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  • David Meikle

On caviar and channel planning

There’s a trap into which many marketers seem to be falling, and many with their creative agencies’ handprints clearly visible on their backs.

It’s the “Let’s do a bit of everything!” trap.

Sometimes, if you spread things too thinly, often they just don’t deliver what they were designed to do. For example, take the English approach to eating caviar. It’s an almost virtual garnish on a cream-cheese and cracker canapé – barely a few grains of the stuff. The experience is all cracker and cream-cheese and no taste of caviar at all. You need the taste and smell acuity of a bloodhound. The caviar is there to illustrate that you thought of it, that you bought it, but then you spread it around so sparingly that it might as well have not been there in the first place.

In contrast, the Russians do know how to eat caviar. First, you get a lot of it, then you take a spoon and some fresh white bread and you dollop it on, and then you eat it. Do a simple thing properly or not at all. (Sometimes they’ll even forego the bread.)

Most marketers these days are under the combined pressures of increased performance demands and diminishing budgets. It’s not an unfamiliar scenario, usually born out of financial downturns, and with the uncertainties of the Brexit (I hate that term, and won’t be using it again) and China’s current economic performance, these demands are likely to be on the rise soon if they aren’t already.

In addition, the explosion in the number of marketing channels available over the last twenty years has made budget management even more challenging. Too often the outcome is that campaigns still try to do something in most channels – just not as much and not as well.

“We’ve got to have a making-of film of the ad” – Cash register SFX: Kerching!

“How can we make this into viral content?” – Kerching!

“We need a microsite” – Kerching!

“What’s the sales promotion angle?” – Kerching!

“Let’s do a flashmob!” – Kerching!

“Shouldn’t we have stuffed toy giveaways?” – Kerching! Kerching!, Kerching!

So you end up with novelty give-aways at a flash-mob event directing people to a microsite to enter a competition and to see the viral ad and the making of film so that they try the product with a promo-offer. Cos that’s what people do all day, isn’t it?

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Unless marketers have more money in their budget than they know what to do with, it is quite often they are spreading their resources too thinly with a plan like this; and rather than doing a few things well and properly, they’re doing lots of stuff, but badly. And that’s one way campaigns fail.

  • The viral content wasn’t interesting enough so it didn’t “go viral” after all.

  • The sales promotion discount gave away the revenue we generated from new customers – and we didn’t gain their loyalty.

  • ​Nobody visited the microsite because the prize wasn’t big enough.

  • For some reason consumers didn’t want an ongoing social media dialogue with us.

  • Our flash mob stunt didn’t generate any media coverage.

  • And our compromised ad spend means we didn’t get a decent reach and frequency for the conventional media; the stuff that we know all about – and that we understand – and that we know works.

Effective marketing usually involves making tough choices, and knowing what not to do is sometimes as important as knowing what you should do. Good media planners will tell you this, but often creative agencies will be too keen to deliver lots of creative ideas for all the channels to think through the consequences.

Jeremy Bullmore once wrote “People build brands as birds build nests, from scraps and straws we chance upon.”

Consumers don’t go around on brand-based scavenger hunts trying to piece their nests together with every piece of brand communication laid out for them according to a marketer’s elaborate brand-nest architecture. Marketers don’t have that much control over them.

Later, Bullmore himself challenged his own analogy saying:

“…birds don’t build their nests from scraps and straws they chance upon; they know exactly what raw materials they need and they set out deliberately to find them: mud, sheep’s wool, moss, twigs – are all knowingly sought out and secured.”

And further, Bullmore asserted that marketers have got control of some of those materials the birds need:

“the packs, the promotions, the price, the advertising – in the cunning hope and expectation that the brand we thereby build will be the one we’ll come to love and favour.”

But these days we have many more varied brand materials that our consumers don’t need, and we seem intent on scattering them all in front of our confused birds. Instead of laying more of what they do need, we seem scatter fewer but of every different kind available to us – many irrelevant – making it more difficult for them to find and form the brand image we want them to have.

So when you have your channel plan for your next campaign, and if you’re worried it looks a bit woolly, try applying the discipline of knowing what every channel is actually doing for whom and why. Then see what you would cut if you had to. And perhaps see what would happen if you spent that money on the core things you had left. Put simply: if you can’t afford to reach the whole nation with the frequency you need, would you be better to reach half the nation than to attempt reaching them all with too little?

And if your creative agency presents three more channel initiatives that aren’t on the plan, thank them sincerely for their effort, politely tell them no, and tell them why.

To switch my metaphors back again (as is my wont) I’ve tried the British caviar-garnished-canape, but I’ve also enjoyed a tablespoon of medium-grain, medium-salt beluga caviar on freshly baked baguette – and I know which one I want again[1].

[1] Yes, yes, I know: over-fished stocks in the Caspian Sea…black-market…environmental disaster. It’s just a metaphor, sorry, I’m not really going to buy any.

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