Building Marketing Products (Redux)

Henrik asked yesterday about my post on building marketing products. He asked the simple question of when a marketing product is valuable and when you might use one? And it’s a fair question to ask.

Where this approach seems to work best are where three things are happening:

  1. The market you’re in is intensely competitive
  2. There are many available substitutes and core product performance is commoditized
  3. Where loyalty is declining, and meaningful differentiation through traditional means is harder and harder to achieve

By imbuing the marketing of the brand with an additional layer of utility, you bring the product and the marketing of the product together in a way that has not previously been possible. Arguably, Pepsi Refresh is another example where a new form of emotional differentiation is being created within an intensely competitive environment.

So what is the value and who should be doing this?

I think the value, very simply, is in a new ability to make the core product more desirable than that of a competitor. Essentially by creating an additional layer of customer focused usefulness within the brand that is designed to complement and enhance the utility of the product (rather than the brand disconnecting from the product as sometimes happens).

Who should be doing this? Probably any marketer whose category dynamics are intensely competitive, increasingly commoditized and where loyalty and meaningful brand differentiation are either in decline or not where they need to be.

With so many categories facing exactly these challenges, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see an explosion of marketing products in 2011. Some of which might even become amazingly successful in their own right.

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Building Marketing Products

There is no doubt that the world of marketing is changing fast.

One observation I’m fascinated by is the incredible rise in what I would describe as “Marketing Products” such as Nike+ or the Geico Glovebox app.

While R/GA would prefer to describe Nike+ as a platform, I think the product analogy is both more accurate and possibly more interesting.

Traditional marketing communications has borrowed the mindset, metaphors and ideas of the entertainment industry. Seeking to create advertising and marketing programs that entertain their audiences as much as selling to them. Just think of all the ‘funny’ superbowl spots or all of the ‘sticky’ online games that brands have created.

Now, however, the possibilities enabled by connected technologies mean that marketing can instead borrow from a different set of metaphors, those of product development. Instead of being concerned primarily with entertainment and amusement, marketing products can be created that are more focused on solving customer needs and creating utility. In essence giving marketing itself a value proposition to the customer.

And this, of course, fits much more with what consumers say they actually want. A recent Harris Interactive study for EffectiveUI found that consumers primarily want branded apps that make it easier or more convenient to do business with that brand, with almost 40% being unhappy with current branded apps and 75% feeling that an app should “do exactly what I want it to do”.

This data suggests that the many brands out there who look at apps as nothing more than mobile microsites are probably doing their brand harm, and certainly aren’t adding value. It seems that when people are aware of what is possible from technology, the underlying entertainment metaphor so beloved of traditional marketing communications begins to lose steam. And while not all marketing products will be delivered as apps I think the example holds true.

What is key is that marketing products be inherently useful, as opposed to simply marketing communications which are often seen as wasteful. This has the potential to radically change how people view marketing. Instead of “it’s just marketing” meaning something is essentially untrue and irrelevant, the marketing proposition itself begins to inherently add value by layering utility on top of the actual product. A product that may in fact be quite commoditized, such as car insurance.

In an effort to distil what I think constitutes a marketing product (and this is by no means the final word, so please feel free to make suggestions) I’ve observed the following 5 principles:

– works against a real customer need and addresses real pain points that exist

– something people would pay for (even if they’re not asked to)
– something that ideally is cost neutral in terms of operating expenses

– data can be parsed to generate usable customer insights
– drives user data back to marketers

– creates a story about the brand through the experience
– encourages brand recommendations
– builds on the core, creates loyalty by providing utility competitors don’t have

– deliver within existing budgets
– replace media spend to create marketing product as owned media

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