(Guest Column in The Drum, 1.3.2013: ‘Ketchup is ketchup, so why does the Heinz brand mean so much?’)
Ketchup is weird, Malcolm Gladwell observed a few years back. It is served alongside mustard, but while mustard is a highly diverse product category, ketchup, as we all know is, well… ketchup.
Yes, it is, essentially, a type of tomato sauce, but it isn’t part of that highly diverse category either. Tomato sauce lives by a completely different set of rules.
So if ketchup isn’t like mustard, and it’s not a type of tomato sauce, what is it then? Ketchup is ketchup. Ketchup is weird. Ketchup is magic.
And Heinz is its magic brand.
Yet Ketchup is not the company’s only magic brand. Heinz dominates the Baked Beans category too. There are few definitive products in our world today, and far fewer still where one brand owns two of them. Maybe Apple has managed to achieve this with the Mac and the iPhone (with two product brand names), but you may struggle to find other examples in the mainstream world (Coke and Diet Coke are variants so don’t count).
Both Heinz Baked Beans and Heinz Tomato Ketchup are operating in ‘categories of one’. Competition isn’t fighting Heinz through differentiation; it is forced down to copycatting. Heinz, with its dominant presence and rich, long heritage is just too strong.
From a design perspective, Heinz marries its definitive products with brand identities that are textbook case studies in the long-term management of iconic brands.
If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Tend to it. It’s this custodian mentality that keeps these definitive brands alive and well. Continue reading
(The following post was originally published on Marketing Magazine’s Marketing Blogged blog. It has also been posted on Linguabrand’s Science and Learning section, among a highly flattering group. This is a delayed cross-posting.)
Expanding the definition and remit of sustainable marketing
When initially introduced to c-suites and boards, the allure of sustainability was that it made a certain brutal business common sense. Performance driven business leaders don’t have to love trees to understand that ignoring environmental impact will eventually kill their business: Materials and fuels will get more expensive, regulations will bear down on them and other forms of public scrutiny will become increasingly unforgiving.
Over the years, the remit of business sustainability has expanded from environmental responsibility to include other economic, social and almost any other aspect of responsible long-term resource management and social stewardship.
However, sustainable marketing has so far remained focused on the environmental aspect. It largely stands for paper sources, non-toxic inks, recycling, etc.
This is an oversight as it’s clear a large part of marketing’s impact on our society is not physical. I would like to challenge this narrow view of sustainable marketing by suggesting that just like businesses increasingly look beyond the environmental impact of resource management, marketing should do the same.
The two new elements I would like to introduce into the definition of sustainable marketing are the cognitive and the cultural aspects. Continue reading
Just finished Neil Postman’s The Disappearance of Childhood.
Postman is a wonderful writer, and the first part, about the historical invention of childhood is truly breath-taking. Just chock-full of amazing insights about the relationship of culture and technology.
I particularly found interesting how the same "dangers" are re-purposed again and again for each technology.
(Narcissism is, apparently, particularly popular, possibly because of the built-in hubris of any technological revolution. I’m sure the discovery of fire and the wheel promoted narcissism too. What with firelight being so complimenting and making us see human faces 24 hours a day and the wheel making us strong and taking us places… But I still need to think this bit through…)
However, as he moves to describing the disappearance of childhood he largely misses the mark.
Not because of his somewhat luddite view of technology or conservative views of society (you expect that from Postman) but because although the phenomena he describes to support his arguments are largely true, he completely overlooks the emergence of teenage culture as a transient stage between childhood and adulthood (quite odd for someone who was merely in his thirties in the 60′s). As well as the increasing importance of this stage. And while this stage is "blurred at both ends" to our day ("tweens, anyone?"), and especially into adulthood, you can still see marked distinctions between the culture of prepubescent children (e.g. "toddlers"), pubescent and post-pubescent teenagers.
And any cross-overs don’t change the fact prepubescence is protected on many levels and teens are often overprotected, regulated/policed by adults, and frequently demonised by the media.
Ah well, thankfully today we have people like Danah Boyd who approach youth with insight and empathy.
(Make no mistake, this book is still worth your time. All his books, with all their flaws…)
This is a story about advocacy and rigid leadership-sets.
It begins with a seemingly simple question:
Why do “the usual suspects” keep winning?
“The usual suspects” is a marketing pattern/plot familiar to anyone in the venture capital business:
1. The best venture capital funds get more chances to invest in the best startups.
2. The best startups have better chances to making big exits with big multipliers.
3. Having the best exits further cements a fund’s reputation as being among the best.
A virtuous or vicious cycle, depending on a VC’s rank.
A similar dynamic will be found within engineering:
1.The best engineering firms will get a disproportionate amount of opportunities to tender for bigger, better, higher profile projects.
2. High profile projects draw more attention to their best of breed work.
3. Having best of breed high-profile projects further establishes them as an industry leader.
How about universities?
1. The best universities are/have the first choice of the best students and faculty.
2. The best students and faculty are mutually drawn to each other.
3. The work/results/success perpetuates the university’s status as among the best.
4. It stays up in the rankings/league tables year after year. (The closer you get to the top of rankings the less movement you will find from year to year).
The usual suspects plot is especially common in professional services and large B2B businesses. Notable categories are legal services (where the leader-set is known as “the magic circle”) and accounting/audit firms (“Big Four”).
Indeed, success begets success.
But what else is there?
The dynamic plotted here is the tendency of big scale advocacy-led categories to have highly rigid leader-sets.
Two questions come to mind: First, what drives this rigidity at the top? And then – What can second tier players and challenger brands do about it?