qualitative approaches to marketing, some Kellogg alumni are
leading their teams out of the office and into the heart of
the marketplace, looking for deeper connections with customers
marketing mantra is based on a radical assumption.
that you know basically nothing about the consumer,"
says Lenahan '01, a team leader at Chicago-based Gravity Tank
Inc., a creative consultancy promising fully integrated marketing
might seem at first blush a heretical proposition for a profession
that has made customer-centricity an article of faith actually
suggests a quest for innovation and value. If that means reassessing
cherished beliefs, so be it.
we thought was true isn't necessarily true," Lenahan
curiosity as a starting point for learning about a group of
people is not quite new. Ethnographers have provided windows
into far-flung societies and subcultures for many years. In
1978, for instance, then Kellogg School marketing scholar
Sidney J. Levy was asking American Behavioral Scientist
readers why the industry had been loath to embrace direct-observation
marketing research: "Does the field of marketing need
anthropology, as it so evidently needs and employs mathematics,
psychology, and economics? Implicitly, there can be no doubt
of it—although explicit interest has been less noticeable."
Kellogg alumni like Lenahan are bridging the gap between the
two disciplines, and academics are not the only ones noticing.
Tank is one of a new breed of holistic marketing agencies
where teams, armed with data gleaned from conventional research,
venture out into the field, ask questions, suggest ways to
improve old products or packaging or develop new ones —
in other words, agencies concerned with every detail of the
consumer experience. "A large part of our job is to read
between the lines," says Lenahan, "to ask questions
[people] don't expect to be asked." One that consistently
surprises is "Why?"
a marketer is working with a company that is trying to improve
its line of personal deodorants (as Gravity Tank's team recently
did), he might find himself in the bathrooms of strangers.
There, he would try to glean consumer insights, no matter
how seemingly trivial, by watching them apply deodorant and
asking why they applied the product just so.
another project with an electronics company, Lenahan and his
team traveled the world in search of attitudes about what
constitutes "premium." They visited homes and asked
people to show them something premium. Lenahan says it was
an eye-opening experience: "Some guys showed us their
big flat-screen TV — which was very interesting for
our client — but some people showed us a drawing their
grandmother did on a kibbutz in Israel."
desire to look at an ordinary word with new eyes, to share
in the customer experience, can be an invaluable tool for
the pioneering marketer.
think a big part of being innovative is in how you understand
customer needs," says Mike Docherty '88, founder
and CEO of Venture2, a Florida-based firm that helps companies
bring fresh ideas to life, either by helping clients develop
new platforms or by connecting them with fledgling partners
whose work complements the companies' goals.
says it is important to distinguish between creativity and
innovation in marketing: innovation is "the will to implement"
creative ideas. "It comes down to solving a problem in
a new way," he adds, a skill he honed while pursuing
his MBA. "Kellogg really does train you well to set aside
the solution and make sure you understand the problem."
facet of the marketer's problem is how to discover what customers
expect. "People can't always articulate what they need,"
Docherty says, "and the job of creative innovators is
to ask the right questions."
sometimes even asking the right questions won't help marketers
find the answers they're looking for, he says. In a collaboration
with kitchen appliance manufacturer Oster, Docherty's team
was charged with helping the company build a better blender.
On a project like this, Docherty says, the limitations of
conventional consumer-marketer discourse quickly become apparent.
to Docherty, if a marketer asks a person how to improve the
common blender, the person is likely to ask for more buttons.
After visiting a series of kitchens, however, Venture2 found
that most people did not have any idea what they might want
those extra buttons to do, nor did they know the difference
between "chop" and "purée" — options
already available on most blenders. With this knowledge, the
company helped Oster develop an intuitive four-button blender.
Simon '94 has also found success in some unconventional
places. In marketing, he says, innovation means "finding
new ways to reach the customer. It means going places you
wouldn't normally think are viable. It means taking some calculated
is the senior vice president and creative director of DDB
Canada, a Toronto-based firm whose recent projects included
a push for greater U.S. tourist traffic to Canada in conjunction
with the Canadian Tourism Commission. "Nobody [in the
United States] knows what Canada's about," says Simon.
"It's cold, and that's it."
their stateside neighbors weren't visiting Canada, Simon and
his team thought they should bring Canada to their stateside
neighbors — via dozens of miniature USB-powered flash
disk drives. The team created a fictional young couple and
artifacts from the couple's recent vacation to Canada: itinerary,
hotel and travel information, photos of sights seen and even
some mp3 files containing recorded music by Canadian artists,
and then planted them throughout select neighborhoods in Chicago.
The story came to life once local residents, many of whom
fit the target demographic, plugged the drives into their
computers. An Internet link embedded in the materials revealed
a 25 percent response rate, indicating a campaign many times
more successful than direct mail.
the average urbanite is bombarded daily with thousands of
advertisements, Simon maintains that the clutter is no match
for the innovator: "It doesn't mean you have to be edgy
— it just means you have to use your talents to break
Sternthal, the Kellogg School's Kraft Professor of Marketing,
agrees. He points out that the demise of print media —
especially periodicals like newspapers and magazines —
has been predicted for years, yet college students and young
commuters continue to read the Chicago Tribune's RedEye
because the tabloid is free and because it's inconvenient
to use the Internet on public transportation. As for television
ads, billboards and other strategically placed advertisements,
these are unlikely to vanish anytime soon either. "We
have not lost a single medium other than the afternoon newspaper
in the last 100 years," says Sternthal. "What will
happen is media will reinvent themselves."
as new technology races forward, Simon says marketers must
take care to understand it, respect it and approach it in
fresh ways. Too many, he says, naïvely assume they can recreate
the success others have found in leveraging difficult marketing
vehicles, such as the viral video. "Marketers don't fully
grasp [what's required to produce a worthwhile viral video].
They just say, 'Get me one of those viral things.'" But
if the video doesn't strike a chord with the first handful
of people who see it, prompting each to forward it to friends
and declare, "This is the coolest thing I have ever seen,"
it's a waste of everyone's time.
if the risks of cutting-edge marketing are great, the rewards
can prove even greater. A hit viral video might be viewed
a few hundred thousand times during peak hours any weekday
says that kind of exposure, while not strictly quantifiable,
is priceless. "If [marketing messages] extend the brand
image, they might not sell hard — like, go to your grocery
store right now and buy this — but it goes a long way."
Hunger and Work in a Civilized Tribe, Or: The Anthropology
of Marketing." American Behavioral
Scientist, 21(4), 557-570. 1978: Sage Publications
Inc. Go Back