Friday, February 13, 2009

Joe Grieco, The City of Hope & Product/User/Maker

As a 23 year-old I had the distinct pleasure of working at McCann Erickson while Joe Grieco ran the strategic planning department. Back in the day, strategic planning was called research, though Jeff Blish (at that time another McCann employee), America's fist account planner, had started to redefine the role of research inside of an ad agency.

I was just a fresh-faced assistant account manager with a little too much time on my hands ... so I determined that my best hope for learning while at ME was to hang around these two guys offices and soak in whatever knowledge that they chose to impart.

My most treasured memory from the time was when Joe and Jeff explained to me that all ads could be categorized into one of three categories: fabrications, lies, and damnable lies. Nah, not really. That's my observation of how consumers view ads, not what Joe and Jeff were selling.

On that day, I learned that every ad comes from one of three perspectives: from the perspective of the PRODUCT, from the perspective of the USER, or from the perspective of the MAKER.

PRODUCT ads typically focus on a specific feature or benefit that a particular product provides. Notably Hardee's has used this strategy effectively in the recent past through their introduction of 'Thick Burgers'. The PRODUCT focus is most powerful when your brand has a clear, distinct, and most important a consumer-worthy point of distinction from its competitors. Sheet metal on cars tend to drive product messaging. Technology manufacturers often fall back to this area when their widget is demonstrably faster, smarter, more user friendly, etc. The downside here is that if your product distinction is of little value to a consumer, your advertising dollar has been poorly spent.

USER ads reflect either the rational or emotional benefit that use of a product satisfies. They deliver the outcome of the product use from the perspective of 'what's in it for you'. In today's environment USER ads most easily allow for the 'transaparency' that consumers prefer. Consumer voyuerism of captured seemingly unscripted moments fueled by the 'reality tv' rage has brought USER advertising to the level of overexposure. The current wave of 'User/Transparency' messaging is evidenced beautifully in the 'Above the Influence' campaign.
Nike developed the penultimate in USER advertising through their decade long paeon to the athlete: 'Just Do It'.

But remember that when you are are trying to live inside the head of a consumer, you need to be thinking affinity groups, not demographic groups. If you don't refine your targeting strategy, your message can actually diminish your brand credibility by framing your user motivations incorrectly.

MAKER advertising has been largely on the outside looking since the 1950's, though it remains an incredibly powerful tool when delivered appropriately. MAKER advertising delivers a message about the company that makes/offers the product. What's in it for you is the company's knowledge/experience/longevity/security or other benefit associated with the company's manner of doing business. Next time you call 'Jack Daniel's' at a bar, you have called a MAKER brand story line. So what's the downside? If the message doesn't ring true, you've beaten your chest, appeared self-absorbed and out-of-tune with your prospects needs.

Joe framed this for me in this manner:

MAKER: Proctor & Gamble has made Tide soap for 75 years. Clean, gentle cleaning of your whites and colors make's P&G's Tide soap the clean choice for you.

PRODUCT: Tide's new enzyme xyz assures that your whites will be white and your colors will be brighter. Enzyme XYZ, only in Tide.

USER: Your family will notice the difference when you put Tide soap in your washing machine. Whiter whites. Brighter brights. More thanks in every load.

For me, the first step in approaching a brand repositioning assignment is to develop a complete storyline for the brand from each perspective. I align the rational and emotional benefits that a brand delivers under each category. Then I do an internal 'credibility' check. In short, which perspective delivers the truth of the brand in the most meaningful and memorable manner.

If more than one perspective appears credible, I test it with loyalists to discover which perspective rings most true with the people who most frequently use and most greatly value the brand. In short, the brand owners.

Even the best marketing messages can wear thin over time. Assuming that the fundamental truth of the product has remained constant and that primary drivers of product selection are unchanged, one way to freshen your message is by simply redirecting it through a different perspective.

For instance, if you have been telling your story through the PRODUCT perspective, spin it to a USER or MAKER perspective. In this way, your underlying marketing truth remains the same, but the perspective shifts leading to a fresh new executions.

One day Joe and I were on a plane together flying to Las Vegas. I shared with him that I thought it was the saddest city in the world. In my mind it was a place where people went to lose their hard earned money. I saw rows and rows of blue hairs dipping deeper and deeper into their change purses lining the coffers of Vegas casino operators. Joe saw it differently.

As it happened, Joe's dad lived in a single-wide near the casinos. It was a city he had come to love. Rather than seeing it as a city of loss, Joe saw Vegas as the city of hope. It was a place where dreams came to fruition. Where a year's worth of savings delivered 362 days of sunshine in people's lives. That in Las Vegas, all was possible, particularly as future visitors sit huddled in front of a fireplace somewhere in a midwestern home buried under January snows. Joe would say that it mattered less what happened on your Vegas vacation and more what happened through your year's worth of planning for it.

A whack on the side of the head. A shift in perspective. A gift given to me by Joe and opened day after day for 25+ years. Thanks, Joe.

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