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  • Sam Decker

Authenticity — Taking Marketing to a “Different” Level

On Friday the Wall Street Journal reported that many ski resorts have taken the “expert trail” to a new level…at least in naming. Before “Black Diamond” trails were once the extremely hard trails. Now there are “Triple-Black-Diamond” and “Extreme” trails.

The result is ‘diamond inflation’. Now with these “TOP-top” -level grades, the single diamonds look like the middle of the pack.

It’s likely this is a marketing spin to show customers there is a new, ‘next level’. They’ve create perceived perception of superiority and differentiation. Interestingly, some competitors chose to maintain Black Diamond purity, such as Squaw Valley.

Upping the claim of trail difficulty with naming is like the game of stacking fists on a baseball bat. The fist at the top of that bat usually wins, right? Imagine a hand at the bottom grabs another bat to put on top. How do you define the top?

Let’s look at the increasing level of name and function in razors. I’m fascinated by this business model. My friend told me a razor company now actually sends him free razors! With each razor there is a new feature and benefit that can only be achieved by buying the right (higher margin) razor blade.

History has taken us from single edge, to double edge, and now triple edge — and triple edge with a ‘moisturizing strip’ no less! There’s dry shaving and wet shaving. Look at the names…Mach 3, Mach3Turbo…Sensor, SensorExcel, Sensor3. Those are the current brands. I don’t remember from where we came to get to Mach 3 in the first place!

Now we shouldn’t generalize all marketing or technological progress as hype. Perhaps the Mach3Turbo does warrant attention over Mach 3? I don’t know…I have a Remington Titanium-MicroFlex-Ultra-Rotary Shaver! :-).

The point is, some claims are inflationary and some are worthy. But in an oversupply economy, with feverish competition, and mediocre marketing, the noise has risen above reality. It’s difficult to discern names, claims and headlines from reality.

As another example, read this great story by Michelle Miller on the unauthentic claim of a grocery store’s Grand Opening.

This all reminds me of a scene in Spinal Tap, that ‘mockumentary’ of the big hair, low IQ rock band. Spinal Tap’s guitarist shows off his amps to director Marty DiBergi and brags about how it’s so loud it "goes to 11." When DiBergi asks why he just doesn’t make 10 louder, the guitarist looks puzzled for a moment before offering his deadpan response: "This one goes to 11."

Consumers are calling bluffs. Marketing poker faces don’t work as well. Word of mouth is the leading marketing vehicle, and editorial is readily available. Amazon is used by consumers to look at product reviews, as is ePinions. WSJ also reported about the rise in coupon sites where customers can find the lowest price.

Customers are smarter and more resourceful. Generation Y is incredibly savvy, and if they’re interested, they will know more about your product than you do.

So what do you do? This may sound cliché and be oversimplified, but I believe this is the key…

Point the entire organization towards customer-centricity and focus on delivering truly great product or service within a given value space.

An organization’s ability to raise the authentic value of a product to the level of their intended (but inflated) perceived value will make the difference. Brands who become the ‘trusted editor’ of authentic choices will be like a light to moths.

Final note…let’s be clear about what ‘product’ is. The authentic value of McDonald’s is not in their hamburgers, nor in the coffee at Starbucks; and obviously the value of diamonds is not in the carbon! The value is in the delivery of a promise, which could be an experience or aspiration (essence of branding).

As for authentic marketing communications…that’s the topic for another entry coming soon. Here’s a hint…


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