context is everything

One size does not fit all. Branding theories that really stick are ones based on universal truths, anything else, and it all becomes “subject to the context”. Often students of marketing ask me questions about a particular theory that they learnt at school and ask me to apply it to a real world situation.

People who have read marketing the way it is usually taught, then I must say that they are in for a great surprise when they enter the real world. I love the quote “in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is !”

Our current teaching methodology is based on cases. Anecdotes which help explain the concepts that we read in a book. If one goes through popular books on brand management  for undergrads, they will find a similar theme to all of them. A marketing concept explained in theory followed up by a small case showing the application of the concept in the real world. The problem with that kind of approach is that it misses out on the context. The case shows the direct impact of the concept but misses out on a more holistic impact of the concept on other areas of the brand

I was recently attending a talk by one of the popular brand consultants of our time and during the course of his talk he gave an example of a fence company which named itself pink and painted all their fences pink. The sales shot up 20 times. Now, in isolation, this anecdote was good enough to arouse the interest of the crowd but without the context the story is pretty much useless. We still don’t know whether it had any long term positive impact for the brand, whether there was any positive perception built by the campaign or was it just a tactical sales campaign which did more harm than good.

Our advertising and marketing world is fascinated by indian advertising. We all remember seeing countless indian ads and having that aha feeling “man that’s so creative, why cant paki’s think of these things”… but the problem is that we have missed the context once again. Marketing is as much about creativity as it is about selling/making a long term positive impact for the brand. But our first reactions are usually based on how good or creative the story of the ad was. Our fallacy lies in the fact that we judge the ad as if it were a short film. Unfortunately most brands are not in the business of telling great stories. How often have we gone back and read case studies about the impact of the advertising that we like. Does it fulfill the objective which it set out to achieve or does it end up achieving some random, unknown objective which brand managers tend to take the credit for unknowingly. For me though, the end never justifies the means.

At other times, we dismiss ads as lame, uninteresting or vague. But we never ask questions about those ads… what was the target market, in what circumstances (internal/external) did the brand take out this communication. Maybe an ad we dismiss as a loser ends up exceeding the objectives set out by the marketing team.

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~ by illuxon on November 28, 2009.

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