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Of lizards and hairy men

July 22, 2009

If reincarnation exists, I want to come back as a Communications Manager. Enough of this intellectualization about strategy, marketing and innovation! Advertising is where it’s at. On all continents, executives light up when it comes to designing a TV spot. They bring early concepts to their spouses and children, and all agree that Mom has a really cool job. The best fate for my PowerPoint presentations on customer experience and co-creation has been to act as drawing paper for two-year olds. It seems people want lizards (er, geckos) and hairy cavemen (infamous thanks to the American insurance company Geico), not interaction maps and experience curves.

Perhaps as a rationalization for joining the cool dudes, I increasingly believe it’s O.K. for advertising to come before strategy. I know I’ll probably rot in marketing hell for saying so, but having to come up with a 30 second TV spot is a wonderful forcing function. Who needs strategy?

Many moons ago, the Rockport shoe company was looking for its positioning (the legendary Ted Levitt of Marketing Myopia fame roped me into this one). Rockport’s distinctive features were to offer the comfortable sole of a sneaker in the look of a casual shoe you could wear to work. “Let’s make it a walking shoe”, some barely post-puberty kid in the creative department of a Boston ad agency suggested. This became the strategy, complete with walking manifestoes and walking competitions. Twenty-five years ago, they’re still the walking shoe. In an instant, gone were the subtle segmentation schemes of the marketing department: the old vs. the women, the young vs. the restless, and Madonna vs. my mother-in-law. Suddenly, they were all walking.

I’ve heard similar stories about Danone and its health positioning (I wasn’t there, but hold it from good sources). “Heck, we sell mineral water and yoghurt: we’re about health,” an advertising type is rumored to have said, confronted with the need to launch a new corporate campaign. The only problem is they also made beer and cookies (which sounds like a wonderful snack right there?). The story has it that the CEO then decided that if they were a health company, they should sell the beer and cookies divisions, and lo and behold, he did just that. Once again, the campaign became the strategy.

I’m currently working on helping a large European bank define its positioning. We’ve made good progress, but it’s hard to get the highly de-centralized management team to agree on anything. Maybe it’s time to bring in the lizards and hairy cavemen.

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