If there is a theme in this newsletter (besides self-aggrandizement and humility), it is that I love when one concise piece of information can instantly bring focus to something that was previously fuzzy.
I call these “I see dead people” moments, and I chase them with fervor. (If you haven’t already seen 1999’s The Sixth Sense
, that reference will not make as much sense as it does for those of us who have made better decisions with our lives.)
To me, there is nothing better than the feeling of hearing or reading something that just turns the whole story on its head. Except for thinking one up yourself, which is rarer still.
One of my favorites is this: companies cannot grow on the backs of loyal customers.
Doesn’t it just make you want to replay every conversation you’ve ever had about business and marketing?
“But Donnie,” you protest, “Who is more important than the base?” Notice I didn’t say they weren’t important. Just that they’re not the direct source of growth.
A great example is Coca-Cola. In his 2010 data-backed missive How Brands Grow, author Byron Sharp shows convincingly that the majority of Coke sales come from “light buyers” — which means as little as one or two sodas in a month. The majority of their sales are to people who would probably tell you (and themselves) they don’t even drink Coke!
So their advertising can’t be aimed at the person with the cart full of two-liters in front of you at the grocery store. What they have to do is make sure that the person who “doesn’t really drink soda”, the once-in-a-blue-moon, I’m-feeling-frisky-today-and-I-think-I’ll-have-some-sparkling-sugar-acid person, is driven subconsciously towards the red labels in the cooler instead of the blue when that occasional purchase happens.
Which is why Coke’s TV commercials don’t say “This week only, Coke is 20% off at your local retailer!” Instead, they are just 30 seconds of a bunch of hippies singing on a hilltop, or they feature pudgy anthropogenic polar bears finding the Christmas spirit in a bottle of carbonated poison.
That, in a nutshell, is what brand-level advertising is and why it’s important.
And for me, the satisfying moment in which this idea brought the world of advertising and my entire career into focus was the moment I read this wonderful piece in the Financial Times called How The Mad Men Lost the Plot [~15 minute read].