Time to return to “feeling the quality”

Lets be honest, the majority of marketing activity simply doesn’t work. Eight out of ten product launches now fail. It’s a staggering statistic when you consider all the millions being spent on launches, advertising, point of sale, direct marketing and whatever other tool is plucked out the marketing kit bag to help get the public buying. Each year traditional forms of marketing become less and less effective. For example, in 1965 over 33% of US consumers could recall specific TV adverts, by 1990 that figure had fallen to only 8% and today? Well my guess is that less than 5% of the TV watching public will recall an advert.

How is this failure possible in our current age of widespread marketing expertise? Haven’t we had centuries of selling to get this right? Aren’t there more people involved in marketing and branding than at any other time in history? Some critics point to the rise of Tivo, multiple channels and cynical consumers who have now created an ‘anti-marketing shell’ for their subconscious. All good points but ultimately they miss the main issue which is that marketers have somehow forgotten how to make a successful sell. Namely they have forgotten the need to appeal to all our five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing) when attempting to sell something.

In short, they have got stuck in a mindset that all marketing activity must be focused on appealing to our audio and visual sense. In fact 83% of all brand communication is to the eyes alone. Like idiots to the proverbial lantern, we have fallen under the spell of TV advertising, we have been seduced by print and are now entering the heavy petting stages with the Internet. Touch, taste and smell have been forgotten. Well, not quite forgotten but certainly relegated to the Vauxhall Conference and then had the pips squeezed out of it by the suits from finance. When it comes to selling, whatever happened to the concept of ‘feel the quality?’

Well, one explanation is that the power that the marketing director once exerted over the look, feel, smell, sound and taste of a product, and the environment in which it is sold, has mostly been lost to other directors around the board room. Marketing directors of yesteryear may not have set out with a deliberate strategy of appealing to consumers through all five senses, but by using common sense and a belief in quality, they were more successful than their modern counterparts and most importantly, they held more clout.

Today the head of retail, finance, IT and operations is likely to have as much influence, if not more, on the interaction with the customers as the marketing director. This has all lead to a general reduction in the quality of the brand experience enjoyed by consumers.

And the public aren’t stupid, they know! They can be made to watch as many clever and shiny advertising campaigns as marketers will throw at them, but they increasingly see a real disconnect between visual advertising that urges them to embrace the lifestyle promise of the brand, and the reality of the pretty crappy products they are sold and the rubbish customer experience.

A customer sitting in a new Virgin train ‘super loo’ doesn’t sit there thinking about the brilliant advertising campaign for Virgin trains, but how the loo probably isn’t working, looks dirty, feels very cheap and is, well, not very super at all. A Barclaycard customer who spends half an hour listening to a slightly out of key version of Greensleeves whilst trying to get through to a cut price call centre in Bangalore isn’t sitting their considering how clever the marketing people must have been to have formed a marketing partnership with The Premiership, but instead how tight the company must be to not invest more in better call centres.

Don’t worry though, as long as we marketing people keep upping the millions spent on marketing and branding, as long as we keep linking in with the latest celebrity pop idol then the consumer will come flocking right? Wrong. The public know they are being sold a pup and any new product that isn’t good quality will quickly join the eight out of ten new launches that fail.

But its not just new launches that can get it wrong. What about existing well know brands? What about one of the biggest brands of all – Coke? Here is a brand that has literally spent billions on teaching the world to sing, on ensuring that we buy the ‘real’ thing, and encouraging us to ‘live on the coke side of life’ (that’s the latest strap line by the way.) Advertising agency owners have made their fortune on creating glossy, star studded global campaigns that adhere to probably the strictest brand guidelines in the business. And, whilst all this was going on, Coke managed to throw away one of their most distinctive brand identities – the ice cold iconic glass coke bottle. A bottle that the public loved. A historical masterpiece. A piece of cultural iconography, if you will, and would you believe it they chucked it in the bin.

You can almost imagine the meeting at which the senior VP’s became convinced that plastic bottles and cans would be better, cheaper and easier to lug around. That small saving per bottle means tens of millions of dollars of extra shareholder value they thought! Well possible it did in the short term, but in the long term it’s proved to be a disaster. Now a coke can or bottle is indistinguishable from the myriad of other competitors on the shelf. Oh, and that unique secret coke recipe? Well they had a go at changing that as well. Hmm. Predictably the result has been a fall in sales.

You see, the public liked the way the bottle felt in their hands, how it pressed against their lips, they likely the memories of youth it held for them, they perceived that thanks to the glass bottle the drink was also original, unique and even colder (it isn’t). So, in essence, here is a brand that threw away its unique ability to appeal to all five senses (bottle touch, taste and smell of the drink, sight of distinct black liquid, sound of the bubbles and the satisfying ‘glug’ when drinking an ‘ice cold Coke.’) I am happy to report that today the Coca-cola organisation is returning to its core values and is re-introducing the bottle. Well done to them for some long called for clear headed thinking.

But, it’s not just the manufactures of FMCG’s that can cock it up. Even the makers of luxury cars can have a go at buggering up their brands. Up until the 1990s Mercedes Benz was the byword in luxury and quality. This car maker’s excellent engineers and designers built high quality cars that would last a lifetime. At which point they handed them over to the marketing department to sell. Pride, workmanship and a quality finish were all key ingredients to the magic Mercedes tradition. Cars were known for their first-rate feel, the sound of a quiet purring engine and the heavy clunk of a well designed closing door. The cars also boasted a unique smell of quality leather and wood.

And then someone within Mercedes decided that their old fashioned fussy focus on quality, which happened to appealed to all five senses, was outdated. What was needed was more cars, cheaper cars, a wider range of cars to capture more of the car buying public, all promoted through shiny adverts that showed just what a modern and exciting car maker Mercedes had become. A sort of ‘equal opportunities car maker’ if you will. The engineers sadly nodded their heads and got on with the business of cutting out the quality in order to bring the prices down. Within a decade Mercedes had lost their reputation for creating quality cars. The doors didn’t clunk, wood and leather had become well, a bit plastic and the engines sounded rougher. The cars acquired an unenviable reputation for breaking down. Disappointed life-long Merc buyers started lingering around BMW garages and pretty quickly sales were down for Mercedes and sky rocketing for BMW.

Today? Well Merc is back to doing what it does best. Building cars aimed at a certain sector of the market willing to pay more for that touch, that smell, that sound and that beautiful body. In short Mercedes have gone back to quality that appealed to all the five senses.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that these sort of incidents are rare. At Brand Sense we run a course that helps Marketing Directors to rethink their approach to marketing expenditure. Of those Fortune 500 company marketing directors with whom we have worked, the majority have immediately revised their intended marketing expenditure to approximately 50% visual spend and 50% on utilising the other senses and investing in the quality of the product.

And directors are waking up to the fact that splitting responsibility for the customer experience across multiple directors leads to a disconnected poor quality experience. The marketing director’s power is once again on the rise.

I will leave you with one startling fact. Studies show that smell (of your product and sales environment) is actually more important than sight and sound in the purchasing process. In fact a sense of smell emotionally affects humans up to 75% more than any other sense. Big brands are finally waking up to this and many of the major world brands are now looking at how they can influence, improve and even ‘own’ their smell in order to maximise sales. The question I have for you is when was the last time you stopped thinking about advertising and started to think about the smell of what you sell?


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About Simon Harrop
Simon is a sensory branding expert, such an expert in fact that you will often find him popping up on television and radio.

After building an internationally renowned agency focusing on communication through fragrance, he has now gone beyond just the smelly stuff and utilises his extensive sensory branding experience to guide and inspire brands and business owners.
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Simon Harrop
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