Category Archives: Inspiration

The scourge of channel thinking – it’s about the idea stupid!

The biggest scourge in modern adland isn’t lack of budget.

It’s not encroachment on our business from consultancies or Google/FB/Amazon.

It’s not the talent war or our awful record in promoting diversity.

It’s self inflicted.

It’s the fact that so many marketers inside and outside agencies avoid big picture thinking.

It’s funny how you can’t remember big things, yet some small things stick with you forever. The words of a wise ad man I once worked with are imprinted on my brain.

We were in a pitch kick off meeting.

The type where conversation flows with ideas around how we might approach the brief.

Some of the younger heads in the room had discussed some social media thoughts at length.

Noticeably quiet throughout, our curmudgeonly old friend finally piped up at the end with this gem:

“Forget channels, gadgets, social, digital or new technologies. It’s about the idea, stupid!”

We could all do with some of that advice now.

The cartoon above from the inimitable and brilliant Tom Fishburne perfectly encapsulates what I’m talking about.

Sure we laugh at it. But it’s also an insight into the type of conversation that goes on in boardrooms across the world.

Agencies, tasked with coming up with a big, juicy creative solution to business problems respond with ill thought out tactical ideas –

“We’ll do some digital”

“We’ll build an app”

“We’ll use Snapchat!”

“360 video is the answer!”

“We’ll get an influencer”

But the medium is not the idea. As Tom Goodwin says, “we’ve become distracted by what can be done, not what makes sense” for our brands.

Limited thinking

To start with a channel based idea is to instantly limit your thinking. It means going straight to tactics without even thinking about good strategy.

It means lazily avoiding coming up with a big, bold, flexible creative idea or platform.

This excellent Linkedin posts sums up the point. (I’d also add that big data is not a big idea.)

Don’t get me wrong, great ideas need to live within channels. Great tactics bring great strategies to life. A big idea is nothing without a supporting cast of hundreds of small ideas that communicate it.

But execution should be an afterthought, not the place we start.

Why is this happening?

I believe there are four main reasons for the rise of “the scourge of channel thinking”.

First, channel bias means many agencies are pre-disposed to only thinking about solutions that reflect their specialities.

Social agencies see Facebook as the answer to every brief when the brand’s audience actually live elsewhere.

Big traditional creative agencies see TV as a necessity when a tweak to a brand’s user journey could be much more effective.

The big picture is avoided and the blinkers never get taken off, resulting in biased, ineffective ideas.

But when you see all problems in the same way and propose the same channel solution, then you aren’t being creative. Your ideas will almost always be analogous rather than being truly fresh.

Real creativity requires understanding that a big idea must work everywhere, and isn’t based on using a new channel or technology.

Secondly, this growing channel led executional approach is a result of awards chasing. Every year we see Cannes Lion winning ideas that do nothing for the brand’s business, bar garnering PR.

I’ve seen agencies try to fit a brand campaign into a new technology that they’ve bought into, not because it suits the brief, but because they believe it could be award winning.

To me that’s both stupid, but also ethically wrong.

It’s also partly a result of short-termism. The need for instant results has never been stronger in marketing. And thus, we rely on the crutch of channel thoughts rather than coming up with big, bold, longer term brand ideas.

(Ironically, a brilliant paradox outlined by Binet and Field is that long term thinking actually delivers better results in both the long AND short term.)

It’s also a result of the ‘availability bias’. Something new and cool launches (Facebook canvas, Insta Stories, Snapchat spectacles, 360 video) and everyone rushes to be the first brand to use it, fearful of being left behind. But just because something exists and sounds cool doesn’t mean it fits into a creative platform.

So what’s the answer?

Let’s remain channel neutral at least until that big idea has been decided. By all means, then move onto what this might look like in specific channels.

But the idea has to come first.

Idea uber alles.

That’s something that all good agency people implicitly understand, but it’s slowly being lost.

Matt Holt of Ogilvy UK sums it up perfectly:

 

Channels and platforms are the equivalent of creative canvases that we paint on.

But they’re benign without a strong creative idea.

It’s up to us as marketers to get creative, build cool things on top of them, to understand them, test them and sometimes break them.

But just using a new channel can’t be ‘the big idea’ on its own.

When agencies are at our best, we’re coming up with big, risky, uncomfortable creative ideas.

A great big idea offers an ‘Aha’ moment.

It unlocks the mind and removes constraints. You know a great big idea when you hear one, because straight away you can think of hundreds of possible channel focused ways to communicate it.

Mark Pritchard, one of the most powerful marketers and most important marketing agitators of modern times, summed it up perfectly with his recent quote on P&G’s approach:

“We try to no longer think of digital as something separate that we tack on at the end of the campaign. We also try to resist thinking about digital in terms of the tools, platforms, QR codes, augmented reality, holograms or whatever’s coming next in technology. we try to see it for what it is, a tool to build our brands by reaching people with fresh creative campaigns.”

Big idea first, channel, medium, tactics and execution second.

It’s about the idea, stupid!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fulfil Nutrition Case Study – How an Irish FMCG brand used Byron Sharp’s playbook to deliver €30 million sales in an exploding category…

Since I’ve moved to the suburbs, I’ve become a people watching addict. As a planner, my day revolves around observing consumer trends and developing insights, so the daily Luas commute is catnip. The opportunity to observe the morning and evening routines of south Dublin commuters is a mini ethnographic research expedition every day.

I started noticing it about three years ago. First, it was the big buff office workers getting on the tram after a morning in the gym, still glistening from their workout. Next, it became the yoga pants brigade – 20 something females coming from boot camp in Dundrum.  All of a sudden, protein shakes exploded.

The shaker in hand had quickly become the new takeaway coffee cup – a social signalling device and #humblebrag opportunity manifested in a thick, frothy drink. Clutching a half litre of shake says something about you to your other commuters –

“I’m fit, I’ve been to the gym today and if this tram turns into some sort of frenzied rush to get off at St Stephen’s Green I will probably crush you”.

For the Irish consumer, protein has become a byword for health. And we’re becoming addicted.

Even modern Irish youth culture seems to be skewing more toward dead lifts and crossfit than Dutch Gold and cheap ciggies.

Brands have followed. The major FMCG companies have been keenly observing and jumping on the trend.

We now have protein water, protein Mars bars, protein Weetabix and protein pizzas. New product development in the space has exploded. Per Mintel data, 22% of Irish consumers have eaten a high in protein snack bar in the last three months, and the number of new products claiming to aid weight and muscle gain (including protein products) increased 237% between 2012 and 2016 in Ireland & UK. That’s a lot of competition, and represents a serious tipping point.

So with all of that competition, how has one small Irish startup cornered the exploding category? Simple.By following the tried, tested, counter-intuitive and often ignored principles of marketing scientist Byron Sharp.

Joining the dots, we can see an almost a perfect petri dish example of a Sharpian approach to marketing.

That’s what makes Fulfil Nutrition such a fascinating Irish marketing case study for the modern age.

Sharp marketing

When Byron Sharp’s ‘How Brands Grow’ book was released in 2011, it shocked and surprised the marketing world. Here was a text that methodically and scientifically blew accepted branding knowledge out of the water. And yet, there was nothing overly strange about Sharp’s approach. In hindsight, it makes complete sense, and has been borne out as correct in countless examples since, particularly in FMCG.

Though his theories have moved on slightly  since then, the 7 rules that Sharp puts forward in ‘HBG’ still hold.

He states that to grow, brands need to:

  1. Continuously reach all buyers of the category (communication and distribution) – avoid being silent and drive frequency.
  2. Drive mass physical availability. Ensure the brand is easy to buy, widely distributed in store and online. Help the buyer understand how it fits with their life.
  3. Get noticed. Grab attention and focus on brand salience to prime the users mind. If you’re not noticed, you’re nowhere.
  4. Refresh and build memory structures. Create mass mental availability. Make your brand first to come to mind. Respect existing associations that make the brand easy to notice and easy to buy, play on usage occasions and habits.
  5. Create and use distinctive brand assets. Use sensory cues to get noticed and stay top of mind, use stand out brand imagery and logos to help with this.
  6. Be consistent. Avoid unnecessary changes, whilst keeping the brands fresh and interesting.
  7. Stay competitive. Keep the brand easy to buy and avoid giving excuses not to buy (price, alienating a particular group).

The approach has been so successful that some of the world’s biggest spending marketers, companies like Unilever, Mars, Diageo have adopted it.

But although the book is a best seller, many marketers are either unfamiliar or not well versed in ‘How Brands Grow’. Outside the top echelons, it’s not widely taught.

Whether they’re aware of it or not (and I’d wager they are certainly aware), Fulfil are masters of Sharp’s approach.

Fulfilling potential

In late 2016, on the crest of a wave of protein NPD, Fulfil launched, filling a particularly sweet spot in the market. Affluent gym goers were looking for a low fat, low sugar, high taste protein bar option, a healthy, convenient snack that also played into their macros for the day. Plus, the flavours tasted great.

Fulfil founders Tom Gannon and Niall McGrath are both steeped in FMCG. Both worked for some of Ireland’s largest brands in their previous roles with Richmond Marketing. This closeness to the consumer helped them to spot the protein trend from the inside.

But we’ve seen many brilliant new products fall flat over the years.

Fulfil’s real success was in its positioning and marketing approach.

And they’ve borrowed heavily from the Byron Sharp brand playbook.

Their first stroke of genius was taking the world of confectionery and the world of protein bars and bringing them together.

According to an article on TheJournal.ie recently, the plan from the start was

“to make the brand feel bigger than it actually was. That meant getting Fulfil bars where people couldn’t avoid seeing them”

The ‘surround sound’ approach meant getting the bars out of the specialty isle, and up beside the tills in every retailer. The bar is sold across convenience, supermarket, health food and even in newsagents, offering it a mass physical availability that no other protein foodstuff enjoys.  If you don’t have distribution, you have nothing in FMCG, and Fulfil’s founders are old hands at delivering on this.

Sharpian principles are also literally baked into the product.

The packaging is designed to be distinctive, different to other, more clinical protein bars in the health food isle, with bright colours and strong fonts. These are distinctive brand assets that grab attention.

Fulfil has carefully walked the tightrope of innovation, retaining consistency (new flavours have retained the taste and nutrient content of the original bars), but using carefully staged launches (including secret tastings) to drive earned media and build excitement around the brand. If you’re not noticed, you’re nowhere.

With regards usage occasions, an important consideration for any FMCG brand, Fulfil have the obvious breakfast supplement/post gym market, but have also moved into healthy dessert options too.  Brand extensions have been avoided so far, but Fulfil has pushed recipe ideas that include protein brownies, cheese cakes and sundaes. This has helped drive reach by expanding the product’s usage.

Perhaps most importantly, Fulfil is the first ‘mass market’ protein bar and is competitive within a variety of sub-categories. In fact, this is built into the origin story. Founder Tom was annoyed at the gritty, horrible tasting bars on the market, and partnered with Niall to develop a crossover bar that tasted great and did the practical nutritional job too.

By positioning as a high cost ‘snack with benefits’ for the mass market instead of a health product,  Fulfil democratised a whole category .

They unlocked new consumer growth for themselves, creating mass reach and awareness in the process. This develops the brand’s salience, and though the price point of €2.75, is expensive when framed against other chocolate bars, the combination of taste and function seems to attract buyers.


While paid advertising has been limited, presumably due to budgets, the brand has made the most of its spend, using large, fame building assets to drive mental availability among consumers. They’ve invested in eye-catching outdoor, colourful social and used Instagram influencers to spread their message.

Most notably, on the ground activity has been a feature, bringing the bars to consumers who wouldn’t otherwise encounter them in novel ways. Activations so far have included a pop-up shop and a newly launched café in Dublin. Future plans include a network of franchised and company-owned cafés. That’s physical and mental availability taken to the max.

 

Real-time success

The results have been nothing short of awesome. The brand has gone from zero to household name in less than a year. There are already 12 flavours on sale, with more on the way. Fulfil have begun to sell across Europe, the Middle East and US. In 2018, Fulfil will go live in Australia.

According to the founders, bottom line success has been even more impressive. In year one, from no market base, Fulfil sold just under 15 million bars and is on track for 30 million in 2017.

They’ve cornered a growth category, taken protein bars from the nutrition aisle to the checkout and are perfectly placed to take a grip of the global protein bar market too.

I’ve no connection at all to Fulfil (besides an addiction to the bars) but it sure is inspiring to watch an Irish marketing success story in real time, built on the principles of one of the world’s sharpest marketers.

They’re all the rage on the Luas trams of south Dublin too.

 

 

 

What happens when you have a brilliant product and market it badly…

Everyone who works in the marketing industry has had this conversation before with friends from outside the industry bubble.

“Marketing doesn’t work on me.”

“Ah branding is just a waste of money.”

“I’ve never bought something just because I’ve seen an ad”

It’s a tough stance to argue with. It’s certainly tough to convince someone with such entrenched views. Plus, most of marketing and branding’s benefit is intangible, unconscious and difficult to describe and perceive.

So here are two good videos to show your friends the next time this discussion comes up.

Both are examples of what happens when you have a brilliant product, but your branding and marketing is, well, a bit shit.

 


This is a great lesson for startups and companies that tend to see marketing and branding as a cost or an afterthought.

You can have a fantastic product. But unless you communicate that effectively with people, and signal that your brand is worth investing hard earned cash in, then many of your potential customers will take shortcut to presuming they shouldn’t take you seriously.

Marketing at its core is about intangible value creation. And even if we don’t think it has an effect on us, it’s very likely that it does.

The overlap of a desired product and brilliant marketing is the sweet spot for creating a great company. Having one without the other results in underperformance.

(First example stolen from Rory Sutherland’s excellent AdWeek talk)