Marketing ideas as disruption, the case of Swatch

(Originally published on The Drum)Swatch 30th anniversary_0

Swatch turned 30 this year, but its story could have been entirely different if the Swiss watchmaking industry had continued on its downward trajectory of the 70s. A look at how brand embraced disruptive technologies through marketing idea and reversed the fortunes of a floundering industry.

In popular culture, Switzerland is synonymous with clockmaking and watchmaking. The tradition of Swiss clockmaking craft dates back to the 16th century, and while the second world war saw watchmakers in other countries limiting production and supporting the war effort, Swiss neutrality gave the industry an unexpected push.

However, in 1983, centuries of history nearly came to a bitter end as the number of watchmakers shrunk to a quarter of the industry’s size in 1970. The legendary Swiss watch industry was on the brink of being erased.

Continue reading

Survivorship bias and creative success: it’s a lot more mysterious than we care to admit

gangnamstyle(Originally published on The Drum)

In a beautifully told blog post, David McRaney, tells the story of survivorship bias.

“Simply put, survivorship bias is your tendency to focus on survivors instead of whatever you would call a non-survivor depending on the situation. Sometimes that means you tend to focus on the living instead of the dead, or on winners instead of losers, or on successes instead of failures…

“It is easy to do. After any process that leaves behind survivors, the non-survivors are often destroyed or muted or removed from your view. If failures become invisible, then naturally you will pay more attention to successes. Not only do you fail to recognise that what is missing might have held important information, you fail to recognise that there is missing information at all.”

Does the above strike a chord?

I would argue that marketing often suffers from survivorship bias. Our challenging task is achieving success and recreating it in a volatile environment filled with unknown parameters. So our outlook gets highly biased towards success stories.

This is most apparent in what is commonly referred to as ‘best practices’. Continue reading

For inspiring ecosystem marketing – look to gaming

(Originally published on The Drum)OUYA_0

The ‘future’ of marketing is happening now. Or at least it is for the gaming industry, anyway.

If you are a progressive marketing professional (maybe even one with a touch of idealism) some of your days are spent somewhere between shame and horror.

When I’m having one of those days, I often find there’s nothing like a look at the gaming industry for a jolt of optimism.

Gaming is the largest entertainment industry on earth, and it has been pulling away from Hollywood and the music industry for a couple of years now. But it’s still being snubbed by mainstream media and (despite BAFTA’s embrace) also by the cultural sphere.

It’s maybe this ‘outsider mentality’ that makes this industry reach out to its communities in increasingly ingenious ways.

The example we have at hand today is OUYA: a new gaming console launching around Easter weekend as the first of a new generation of Android-based microconsoles. Continue reading

Designing reality’s interfaces – Between the Tube map & Facebook

The People Mover by Trey Ratcliff (CC)

The People Mover by Trey Ratcliff (CC)

(The following article was originally published on Marketing Magazine’s blog. Since the original publishing coincided with The London Underground’s 150 anniversary, the broader theoretical aspect was cut out to turn this into a post about the Tube map alone. I’m publishing an uncut version here for your interest)
In 1931, a part-time engineer draftsman sat in the offices of the London Underground. Like designers of all periods, he was working after hours on a pet project. That project turned out to be with one of the most revolutionary information design concepts in history.
As most of you have guessed – the design in question is the London Underground map. The engineer turned design-legend was Harry Beck. An amusing/alarming fact is that it took about a year for “The Suits” to agree and trial Beck’s radical, uncomissioned, concept. It was another year before it was published on a mass scale. The rest is history. Beck’s map became the blueprint for public transportation maps worldwide and Beck himself spent the next 30 years tweaking his map to near-perfection. He was paid 5 guineas for his map – the equivalent of about £144 in today’s money.
Some things never change, indeed.
Train maps were a popular giveaway with newspapers at the beginning of the twentieth century, and looking at some historical maps will quickly reveal the scale of Beck’s conceptual breakthrough. Navigating the increasingly intricate London Underground network was a design problem. It was waiting for the right solution for decades. Like many major design problems, it was born at the intersection of social change, technological advancements and rapid expansions in commerce. 
It seems 1930s spam was much better than what we get nowadays. Tube maps lived side by side with poster campaigns exalting the many benefits of travelling by underground, many displaying levels of craft rarely seen in today’s graphic design. Maps were often given away for free with the evening papers to encourage the public to ride by train. They were a marketing application, a touchpoint – part of a campaign. “Swift and sure” exclaimed a logo tag-line on a 1908 version. Like most key touchpoints, maps weren’t single sided propaganda that shouted at the audience; they were useful brand utilities. These maps were a tool to help guide the audience in a modern world of ever more complex urban living. A part of a more complex meaning system.

Definitive products, inevitable brands

Binder label: Food Title: Heinz Baked Beans with Tomato Sauce [back] Date issued: 1870 - 1900 (approximate) Physical description: 1 print : chromolithograph ; 13 x 8 cm. Genre: Advertising cards Subject: Boys; Canned foods Notes: Title from item. Statement of responsibility: Heinz Collection: 19th Century American Trade Cards Location: Boston Public Library, Print Department  Rights: No known restrictions.

(Guest Column in The Drum, 1.3.2013: ‘Ketchup is ketchup, so why does the Heinz brand mean so much?’)

Ketchup is weird, Malcolm Gladwell observed a few years back. It is served alongside mustard, but while mustard is a highly diverse product category, ketchup, as we all know is, well… ketchup.

Yes, it is, essentially, a type of tomato sauce, but it isn’t part of that highly diverse category either. Tomato sauce lives by a completely different set of rules.

So if ketchup isn’t like mustard, and it’s not a type of tomato sauce, what is it then? Ketchup is ketchup. Ketchup is weird. Ketchup is magic.
And Heinz is its magic brand.

Yet Ketchup is not the company’s only magic brand. Heinz dominates the Baked Beans category too. There are few definitive products in our world today, and far fewer still where one brand owns two of them. Maybe Apple has managed to achieve this with the Mac and the iPhone (with two product brand names), but you may struggle to find other examples in the mainstream world (Coke and Diet Coke are variants so don’t count).

Both Heinz Baked Beans and Heinz Tomato Ketchup are operating in ‘categories of one’. Competition isn’t fighting Heinz through differentiation; it is forced down to copycatting. Heinz, with its dominant presence and rich, long heritage is just too strong.

From a design perspective, Heinz marries its definitive products with brand identities that are textbook case studies in the long-term management of iconic brands.

If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Tend to it. It’s this custodian mentality that keeps these definitive brands alive and well. Continue reading

The Apocalypse is bad for business

coming soon, by Digital Trash on Flickr

Coming Soon, by Digital Trash on Flickr

(The following post was originally published on Marketing Magazine’s Marketing Blogged blog. It has also been posted on Linguabrand’s Science and Learning section, among a highly flattering group. This is a delayed cross-posting.)

Expanding the definition and remit of sustainable marketing
When initially introduced to c-suites and boards, the allure of sustainability was that it made a certain brutal business common sense. Performance driven business leaders don’t have to love trees to understand that ignoring environmental impact will eventually kill their business: Materials and fuels will get more expensive, regulations will bear down on them and other forms of public scrutiny will become increasingly unforgiving.

Over the years, the remit of business sustainability has expanded from environmental responsibility to include other economic, social and almost any other aspect of responsible long-term resource management and social stewardship.

However, sustainable marketing has so far remained focused on the environmental aspect. It largely stands for paper sources, non-toxic inks, recycling, etc.

This is an oversight as it’s clear a large part of marketing’s impact on our society is not physical. I would like to challenge this narrow view of sustainable marketing by suggesting that just like businesses increasingly look beyond the environmental impact of resource management, marketing should do the same.

The two new elements I would like to introduce into the definition of sustainable marketing are the cognitive and the cultural aspects. Continue reading

Marketing plots: the usual suspects (and two ways to beat them)

Judge me by my size do you?

This is a story about advocacy and rigid leadership-sets.
It begins with a seemingly simple question:
Why do “the usual suspects” keep winning?

“The usual suspects” is a marketing pattern/plot familiar to anyone in the venture capital business:
1. The best venture capital funds get more chances to invest in the best startups.
2. The best startups have better chances to making big exits with big multipliers.
3. Having the best exits further cements a fund’s reputation as being among the best.
4. Repeat.

A virtuous or vicious cycle, depending on a VC’s rank.

A similar dynamic will be found within engineering:
1.The best engineering firms will get a disproportionate amount of opportunities to tender for bigger, better, higher profile projects.
2. High profile projects draw more attention to their best of breed work.
3. Having best of breed high-profile projects further establishes them as an industry leader.
4. Repeat.

How about universities?
1. The best universities are/have the first choice of the best students and faculty.
2. The best students and faculty are mutually drawn to each other.
3. The work/results/success perpetuates the university’s status as among the best.
4. It stays up in the rankings/league tables year after year. (The closer you get to the top of rankings the less movement you will find from year to year).

The usual suspects plot is especially common in professional services and large B2B businesses. Notable categories are legal services (where the leader-set is known as “the magic circle”) and accounting/audit firms (“Big Four”).
Indeed, success begets success.

But what else is there?

The dynamic plotted here is the tendency of big scale advocacy-led categories to have highly rigid leader-sets.
Two questions come to mind: First, what drives this rigidity at the top? And then – What can second tier players and challenger brands do about it?

Continue reading