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Product Development; Learning from Failures to Make Better Products

Google product development - how failure makes for fitter products.

Even Apple, one of the world’s most successful companies, visionary, secretive, allegedly antipathetic to research, fails occasionally. Witness poor iphone battery performance, speedily reversed software changes and easy-break charging cables.  While following the ‘gut’ sometimes leads to new product development success, success is far from guaranteed.

Equally, following ‘sacred’ product development ‘gate’ processes sometimes fails to guarantee success. This is because gate processes are just that – processes. And processes are ‘a series of actions or steps’ to help management manage risks. Also to prioritise opportunities and avoid wheel reinvention. Thus processes tend to be rigid, inflexible, and less suited to some circumstances, such as rapidly changing markets.

In the 1990s Reader’s Digest was a multi-billion dollar business. Its’ mailings were legendary. Their magazines and books sold in the millions, and if the sales data were published, most products would appear in the best-seller lists. The products and promotions were based on extensive testing, and response rates commonly in double digits. Then in the UK, along came the National Lottery. Almost at a stroke response rates fell, as the attraction of Tom Champagne’s £50,000 Free Prize Draw declined in comparison with the opportunity to win millions on Lotto.

The fact that a substantial proportion of products and services fail rather than succeed suggests there is more to do (1). While failures are set-backs, there is also lots to learn from failure. It helps improve the odds of innovation success.

Instituting feedback loops beats cognitive dissonance

How to anticipate and overcome failure? It is easier to observe and comment with the benefit of hindsight.

While there is much good in health-care, there are also many stories of unfortunate casualties and accidents. In the UK alone, there are nearly 1m reported patient incidents (fatal and non-fatal).  In the US, preventable medical error in hospitals is the 3rd biggest killer. Problems occur mostly when clinicians work diligently and with good intentions. Problems include complexity (WHO lists 12.4k diseases and disorders each requiring different medical protocols), stretched resources and decision making pressures. There are also other reasons, for example, cultural, where communication, assessment and reporting is less than open and honest.  Errors occur where practitioners are so focused on a task at hand that true perspective is lost. Thus compounding issues. Early remedy is sometimes frustrated through fear to speak-out or failure to accept reality – evidenced in a blame or a cover-up mentality (2). So called cognitive dissonance.

Conversely, where the mindset to is to ‘fess up’, document and investigate the reasons for failure, heath-care outcomes rise.

The air industry has the lowest fatality rates of all forms of transport. How is this? Through systematic recording of the reasons for failure and then learning from them. As a result, installation of black-box flight recorders in aircraft is a globally agreed practice. This allows full investigation of the reasons behind any air accident. In turn, black box flight recorders, have inspired protocols covering landing, takeoff, cockpit safety and more.

Product Development

‘Biological’ evolution beats analysis paralysis

A conventional approach to product development is to identify a pain point, or unfulfilled customer need, and then design a better product or service or fill a gap.  When faced with nozzles that ‘clogged’ and halted the washing powder manufacturing process, Unilever put their top mathematicians and fluid experts on the case. After a long study period they came up with a new design. However, the powder produced still blocked the nozzles. Almost in desperation, a team of biologists, with no knowledge of fluid dynamics, were then tasked with solving the problem. They took a very different approach. First to manufacture and then test ten different variants of the nozzle. The winning nozzle was then copied and revised ten times and each retested. Through 45 generations and nearly 450 failures, an outstanding nozzle emerged. In other words, through rapid evolution, scientists learned how to make a better nozzle (2).

Synchronous product development and testing

What about the online world? Take the ubiquitous and multibillion behemoth, Google. Google tests and releases hundreds of millions of lines of code daily. Billions of builds prompt millions of automated tests to run across hundreds of thousands of browser instances daily. Testing is Google’s ‘secret sauce’ and it takes pride in both its development speed and failing on a daily basis.

Google product development

Google’s approach may have shortcomings, but they are willing to publish it and open it to the scrutiny of the international testing community so that it continues to evolve. Everyone who writes code at Google is a tester and responsible for quality. The mantra is “you built it and you break it” i.e. code a little and then test the build.  Then code more and test more. However, while product development and testing go hand in hand, different responsibilities lie with different groups. Beyond development or coding, Google has created roles for engineers (Engineering Productivity) to make other engineers more productive and more quality-minded. Their mission is to avoid re-work and redundant code due to sloppy development.

A development aim is to build a core product and release it once deemed useful to as large a crowd as feasible. And then seek feedback and iterate, rather than ship a large number of features at once. Gmail is a good example; remaining in beta mode for four years to signal that the product was still under-development.

Instead of distinguishing between code, integration, and system testing, Google runs small, medium, and large tests emphasising scope over form.  If a problem doesn’t require human cleverness and intuition, and suits automated testing, then it is. Again during early Google Mail development, 40 user groups of 2.5% experienced different colour shades. Tracking determined the best shade to optimise engagement.

Marketing Inspiration

  1. Adopt a ‘growth’ mindset rather than an ‘ostrich’ (head in the ground) mindset. Engage with, understand and challenge reasons for failure because feedback is the food of champions.
  2. Learn from biologists. Because markets are evolutionary systems, products and services evolve, with the fittest and strongest taking increasing market-share.
  3. Seek marginal gains. Accumulated over time they provide a competitive edge. Whether in product development and delivery or another element of the marketing mix such as promotion.
  4. Avoid unnecessary complexity c.f. ‘wood hidden by trees’.
  5. Encourage and make the most of differences of opinion. No-one has a monopoly on good ideas, and differences in opinion help improve product quality.
  6. Use the right investigative tools and strike the right balance between more qualitative human understanding vs. weight of data.

Do you have a product development challenge? If so check out our marketing consulting services.

References

(1) According to the Product Development and Management Association (www.pdma.org), 2004, 42% of new products failed between 1990 and 2004.

(2) Syed. Matthew, Black Box Thinking – Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance, 2015

(3) Whittaker. James. A, Arbon. Jason, Carolla. Jeff, How Google Tests Software, 2012

Halloween Marketing : How to Grab a Slice of the Halloween Market Pie!

The marketing of Halloween | Trick or Treat Street - Asda 2012
Halloween pumpkin
Halloween pumpkin

Researching the Halloween market we discovered the market is not as shocking as it might first seem. While the tradition of Halloween originated on this side of the pond, the United States commercialised the event. As a result Halloween is now the third highest revenue producing US event, representing around £4 billion pounds a year.

Halloween market statistics

This equates to a mean household spend of £34 (1). Further, the UK Halloween market was worth a modest £310m (2011), with average UK household spend at just one-third of our US cousins. Yet the UK market has grown at twice the rate of the US since 2005 (1). So what market and product development lessons can we learn in order to grab a slice of the market pie?

USA vs. UK Halloween market 2005 to 2011
USA vs. UK Halloween Household Spend 2005 to 2011

Understanding the cultural context and origin of Halloween, different consumers, their needs, drivers and attitudes to Halloween, and the range and nature of Halloween offers and promotions around the world reveals new market and product development opportunities.

What is Halloween?

Halloween is an abbreviation of All Hallows Even, the night before All Hallows Day (All Saints Day). It started out as the Celtic celebration of  Samhain when the Celts believed that the border between this world and the ‘other world’ became thin and allowed spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. All Saints Day was founded by Pope Gregory III (690-784) to remember saints and those that died. It is recognised globally as a time to honour ancestors and departed souls. In addition, wearing costumes and masks originated as a custom to copy or placate evil spirits. Begging for food also dates from the Middle Ages when the poor went door-to-door, seeking food in return for prayers for the dead. So called ‘souling’.

Growing popularity of Halloween

Awareness and interest in Halloween is fueled by popular culture, such as Hollywood movies, The Hollow and Halloween, and cultural crossovers such as Stephanie Meyers’s Twilight – driving interest in the ‘undead’ amongst teen girls and middle-aged mums.

US corporations including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Disney and Wal-Mart embrace Halloween as their own. Making it more appealing and accessible to customers. They built Halloween into an event to fill the relatively ‘dead’ period between the Summer and Christmas.  In the UK, Asda Wal-Mart developed the Halloween market and remains market leader with around a 50% market share. Asda’s Halloween event runs for 6 weeks from late September. Much of their merchandise is also ‘own-brand’.

So how can you grab a slice of the growing Halloween market pie?

Trick or Treat Street - Asda 2012
Trick or Treat Street | Asda Halloween retail merchandising in 2012

Understand traditional needs and reveal new needs to inspire ideas

Consumers include both adults and children. Both seek a Halloween emotional experience. Beyond the traditional activities like carving pumpkins or turnips, and apple bobbing, needs include a ‘scary’ experience and to ‘trick or treat’ friends and neighbours. Also to socialise, look cool, be a good host, and of course, entertain. Adults seek gifts to satisfy trick or treaters, items for children’s and their own parties, or a day or night out. Children seek fun ways to spend their pocket-money.

Halloween consumer needs and drivers

Uncovering, defining and delineating needs, reveals new product opportunities. From confectionery, food and drink, scary stuff to entertainment, games, dressing-up gear and make-up – to go with the pumpkins, skeletons, turnips, and party fare.

Understanding and building on the rituals, such as pumpkin and turnip carving sparks needs for design inspiration, cutters, carving kits, tea lights and other decorative or special effects.

Trick o’treating, prompts needs for mixed bags of sweets. An area increasingly served, for example, by Swizzels Scary Mix, Cadbury Screme Eggs, Haribo and more. Thinking about combining needs, accentuating the emotional experience, stimulating or depriving the senses,  inspires more product ideas. For example, the sense of touch can add intrigue, shock or surprise to the sweet selection process. Using sound, light, colour or special effects adds decorative drama to a room or walk up a garden path.

Emotional and self-image needs such as socialising and looking cool are increasingly important. This is evidenced in, and suggests demand for products for sharing/making together. Also having a laugh, surprising and bonding to more dramatic make-over solutions. Thinking about the broad range of markets where needs could be fulfilled, such as food and drink, games, entertainment, mobile telephony prompts more ideas.

Excite and engage by combining ‘fun’ with terror

Being scared is fun, creating an adrenaline rush is like riding a roller-coaster. Most retail displays incorporate colours and symbols associated with the harvest (orange, pumpkins) or death (black, skeletons, bats). Adding more vibrant colours tones down the scary nature of the offer while providing a cultural signpost inviting people to explore the Halloween aisle. For example, greens, yellows and purples are colours that occur in nature, and cuddly ‘full-of-life’ characters. This year’s Asda theme is ‘Party time’ and ‘trick or treating’. While bats and skeletons abound, the aim is to engage and encourage partying rather than frighten away.

Looking overseas to mainland Europe, parts of Asia and Latin America provides further Halloween market insights and product ideas. Auchan in France takes the ‘fun’ a step further by hosting live entertainment – both to attract traffic as well as enhance the brand.

Spooky goings on at Auchan France
Spooky goings on at Auchan, France

Halloween Marketing Inspiration

Successful Halloween marketing and product innovation requires clear understanding of the market, cultural and psychological variables. Using market research or alternatively, a few simple thinking tools helps better understand and interpret what consumers think and feel. And thus better reveal new needs and product opportunities.

Utilising Halloween colours, symbols, artefacts and rituals further helps match deep cultural and emotional needs. Thus stimulating demand, and enabling more inelastic pricing.

The insight and ideation tools applied to understand the Halloween market apply any market, occasion or consumer experience. Try them out and you may even shock yourself ;-).

References

(1)   The Marketing Directors’ secondary research and analysis based on various trade sources, the ONS and US Bureau of the Census.

TV Programme Development ; Creative or Marketing Driven?

TV Programme Development | Roy the Badly Drawn Boy

Should writers and illustrators lead tv programme development? Or researchers and marketers who know what sells best in the crazily competitive world of children’s media? According to Simon Cowell, “Research just kills creativity because people lie or they say things they think the person wants to hear, or they over think it”. But is he right? Here’s a summary of the debate at The Children’s Media Conference (1). Moderated by Guy Tomlinson, Managing Director, The Marketing Directors, the session involved John Rice, CEO at Jam Media, Esra Cafer, Vice President Brand Management and Marketing at Chorion Ltd and researcher, Shari Donnenfeld.

Different views on TV programme development

It’s all about serendipity – John Rice, Jam Media

According to John, the ideas behind Jam Media’s successful children’s programmes emerged in different ways. By serendipity – happy accidents!

PICME started out as a multimedia invitation for John’s daughter Rebecca’s two year birthday party. One friend was so enthusiastic about it that he even offered to pay for it.

Roy, the Badly Drawn Boy was created in the opposite way to PICME. The film originated by John’s partner as a parody of his life; as a bitter 28-year-old who couldn’t find work in animation because he was so badly drawn. A CBBC development executive spotted the idea and thought that the fish out of water theme appealing to the CBBC audience. In the tv series the bitter 28-year-old is turned into fun loving everyday boy.

Tilly and Friends evolved from a series of stories by Polly Dunbar. By bringing in a child psychologist the story world expanded from 16 pages to 26 episodes!

Use research to create and support – Shari Donnenfeld, Researcher

Shari argued that research should support the creative process, as the process is complex. There are also lots of fingers in the creative pie, and it is easy for creatives to be removed from a child’s world.

Many creatives think they know kids, yet they are adults, who use razors and drink alcohol. Some are also parents who care for kids. There are however also some creatives who act like kids, but even if they do, they still don’t necessarily know what kids are about.

Children inhabit a different world, a more digital world than their parents. They are exposed to multi-million pound movies, games, e-books and ipads. It is hard to know what’s in their heads at a point in time. The sons and daughters of creatives inhabit an even more different world to ordinary kids. A world where words like 3D and CGI are regularly passed over the dinner table. As a result these children are neither normal nor representative.

Further, unlike live entertainers, tv programme makers are unable to adapt to live audience responses. A clown, for example, can easily change his or her act if he dies on his feet. However, programme makers can’t. So programme makers need to think like the clown and go and talk to children first.

Doing research with kids is like inviting them to the board-room table. They can help create a programme, while not heading the table. However, even though children are a worthy audience, research should facilitate creativity rather than act as a barrier to creativity or simply to ‘green-light’ programme development. Kids are naturally created and enthusiastic – so involve them as partners in the creative process.

Think about building brands – Esra Cafer, Chorion

Esra argued that there is a value in using brand management in the making of tv programmes. Brand marketing is a process to define the target, the programme and product offer. Also to communicate that offer to audiences and forge an enduring relationship. In other words to create brand love!

Chorion starts with characters, settings, worlds and stories already in place. It aims to understand, create, update, and extend brand properties to make sure that audiences love them. Rather than just translate the written word to the screen, research understands and defines the brand, the brand DNA, i.e. what makes it unique and appealing. Rather than dampen creativity, brand thinking reveals new opportunities and maximises relevance.

Make Way for Noddy has a traditional preschool audience of 3 to 5 year olds. So when developing Noddy in Toyland, research verified the audience, who they are and what they want. Findings revealed an audience that was growing-up and moving on to competitive products, such as Moshi Monsters, sooner than thought. This insight focused programme development on 3-4 year olds.

Research also spotted opportunities to extend the brand. It revealed that Noddy is a safe brand, to use in home, and not to show off to friends. This provided the confidence to focus on developing home products such as bedding and pyjamas, rather than lunchboxes or coats.

TV Programme Development Inspiration

Each programme development project is different. Some require more creativity and others more research. What’s right depends on the stage of development and whether more or less is known about the intended audience. Thus use creativity, research and marketing together – they are fine bedfellows!

1. Development is the most important part of the creative process

Get this right to establish a foundation for success. Further, for every show in production, have several in development. As innovation is a numbers game, this allows some to fall by the wayside.

Also create the right conditions for creativity to flourish.  While great ideas occur over a pint of Guinness or through sheer hard work, creativity is not limited to writers nor bottled and poured on. So prefer a more inclusive approach involving different disciplines.

2. Apply simple marketing principles

In other words, enable your audience to fuel creativity and be the main arbiter of choice. You’ll find this liberating!

3. Tailor research to circumstances

First, adapt the research process to reflect property origins, differences, challenges, risks and rewards.

Start by involving marketers and researchers at an early stage (via a short low-cost meeting). This will better represent target audiences’ needs, eliminate biases and also generate more saleable ideas.

Next, conduct informal research with family members and friends by showing programme materials before more substantial laboratory-esque research. And then talk to the trade and licensing people, for example, to understand cultural issues and what works in certain territories.

Finally, design audience research to fuel the creative process rather than evaluate or dampen it! Avoid closed questions such as “don’t you love this green dress?” as this invalidates the results.

4. Create a compelling pitch

Also use research to shape the brand strategy or ‘brand book’ and guide writers, illustrators and animators. Help all know the audience, and their needs. This empowers creatives to make the pilot and develop the series while retaining management control.

Create two scripts, a ‘brand book’ and a pilot to justify brand stand-out and appeal and also woo co-funders. While every tv programme development differs, the end game is the same – to secure funds.

References

(1)  The Childrens Media Conference takes place annually in early July in Sheffield.

Seven Enemies of Innovation ; How to Spot and Slay Them

Enemies of Product Innovation | new product development | Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Product innovation is the lifeblood of many businesses.   The proportion of sales due to new products from businesses competing in fast moving markets is often over 50%. Yet higher still in technology companies. So why is it that so many products fail, and what can you do to ensure success? So here are seven enemies of innovation. Spot them and slay them whenever you can!

Enemies of Product Innovation | new product development | Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – will or won’t she help slay enemies of innovation?

1. Failure to find or better meet a consumer need

Seventy five percent of products or services fail for this reason (1). This is particularly the case in technology markets where new innovations are often just new features trying to find a consumer need.

Even the famous Sony Walkman originally failed for this reason. The initial consumer response to the ‘Walkman’ was ‘why do I need a portable tape player when I have one at home?’ Only when Sony identified its ability to change consumers’ mood and invested in making the product ‘cool’ did sales start to take-off.

In markets where there are many competitors, new products or services must also better meet consumers’ needs,  find and create new consumer needs and turn needs into wants.

2. Cultural myopia

The more successful the business the louder is the mantra ‘we’ve always done it this way’.  Thus the more entrenched mindsets and processes become, and the greater the risk of quenching the creative flame. So remember the low-cost airlines effect on national airlines such as British Airways, Amazon’s effect on retail book-stores and Apple itunes’ effect on the music producers. This is where driven people, independent innovation teams and external agents can help cut through the malaise.

3. Lack of creativity

For new products to stand-out requires creativity.  While great ideas or discoveries can occur in a Eureka moment (think Newton and apple trees) it is a myth that creativity is the preserve of the few. Everyone can be creative. It just helps to understand what it is and how to do it. Creativity is an ability to make new connections and generate ideas. It is a thinking skill – an ability to think laterally ie from side to side, in a divergent fashion – not just in a linear, logical, convergent fashion.

There are many techniques to generate ideas and solve problems. These including reframing or looking at a problem from a different view-point, understanding and changing the rules in a market, through sensory stimulation and visioning or dreaming. For example, if Ernest Hemingway the writer ever felt bereft of ideas for his stories, he was known to sit in his rocking chair, relax and drift off to sleep. You can try this too. In the absence of a colleague, do as Hemingway did – hold marbles in your hand and work in a room with a wooden floor!

4. Lack of time, determination, or due process

Creativity also requires thinking time – time to create more, and iterate and build ideas.

As well as time, hard work and due process is important.  Creative sessions are useful to kick-start an innovation process, though it is easy to kill ideas and hard to develop them in a few short hours.  Like plants, ideas need to be nourished and given time to thrive otherwise they will die. While 3M discovered their ‘weak’ glue by accident the successful commercialisation of their famous post-it notes took twelve years.  This was in part due to the persistence of its inventor, Spence Silver. He believed passionately that his idea had potential. He eventually connected with another colleague Art Fry, who suggested how his glue could be applied.

Successful product innovation is also a numbers game. If you create and assess many ideas the chance of success is greater than if you create and assess just one.  The US Product Development and Management Association (PDMA)(2) found that ten serious ideas or concepts are needed to bring one product to market successfully. Products nurtured through a rigorous product development process have a greater chance of success, with around three quarters being launched compared with just under sixty percent overall.  Considering innovation as a process also helps institutionalise or embed it in the corporate culture. At 3M, for example, innovation is defined as ‘a process that creates products that create a new basis of competition’.

5. Lack of team work

While many notable inventions are attributed to lone inventors, success is more often due to teamwork – combining several brains to reach a common goal.

Even great brand owners, such as Marks and Spencer experience failure; most notably when the decision to stock a pudding or shirt largely depended on the pleasure that it gave the Chairman of the company. One of the greatest film makers ever, Stephen Spielberg has also flopped; consider the allegedly self-indulgent comedy ‘1941’.

Assembling a team and creating the conditions for innovation to flourish has inspired many notable successes during the last century. These include the creation of the first jet fighter, and the first animated movie. Also brands such as Virgin Atlantic and the Friends tv series.

6. Lack of brand understanding or vision

Brands exist in the eyes of customers not just the management team. Understanding what customers consider existing, latent or potential strengths can catalyse innovation as much as widely held management views. Understanding perceived brand strengths and weaknesses can reveal new facets of a brand and provide new springboards or foundations for innovation.  Caterpillar has been a leading manufacturer of heavy duty construction vehicles since 1925. Recognising the rugged strength of the brand amongst construction workers and the fact that industrial chic is a recurring theme in the fashion business spurred successful expansion into footwear. Within the company, footwear is considered a ‘walking machine’ – from professional steel toe capped work boots, to stylish slip-on comfort shoes; and now clothing and toys.

Having a clear idea where you want your business to go focuses team energy and activity. In the 1950s, Sony had a vision to ‘transform the poor worldwide perceptions of Japanese goods’. Today few Western homes fail to have at least one of their products on display. In the US, Mr. Clean (Flash in the UK, Monsieur Propre in France) has led household cleaning since the late 1950s. In the US the vision is now to extend the brand into car washing.

Mr. Clean Car Wash | Product innovation | New product development
Mr Clean Car Wash – the successful household cleaner is now expanding in to car washes

7. Lack of customer involvement

‘Research only dumbs down great ideas’. If we had a pound for every time we’ve heard this message we’d be a very rich. This view is most evident in the creative industries. An industry where the gulf between the best and worst performers seems to widen every year.

Most assume that research means ’focus groups’. And perceptions are poor and thus lacking in credibility. Perhaps through experience or a belief that the sole purpose of research is ‘evaluation’.  While evaluation research is useful this misses the point. Most consumers, even those as young as three or four, have an innate creativity and marketing ‘savvy’. Further, all are different; have different backgrounds, beliefs, skills and ways of thinking. Most are also naturally social rather than solitary and like creating and working with others. It means that there is a vast pool of creative talent available to address your challenge. This is a boon to product development.

Marketing Inspiration

Here’s how to address the seven enemies of innovation:

1. First, establish a product development process but tailor or flex it to different challenges and circumstances.

2. Create lots of ideas, give them time and conditions to grow. It’s easy to kill ideas but hard to develop them.

3. Consult and involve diverse colleagues in your product innovation process. No-one has a monopoly on good ideas.

4. Use the tools and techniques to engage, inspire and bring out the best in your team.

5. Involve consumers in the product innovation process. They can both create and build great ideas.

References

(1)    Cooper , Robert. G  Winning at New Products, 1993

(2)    Product Development and Management Association, http://www.pdma.org, 1991

Read some of The Marketing Directors marketing success stories. Our successes include new to world innovations, new brands and a myriad of brand extensions.

Brand Development ; The Fishy Idea that Turned into a Brand – Bubba Gump

It is a downer returning home from your holidays. You know all good things come to an end. You also expect a tedious wait at the airport and a tiring journey home.

So it was with squeals of delight that we discovered the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company at our departure airport. “That’s the company founded by Forrest Gump” shouted the little one. It is a fabulous brand development story.

The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company

The neon sign first caught the eye. It shouts all American and come and look at me.

Great brand experiences. The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co Logo
The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (Logo) in Cancun, Mexico

Bubba Gump Brand Development

So what could a company that originated in shrimp fishing possibly have to offer? Lots more than we imagined. Firstly, merchandise. The little one tried on a snug- fitting t-shirt emblazoned with the company logo. In a trice she became a cool able seaman on Bubba’s boat. Then we found some shrimp plush toys. And lots of sporting goods including football jerseys, water bottles and also table tennis bats. All stuff connected to the Forrest Gump film. And also based on the novel of the same name by Winston Groom. As a result, the miscellany of stuff and colourful displays were irresistible.

Some Forrest Gump Sayings

So we had to discover more. The diner itself was like a shack. Wooden beams held up a corrugated iron roof. In addition, three different ‘rooms’ decorated with US car number plates and signs also outlined simple morals or beliefs:

“When all else fails, try doing what the captain suggested”

“A promise is a promise”

“If the customer wants vanilla, give him vanilla”

Great brand experiences. Bubba Gump Market
Some of Forrest Gump’s sayings

The Bubba Gump Brand Experience

To get the waiters’ attention, we waved a “Stop Forrest Stop” sign. And when we were happy, we then displayed the sign “Run Forrest Run”. We ordered “Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Heaven”. The choice was essentially shrimp or shrimp. Either boiled, broiled, fried, baked, sauteed, steamed or barbecued. But hey that’s the difference. The coconut shrimp were divine as were the shrimp balls.

With the family engaged, we enjoyed a happy hour reliving and conversing about the film. As the little one remarked; “this would be a great place to go with a first date.”

Great brand experiences. Staff and customers at The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Cancun Mexico
Staff and customers at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Cancun, Mexico

Marketing Inspiration

Turn ideas in a winning brand by evolving a compelling brand story, and delivering a great experience

Every great business or brand starts with a great brand strategy or idea. The idea behind the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company are the characters and also the content of the film and novel. From the Forrest Gump story thus emerges a heart-warming and distinctive business and brand proposition.

Use clever brand presentation to reinforce the core brand idea and attract and engage

Experiencing the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is like peeling back the layers of an onion to reveal the magic of the brand within. Through attention-getting signage, to the fun physical environment and displays, to products and then the people.

Build ‘a must talk-about’ brand experience by including magical moments

Combining lots of little things adds up to a memorable experience – one that you want to tell your friends about. The staff were part of the fun – hence the reason they appear in our photographs!

Prove the business model and then drive rapid global brand development

Founded in 1996, The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co was proven in the US before expanding to Mexico, Asia and now the UK. At the time of writing there are 33 sites with sales per location of c. $5.5m per annum. Merchandise sales add value beyond expectations of a pure-play restaurant. As the company’s website says, the idea was inspired by Paramount Pictures, and turned into a concept by Rusty Pelican Restaurants. This then led to a ‘licensing agreement’ based on the motion picture property.

To create and deliver a compelling and distinctive brand experience, check out our brand strategy services and also  brand masterclasses.

And as Forrest would say, “that’s all I have to say about that.”

All photographs © Guy Tomlinson 2010

Marketing Technology ; 3D TV At Home – Honey, You Cannot Be Serious?

Marketing new technology | 3D television - how it works

Marketing technology requires imagination

The Polar Express (2004) Click to view 2D trailer
The Polar Express (2004) Click to view the 2D trailer

So imagine riding a roller coaster.  That’s how viewing The Polar Express on a 3D cinema screen felt as the train sped through gorges and swayed over mountains en route to the North Pole.  And hear the screams and feel the fear as several hundred rats surge over the edge of a stage and towards you in Disney theme park’s showing of Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.

Will 3D TV be a heart-pounding experience like 3D cinema?

3D tv trials have already taken place in the UK, Japan, and Brazil (among others). And you may have your own views….

Marketing technology is difficult. Much fails. So how do you mitigate the risk of failure? It is important to think from the audience pint of view, and consider their needs, and try and fast forward into the future.

Potential barriers and drivers to 3D TV?

1. Wearing nerdy glasses :

Stereoscopy is the most widely accepted method for recording and delivering 3D video. This requires capturing stereo images in the right place to show convincing scene depth. The images are then coded for broadcast and viewing. In the UK, Sky used alternate lines of pixels for transmission. However, at the low-cost end of the spectrum, viewing with polarised glasses provides a work-around. Wearing glasses is a bit of a hassle and a tad nerdy. Viewing ideally requires purpose-built 3D televisions.

3D television - the technical bit simplified
3D television – the technical bit simplified

2. Access and Cost :

In the UK, Sky initially used their existing HD infrastructure to access some 1.6m+ homes (Oct 2009) with compatible set-top boxes though the compromise remained, to wear glasses. However, creating new 3D compatible tvs obviate the need for glasses. Thus far, several manufacturers have started producing sets with autostereoscopic displays. However, these are higher cost, and high cost is a barrier to demand.

3. Risk of technology redundancy :

The first tv sets require users to wear glasses before autostereoscopic screens become available. Further, 3D blu-ray and 3D tv broadcasts are likely to use different technologies. This means that standardisation or multiple technologies will needed within tv receivers to allow viewing of both blu-ray dvds and tv broadcasts on the same tv. Thus there is a high probability of technology redundancy. While this may not be an issue for early adopters it is a barrier to attract the masses.

4. Safety :

Watching 3D movies risks stomach churn. Audience trials are important to understand potential issues. Beyond this, clear guidance and reassurance is important to allay potential fears.

5. Ease of use :

The more complicated a system is to use, the greater the barrier to view. Therefore, easy-to-use and fool-proof equipment, or easy-to-plug-in add-ons to current equipment, will maximise viewing.

6. Experiential benefits :

So will the quality of the experience outweight the disadvantages? In the UK, the chief broadcast engineer at BSkyB, Chris Johns suggests that 3D could herald a step change in the same way that colour did versus black and white.

However, offering features rather than tangible benefits is a common error in technology marketing. Further, the demise of Betamax and the original BSB digital broadcasting company suggest that ‘quality’ is subjective, and does not necessarily ‘sell’.

The programme and film makers are key to delivering quality too. But what is quality? Watching a newsreader in 3D is unlikely to be as compelling as ducking out-of-the-way when a football  hurtles towards you.

The challenge is also to find which genres and experiences work in 3D, and both draw, and retain audiences. The movie makers already plan a series of 3D films.  Sometimes audiences will wish to ride a roller coaster!

Technology Marketing Inspiration

1. The difficulty and trap with marketing technology is often that technology is often a collection of features trying to meet a need. Thus the most common reason new technology fails is because it fails to meet a need. Most probably because the need simply doesn’t exist.  Thus if the need doesn’t exist, you need to figure how to create a need. So use marketing research to understand audience needs, and anticipate drivers and barriers to buy. Also how to turn the need to a ‘want’. Some audiences no doubt want to ride a roller coaster! But perhaps not every day.

2. There will always be some who fear new technology. So to kick-start demand, first, identify potential early adopters, and focus your marketing on them.

3. Understand drivers and barriers to purchasing and usage. And then communicate the benefits of the new technology while also addressing potential fears. Don’t underestimate the fears, they are often entrenched in past usage behaviour. And then work hard to over-come the barriers and solicit trial. For example, by providing free trial experiences. Use the trial experiences to overcome barriers too : such as affordability, access issues and thus better help potential customers weigh-up the benefits for themselves.

4. Plan for the long-term. The trouble with marketing technology is potential product redundancy, and failure to consider where demand comes from, a competitor or …? So fast forward into the future. Consider how technology might or might not evolve, and consider segments, and develop marketing scenarios, beyond an initial product launch. By imagining the future and planning for the future today will help you grow and lead the market. Also to maximise both short and long-term market share.

Brand Licensing ; New Tools For Brand Innovation – A License to Thrill

Brand licensing and development

There is widespread recognition among children’s tv producers that income from tv programme sales is seldom enough to cover production costs so brand licensing is often centre stage to increase revenue.  However, if you start by thinking about brand innovation the upside is even greater.

Current Brand Licensing Model

The current brand licensing process is typically an auction. A producer makes a show. It’s then sold to broadcasters and aired. Production of a ‘style guide’ follows, with a synopsis of the show, the key characters and design elements. It’s usually an impressive tome, a wonderful work of art. This is then sent to potential licensees with a brief asking them to come up with new product ideas. The product rights are then sold to the highest bidder.

Label Slapping Limits Value

But the current model often leads to little more than putting a label on a product. While there are a few bucks in adding a logo to a pair of pyjamas, pencil-case or rucksack, the benefits seem marginal. Does the label aid brand recognition, stand-out or value? More likely it relegates your brand to a commodity found in cheap and cheerful stores. Thus undermining the brand.

Out-Smart Your Competitors

Therefore thinking from a supply-push product development mindset alone isn’t enough. It’s akin to throwing mud at a wall – and hoping it sticks.

Moreover, markets are increasingly competitive. Media owners compete against retailers, and consumer goods companies. These businesses are amongst the most sophisticated organisations in the world. So, learning from, and out-thinking them, is helpful.

Invest in Consumer ‘Insights’

Consumers choose based on their needs; whether an offer meets their needs, and also by weighing up the benefits of competing offers. They subsequently buy when their ‘needs’ become ‘wants’. The retail trade also buys and stocks-up similarly.  Based on what sets their store apart, and also drives store traffic and meets their customer’s needs.

So invest in audience or consumer research to make better product development and brand innovation decisions. In particular, invest in meaningful insights on consumers’ needs and behaviours. Also understand what engages and sets your tv series apart. Look for unusual character and personality quirks.  Do this at the same time as programme production, in order to maximise both programme development and brand innovation opportunities.

Create Stimuli to Push Boundaries

Stimuli (1) brings to life ideas.  Thus better enabling consumers to react to ideas, and challenge and build them. It therefore moves conversations beyond the superficial to the detailed.  In turn, helping to uncover more insights. In addition, insights become more meaningful and better articulate how to differentiate products and services, and also command a premium. All can then be hard-wired into ‘style guides’ and also brand marketing plans in order to deliver the return on investment you need.

Marketing Inspiration

Brand licensing is a valid and powerful means of extending a brand into new markets and growing sales. However there are commercial upsides in thinking beyond slapping your label on a product. So think about what currently sets your brand apart or could in the future, and develop a brand strategy based on these insights.

Extending programmes beyond the tv screen to create brands requires the programme’s unique essence to be truly understood. Do this by seeing through the audience’s eyes. Also by using creative stimuli to explore, and push creative boundaries.

The same thinking process applies to any organisation thinking about how to extend their product or service into new markets. Carpe diem.

References

(1) Stimuli reproduced courtesy BBC Worldwide. These are just a handful of some 70 plus ideas created in order to explore new product and brand innovation opportunities for The Secret Show. Read more about our approach to brand extension and using creative stimuli in research.

Great Brand Experiences; National Geographic

Great Brand Experiences | National Geographic

National Geographic – A Great Brand Experience?

The greatest brands have high awareness and a clear and distinctive image. Also an ability to evoke a strong rational and emotional bond with audiences, stretch into new markets as well as change with the times. With the opening of its new London store, The National Geographic Society delivered a great brand experience.

The National Geographic Society

It all started in 1888 when 33 explorers and scientists gathered to form the National Geographic Society ‘for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge’. Over the years, the Society has supported many expeditions and research projects including polar and undersea expeditions, studies of animals, such as Dian Fossey’s study of mountain gorillas. It has also enabled discoveries such as the wreck of the Titanic (Robert Ballard) and the man-like Zinjanthropus in Tanzania (Louis Leakey).

Brand extensions

The first brand extension, National Geographic magazine appeared in 1888. Then with its articles on geography, science, world history and current events, dramatic photographs from around the world, and trademarked yellow border, it became an icon of our times. Also a coffee table essential for the chattering classes.

In June 1985, National Geographic chose a close-up of an ‘Afghan girl’ as the cover photo for an article on the refugee crisis in Afghanistan.

Photographed by Steve McCurry, the girl had sea green eyes striped with blue and yellow. She peered with a mixture of bitterness and courage from within a tattered burgundy scarf. As a result her picture touched the souls of millions.

Emergence of a media brand

In 1964, the brand extended onto television with stories of adventure and science. In turn, it gave fame to marine explorer and ecologist Jacques Cousteau and his adventures on board Calypso. The first TV channel then followed in 1997. Then in 2007, National Geographic created a global media group comprising all of its magazine, book publishing, television, film, music, radio, digital and maps units.

The new National Geographic store

Together with franchise partner, Worldwide Retail Store, National Geographic opened in Regent Street in November 2008. It is (or was*) a fantastic sensory experience.

On walking in you are greeted by a staff member from one of the many nations represented in the store. To the right are magazines and videos, all with the iconic yellow border, neatly displayed in a small pagoda-like structure. Beyond is a café with rustic tables and chairs. It is a great place to chat and enjoy a drink and pastry or pincho created by the fabulous Spanish chef.

An artistic experience

All is interposed with state of the art interactive screens and video walls bringing HD quality pictures from around the world up close and real. After hours, the merchandise then packs away and the room becomes a lecture theatre.

Inside the door are a series of horse sculptures carefully crafted from driftwood. Beyond are rows of hanging prints taken by National Geographic photographers. Also a market-place brimming with hand-crafted furnishings and artefacts from all over the world.

And lots of practical stuff

In the basement you’ll find clothing for the great outdoors as well as the most fashion conscious. Also a cold chamber to test the weather-proofing abilities of the outerwear. This includes a wind turbine, block of ice, thermal imaging camera and visual display to add dramatic effect. The shirts are priced at £119 therefore demonstrating the premium that great brands command.

Finally, on the top floor polished wooden desks adorned with glowing globes signal this is where to book your expedition (or holiday). In the nearby technology department the latest camera and optical equipment is showcased in sturdy steel cases. Dressed in their khaki safari gear, staff are unobtrusive yet close to hand. For example, to advise on what’s best to see the stars or (photographically) shoot beasts in the bush. All that seems missing is a Masai warrior or lion on the loose…… but then again, did I really look everywhere?

Marketing Inspiration

While many great brands evolved by accident, what’s critical is management vision and conviction to push the boundaries. Also rigorous attention to detail to inspire and deliver consistently through all activities. As with all great brand experiences you should see, hear, think and feel the quality, value and difference.

*Sadly the London store closed in 2017, and its demise is our loss. Thus, we presume the high cost of a Regent Street venue, and associated high costs of merchandise, were insufficient to keep the business in the black. And/or alternatively following Disney’s acquisition of 67% of the shares, the place to visit is now the Disney Store. 

Nevertheless, even without a stand-alone London store, National Geographic remains a great brand experience, with clever brand extensions, and underpinned by a clear brand strategy!

Photo credits: Afghan girl by Steve McCurry, other photos of the National Geographic Store © Guy Tomlinson 2009.