(this is Part II of an ongoing series… Part I is the ‘Easter Island’ post here)
I’ve been extending the thinking behind Make Things People Want beats Make People Want Things aphorism, and for simplicity’s sake (and perhaps slightly for want of a better plan) I’ve started pulling apart each word and thinking about it that way; Make, Things, People & Want. I’m going to talk about each separately. So, here we go…
In the beginning, there wasn’t any marketing. There was making. The people who produced the things were, by and large, the marketing story that went with them. The success of the marketing was inherent in the things they made.
In his book “The Craftsman”, Richard Sennett (Professor of Sociology at LSE & renowned musician) talks about the workshop of Antonio Stradivari, craftsman-hero of 17th & 18th century Italy.
The instruments he produced are know by the latinised version of his name, Stradivarius (the record price paid for one is $3.6 million…)
Throughout his working life, Stradivari saw a great number of highly accomplished craftsman come through his workshop, including his own sons who never married, but remained married to their work instead.
The central part of the workshop was the man himself. Stradivari’s eyes and hands were all over that workshop, guiding the production of every instrument with either a word or a stroke (Tony Faber’s book Stradivari’s Genius highlights just how). His workshop produced the finest stringed instruments, all by hand, that perhaps will ever be played.
Now, you’d have thought that with such a fine reputation established, his sons, trained all their lives by the master luthier and with the family name to trade on, would have made a decent fist of carrying on the family business.
Yet within twenty years, the business had failed. And not because the instruments they made were poor. As Sennett notes:
“They were able to trade on his name for several years, but the business eventually foundered. He had not taught, he could not teach either of them how to be a genius. The work of theirs I’ve held and played was excellent, but no more than that.”
Genius is not easily taught. Much as in the same way that Stradivari’s sons failed to build upon the creator’s legacy, so the inheritors of many companies have failed to build upon theirs.
But they didn’t necessarily need to.
20th century companies have been fortunate to grow through an age where the spirit of their first maker could be captured in an essence; a name and a slogan, and a set of attributes could be extended long after the creator themselves had shuffled off this mortal coil.
A lot of companies and brands still bear their names; Kellogg, Ford, Gillette, Heinz, McVities, Cadbury’s, Proctor & Gamble, Kraft, Unilever and so on.
What we’ve seen from companies like these is less in the way of the ingenuity, drive and spark that started them off, but an increasing dominance that allows them to work out ways in which to make the things they are geared to deliver relevant for whatever culture they find themselves in.
Minimum Viable Effort, if you will. “What’s the least we can do to maintain momentum?”
Yet further extending the life of a company beyond the creative force that started it has become harder and harder. We have entered an age where the creators and makers are front and centre of their companies again.
Part of it is because there are suddenly so many newer companies around, and they are a lot more likely to have the founders at the helm, or still involved.
This is not just true of tech companies and Silicon Valley start-ups, of course, but of a lot of other companies too.
Having the founder in a company means the culture is still going to be dragged back around what they like, and crucially what they don’t.
Thousands of decisions every year will get the seal of approval, and millions of other decisions will be made by others (knowing what the answer would be if they even asked…).
Dyson springs to mind as a great (and maybe too rare) British example. James Dyson relentlessly sets a tone with the company that you wouldn’t hear in his long established competitors:
But what happens with companies who aren’t fortunate enough to be steered by founders?
Rather than fix long term problems in their companies, one misguided response to the cult of the maker by established incumbents has been to ‘hire in’ talent to fill that role.
Except it’s not talent that might be able to do the job required.
Think of Gwen Stefani, product designer at HP. Or Jean Paul Gaultier, packaging designer for Diet Coke. Lady Gaga, creative director of Polaroid.
Or Will.I.Am, another Creative Director at Intel. When he’s not too busy judging singing competitions on television.
I’m not surprised you can’t quite believe it, Will. Neither can that nice Intel lady.
Ed Cotton raises a vital issue around this:
“…these appointments are expensive and force the brand to focus it’s attention on the efforts of one individual who certainly isn’t likely to represent the tastes, interests or desires of the majority of their consumers.”
Yet no matter how misguided it is, it’s an easy answer for a marketer to sell to a CEO.
Which is largely because, I think, increasingly the modern marketer is seen by the CEO as the ‘promotions guy’.
Nowadays, the typical CEO is far less likely to be less focussed on customers or product, but much more focused on the efficient way to keep the business running.
In 1996, 24% of CEOS from the UK FTSE 100 companies were from a financial background. By 2008, it was up to 31%. Today, in 2012, it’s 51% (Source: Robert Half CEO Report).
It’s an astonishing shift, and one everyone across the marketing discipline no doubt recognises.
And it means that the pressure on Marketing Departments and their agencies is increasingly to make the most profit from existing products and services as possible.
“Make People Want Things” comes the cry from on high.
Actually, for all the modern elements driving this state of affairs, it not a particularly new problem. I am drawn back once more to Stephen King of JWT (who I seem to be reading, rereading and referencing a lot of late) who in 1985 a paper called “Has Marketing Failed, or was it Never Really Tried?”.
King describes four types of marketing that aren’t really marketing at all.
1. “Thrust Marketing is what happens in companies when the Sales Manager decides to change his title to Marketing Manager, though not his function. [It is] the sort of marketing that concerns itself only with that part of the total process that lies between the factory door and and the retailer’s shelves. It does not concern itself with what the product or brand is, its design, quality and purpose”
2. Marketing Department Marketing – “The Marketing Department was simply bolted onto the standard company organogram, with all its hierarchies and reporting lines and rigid department barriers. They understood that the company’s success depended on studying consumer’s wants… but all too often they were given little real authority”
3. Accountant’s Marketing – “Gradually the accountants drift to the top of the organisation, replacing those whose experience has been either in the company’s products or its customers. The result has been that manager’s objectives – including Marketing Managers – have increasingly been set in simple terms as the bottom-line figure on a profit and loss statement.”
4. Formula Marketing – “a form of marketing in which control is held to be more important than innovation. It is much safer to be static than dynamic; and who is going to take risks when his whole future depends on turning in the results that his distant boss is calling for?”
It pains me slightly to think back over the number of clients I’ve encountered who are forced to operate like this; a relentless focus on using marketing as simply a lever for short term profitability.
But what’s the alternative?
King’s prescription is for what he calls Real Marketing, for which he outlines four essential aspects:
1. Start with the customer – “Real Marketing’s starting point is designing a product or service to meet the wants of a group of consumers. It is adding values to the raw materials to meet the totality of those wants, both physical and psychologically. So it embraces suitability for purpose, quality, design, brand, personality, style, availability, after-sales service, ease of repair and all other aspects of a customer’s relationship with a brand”
2. Work over time – “The whole point of branding – that is, in simple terms, designing something special and putting one’s name on it – is to make it a little easier to be successful in the future than at present… Real Marketing cannot be divorced from product quality, product improvement, process improvement and manufacturing productivity.”
3. Using all the company resources – “Real Marketing cannot be thought of as a department activity. It is a matter of harnessing all of the company’s resources to satisfy customers, and of linking what the customer wants with what the company is (or can become) uniquely available to provide so that it can prosper by doing so.”
4. Innovate – “What Real Marketing is calling for is more resources devoted to innovation than normally happens, and it requires a different attitude of mind. Hierarchies, systems, rulebooks and formulae work pretty well for controlling and improving the efficiency of repeated actions. They are hopeless for inventing, experimenting with and developing something that has never happened before.”
You’ll recognise a lot of this.
It’s very similar to the things we hear nowadays about being user centric, agile, about continual testing, about fail fast, about slowly building over time*… all the things that we keep hearing about, and all really well thought through and valuable input into current marketing thinking.
Yet this King wrote about all this in 1985. We’ve known this for nearly thirty years and done precious little about it.
As Murray just noted today after attending the IPA’s latest Creative Pioneers seminar…
To be brutally honest, if you’re an agency chief or CMO spouting off about how you’ve discovered that being agile or user-centric is the answer to marketing’s problems, you should be fired on the spot for ever having thought otherwise.
But besides repeating the past, what’s most apparent from King’s prescription for Real Marketing is how much of Marketing must be rooted in MAKING.
The craft, genius and skill behind the product is the single most important thing to get right, and never more so than in an age when the quality of every single product and service is subject to the instant critical or celebratory views of millions.
We must fully reappraise and reinvent the marketing’s relationship with making and remaking THINGS, not campaigns.
Making is Marketing, Marketing is Making.
(Enjoyed this post? Read Part III in the series…)
*I’ve linked back to Bonfires & Fireworks here, because it’s yet another example of Stephen King beating someone (i.e. – me) to the punch by decades. If you want to read a better version of all the ideas you’ve ever had from thirty years ago, then buy “A Masterclass In Brand Planning”, the definitive collection of King’s essays and speeches (link is through Amazon Associates scheme, so I get a couple of pence if you do)