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Ep. 14 Working with Agencies – Communications

JAN 15, 2020

00:18 Welcome to episode 14. Working with agencies, the second episode. This time, I’m going to focus on communications. Look, I’ve observed, worked with and presented to many ad agencies over the years in my career, as they do their work on behalf of consumer packaged goods brands. Most good agencies do consume data and consumer research to fuel their work. It’s not simply a Don Draper bullshit creative exercise stereotyped on television. And that’s generally a given at big agencies.

00:53 Yet, one strange thing often doesn’t occur, and that’s building the communication strategy from the package outward. This is because to a large extent, most big co ad campaigns for legacy, large billion dollar brands. They’re simply about reminding consumers of their continued existence. They’re not actually focusing on persuading you to try anything or to do anything particular. And it’s a kind of a dark secret, but most advertising, the big money advertising is simply about reminding. Those campaigns that are tied to product launches do tend to focus on bringing to life the emotional experience of a new flavor or texture that’s being fired out to add some incremental revenue, even if it’s only for 12 to 18 months.

01:38 Again, I’m not saying this is a bad approach at all for these legacy brands, but this is all big co-communications work for extremely well-known mass market trademarks. But for new trademarks, which is what you guys are all selling. For new trademarks that are pushing non-mainstream formulations, flavors, textures, or all three, there is a specific communications battle that founders need to win. It’s the battle for share of outcome. A battle to be heard and understood as the modern solution to an existing dietary or personal need of some kind in broader bourgeois America.

02:18 So I talk about all of this at length in my new book, Ramping Your Brand, which, my only plug, please go get it now on Amazon. The cultural problem with communications that most premium brands face is that they’re literally pushing symbolism and, or sensory experiences that ordinary consumers don’t understand why they should give two f’s about. In many cases, the ordinary consumer in the category sees the price point alone and literally accuses the product of pretentious horseshit.

02:50 The Siggi’s Yogurt folks in 2006, do you have any idea what they charged for that? 279 a cup. That’s four bucks in today’s dollars. Bullshit. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Premium. Your early fans on the other hand, generally speaking, they don’t freak out at that price point. They almost always get it right away. So you may, in the early years get y’all lulled into an early complacency.

03:15 You may not probe, especially if your product is truly spot-on amazing and it’s growing well, you may not probe deeper into why people are buying your brand because you’re drowning in vaguely positive feedback and decent velocity numbers. Vaguely positive feedback from consumers who’ve quietly, and largely and unconsciously made the attribute outcome connection that your package is quietly implying on the shelf to the discerning passer-by. But what the hell is the outcome they’re experiencing and associated with your product? Do you even know what it is?

03:46 Is it more than one? Which ones could generate scalable behavior, if you could use marketing communications to sort of slap the public awake and alert to their presence? And so then, what should be the communication strategy to get the word out on your product line’s killer outcome? And why people should stop using their current brands to achieve it and instead use yours. I mean, honestly, what is your unconscious symbolic case to the consumer? And then it needs to be very easy to figure out.

04:16 Guess what? This is where creative arts plus a massive dose of high impression repetition in front of the predisposed can work absolute wonders. But the quality and kind of impression would appear to matter quite a lot in the early years, in my experience. While field marketing, and you hear me in my book write about it a lot and I talk about all the time. Field marketing, which is essentially publicly staged word of mouth marketing, often gets reduced, unfortunately to tossing samples randomly into badgered and reluctant hands. Standing and handing is the cliche put-down phrase.

04:49 But field marketing folks, if it’s any good at all is about storytelling. It also can and generally does generate much better ROI in the early years on low penetration, low awareness trademarks in the market in any category. Well, I’ll take that back. Not every category, but in the majority of categories that move into shopper’s baskets on a weekly basis. This is especially true in those early years when your trademark, as much as you love it and cuddle up with it, just isn’t really a brand yet. It’s not a brand symbol that’s powerful enough like Lays and Oreos, to generate oohs and aahs every time it launches something.

05:24 Look, let’s look deeper into field marketing as a communications field. Spending an $1 per sample to get 50% of people to buy a full price product later, probably in 24 to 48 hours, if you’re in the right category. And then 50% of those initial purchasers to become habitual users, even if for just a year, that creates an unbelievably powerful return on investment and powerful conversion engine if you can get 20% to 25% of the people who take a sample to become habitual users. It might be a little high of an estimate, but it’s happened. In fact, better than that has happened with some businesses.

05:57 But here’s the thing. The samples that are attached to stories that make the implicit outcome the early adopters have gotten quietly much more explicit, are the real magic in communications on merging premium trademarks. That’s how you really reach the next run of consumers who are much, much more pragmatic about how they trade up to premium goods. They’re going to actually think consciously about why am I getting this? You know, not the hyper-tradey geeks who got your business going-

06:22 So you need to hire a communications agency folks. If you’re going to hire one or bring people in house, you’ve got to have people involved in your communications who understand outcome-based marketing and the specific creative approaches that work when you want to do this. And I’m telling you, the average agency talent out there is not used to doing outcome-based campaigns because their roster at WPP and all these places is full of reminder advertising, or commodity advertising for folks like GEICO, which is all based on shock and awe.

06:52 You need an agency that can coordinate their work, their communications work with nontraditional techniques I was just talking about like field marketing, that your team absolutely will be executing itself and is probably executing independently of that agency. Outcome-based communications require a communication strategy to design to simulate the emotional experience of your product’s killer outcome. Preferably as it’s experienced by real users and preferably in some kind of a succinct storytelling format.

07:19 The stories are real users. Experiences are sometimes the absolute best creative copy you’ll ever fricking find. If you have an active, engaged Instagram feed where the extroverted purchasers are actually commenting, you may actually find most of your copy written for you already.

07:38 The emotional experience I’m talking about has to be clearly defined across all creative touch points. But most importantly, the creative work here has to make use of the key attribute symbolism on your package, that fans are already using as they shop to signal the outcome. Your strategically high value outcome in their brands. Then you absolutely have to connect the package to that outcome again and again, that’s your storytelling challenge.

08:03 Sampling connects your package, obviously to this outcome, as long as they understand how to interpret the package. So your creative is really a tool to ensure whether it’s a line that comes out of the mouth of the field marketing person, or it’s creative work digitally communicated, or in print or whatever. It has to be creative, that makes that outcome explicit and super crystal clear, makes it conscious. Once it becomes conscious, it can start spreading virally through word of mouth, through social networks.

08:30 So that creative must constantly make the product as a cultural artifact, has to make that product the visual source of that awesome outcome, and burn that image of the product into the brain, and then you will have a mnemonic source for repeat purchase when they go back into the store. They will remember the package front panel and associate it in their brain through synaptic connections to this outcome. This is simultaneously the beauty of the human brain and how bloody simple it really is.

08:59 If it’s an outcome that gets triggered by three attributes, I admit this is going to be a little bit harder to communicate, but trust me, it’s a doable. And honestly, that’s a testable problem and a testable issue in digital communications. Easy to solve. I’m not talking in this episode about communications work that tosses around generic, emotional references like you see in Lays commercials.

09:21 Look, when you’re a $4 billion brand, you can get away with goofy ass, vague, emotional shit like they do because all you’re doing is reminder advertising for the most part. And you’re doing the reminder advertising to simply defend your 85 to 87% market share, or whatever it is. Because you’re the leading mega brand, you control the shelf. But guess what guys, you’re not that, and you probably never will be, and you don’t even need to be, to be successful. You’re just trying to get anyone to give a shit about your unknown thing, and to remember it when they go back in another store or the same store later.

09:52 You’re doing persuasion advertising folks. So you’ve got to create not only a memory that you exist, an accessible memory that you exist, but you have to embed that memory with a persuasion argument that makes it compelling to keep buying you. And that is a very, very, very difficult communications challenge in the continuum of modern advertising. Most of which folks is either shocking offer Geico, which as a price point made service is not very sophisticated, or it’s reminder advertising for brands that people already love.

10:23 I hope this episode has helped you better frame your creative work as a new up-and-coming premium brand with the marketing agencies that you select in the future. But remember folks, to vet any agency you’re going to hire for communications work for a solid track record of outcome-based creative campaign design for emerging CPG brands. If you can’t find them easily, look harder. It’ll be worth it. Thanks for your attention. Remember, as always be safe out there.