executions are uplifting, beautifully shot, and feature voiceovers from none other than Tim Allen, Buzz Lightyear himself.

And it’s all summed up in a wonderful, uplifting, memorable tagline “It’s amazing what soup can do.”

The results? Well, not so good.

Denise M. Morrison, Campbell’s President and Chief Executive Officer, writes in the 2011 Annual Report:

“…performance in our core Soup
 and Simple Meals business in North America was disappointing…These declines were not solely the result of the downturn in the economy. Today, consumer tastes and expectations are more diverse and variable than ever before. It is clear to us that in our Soup 
and Simple Meals business, we must respond more effectively to demographic changes and generational shifts in food preferences.”

And despite a 4th Quarter bump which they seem to attribute to discounting, sales continued to decline in Campbell’s Fiscal Year 2012.

“Consumer tastes and expectations are more diverse and variable than ever.” They wanted the hits, but Campbell’s spent about $100 million a year on the album and didn’t get very far. With all the variety Campbell’s offers, the ads just flashed a brief visual of cans representing the big three lines, Condensed, Chunky and Select Harvest.

By going with the “corporate advertising” approach, assembling a single narrative from many different parts, Campbell’s passed on a tremendous opportunity to allow consumers to customize and self-define from it’s wide range of flavors, forms, packaging options and potential uses of its products.

Contrast Campbell’s “corporate marketing” approach with the sub-branding approach employed by General Mills for its Cheerio’s franchise.  Starting with a single product, classic Cheerios in the yellow box, the brand added its first successful extension, Honey Nut Cheerios, in 1979.  The line has now grown to 12 Cheerios varieties including Chocolate, Frosted, Cinnamon Burst, and most recently, Dulce de Leche. The indulgent, one might say “junky” nature of these varieties always make me think of the classic SNL John Belushi fake ad for “Little Chocolate Donuts” breakfast cereal. It’s almost comic, and if nothing else, a huge disconnect from the purity of heart healthy oats.  But maybe that’s the point..

General Mills would argue that any of the Cheerio sub-brands, from the cholesterol lowering Honey-Nut to the “delicious” Chocolate, is part of a “balanced, nutritious breakfast.” Translated to plain-speak, at least for the more indulgent flavors:  “You can get your junk food fix and feel really good about it.”

And that fits perfectly into the world of the metaphysical tapas bar.  Consumers are empowered to piece together what would seem to be conflicting elements – health and indulgence – in a way that relieves them from any cognitive dissonance.

Brands need to embrace this need for personalization, much as Geico does in its advertising. True, they spend about a billion dollars a year in advertising, which enables them to run multiple campaigns with multiple characters at any given time.  But it’s all under the banner of “15 minutes could save you 15% or more,” and always expressed with a quirky, friendly and funny brand personality. This allows consumers to connect with them on their own terms.

As brand choices, and access to those brands proliferate through the Internet, “on their own terms” is the only way that consumers will be connecting to your brands.

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