We have an inbuilt tendency to over intellectualise and over rationalise to such an extent, that any feeling for what customers will do is lost in a smokescreen of received wisdom and industry habit.
The longer we do what we do at Good, the more and more we see it. Systems and processes that make absolute sense to businesses from the inside out, make absolutely no sense from the outside in. It’s probably human nature and force of habit that makes us organise things that make sense to us, but never really consider that half the battle is the consumer, or end user proposition.
And what of the consumer? Well, another seemingly all pervasive belief is that they’ll just know. In many, many sectors we work in, the spectre of ‘assumed knowledge’ looms large and it has the power to separate success from failure in a single sweeping blow. One of the most valuable things we can do in our roll of branding and communication consultants is unpicking this conceit and presenting it back to our clients with a sense of objective pragmatism.
But sometimes, things are so ingrained that we’re swept along with them. We were recently involved in running a piece of research in the world of premium spirits packaging. There was a lot of talk about the labels (number, size, finishing), the bottle (size, shape, embossing), the closure (cork, screw cap) – all of the elements were pored over to decide which of the particular combinations were the most powerful for our target customers. In the event of the research, we found that this particular group of customers doesn’t actually look at the bottle at all. For them, the box is the most important part of the purchase decision (after price). Once they’d committed, they assumed that what was inside was ‘fine’. They didn’t even open it. Why? They didn’t care. They had other things to do. On further probing it became clear that they spent at most 90 seconds making that choice. And in the world of consumer goods, that’s a lifetime! If ever I needed a reminder of the brutal reality of just how unengaged consumers are in their decision making it was there. We’d spent 90% of our time and money focusing on the bottle and what was on it, when more consideration should have been given to the box. When you think about it, it’s pretty self-evident isn’t it? The consumer is presented with the product in a box on a shelf, why would they need to open it?
I love the searing obviousness of this basic insight. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t get it until after the point, but I always try to keep it at the front of my mind when thinking about other brands and consumers.
In researching and reading up on the topic over the past couple of years I came across the brilliant Byron Sharp whose book ‘How Brands Grow’ (in my opinion) is the best book ever written on marketing. His scientific approach strips away all marketing received wisdom (which is most of it) and bottoms out empirical evidence for the development of successful brands. Much of his valuable insight reflects what I found out at our research group: consumers have a lot of other things to worry about and spending a good deal of time considering ‘brands’ is pretty low on their agenda. Or in other words, and to be harsh: ‘consumers don’t care’.
Does this mean that the industry of branding is a false start? Well, some of it might be. The part that over complicates and over intellectualises everything in the pursuit of incremental fee generation might be. But for me it means that we should focus in on the things that really matter to the end user: distinctive look and feel with coherent messaging executed consistently and repeatedly over time. Oh, and good distribution too. (As Byron Sharp says: brands grow because of a combination of ‘mental and physical availability’).
The moment we get dragged away from these fundamental principles is when I know we’re heading off in the wrong direction and it’s time for a re-think.