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On misinterpretation

October 23, 2012

I was reading a market report today and it made me realise just how careful you have to be with the interpretation of data.

Take this paragraph for instance (category removed to disguise client / report writer).

“An ageing population may be problematic for certain segments: The predicted 9% increase in over-55s is good news for Segment x, with this group the most likely to eat Segment x. Segment y may also benefit, but this demographic shift is likely to be less positive for Segment z for which the over-55s show decidedly low usage.  Segment z enjoy high usage among a broad age group, from the age of 15 up to 44. On the one hand, the 11% projected growth in the 25-34 age group will help to drive market growth. However, declining numbers in the 15-19 and 35-44 age groups, who are also key users, will offset this to some extent”

Although this may seem to make sense – to me it seems to be making a pretty big assumption; people suddenly change their product preferences just because they’ve moved from one age bracket into another.

If you were segment x you might think that this means you are going to be alright – that your fortunes will be saved because your consumer base is getting bigger.

The problem is tastes shift, and you tend to move your tastes along with you.  Teenagers today (I may be generalising horribly) don’t listen to the music I did when I was a teenager – instead that taste and preference is moving through my life stages with me.

To me, it looks like Segment Z might have captured the zeitgeist a bit better, and will be maintaining its popularity, even as its audience ages.

If I hadn’t had the time to look in more detail at the numbers, and just taken the report at face value, it would have resulted in a very different strategy.  Another reminder that no matter how reputable the source, always double-check the story that the numbers are telling you.

Interactive everywhere?

October 18, 2012

I was in KFC a couple of days ago.

Admittedly I’m not in there very often, so maybe this has been happening for a while – but the displays behind the tills with the menu on caught my eye.

There was a mix of static menu cards, and video screens that showed the products being made – but the thing that I found surprising was that I couldn’t tell the difference in how they looked between the static and the moving screens.  It was like a piece of point of sale was suddenly animated, rather than being obvious that it was a TV screen.

(New packaging from Bombay Sapphire)

I wonder how far these will go – especially as Bombay Sapphire has just launched packaging that will light up in consumers hands as they pick it up.

Things like this help messages get stand out now … but when everyone is doing this will the shelves and shops just be so full of moving messages that we won’t notice them anymore?

Global vs. Local

October 3, 2012

(Picture credits go to The Guardian

Before and after shots of the offending pages)

I read this article today about how Ikea is getting grief in its home market of Sweden for a decision to airbrush women out of its latest catalogue in Saudi Arabia.

Leaving aside the wider questions of women’s rights, gender equality, and why the brand took this decision – all massive topics in their own right – the thing I’ve found interesting is how a brand that is tailoring content for the local market (albeit in an incendiary way) and being criticised for it as it doesn’t fit with the home market’s values.

Is this something that we’ll see more of in coming years?  A swing back to globalisation of brands and campaigns rather than tailoring content and expression to different markets?

The internet has a lot to answer for again – who would have spotted this otherwise?

Great Expectations

September 25, 2012

(Cartoon from

A bit of a personal one – but I’ve been thinking recently about what people expect from the services that they buy, and why we expect the things that we do….

I got hit by a bus a few weeks ago.  A bit of a dramatic way of putting it, but my little Peugeot didn’t come off very well and while I’m on the mend it has caused me some stress over the past couple of weeks.

I’ve been dealing with insurance companies and their ‘trusted partners’ a lot over the past 14 days.

Dealing with insurance companies is a bit of a weird thing anyway:

It’s a service that you probably assume you’ll never have to use, so you decide on price

In fact, this is the norm to the extent that a whole industry has sprung up around it.  Without this basic truth Gio Compare and that Meerkat wouldn’t exist.

It makes sense at the beginning of the process.  If you’ll never have to use it, why pay more for it?

The problem is when you do have to use it you end up dealing with 6 different companies who are all scrapping for business to make the most money out of your accident.

They have no relationship with you.  In fact, quite a lot of the time I’ve felt like I’m the product rather than the customer.

The thing is, I’m not sure that this is an industry that could ever change.  In a market that is so totally dominated by price, could an insurance company even begin to differentiate on service?

On knowing your audience

September 11, 2012

I may just be late to the party, but I’ve just found the wonder that is

It’s a really interesting site.  (Completely aside from the fact that I’ve just realised I could spend way too much time and money here).

It’s interesting because the reason that the brand exists is perfectly clear:

“Two years ago, I realised that home cooks are becoming more ambitious – but supply is not keeping up with demand. I realised this because I was a frustrated home cook myself. […] The problem is that lots of these ingredients are only sold in bulk sizes. And even the keenest of home cooks might struggle to get through a kilogram of tartaric acid. So we have repackaged some of these ingredients into manageable sizes, so you can try something new without having to cram your pantry with barrels and boxes.” [Nicola Lando, Founder – Sous Chef] 

I love how this reason for existing has influenced the whole product offering – not just in terms of the individual items, but also how they organise them on the site; they are tailoring the product offering in a way that they know will appeal to the audience they want to attract.

For example Ottolenghi is famous for including esoteric and hard to track down ingredients – so they’ve put together a set tailored to his new book:

 (Ottolenghi Jerusalem Ingredient set – found here if anyone wants it!)

 More brands should think this carefully about what they are offering, and how they can tailor products best for the people who need / want them.

The colour of a brand

September 7, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I was on a train with a friend who doesn’t work in marketing, or advertising, or anything to do with a lot of what I write about on here.

She had a game on her iPhone that was connected to Facebook – which was a competition to guess as many logos as you could.  If you got stuck they’d give you a hint, but otherwise it was totally to do with images rather than words.

It got me thinking about what becomes instantly recognisable as coming from a particular brand.

It looks like I’m not the only one at the moment.

I have an interest in fashion-stuff as well – and I’ve been following Christian Louboutin’s battle with YSL about who has the right to red soles on their shoes.  And I care enough about their brand that I am glad that the judges in the case have ruled that Christian Louboutin can trademark the soles.

In fact, I’d argue that their red sole is much more memorable than the logo, which less distinctive and just (and I realise the irony of what I’m about to say) what appears to be his signature.

What surprises me is that the US court appears to have ruled that while they have the rights to distinct red soles, they can’t trademark the colour itself.

Colour is hugely important to how people recognise brands – Cadbury’s purple, Sainsbury’s orange, Boots blue – these are things that are intrinsic to their branding, and they would be a lot less recognisable without them. For example, I’d hazard a guess that 80% of the female population of the western world could tell you what this brand is from the colour alone:

I’d love to see the arguments for and against colour being trademarked, as right now I can’t fathom how Louboutin’s particular shade of red isn’t seen as a fully trade-markable asset.  I guess the relevant clause is that phrase ‘colour in context’ – but I do wonder exactly what that context has to be before it is too tenuous to be connected to the brand.

On the dangers of being too specialist

August 31, 2012

(Call a spade a spade: Hiscox got it right)

I was in a meeting with a client this morning where we were discussing internal stakeholders on a project.

Their IT manager was going to be a key audience – but my client couldn’t remember the “new fangled job title they’ve got […] head of … talent and information something-or-other … something like that maybe … but it’s still IT”

It reminded me of something that I read recently in John Shaw’s ‘Back to the Future’ Planning 3.0 paper.  In fact there were a lot of really interesting points in the paper, but for now just to focus on one that stuck out:

“Planner titles will keep multiplying.  The blurb for this competition mentioned seven strands of account planning and there are more out there.  I’ve come across planners who called themselves ‘imagineers’.  It’s good that different disciplines want their own planners; my only wish is that those planners don’t become myopically channel-evangelistic, because that is counter to the objective belief in effectiveness central to planning philosophy”

Of course it is brilliant that different disciples (and the client-side as well) all seem to want to use planners. And it also makes sense that they would want to establish a sense of specialism and ownership in terms of the job title – it needs to feel relevant to the business.

But surely attaching a different discipline to the front of the job title is a counterintuitive to a planners role?

The way I see it:

  • Planners are there to try to understand as closely as possible how people think and how they behave.  People, in general, don’t tend to silo themselves off into ‘digital people’ or ‘social networking people’.  So if we have a breed of planners who are becoming too specialist, and specialist beyond how the people they are meant to understand act, then surely that is downright silly (if not even slightly dangerous). They end up considering problems through a single lens, rather than how to solve it
  • Alternatively maybe it’s just that I can’t bear the thought of being told that something isn’t my job.  All these new channels and ways that people talk to each other are interesting, and I’m selfish enough to want to learn more about it – I accept that there do need to be specialists, but is planning really the discipline to do it?  That is where the danger of what John Shaw describes as “myopically channel-evangelistic” lies – it’s no longer about people, it’s about channel.

At the end of the day, surely planners should be concerned with how to solve problems – thinking about how people behave and what our clients can do to interact with or change these behaviours?

I had always thought that it was my job to think in the broad brushstrokes and work out what we need to achieve and the bones of how we’re going to get there – not working out the minutiae of exactly how it’s going to work.  Or more dangerously, what we have to do because I’m not trained to look at it more objectively.

Surely that’s why we get invited into things, because we have a different viewpoint.  As soon as you specialise too much, people won’t get you involved on projects because it “wouldn’t be relevant to your role / experience / perspective”.

Plus, on a more prosaic note, don’t we have enough problems trying to explain our job title to people without making it even more confusing?