Friday, August 20, 2010

Don’t Let Me-Marketing Wreck Your Brand

Guinness’ Message in a Bottle Falls Flat

My husband likes to have a beer before dinner. Although he’s a committed Corona man, once in a while he likes to try something different. Recently, he picked up a six-pack of Guinness Draught.

While taking his first sip, he froze. He heard something clinking inside the bottle. Rock? Used syringe?

As it turns out, it was neither. It was not product tampering; the object was put there intentionally by the company.

The object was a “rocket widget delivering you the same great taste of Guinness Draught” (the company’s words). Of course, silly us, we would have realized this had we read this information before opening and drinking the beer. After all, the information was printed on the bottle: sideways, on the side of bottle, in small, all-caps white type reversed out of brown – visible only through a magnifying glass. (The kind of print a company’s lawyers hope you won’t read.) To read the message at this point in his beer-drinking experience, my husband would have had to turn the bottle on its side – spilling its contents. Instead, he dumped the contents in the sink, hoping to be able to see the object.

After being relieved that my husband wasn’t poisoned, we were stunned and then angry. How could the company think that inserting a foreign object in a food product was okay? Moreover, how could Guinness – a brand that has been around since 1759, has a reputation for quality, and stands behind its products so much that its founder’s (trademarked) signature is proudly stamped on each bottle – think it was okay? What were the marketers thinking?

My answer: they weren’t thinking – at least about their customers.

Was the rocket widget part of some big advertising campaign, or some point of purchase promotion, or some new social media viral campaign? My husband may not be in Guinness’ target demographic: perhaps there is some group of consumers that think it’s cool to have pieces of plastic in their food to “fun it up?” Or was there a technical reason for the piece of plastic in the beer bottle? (We later found out that there was.) But if so, why isn’t this more clearly communicated on the bottle instead of buried in small type, in vague marketing copy? Particularly if the company is trying to attract new consumers to the brand, or bring former consumers back to the brand?

I don’t know. I don’t care. I am not intrigued. I am confused. I am angry. This is thoughtless marketing: the marketers thought more about themselves than about the customer experience. The marketer is indulging in “me-marketing,” or marketing to themselves.

And, as far as our family is concerned, the marketer frittered away 250 years of brand image. We will never buy or drink Guinness Draught again.

I don’t pretend to know what was in Guinness’ head when it created the marketing communications campaign for their new technical advance. Or how (or if) they tested the marketing copy before putting it onto the market, although I assume that they must have.

There’s an object (sorry) lesson here for the rest of us marketers: When designing marketing campaigns, it’s essential to put yourself in the customer’s place.

Here are four things to remember:

Ask yourself what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the marketing experience – really. Better still, ask your friends or a stranger unfamiliar with your product.

Test test test. If you’re a small business without a big marketing budget, test new marketing concepts on your current customers or on your Facebook and Twitter fans before rolling the concepts out to everyone. Customers and fans are usually flattered to be asked, and most will be sincere in their responses.

Don’t assume that every customer is reading all your advertising or news releases, or following every opinion on social media, or receiving every marketing message within the nice, neat context of a campaign. Yes, some people want to be “in the know” and will “work” for your product. But many other people just want a beer. So, each marketing message has to stand on its own. This is certainly the case with something as dramatic as changing the actual product configuration.

• Finally, remember that every marketing technique should be consistent with the brand. If it isn’t consistent, you’re sending the wrong message to the market.