Most great content and channel strategies are not the consequence of daily inspiration, but rather one transformative customer insight that has filtered down through the brand and into everything that company communicates.
There is no more important job for a marketer, or indeed business owner, than identifying this one killer piece of insight.
1. The gym market, part 1
For decades, gyms were built a certain way. Whether it was part of a leisure centre or standalone facility, they would typically incorporate a complete fitness experience, from swimming and racket sport facilities, to cafes and sports shops.
Millions of people visited these facilities every day, paying handsomely for the experience. In fact you were doing well to find something for under £40 a month. Not because operators were greedy, but because these places were crammed with costly overheads.
Then one day, someone realised that actually, a certain kind of customer never uses the swimming pool, or the shop, or badminton courts. All they actually use is gym kit. The budget market was born.
The value proposition was simple – more gym kit than you’ve ever had before, with 60-80% reduction in cost. Given that these people only cared about the gym kit, that was pretty compelling, and within a couple of years the market was transformed – the budget market was utterly dominant and the mid market all but destroyed.
All because of one killer piece of customer insight, that in hindsight seems so obvious, but isn’t that always the way?
2. The wills market
For centuries wills have been sold a certain way – with detail and reason – by a certain kind of person – solicitors. Nobody ever questioned it.
In 2015, a little start-up called Farewill emerged with one goal – to transform this administrative burden into a profoundly emotive experience. They had one KPI – the percentage of users that left a personal message in their will – and they experimented with a wide array of nudges to prompt that action. It worked.
Within 18 months over 75% of their customers were leaving personal messages, compared to the industry average of just 5%, and like every great Northstar this translated into pounds and pence; the company may have employed just 35 people but it was writing 1 in 20 wills, 5 times the volume of their nearest competitor, the Co-op, who had over 300 employees!
Who would have thought that death could be an emotive subject? Well, everyone… but that’s the power of status quo.
3. The soft drinks market
Coca-Cola has been dominant for such a long time that it’s almost impossible to say the words “soft drink” without the ubiquitous logo popping into one’s head.
Throughout the 20th century, thousands of other brands attempted to knock it off its perch, all following the well beaten path of great flavours, large bottles and brilliant value. None came close.
Then, in the 90’s, a Thai company entered the US and UK markets, with a drink that came in tiny cans, costed a fortune and, according to every survey group ever tested, tasted revolting. It flew off the shelves.
Redbull may not have quite overtaken Coca-Cola, but they have been more successful than anyone else in trying, and their high price point has always given them a level of financial security that other brands could only dream of.
This is a far more complex piece of customer insight than the others on this list, as on the surface it makes no sense. The advertising legend, Rory Sutherland (whom I recently interviewed) digs into this and other case studies like it in his quite brilliant book, Alchemy: The Surprising Power Of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense.
4. The gym market, part 2
For several years we did a lot of work in the fitness space. As a consequence of consumer insight #1, we had a big focus on the budget market in particular, and for a while we had a pretty easy ride. But as competition inevitably grew, so did the need to become smarter in our targeting.
Most budget gyms were all chasing the same people – young, price sensitive and well informed. These people cared about convenience, cost and availability of kit. That’s it.
But there were other audiences out there whose needs were a little different and largely neglected. Take a 40 year old female mum, for example; she would likely want to train with friends and prefer classes over individual workouts. She’d chat with staff, take an interest in being part of the gym community and show a remarkable level of loyalty. These people may have been smaller in number, but their lifetime value was significantly higher (longevity plus referrals), and most importantly of all, nobody was talking to them.
With the help of the single most imaginative marketer I’ve ever worked with, Andy Lewis, we set about generating a variety of ideas for accessing this valuable but neglected audience. Some of it was via the obvious channels (Instaface and Tweetbook as Andy would call them), but by far the most effective was rather more basic – Andy travelled with a kettlebell to supermarket carparks at 2:30 in the afternoon and made conversation with women who were about to do the school run. In his first day he generated more trials from this lucrative audience than digital would generate for that gym in a month. Once refined, he passed the model onto a number of the brand’s trainers and they attempted to scale (admittedly not quite with the same level of success – there is only one Andy Lewis – but at an exciting rate nonetheless!).
There were a couple of key insights here. The first being the discovery of a neglected audience segment but the more interesting being the unconventional channel through which they were engaged. We tend to focus on the thing that connects our audience to our business. So if we’re selling software to CIO’s of law firms, we think about them in terms of their day job. If we’re selling fitness products to 30 year old women, we think of them when they’re engaging in exercise. But what other defining characteristics do these people share that have nothing to do with our world, but may nonetheless provide a means of gathering them together in one place where we can engage, from from competition and distraction? It may sound rather inefficient – messing around with gym kit in a car park – but as Rory Sutherland’s book teaches us, that’s precisely why it carried so much meaning. And best of all, because the value of one of these customers was about 10 times higher than the average, it meant that the cost per acquisition could be up to 10 times higher and yet still profitable!
5. The contracts market
Like wills, contracts have generally been designed and sold in a particular way for centuries. A cynic may think that the complexity built into contracts exists principally to protect the high margins of the solicitor doing the work, but I think a more likely explanation is apathy. After all, to a solicitor this complexity makes sense, so in the absence of any motivation to simplify that solicitor may as well just continue as they are.
Consequently, the typical audience for contracts – normal people – are left feeling like idiots and take little meaning or reassurance from the mass of legalese presented before them.
As with so many markets, the status quo was so powerful that everyone, including both solicitors and end-users, assumed there was no other way. Well, almost everyone.
They’re not entirely alone in this mission. Habito, the UK’s fastest growing mortgage broker, saw the same issue within their specific sector and set about demystifying every step of the mortgage process. Their benchmark for success is straightforward – if it can’t be understood by a 12 year old child (they actually conduct tests!) then it’s too complicated and needs to be rewritten.
Another simple but powerful insight – even the most seemingly complex market in the world can be simplified, and customers will thank you for it.