A New Model for Marketing: Interview with Bob Gilbreath Author of The Next Evolution of Marketing

I am excited to be talking to Bob Gilbreath, author of TBob Gilbreathhe Next Evolution of Marketing which outlines a new approach to marketing called marketing with meaning. He has also worked as a brand manager for P&G where he was recognized by AdAge for his turn around of the Mr.Clean brand. He is currently Chief Marketing Strategist at Bridge Worldwide, a digital and relationship marketing agency and blogs at Marketing With Meaning.

1. Your book has a ton of great examples of companies from Xbox to Yoplait who have used meaningful marketing to improve sales while adding value to consum
er’s lives. Can you summarize why you think this is a better approach compared to traditional forms of interruption-based marketing?

The fundamental problem with most marketing and advertising has always been that our customers don’t like it, and now they have growing power to avoid it. They have always disliked being interrupted by our messages whether they are trying to watch a television program or driving down the highways. Historically they had no choice in the matter, as print, radio and television advertising was forced on them. But today people have more and more freedom in their media. They no longer huddle together in mass in front of a handful of TV programs, and they are using media ranging from iPods to the Internet, which either lack advertising altogether or the advertising is easy to skip or ignore. As the future unfolds, people’s power over media choices will only grow—and no one is choosing more advertising interruption, no matter how “targeted” it is.

So those of us in the marketing business face an enormous challenge. We need to find ways to introduce people to our brands, products and services, but if we cannot interrupt them what do we do? Well, I believe that the only choice is to create marketing that people choose to engage with, and advertising that itself adds value to people’s lives. This is what we call “Marketing with Meaning” – and a growing number of brands are beginning to results in this entirely new model for marketing.

2. What advice would you give marketers who have bosses that are afraid of the risk they associate with changing their strategy from traditional marketing to marketing with meaning?

I actually was in the shoes of these marketers as a Brand Manager at Procter & Gamble, so I know that there are many, many challenges to drive change within an organization. I really wrote the book to be a guide for the marketer that is looking for a new model, and I include many suggestions and stories of how to “sell in” this kind of change. One suggestion is to convince senior management to invest a modest percentage of the budget in a meaningful way as a test—perhaps as part of a large initiative, or in a way that is “pay-for-performance” (i.e. the money only comes out of the budget if the program delivers results). The key is to make sure that the program’s results are measured, show business results, and then are shared broadly across the organization.

3. Can you still achieve meaningful marketing by using traditional forms of media like television or direct mail, although they are inherently interruptive forms of media?

I think the right way to start is to create a meaningful marketing plmarketing with meaningatform or service as the heart of marketing efforts. Once you have this, you may need to get on the radar through more interruptive media to draw attention to the program. What happens is that people actually pay more attention to your interruptive advertising when you are pointing them to something valuable. One example is the gift recommender site that MasterCard launched around the holidays. The brand created a free, relevant tool and used television advertising with Peyton Manning to draw attention and traffic to it. To me, this is much more effective than Visa’s advertising at the same time, which simply reminded television viewers that Visa exists.

4. Can meaningful marketing work for any company or are there situations where non-meaningful marketing, like a standard billboard or commercial, is more effective?

I am convinced that any business has an opportunity to grow sales and long-term loyalty through meaningful marketing. If you can narrow down your business objectives and unearth some insights about your target customer’s higher-level needs, then it is simple to begin coming up with ways that you can shift your marketing funds and sales approach toward adding value to their lives. By offering something of value, your customers give you the gift of attention that eventually can lead to sales.

5. Can meaningful marketing stand on its own or does it require a mix of other traditional methods of marketing as part of the overall marketing strategy?

I really think the key to success is to re-think the purpose and measures of marketing. Interruptive marketing is based on the premise that the more people who are exposed to your ad, the more will buy your product. Meaningful marketing is based on the premise that the more people who choose to engage with your value-added advertising, the more will buy your product. You may decide to use television or print as part of a meaningful marketing program, but instead of measuring “exposures” you measure how many people followed the ad to your website, iPhone app, or in-store event. All the old and new media alternatives are still applicable, but they should now be held to a different, higher expectation.

6. What advice would you give to young marketers who would someday like to get to your position in marketing?

I think too many new marketers feel that they should come into a company and simply learn how to follow the established “rules” so that they can climb the organizational chart. But this is a time where companies actually need people to come in and challenge the rules and lead their thinking, so young marketers should look for ways to take risks and lead the organization. I always found success by asking myself, “What can I do that no one in the organization has done before to grow the business?” That’s gotten me a long way so far!

Create Valuable Marketing: The Next Evolution of Marketing

In The Next Evolution of Marketing, Bob Gilbreath describes an alternative approach to marketing called “marketing with meaning”, in which marketing becomes a product or service in of itself that people choose to engage with. Gilbreath provides a ton of examples of how marketers can create marketing that is meaningful, like Nike’s social network for runners that tracks member’s runs and Charmin providing luxury restrooms in Times Square. While some marketers have been trying to invent “innovative” advertising that cuts through the clutter, meaningful marketers creates marketing that adds value to people’s lives.

Some advantages of meaningful marketing are that consumers are more willing to listen to your message, it often drives word of mouth and attracts media attention, and it can build loyalty beyond reason. It can also improve attitudes about your company and I think people tend to reciprocate when brands improve their lives with marketing.

I think this is a valuable read for marketers and was one of the best marketing books of 2009 (full disclosure: I received a review copy). I like that it provides tons of examples and also goes into depth on how to implement a meaningful marketing campaign, including how to get key people in the company to sign on and how to work with creatives. If you are in B2B or small business, know that this book focuses on B2C and has few examples outside of B2C, but I think the concepts are transferable and useful.

Here are some of my takeaways from reading this book:

Create an information resource as marketing

Gibreath writes “The Web offers marketers a significant opportunity to help people uncover whatever it is they want to know, whenever they want to know it…Companies that provide answers to our endless information needs have a great shot at earning a steady stream of interested customers.”

Home Depot offered free courses on home improvement after they had the insight that people were skeptical of commercials showing people doing home improvements on their own. Blue Nile provides buying guides on their site that educate guys about jewelry, highly-sought out information for men buying important high-ticket items. And Sony created an online learning center called Sony 101, providing education on topics from digital photography to HDTV’s.

Lower the risk of switching by offering samples

If you have ever shopped at Costco and been able to have a full meal from the free samples alone, you know the value that samples can have for people. Samples can also lower the perceived risks and cost to consumers of trying new things.

Gilbreath writes “According to a survey conducted in February 2007 by the Promotion Marketing Association, nine out of ten consumers say that they would purchase a good or service if they experienced it and were satisfied”.

Cause marketing can be a strong differentiator
Gilbreath writes “A 2008 Cone/Duke University Behavioral Cause Study showed that a whopping 87 percent of consumers will switch from one brand to another that’s comparable based on its association with a good cause – that’s up 31 percent since 1993.” This is compelling evidence that associating your brand with a worthy cause can be a strong differentiator. An example is Yoplait’s pink caps that support breast cancer research.

Keep business objectives in mind when creating meaningful marketing

Some marketing efforts have been hugely successful in generating buzz and adding value to people’s lives, but have failed to achieve any business objectives. An example of this from the book is Office Max’s Elf Yourself. Despite tons of media coverage and millions of people who made elf videos of their family members, many people couldn’t recall which major office supply store was behind the campaign.

Customer service is extremely important for retention
Studies suggest that customer service is the main reason people switch brands across every major industry. An Accenture study found 67 percent had switched brands because of poor service taking an average of $4,000 of business with them.