Ben Perreira

My head's dropbox.

Month: August, 2013

Structure and Context

Not unlike the 2005 classic Hustle and Flow, which won an Oscar for the even better track “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp,” (thanx wikip.) creating communications requires two ingredients.

The first ingredient is structure (hustle).

Structure is what your client, brand consulting firm or media department tells you. It is a very clear description of a target: 18-34 males who use 2GB of data on their smartphones, watch 9 hours of cable TV week, most of which is sports, and stream content on Netflix. Oh, and they’re “aspirational” because they answer in the affirmative to “I want to be successful in my life” on a nationally syndicated survey.

The hustle is like a horoscope: it makes sense to everyone who reads it because they know someone who kind of fits that description. Like a skeleton to a body, we need it. Like a body to a skeleton, there is lot besides this to consider.

I give you the second ingredient, context (flow).

Context is the how to structure’s what. It gives us information about how a target uses a given product, how they view that market, how that product fits into what they are trying to do with their lives. It is where we find perception gaps among competitors and a place to put the wedge that is arbitrage. It is where the desert ends and a playful ocean begins. It is the family that moves into the house – we know a lot about family by the house they choose, and vice versa.

Sick of analogies yet? How about another one. You shouldn’t eat hot sauce without a burrito, but when you get a burrito you should apply hot sauce liberally.

Bon appétit.

Innovation: The Lowest Hanging Fruit

Marketers get a lot of things right when it comes to generating demand for products. One of the things we don’t do as well is identify opportunities outside of the company’s traditional offerings.

We spend a lot of money marketing trucks to sports fans and cleaning products to people watching Bravo. We do this because we think these people are the low hanging fruit. They are the people who traditionally buy those products. But if everyone knows what the low hanging fruit is, will focusing on only these consumers eventually cause the company to lose ground to competitors?

In addition to continuing to court these valuable customers, we can find new ways to message our products and expand their reach. An example of this is the use of the term “all wheel drive” rather than 4×4. The mechanics are the same, but AWD is used for cars such as Subarus, BMWs and Audis. A 4×4 is tough, while an AWD is powerful

Another example is shampoo for men. American men aren’t socialized to care for their hair in the same way women are. The P&Gs of the world realized this and took the same basic product, added more masculine or neutral scents, and put it in packaging that looks like a tool box. They gave us our own commercials and in-store displays. And now we care about the shampoo we buy!

Market opportunity is, almost by definition, finding what competitors have yet to find. Whether that is a brand message, a package, a price or the product itself, there are few brands who couldn’t do a little more to increase revenues by addressing unmet consumer needs.

The Most Productive Time of the Year

The most productive time of the year is when you least expect it. Or at least mine is.

I recently took about a month off after finishing a freelance job to chase the Tour de France for a week, visit friends/ former colleagues/ future colleagues in NYC for a week, drive from LA to Montana (camping along the way) for a friend’s wedding, and finally explore more of San Francisco, also via car.

For someone who enjoys the great outdoors and a great adventure, this has been a fantastic time.

But as someone who studies how people and brands interact, it has been highly productive. I’ve studied French sports fans, New Yorkers on subways, religious Utahans, white water rafting Montanans, sun-shocked San Franciscans, and so many more. Its rare to interact in this way in one office in one city. This kind of exposure, introducing bias as it does, is vital to be able to add context to brand interactions. 

Some may call it vacation or tell me they want my life. I look at it as the sowing that comes before reaping the true rewards.

False Uniqueness

There is a saying that Russians use to describe the experience of sitting in traffic. It roughly translates to “I know where I’m going, but where are all these idiots going?”

In simplicity often lies profundity. This saying illuminates a social psychological phenomenon called “false uniqueness,” or the idea that we think our situation is somehow different simply because it is ours.

False uniqueness is everywhere.

It is on the supply and demand side of labor economics, for instance.

It is on the supply side because workers/ job seekers tend to think their skills are so unique that a mere thought of not getting a job/ raise is baffling. Recruiters will tell you otherwise.

It is on the demand side because many companies think their company/ industry is so unique that no outsider could be able to do the job right away. Just about anyone who has changed jobs will tell you otherwise; skills transfer relatively easily from industry to industry because the ultimate units remain constant (marketing – people, finance – interest rates and currency, etc.).

Next time you’re sitting in traffic, remember that the guy sitting behind you sees you as the first of many cars in his way, just like you feel about the guy in front of you.

Book Review: The Unwinding

I heard about George Packer’s The Unwinding from a few sources – appearances on The Daily Show and Bill Maher, and a few articles. Packer is a great interview and has an interesting point-of-view. His book did not disappoint.

Structure: Each chapter in The Unwinding follows one person or place through a series of life experiences. Many of these repeat throughout the book. The timeline is not perfectly chronological, or seemingly logical at the outset; it is more of a collage than a narrative.

Prose: This is a fiction lover’s work on nonfiction. Packer infuses each chapter with subtle colloquialisms that make the reader feel like he is actually conducting the interviews. 

Content: What makes this book such a great read is how well it lends itself to interpretation. It covers politics, history, finance, labor, technology, entertainment, and more mostly with a reporter’s perspective. The author’s perspective comes in how he strings together these stories together.

Conclusions: Packer accomplishes what he sets out to accomplish, which is to describe the erosion of American institutions and show how American culture has contributed to that. He shows how Americans subscribe to the American Dream while making policy and purchase decisions that undermine the pillars that hold it up. The reader is left with a breath of fresh air – we were once great, things have changed, we are partially responsible for those changes, and we can be great again if we allow ourselves to learn from our mistakes.

Test Drive

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Not yet two years after Mercedes-Benz announced its sponsorship of the New Orleans Superdome to the confusion of some who follow this kind of thing, its crafty sports marketing strategy is emerging. And I love it.

Last night I was driving and listening to the Dodgers on LA’s Fox Sports 570AM, one of my favorite things to do. I heard the golden voice of Vin Scully explain how it now was the best time buy a new Mercedes-Benz and that they are more affordable than ever. This was just the takeaway. The creative execution was much better.

I dig this for a few reasons:

  1. Local activation. I will buy anything Vin Scully is selling.
  2. Mercedes-Benz is going after a ripe market – those who consume live sports, not DVR-ing programming.
  3. They go after affordability without mentioning a price point or using the urgency of a promotion. The company didn’t need to adjust the price to use this strategy. Margins!
  4. It’s high risk, high reward. Fans may reject it altogether if they see Mercedes-Benz as a brand that is priced out of their range. However, sports fans are more brand loyal and younger. That means you get customers now and have a greater chance of selling them another car. Again, margins!

Margins are critical to the equation. Who says advertisers only care about spending clients’ money? Our salaries come from growing or maintaining margins!

Bravo, Mercedes-Benz. May other brands be so clever.