Learn from the best. John Wooden was a marketing genius
By Tom Dougherty
John Wooden, the famed UCLA basketball coach, was famous for warning that “If you always do what you have always done you will always end up where you have always been.” Marketers who’s goal it is to increase market share at the expense of their competition must heed those words. Taking customers from your competitor’s coffers involves a change in behavior from those customers.
That, according to Coach Wooden, dictates that you cannot continue with business as usual — something you are currently doing must change. It does not matter if your product or service is direct to consumer, business to business or a mixture of both. It does not matter if you are in the packaged goods category, tourism industry or biotech market space. When you need to steal markets share from a formidable competitor you need to think differently. The traditional marketing changes and adjustments that everyone uses and employs simply do not work very well.
Coach Wooden’s marketing expertise has much to teach marketers who want to win, and while he never mentioned marketing in anything he ever said, what he did understand was human nature. He knew how to change behaviors and how to squeeze every ounce of benefit out of the hand he was dealt. Without the benefit of freshman eligibility Coach Wooden led UCLA to 10 national Championships in 12 years. It is a record of success that will most likely never be equaled in any team sport.
Marketing Expertise Basics Are Overlooked
On his first day of practice, Coach Wooden would spend the entire day teaching his highly touted recruits how to properly put on their socks and sneakers. The likes of Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Walton watched patiently as Coach Wooden demonstrated the proper way to put on athletic socks and tie shoes.
It seems silly and frivolous to speak of this, until you realize that Coach was teaching his team to pay attention to the minute details that form the foundation of their preparation. He showed them that neither a world-class vertical jump nor a seven-foot frame was immune to failure if your shoes became untied or if the socks bunched up and created a blister that limited your play. He was telling his players that the greatness of their game was subject to the very foundation of their preparation.
As you make your marketing plans to steal share, your brand permission forms the same foundation as putting on your socks and tying your shoes and carefully. Brand work is responsible for the ultimate success or failure of your best plans. Coach once said, “The most important key to achieving great success is to decide upon your goal and launch, get started, take action, move.” (Read more about our process here).
So, what is your goal? Stealing share? Business as usual would tell you to increase the advertising budget, launch a new ad campaign, hire a new agency, conduct more focus groups, or find a new unique selling proposition (USP). We ask you to think differently because those old tactics just do not work. “Never confuse activity with accomplishment,” warned the Wizard of Westwood, and neither should you.
Having the right brand message is your only opportunity for success and it is also the Achilles heel of your competitive set. Your competition employs the same tactics as everyone else. They have mistakenly believed that their brand meaning just says that they have a rightful claim to play in a specific category. (Convenience and friendliness, if you are a bank — low prices, or selection if you are a supermarket —great returns, if you are a mutual fund — better sandwiches if you are a food service etc.).
Your brand, a brand that actually increases your share, must do a great deal more than just that. It can actually provide your marketing with an advantage over your competitors and can make every advertising message or marketing communication, you produce more effective. Brand is the foundation that makes all of your messages more persuasive and therefore more cost efficient. It provides you with greater ROI.
Marketing Expertise says Brand is a Bad Word
Unfortunately, the very word “brand” is so misunderstood that most marketers overlook it. It has been relegated to a trite phrase that is so often used that most of us assume we understand exactly what it is and how it can help us. We are mostly wrong. Brand is not your logo, your category, your promise, your consistency, and your position in the market or your look and feel. Brand is who the customer believes THEY are when they buy it.
Despite millions of dollars in adverting, McDonalds was unable to sell adults the Arch Deluxe hamburger, for no other reason than the fact that their brand (a customer’s belief in who they were when they ate there) did not have permission to sell “great adult food.” The McDonalds brand has permission for something else.
No amount of advertising money, thrown at the problem, was able to change that. How your customer perceives your brand sets the stage for how they respond to your advertising, not the other way around. If they see themselves as hip and cool for having purchased your brand (like iPod, for example), the brand does not have permission to sell serious business equipment. If iPod advertised a product innovation that flew in the face of this permission, it would be dismissed as an unbelievable claim.
Set the Stage to Increase Your Market Share
Truly setting the stage to steal share means starting at the very beginning, looking at your brand for meaning beyond the category table stakes. The FedEx brand is not about next day delivery, convenience, reliability, or price… those attributes are descriptors of the next day delivery category in general. A brand cannot own a category benefit, even if you invented it.
Once you build your brand around the precepts of the customer, your brand is noticed despite the din of market clutter because it is as if every message comes hand engraved with a personal message of importance. It cannot be ignored because it is about them, the customer, and not simply about a product or service. It carries more weight, is more memorable, and can change a loyalty behavior because the customer is not only choosing a solution to a need, they are choosing themselves.
Find the Preceptive Essence
If you do not infuse your brand, with this “customer essence,” two things can happen and both of them are bad. They might never assign a real brand meaning to your product, in which case you have no other meaning beyond USP or category benefit, or they will fill the void with their own belief in which you do not have one brand but 100,000 brands.
In both cases, changing their behavior and asking them to choose differently becomes almost impossible unless you lower the price point, which emphatically says, “this is a commodity, and we are the cheapest.” Before you launch your new ad campaign, hire a new ad agency, or commission the new research study, does it not make sense to fix your brand — to make sure your socks are put on properly and your sneakers are securely tied? When Coach Wooden said, “Ability is a poor man’s wealth” he could have just as easily said “brand is the outspent company’s ace in the hole.” (Read more about the wisdom of marketing by surprising persons).