Last week I traveled to snowy Toronto with a sales director. Over two days, we saw more than 30 Canadian stores and talked with dozens of consumers, retail buyers, store managers, and shelf stockers. It reminded me that I need to get out of the office a lot more often.
It’s easy to think of marketing as what happens in the head office: the PowerPoint presentations, the slick ad boards, the debates in meetings. But brand meaning is created by consumers, not by marketers. Consumers interact with brands in the midst of their busy, chaotic lives, not in the artificial, carefully scripted way we imagine in brand onions and positioning statements.
It doesn’t matter how our brand resonates in a 30-slide PowerPoint deck with crisp graphics. It matters how it resonates in a crowded shelf of a dimly lit pharmacy to a time-pressed mother of four.
I remember something I learned as an intern on Cheerios from Ann Simonds who headed up our cereal business at the time. She told our New York based creative director, “I don’t care how you think Cheerios plays in Soho. I care how it plays in Peoria”. And she got the creative team on a plane.
It’s easy in business to get trapped in the ivory tower, detached from the actual consumers who buy our products. But you’ll learn a lot more away from your desk than at it. No matter how much Nielsen data you have.
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Great post, Tom. It reminds me of an experience I had developing new product ideas for a P&G brand. i was with an outside innovation company. Scrawled on the wall of the entrance to their “idea gym” were these words from AG Lafley: “No one will discover moments of truth by sitting at their desk.”
Thought it was appropriate.
When i had the Brand Experience Lab in Soho, we frequently led clients on retail walkabouts, for them to watch people really interacting with brands. One of the most important things we did was get them out of their category. We found that even if people did get out, they only looked at either themselves or their category, but rarely looked outside their own circle.
You really hit the nail on the head. If we fail to see customers as partners in our businesses we’ll quickly start to despise them.