3 Books On Marketing I Loved To Re-read Last Year

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” – Groucho Marx

During my early childhood years, I was a minimalist devotee TV viewer. Back in the days, in communist Romania, you could access only two stations with an average of 2 hours of boring TV every day. So, despite my love for TV, I can say I’ve grown up without too many options, and books became a needed escape. This is a post about three books that changed how I think about marketing and advertising. I am sorry to disappoint you, but “How Brands Grow” from Byron Sharp or “Principles of Marketing” from Kotler are on another list, not this one.

“Ogilvy on Advertising” – by David Ogilvy himself

The first book needs no introduction for a creative – it’s a classic. I’ve received it as a gift from an Ogilvy friend when British American Tobacco used to work with this agency on communication in Romania. Written and published in the 80s, it doesn’t get old. It glorifies the magic of TV, Print, and Direct Marketing, with no mention of Digital. A recent Ogilvy CEO tried to replicate the book for the Digital age and failed miserably, so hold on to the original. It helps you understand how to get a job in advertising, run or choose an agency, approach TV commercials, or even write successful copy. It’s a goldmine.

“Everybody Lies” by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

The second book blew me away when I first picked it up. It tells the story and the immense opportunity of using search data to understand people’s deepest desires. We confess to the Google Search bar more often than we do to our partners or therapist. Google is our friend, our helper and our confidante. Written by an ex-Googler, this book opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of answering almost any qualitative research question using search queries. The book was published before its time, since even today, most of us still are not aware of this great source of insights. Please read it, go on Google Trends, start an experiment, and make better marketing decisions.

“Presentation Zen” by Garr Reynolds

Hands down the best book on business presentations I have ever read. It makes you ditch the templates, the text-heavy slides; it helps you rethink why you are in front of the audience and makes your slides ready for TED. I would make this book mandatory for anyone that opens Powerpoint. And one tip, get the paper version, not the e-book. The paper does more justice to the beauty of this book’s pages.

Reading one of these books will make you more marketing-wise, edgier, or more mindful about design. Reading them all will make you a marketing star tomorrow.

Photo by Rita Morais on Unsplash

My Marketing Predictions for 2021

This weird year is coming to a close. The need for renewal, to turn the page, and start fresh was never more present in us. We can’t wait to say goodbye to 2020, with the optimism that 2021 will be different. But what will 2021 offer to marketers? I’ll join the herd of future tellers and share my predictions, hoping that Scott Galloway will learn from me and revise his predictions. He actually had a poor record in 2020.

  1. People will ignore ads – nothing new, but something to treasure. No real person wants to see your advertisement before their YouTube video starts; very few want to “dive” into your 3-minute long-form content about your brand purpose, yet most will accept to be entertained if they decide to pay attention. Make me smile, make me cry, move me, entertain me!
  2. Marketers will talk to themselves – we will continue to judge our work output by the number of engagements on Twitter or, in rare cases, AdAge or MarketingWeek mentions. We will enjoy talking in our bubble more than ever, as we’ll probably spend most of the year homeworking again, away from the real world. It was never more important to remember: we are not the consumer.
  3. The TV set will not die – or will it fail again and resurrect while Digital platforms move to capture our attention on our more giant TV screens. I now watch more YouTube on my TV than I do on my Mobile, so TV as a piece of furniture isn’t dead. What could die is the concept of scheduled programs interrupted by ads, something I could not explain to my 5-year-old son. 
  4. Marketers want to become more digital-savvy – when everything we do all day is staring at a digital monitor, sending digital letters, joining digital Zoom meetings, and planning digital holiday celebrations. We probably should identify another milestone to look up to since digital is so 2010s.
  5. Brand equity is back on the agenda – Now that we squeezed (or got squeezed in) the programmatic value chain with no apparent next gain in view, we will turn back to our brand proposition’s equity. But how do you measure the impact of a single Social Ad on your brand equity? If someone knows and trusts the method, please give me a call.

Have an insightful, consumer-centric, multichannel 2021!

Photo by Dan DeAlmeida on Unsplash

How to Talk to Kids About Working in Advertising

Let’s get real, outside of our marketing bubble; the real humans don’t admire advertising as much as we think. For them, advertising is that annoying video that interrupts their favorite YouTube home-gym workout; it’s the display banner that keeps showing them the electric screwdriver already bought on Amazon last week, or the desired live sports TV interruption that helps them replenish their drink or chips bowl without missing a goal. That’s the opponent we have when our families are asking us to talk about our work. And with small kids, it gets even worse.

My 5-year-old son was super excited initially, knowing his daddy works for M&M’s candies. Then disappointments hit him one by one when he discovered I don’t work in the dream-like chocolate factory, nor I help baking his favorite candy or drive my car to get chocolate delivered to our local supermarket. Working from home for an entire year revealed my real job to him.

Yes, son, daddy is working in advertising. Every day, daddy is speaking with some people with weird headphones on Zoom about the annoying videos that you discovered how to skip on YouTube when you were three years old. But instead of making them shorter or fewer, so you can watch Paw Patrol easier, he is finding innovative ways to make you watch one more second, to seduce you with a shiny candy taste or a funny new joke. He does this, hoping that you will remember that candy one day when you will have to make a buying decision or begging for candy.

Yes, daddy is not baking the real m&m’s, but he helps you discover the new flavor you don’t know you wanted: custard m&m’s, anyone? By talking with lots of people, showing them lots of candy, and asking them questions, daddy understands what they want. That way, Daddy is telling the factory to make more Yellow m&m’s instead of Brown m&m’s because he knows most people like them more.

And lastly, daddy promotes candy to be more popular so that all people will choose m&m’s over another chocolate. And this way, daddy helps the families of the m&m’s factory colleague, the chocolate delivery driver, and the others he interacts with to have a more peaceful end of the year, knowing that they will come back to their much-needed work place in 2021.

How do you talk to your kids about working in Advertising?

Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

Are Product Line Extensions the Best Strategy to Grow Your Core Brand?

A couple of days ago, I read a fantastic New York Times piece on the weird jargon of Modern Marketing. If you manage to pass their paywall, you can find it here. I recommend it and challenge you to eliminate one word from your marketing vocabulary at the end of this year. Will it be “Snackable content” or “Storytelling” or “Humaning.” I will try to move away from using the word CORE and go back to the more simple BRAND. Before doing that, I wanted to share some ideas on our marketer’s constant struggle to position different line extensions or sub-products in consumers’ minds when at best, they can only remember the master brand.

A typical growth strategy in fast-moving goods is to piggy-bank on a brand name and launch another variant with a twist (a different flavor, smell, better feature(s), etc.). We call that line extension, or more fancy: product innovation. The purpose of this launch is to get some incremental sales or positively cannibalize the current offer at a higher price, or to create something that you can talk about with retailers and with customers. In some categories, not launching innovations is similar to breaking the conversation with your retail partners. They want it for novelty, promotional appeal, and buzz. You want it to drive growth on the core brand variant. In some product categories, the competitive pressure is so high that you can’t avoid playing this game.

But, it’s always better to grow your main product, which I will no longer call CORE as of next year. In general, this is the established proposition that benefits from the scale of the supply chain and its distribution channels. It usually has also a better margin for you as a company. I firmly believe product innovation’s role is to build further the brand equity that will halo on the core – on the brand. It’s hard to acknowledge, but your customers don’t care about your innovation and all the efforts you’ve put into it. They don’t care about your brand, either. They probably are curious to try, but they don’t want to be confused and, in general, want to relate the offer to an existing memory structure.

So how can you launch an innovation that has more chances to grow your brand?

  • In communication, Make sure the line extension voice belongs to the brand, and you use the brand’s distinctive assets at maximum.
  • In pricing, be careful with undercutting your current price levels with too much promotional activity or a lower permanent price for your innovation.
  • Stop believing that your customers will fall in love and/or marry your product innovation. At best, they will think your brand did a cool thing.

Happy to hear your views on using line extensions to grow brands.

Photo by Pedro Durigan on Unsplash

3 Reasons Why Social Live-Streaming Shopping is the Future of E-commerce

The fantastic growth rate of e-commerce during 2020 is a signal that change is coming faster than expected to our beloved industries. Whether we like it or not, the retail transformation is irreversible and permanent. But while we are adapting to this new normal, what can the future of e-commerce surprise us with? In my view, the future belongs to live streaming shopping over social channels.

Exactly when the first millennials were born, at the start of the 80s decade, HSN (Home Shopping Network) started to innovate on cable TV. Founded by a former DJ who started selling can openers on live radio, HSN pioneered a televised sales pitch for consumer goods. Credit cards and QR codes payment systems sustained this bizarre industry. So much that in 2020, if you turn on your TV during day-time and check generic stations, you might be able to watch TV-shopping in its awesomeness.

HSN Live from Herkimer Diamonds on Tuesday
HSN Network

But no one talk about this in the world of marketing. In our bubble, in 2020, we speak about social commerce. Like many technologies and consumer trends, social live-streaming shopping has its origin in China, where it got democratized. I was inspired to write this article after watching the following video from Alibaba.

5 minutes into watching this, I realized I am watching the future of e-commerce. The missing link between the current primitive search/scroll/click functionality that we sometimes struggle with these days on any e-commerce platform and the VR shopping future promise that copies a live retail experience. Live streaming shopping offers the perfect mix of retail experience from the comfort of your mobile. And it’s available today, no new technology needed.

Here are the 3 elements which inspired me to see the future in this small video:

Deeply understanding your customers – the immense promise of social shopping is the perfect understanding of customers’ preferences and tastes by marrying their historical purchase data and their engagements on the platform. If in China Alibaba is uniquely positioned to challenge and win this game, in the Western world, the future is still unclear. A magic winner would sit somewhere between Facebook/Instagram and Amazon, but the choice between the two behemoths on who will win this game is challenging to decide in 2020. Amazon launched Amazon Live in 2019, with little commercial success. To me, it merely looks like HSN OTT. A year later, Instagram launches its Shop menu directly in the app, after offering post-shopping for some time now. I am not 100% convinced on who to bet.

Creating excitement and brilliantly showcasing the product – unlike retail, e-commerce, and social are great at creating excitement and teasing the right customers. Early hints, reminders to connect, teasing messages – all this is available in-app without too much fuss. When the shopping moment arrives, the value equation turns on its head. Ditching the millions of dollars spent on advertising production or retail furniture, a simple wardrobe or shoe rack can be enough to showcase the product. But a static image is not what we as consumers want; we want someone to try the shoes, hear others talk about them, discuss the size and fit, the materials, and then add in some magic dust of selling talk. Layering in AR technologies can offer a personal fitting experience on top of the showcase.

Scarcity triggers – probably the feature I admire the most in live streaming shopping is the psychological play with scarcity. We know that once something is in high demand, we want it more. The dropping culture, made famous by sneakers companies, can be extended to everything now: from designer chocolate bars to cars.

Micah Mitchell (micahmitchell) on Pinterest

My bet is that social live-streaming will further sink retail faster than e-commerce initially did. What do you think about this bold claim?

Photo by Oleksii S on Unsplash

3 Habits Every Marketer Needs to Try This Year

The fantastic book Atomic Habits” by James Clear changed my life! I vividly remember the dreamlike beach of Ko Poda in Krabi, Thailand, where I dived into it. The book’s key insight was no novelty to me, but James’s storytelling somehow convinced me to change my mindset. To build a habit, you need to do something for 30 days continously, and then it becomes a part of you. What habits can you build as a marketer to be a better version of yourself?

Here are three ideas:

  • Read a (different) opinion about your area of expertise – I know; we are all busy, we are all swamped in emails and Powerpoint decks, but those who exceed tomorrow are the ones who slowly build their insights in this knowledge economy. Read a blog, follow someone smart on Twitter (like Seth Godin), subscribe to a magazine (could be Harvard Business Review or The Economist – I know it’s not free, but nothing is), select a website (could be The Drum or Marketing Week), or even a Marketing book and read at least 10 minutes every single day. Augment your coffee break with a marketing read, and you will start making better knowledge connections.
  • Talk to a Customer or at least observe them – I know; it’s difficult to talk to consumers in a social distancing world, but when was the last time you’ve been to the store and observed consumers without being creepy. When did you search for your brand on Twitter or Reddit and learn the reactions? When did you last ask yourself a question and answered not from your vantage point but the consumer vantage point? Remember, you are not the consumer. It would be best if you “talked” to them daily.
  • Learn your Customer’s Media habits – we love our Social Media streams, our YouTube accounts, and our TV bundles. When was the last time you glanced over the usage behavior stats for your target audiences? How much time your customers spend on TikTok, and how much time they watch TV? The numbers from 2015 are different from today, so why not challenge your media agency to show you the data. “Show me the data…daily!”

I challenge you to pick up one of the three ideas or anything else you have always wanted to do and challenge yourself to do it for 30 days in a row. You will discover how the practice slowly grows on you and how it becomes you. And you develop into a better version of yourself.

Why Are Marketers so Obsessed on Millennials and What to Do about It

We love millennials! Millennials are different; they are sharp, open-minded, techy, digital, and the perfect fit for our brand, whatever brand we might own. In digital apps, books, consumer package goods, or alcoholic drinks, millennials are the magic solution to our marketing segmentation. Is this the myth of the last decade in Marketing? One that we fell so quickly into its trap. Because if you work in Marketing, there is a high chance that you are a millennial. Just remember, you are not the consumer.

The next two simple graphs should create an A-HA moment and convince you that the millennial opportunity is not that big. Two significant insights spring to mind: millennials are not the majority (duh), and second, they have the least disposable income to spend.

By targeting millennials, you are consciously deciding to ignore 80% of the population, maybe because you are a Pareto fan. Do you know accurately that 20% of your customers represent 80% of your revenue? Recheck your data. Unless you are active in the business of graduate recruitment or student debt repayment options, I would doubt it. 

Second, irrespective of the year, unemployment among millennials was higher than any other age group (that’s in the US, in Europe is even worse). Add to this the limited purchasing power of millennials, and your story starts to have legs. Don’t you think you should broaden your target?

3 simple insights to start your recovery journey:

  • Understand who buys your category – not just your brand.
  • Learn about your customers; know the revenue each age-group segment generates.
  • Study demographic trends for your market; in an aging population world, don’t be blind to your most valuable target group. 

Photo by Julián Gentilezza on Unsplash

Stop Using Marketing Research like a Drunk Uses a Lamppost

When I started working for Mars, one of my favorite onboarding reads I had to consume covered the dos and don’t of marketing research. Among excellent references to statistical significance, confidence intervals, and the role of probability, the highlight was the image shown below. It pictures a drunk man using a lamppost for support rather than its typical use: illumination. And that’s how we tend to use research with the wrong purpose in mind.

We often ask consumers what we want to hear and are overly enthusiastic when their answers match our needs. A concept validation is mistakenly seen as a sign of research success. We should be disappointed when the research outcome is clean; we should ask for new insights, not a confirmation. Research should be about learning something new. Let’s not forget: we are not the consumer. And if we think we could know in advance what they precisely want from our vantage point, we are maybe wrong.

So let’s start asking more from consumer research; let’s go beyond validation and into illumination. The role of a lamppost is to illuminate the way, even if you are drunk and can’t seem to find yours.

Photo by Sylvain Pitet on Unsplash

Why People Don’t Skip Advertising

Ad skipping is a generalized behavior every marketer should be conscious of. The river flows downstream, the hot air rises from the ground, and viewers will be avoiding ads. It’s the new normal in Adlandia. Please don’t ignore the majority. But in some cases, people decide to watch, to engage, to be entertained. Why is it so?

Last week, I wrote a mini-successful piece on why people skip ads, successful relative to my young blog standards. An intriguing comment received on LinkedIn challenged me to write about the opposite and interesting behavior: why people DON’T skip ads.

Here are 3 reasons why:

  • Because you’ve entertained them – advertising always claimed to be a form of entertainment, but this positioning might be more relevant today. We want to run away from the neverending news cycle, the worries and anxiety of the times. We want a quick snack of fun. But we don’t have hours anymore. In the past, we could dedicate a full evening of uninterrupted viewing to a movie. Today we’ve replaced that undivided attention with a split between our streaming and social media platforms. How powerful is the following example of a 6 second ad. There is almost zero need to mention the cause advertising
  • Because you’ve elicited emotions, preferably positive ones – we love a good story, and examples of good stories delivered in 6 seconds or less exist (anyone thinking about Print or Out of Home here?). In Online Video, a fabulous example I have is from our brand Sheba. Does it not leave a smile on your face?
  • Because they are not in front of the screen anymore – I know, it’s an inconvenient truth. People don’t necessarily skip by clicking the skip button; they can move their eyes and attention to a different direction: to another device, to another person, to anywhere else than your wonderful creation. It is not an omnipresent behavior, but still a growing one, fueled by our craving to dedicate our energy to multiple screen devices at a time.

Photo by CardMapr on Unsplash