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Best Business Books 2005: Marketing

Does the clever Mr. Godin ever go wrong in advising marketers how to tell their stories? Not too often. But I would question his suggestion that they must tell a different story than a competitor. In most categories, the one benefit that is more meaningful than any other is what influences people ultimately to buy the product, and this benefit must be salient in the advertising. Procter & Gamble Company (P&G) is a master at positioning its brands on this high ground. It introduced White Cloud, a toilet tissue, as “the softest tissue in the world” at the same time its own Charmin had the leading position built on the promise that it is “squeezably soft.” And Mr. Godin proposes his own salient (if ironic) benefit for All Marketers Are Liars: “It’s a book about telling (and living) the truth.”

Targeting Cultures
Brand Hijack brings us into the world of stealth, guerilla, and cult marketing. Readers should be prepared for a good dose of jargon and breathless overstatement. Still, there are good examples and tips on dealing with bloggers and other new media types, and creating brands that have traction in submarkets and subcultures.

Mr. Wipperfürth makes the case that marketers aren’t in charge anymore. Consumers are. Although his observation is not new, his counsel to today’s marketers is more interesting: “Facilitate your most influential and passionate consumers in translating your brand’s message to a broader audience.” Or, putting it more colorfully, “Let the market hijack your brand.”

The major section on Red Bull, the trendy energy drink, is a case history of a brand that “offers up a vision that people can identify with, one that they want to involve themselves in more deeply.” While routine brand management is concerned with volume and profit, hijacked brand management sacrifices volume and profit to get the right people deep into the experience. And whereas traditional brand management is inclusive (aiming for as many users as possible), the goal of brand hijacking is to make the brand feel more exclusive and therefore more alluring.

The Red Bull brand creates an “air of exclusivity” for its youthful consumers by targeting bars, raves, and movie sets; limiting access to its branded merchandise (such as T-shirts and hats); and deliberately limiting distribution of the product when it first enters a market.

P&G’s distribution of the teeth-whitening product Crest Whitestrips on the Web before it was available in retail stores is another example of hijacked brand management. This strategy allowed word-of-mouth to develop, which created a buzz. By the time of the product’s official launch, the brand had 35 percent consumer awareness. P&G also pre-seeded the product concept by recruiting dentists to sell the whitening kits in their office, in addition to buying targeted advertising in health and beauty magazines and running a public relations campaign. The company also targeted specific subcultures. Through its Web site, P&G discovered that gay men, brides, teenage girls, and young Hispanics were Whitestrips’ most ardent consumers. So it went after them at bridal shows and in gay neighborhoods with film festivals and pride parades. Very un–P&G; very effective.

Mr. Wipperfürth calls another emerging marketing concept the “Undercover Tribe,” which he defines as “loose social groups bound together by common hobbies and value systems.” Apple’s iPod is his example of this brand tribe phenomenon, with the highly visible white earbuds making each user a recognizable member of the iPod club.

How does a marketer go about cult marketing? Mr. Wipperfürth would start with in-depth cultural analysis to uncover social insights. To get to the mass market, he suggests first seeding your idea with the target audience of early adopters. Once they’ve been seduced, you switch back to conventional marketing methods. Buzz gets the idea behind the brand into the culture, he says.

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