Monday, June 22, 2009

A better mousetrap

The American philosopher Emerson once said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”. Rats. The man was clearly a philosopher, not an entrepreneur. My experience is that there are thousands of different mousetraps, some better than others, and no-one’s door is in danger of being beaten down. Let’s call it the Incrementalism Trap. Product changes tend to be minor, but instead of facing this truth and working with it, many companies use marketing to promote their products way beyond their contribution. A mousetrap that kills the mouse a nanosecond faster is heralded as ‘the humane trap’, the one that has an easy clean surface is sold as the ‘less-mess trap’, and so on. Consumers respond to the hype with a yawn and another product hits the fast track to commodity status. Some companies fall into the Incrementalism Trap again and again because they don’t understand their consumers and they certainly don’t value emotional connections with them.

Let’s take a counter-example. Our client Toyota has a great record on reducing emissions, but the car they know is making a real difference in the fight for sustainability is the Prius. This giant leap of the imagination is about more than a shift in fuel type and usage; it is a change in behavior. As soon as you sit in a Prius, you enter a world that cares about the future and this engagement is graphically underlined by the controls on the dash. You can see exactly when you are using the car at maximum efficiency and it’s this sort of engagement that shifts minds. And isn’t shifting minds the name of the game?

I’ve said before that it’s 'No Sustainability, No Lovemark', and I now feel that the tide is running with us. You can take your pick from the studies coming out every week about how consumers choose, but one from Hartman reported that around a third of consumers are now willing to pay a premium for sustainable goods. And that’s in a time of deep recession. People aren’t looking for better mousetraps, they’re wondering about why the mouse is in their kitchen in the first place. They are making big changes in their own behavior and are looking for companies that are doing the same. Not redesigning the pack, but redesigning from their need up. That’s why I give a cheer when I see supermarkets developing areas that reflect what they know their shoppers care about.

The baby aisle, where everything related to motherhood is gathered together has become an institution in every supermarket. I think it's fantastic to see this family fundamental joined by sections where all the sustainable products are gathered together. Not down the back with the hard-to-move loss leaders that lost, but proudly up front declaring the sustainability principles the store works on.

So far, we are at the very beginning of developing credible standards around what is and what is not sustainable, natural, organic, and all the rest, but we’re on our way. I was amazed to see Nielsen research claim that just under two-thirds of U.S. households read labels on food and beverage packages. That’s a lot of shoppers putting a lot of care and attention into their choices. As some brands get it right, the pressure will be on the rest to develop smart and compelling ways to connect their products with ideas that matter. Caring for our kids and families has always been central but it is now being joined by caring for our planet, our communities, our neighbors.

1 comment:

Chris Simon said...

Hats off from me for the Prius and your client Toyota. I expect you already know Kevin that between 2000-2005, some direct agencies in the Omnicom Group did a lot of work with you guys and it was my pleasure and honour to digitally launch one of the first UK models.

These were early environmentally
conscious days, and I was in awe of what wasn’t exactly the world’s best looking vehicle, but one that opened my eyes to climate change and sustainability.

We shared lots of brilliant experiences working with you as brand agency, not only on Toyota, but across some incredibly emotive and award winning NSPCC work. Without sucking up or brown nosing, (‘cos I ‘aint lookin for a job with you), I would like to offer belated thanks to the Saatchi networks who taught me so much about sustainability, even 5 years or so before we were all calling it that.

With Toyota, innovation and being prepped to take some campaign risks also comes to mind. Although not designed at the time to reduce emissions like the forward thinking Prius, some important Land Cruiser stock had to be kept ‘on track’, literally. There was an over-stock situation and Toyota and yourselves were looking to get young up market male drivers to register their interest online.

The internet was still a bit clunk click every trip and I was trying to put forward a Flash solution to create a muddy online cross country race, using our theme idea of Experience driving ‘Hell’. Sure enough the internet and its programmers were giving me the thumbs down on my virtual concept that I wanted to turn into real registrations at selected country-muddy driving ranges. I remember grabbing a garden spade and literally going outside and digging up dirt. I dumped it down on the scanner and said that’s it! That’s what I want! At the cost of one broken scanner, (only £25) and the belief of your agency and client, the real slimy mud became the splash page that technology could not give me and formed the base for all further animation tracing. We smothered the online vehicles in real mud and then washed them down to reveal the Experience Driving Hell headline, with ‘Toyota on Track-Register Your Interest Now’. Result: Registrations almost closed the internet and the over stock sold out-instantly.

I use this example in line with what you say about Lovemark and not looking for better mousetraps. There was a big behaviour change in my programming team that day when I broke one of their prized scanners; and young guys who normally drove expensive and sporty vehicles to the money broker’s paid huge premiums to go play in the real mud and buy Land Cruisers.

The analogy now being that when we think Lovemark, we don’t necessarily think what the mark or even ‘marque’ looks like, but rather what it does for our future and our kids’ future. So if you’ve got any Prius’ that need a test drive through any kind of mud or climate change, I’m in:-)

I have just set up a brand new blog spot called ‘Wide Open Space’ and should you ever be around to offer a few words on Lovemarks and branding, it would be fabulous. BEST WISHES: Chris.