Stack the marketing odds in your favour
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Wednesday September 7, 2011 - A couple of Greg’s recent posts have brought to mind a concept I have found very useful over the years. The concept is ‘discourse’, and while there is much academic debate on the topic, my bastardised version of the idea has helped me think differently about many challenges in marketing.
Discourse refers to the ‘frame of reference’ we use when thinking about a topic. It is the sum total of existing thought, and includes all our previous assumptions and predilections. You and I may hold different opinions on a subject (abortion, cheese, soap powder), but if we each argued our case, we would both use similar frames of reference: our discourses will overlap significantly. We live in the same time and place, we speak the same language, and we share a common culture. All these factors limit the range of opinions we could devise. They constrain our thinking more than we can know.
"To succeed, we need to redefine the discourse". --George Helliar
The really big changes happen, therefore, not within the dominant discourse, but to it.
If we look at AIDS, we can see how in the decades since its emergence; the discourse had developed. Initially, coverage was of a wild and devastating new disease that we should all fear. Then, AIDS became a ‘gay man’s disease’, with a lot of pejorative insinuations. But these days, with determined education and lobbying, we are starting to see that it is something that can affect anyone. Aids is not a death sentence, sufferers should not be stigmatised. The discourse has developed.
Or, we can look at news reporting. Watch the same story on two different networks. Each will apply its own ‘lens’ to its coverage. This lens is the discourse through which the coverage is filtered. It is the set of assumptions the network makes, and which it wants you to make. Networks attempt to define their own discourses on a subject, and in turn shape their viewers’ worldviews.
Too often as marketers, we find ourselves trying to develop ideas from within the confines of the existing discourse. Consciously or not, we frame new ideas in relation to those that are already out there, but the really successful campaigns do not fall into this trap.
Go onto Apple’s website, and click onto a laptop. Now do the same for Dell, and compare the two. Dell will tell you how many gigahertz its product has, and what the screen resolution is. Apple will tell you what you can do with the product. It lists functional benefits, not technical ones.
For years, computer manufacturers were engaged in a ‘tech specs’ arms race, but rather than conform to the dominant discourse, Apple has sought to move it on. It wants to redefine how we think about devices. It wants to move the goalposts. After it had redefined the discourse, step two was to tell us just how good its products are at fulfilling these goals. Because Apple has successfully framed the discourse, its competitors now have to take on Apple at its own game, on its home turf, and playing by its rules.
To succeed, we need to redefine the discourse, and gain control and ownership of how people think about a sector.
Trying to develop campaigns whose sole aim is to change consumers’ behaviour is folly. We need to do the groundwork first. We need to advance the discourse so that it allows people to feel a certain way about our brand and the marketplace in which it sits. Only when we have done this, can we drive long-term behaviour adjustment, and free ourselves from the tacky shackles of discounts and promos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of George Helliar.George Helliar is a market researcher and Marketing executive with GHADDB (Greg Hoyos Associates Inc.).