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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Kevin Roberts: Brands Are Dead. Welcome to the Participation Economy

Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts showed at least 7 videos during a truly awesome talk. 

“When I was growing up, brands had the power.”  Then that all switched.  We saw Wal-Mart, Tesco, Carrefour, and Amazon seize power.  Then that all changed too.  Now, the consumer is boss.  She is making all the calls.  She is in charge.

So the question is simple: How do we win in this time of new frugality?  How do we create loyalty beyond reason? 

We have to “Win Ugly” in this environment.  We have to strip down to what really makes a difference. 

But we were made for moments like this.  Lombardi: “Any man’s finest hour… is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle—victorious.”

Ways to Win Ugly

  • Face the truth.  Consumers know their wages are going to go down, but they are still making choices.  The consumer is in a brand new space of survival.  So your research doesn’t matter anymore.  Price is still important.  Delivery, distribution, value… yada yada… they’re all important.  But you must deliver priceless value.  P&G talks about purpose-inspired, benefit-driven brands. 
  • Reframe, reframe.  The consumer isn’t cutting back, she’s just making different selections.  Prius isn’t selling value or mpg.  They are selling love.  They are selling “do your part.” 
  • Measure only what matters.  If you measure stuff, then you execute on it.  In this environment, most of the research is down the toilet.  Does your research look like competitors?  Does our marketing look like your competitors?  Does your advertising look like your competitors?  When you ask people questions, you aren’t really figuring out what they are feeling.  Many of you spend money on advertising.  Some of us still believe in advertising.  Many people spend millions on pre-testing research.  It’s a waste!  You only need to ask 2 questions:   (1) Do I want to see it again?  95% of ads do not pass that test.  They still selling by yelling.  The consumer is not a moron.  She is your wife.  (2) Do I want to share it?  Any great piece of communication is immediately shared on YouTube all around the world.  Paid media.  Forget it.  Get people involved. 
  • Embrace the participation economy.  We have moved from the attention to the attraction to the participation economy.  People are their own medium, their own creation.  This generation today is the “creatives.”  You have to let them in.  We have moved from a world all about informing (the world of marketing as we know it today)… we have moved from “ROI.”  (btw, Mr. CFO, “If we knew the answer on ROI, you idiot, we wouldn’t just be doing what we’re doing.”)  The world that we live in now is a world of inspiration, not an age of process or cost-cutting.  We just give the consumer a fantastic idea, thank God.  Let consumers move your ideas along.  They want to interact.  Measure “Return on Involvement” not “Return on Investment.”  It’s not about a market, it’s about a movement.  Obama created a movement about inspiration and interaction.
  • Let emotion rip.  80% of decision-making is emotional.  20% is rational.  Reason leads to conclusion, emotion leads to action.  Most communications we use are information heavy, not emotion rich.  “Lovemarks.”  Brands are owned by managers.  Brands are an experience among buyers.  Lovemarks inspire loyalty beyond price, reason, attribute… beyond Recession.  Loyalty beyond product and beyond price.  Consumers can replace an iPod with something else from Samsung or Phillips.  But they don’t.  The iPod is part of their tribe.
  • High Respect, High Love. Brands are built on performance, reputation, and trust.  Lovemarks are built on mystery, sensuality, and intimacy.  Have a look at your brands and make sure that you’re dripping with mystery, sensuality, and intimacy.  There is no money to be made in the transaction business.  [He introduced a 2×2: love x respect].  No love, no respect  = airlines.  High love, no respect = Paris Hilton.  High respect, no love = most brands.  These are vulnerable to price and label.  Heaven (high love, high respect) is Lovemarks.  That is where premium pricing sits. 
  • Be true blue.  Yes, the role of business  is to create shareholder value… but today the role of business is also to make the world a better place for everyone.  Move from green to blue… Green is about fear, blue is about optimism.  MLK Jr. didn’t stand up and say, “I had a nightmare.” 

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