Designing, producing and marketing a product is no mean feat. Bringing any concept to life is a challenge; it is a task that will often involve numerous channels and must incorporate a plethora of messages, and which could end in financial or reputational disaster if mishandled.
It is rare that consumers are afforded the opportunity to take a peek behind the scenes when it comes to branding and marketing; their role is to appreciate the final offerings, not to assess the processes that led to their conception. Which is why, as someone whose career revolves around marketing strategy and communication, I get a little bit excited when The Apprentice makes its annual reappearance.
Master or apprentice?
First and foremost, I recognise that The Apprentice is a reality TV show. It has been designed with the sole purpose of providing entertainment; solid business acumen isn’t the primary characteristic the producers look for when selecting contestants. There’s nothing fun about watching someone competent perform a task diligently and vigilantly, after all.
In week two of the 2016 series the teams were asked to design and subsequently market a pair of high-end Japanese jeans. Such a task should, you would think, lend itself well to those with innovative minds and the ability to meld imagination with originality; however, not for the first time in the show’s history, a creative licence resulted only in confused ideas, shoddy outcomes and an angry Lord Sugar.
Not only did one of the teams believe that the term ‘unisex’ referred to creating one product for men and another for women, but they didn’t even follow through with their concept and call their brand ‘X&Y’. You know, to refer to male and female chromosomes, those thread-like structures of nucleic acids and proteins that carry genetic information in the form of genes? As a pun, that one pretty much writes itself. Instead they plumped for ‘Unclaimed’, which brings to mind horrendous hours spent searching for a lost bag at Heathrow rather than executive trousers.
While this ‘unisex’ blunder caused me to become so irate that I sent out three separate tweets highlighting the team’s ineptitude, it also – quite handily – serves as a fantastic illustration of the first key marketing rule I would like to highlight.
A creative licence resulted only in confused ideas
Rule 1: Make yourself an expert.
This is one of the most fundamental aspects of marketing. To advertise and market something, be it a product or a service, in a manner that makes it most appealing, you must turn yourself into an expert. For the savvy marketer, becoming a specialist on that which you are marketing is essential; your job, after all, is to highlight the features that make said product or service superior when compared to its competitors. It is your task to spot those little specks of gold dust that will draw the eye of the consumer and result in them reaching for their wallet.
In The Apprentice, we often see contestants attempting to sell products – be they jeans or something else entirely – to manufacturers, retailers or the general public without having familiarised themselves with the commodities of which they speak. It’s all well and good being a strong orator, but without being privy to pertinent information, and when you lack the ability to answer questions about your product, the procedures that steered its development and what plans you have for the future, you will quickly find that your pitch has failed before you’ve even come close to getting up a head of steam.
If you are describing jeans as unisex, make sure they actually are. If you declare that your product is more robust or is of a higher quality than anything else on the market, ensure you can back up those statements. Become an authority, acquire every little piece of knowledge you can lay your hands on, and your audience will be far more tempted to take your words seriously.
Those little specks of gold dust that will draw the eye of the consumer
Rule 2: One man’s smart is another’s stupid.
A little bit of KISS can go a long way. Of course I’m not referring to Gene Simmons’ glam rock band, nor the inexplicably popular UK radio station, but the acronym of the U.S. Navy’s wonderfully dry 1960 motto: keep it simple, stupid.
When it comes to marketing a product, or in fact offering illumination on any topic, keeping things simple is very often the best course of action. While it can be tempting to elaborate, or to drop in the odd big word in an attempt to linguistically dazzle your audience, there is a lot to be said for explaining things in uncomplicated terms.
It can be tempting to elaborate
Many candidates in The Apprentice, keen to showcase their massive brains and even bigger egos, often fall into the trap of attempting to come up with concepts, product names or strategies that are so intricate they border on the baffling. In week two of this series – the infamous jeans task – one team decided to name their brand D.A.Y., an acronym for ‘day after yesterday’. Or ‘today’, as you and I would call it. It’s a little bloated, no doubt, but at least it’s easy to spot the relevance of such a name, isn’t it? No, you say? Ah… I see where you’re coming from; it is, in fact, utterly meaningless and entirely nonsensical.
Producing content that appeals to an audience does not mean you have to wow them with your ability to weave a complicated sentence. Simply understand the message you want to get across, establish who you want to reach, and then fashion your content accordingly. By explaining something eloquently, and by keeping to the basics, you will stand a far better chance of enthusing the right people.
Rule 3: Know and respect your audience.
As every marketer worth their salt is aware, this rule is absolutely fundamental. Without knowing who you are appealing to, how can you produce effective content that will reach and engage those consumers that can ultimately ensure your product is a commercial triumph?
In episode three of the 2016 series we saw a number of cringeworthy moments, with most of them involving the vocally adept but otherwise inept sales executive Sofiane and his attempts to flog sweets in a manner that was at once abrupt, insulting and downright ignorant. His ill-judged tactics did eventually pay dividends – even though he and his team didn’t provide the product they promised to deliver – but in the real world, and without the somewhat distracting presence of an entire film crew, it is highly unlikely this sales pitch would have succeeded. In fact, it probably would have sullied both his and his company’s status quite severely.
Appreciating and considering your audience is crucial for all marketers. You can have the world’s greatest product in the palm of your hand, but if you are not stimulating the correct people in a manner that makes them sit up and take notice, you will quickly come to find that your words are falling on deaf ears.
At Southerly, we are strong advocates of persona building. We believe that by creating a visual representation of the person or persons you most desire to reach, you will be able to craft copy that speaks to them directly and in a language they are familiar with. By understanding your audience, you have already laid the foundations upon which to build your marketing strategy; you will be aware of what works and what doesn’t, and will give yourself the ability to target and influence those people that can really make a difference.
Marketing something successfully is rarely straightforward, but it is a task that can be made infinitely more complicated by those unwilling to consider and follow tried and tested methods. Not all publicity is good publicity, just as not all marketing is effective marketing. The three rules listed in this piece are by no means the only things you should consider when creating content and attempting to advertise your brand or product, but they can certainly ensure that you place yourself on the path of the master, and avoid the route of the Apprentice.