July 16, 2012

Sharpen marketing idea, then test with audience

Martha Guidry

Q&A talks about marketing with Martha Guidry, Avon-based author of Marketing Concepts That Win! Save Time, Money and Work by Crafting Concepts Right the First Time.

Q: When developing a marketing concept, is it more important to focus on the functional aspects of the product or the humanistic areas?

A: When developing a positioning concept, the marketer needs to understand the functional benefits as well as the emotional benefits associated with the product or service in addition to knowing the motivations for purchase in the category. Some positioning concepts are very functional and others are much more focused on the human connection. Most are somewhere in between. Compared to a few decades ago, most categories are cluttered with many competitors, so function alone may not sell a product or service. Just take a walk down the shampoo or detergent aisle and you'll know what I mean. As such, marketers need to ensure they understand both aspects as they start development to craft the best approach.

Q: Why do people forget the basics of the positioning concept? Is it a perceived need to move beyond the basics?

A: I believe three primary factors drive skipping the basics: First and foremost, many marketers are never trained how to craft an effective positioning concept. Many firms rely on a sales force to "tell the story" and the salespeople create whatever story they think will motivate their customer. This cycle leads to mixed messaging and generally a "feature-centric" approach rather than a consultative sale of selling the end benefit (i.e. the positioning). Secondarily, marketers spend so much time thinking about a product or living that product every day at work, that they lose their ability to be objective. Often, they believe that anything they can possibly say about their product or service should be told. This generally leads to what I call the "kitchen sink" concept based on the expression "everything, but the kitchen sink." The problem is it may garner great appeal because it is loaded with ideas, but when this concept must be turned into a communications strategy, no one knows upon which aspect to focus. A typical consumer/customer can only remember three things — and one of these better be your brand or company name. And finally, constrained budgets and compressed timelines to launch often forces marketers to skip the proper development and qualification steps. The rush to get something out the door means that the basics can often get skipped, as you surmised.

Q: Do you have an example of a product that was positioned incorrectly and failed? Can a product be repositioned for a second shot at success?

A: A recent marketing disaster was the 2011 missteps of Netflix, the company that cleverly pioneered the DVD-by-mail service in the late '90's along with outstanding customer service. Well, Netflix tried to change its concept, which made the beloved DVD service more expensive and more difficult to use. Basically the price was to increase 60 percent and the DVD and instant-view subscriptions would be separated. Customers would lose the synergistic advantages where Netflix catalogued their habits and preference and then made suggestions for DVD and Instant Viewing choices. The new concept may have made sense internally for profit reasons, but didn't fly with the consumer — Netflix lost almost 1 million subscribers and their stock price of around $300/share now hovers in the $70 range. Customers told Netflix loud and clear that they didn't like it when the company didn't put them first. Only time will tell if Netflix will recoup the misstep. Even if the move made smart business sense, Netflix forgot to delicately approach their loyal customers with a smart reason why the concept had just been changed.

Q: You also detail in your book how to solicit target audience feedback — both qualitatively and quantitatively. What are a couple of recommendations for doing this?

A: My biggest recommendation is to hire a professional. Right ways and wrong ways exist to do both types of research. Unfortunately, new technology and non-marketing trained managers have made some believe they can "do it themselves" on the cheap — a quick survey or even worse, a focus group at the water cooler at work. Secondarily, with concept work, always get feedback qualitatively as you develop and refine the concept. A target audience generally doesn't think or speak like a manufacturer, which is a major problem with internally driven concepts. Quantitative research is great once you have the optimized the concept and the language — the last thing you want is to place a concept in a quantitative test and have it fail not because it was a bad idea, but because it was poorly articulated. Unfortunately, this occurs more than I'd like to admit. I've seen the "tested" output brought to me when a new client calls my phone.

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