The Australian Small Business Blog

Monday, June 18, 2007

The First Marketer I Ever Met

I don’t remember his name, but I remember what he wore.

As a young engineer, a few years out of university, I was the stereotypical technician. I thought everyone who was not technical was a bean counter. That the technicians created the real value.

And then I saw my first Marketer.

I had been forced, along with a number of my colleagues to attend some management training. Almost dragged from my computer. These were the days when only engineers had computers (or terminals linked to a super computer).

There were other speakers at the conference, but I only remember the marketer. He wore a dark purple suit (these were the early eighties). He had a cream shirt with a purple tie, and even purple shoes. When he sat down in, as it happened, a matching purple upholstered chair, we could see his purple socks.

He was the Marketing Director of ACI Industries, supplying among other things, domestic insulation batts. These were basically a commodity item. Whoever you bought them from, they all had insulation ratings. Rated by the CSIRO. For domestic use. And once they were in, you never saw them again. Not a very exciting consumer product to market.

He was quietly spoken and gradually told his tail. About the state of the market when he had started. About a business that was going nowhere. It was a case of trench warefare amongst the main competitors, where, like in the first world war in France, territory gains were measured in feet and inches. In the insulation game, it a percentage point of market share gain here, and losses somewhere else. No side had any technical edge. It was a war of attrition. It was only a question of who had the greatest stamina for losses, and would leave the battlefield first.

Now the Marketing guy had gone over to the US to see what the marketers over there were doing to market insulation batts. And at one time, he even visited a manufacturing plant. And while he was there, he saw every so often, instead of a standard yellow batt on the production line, a pink one. He asked the supervisor, about the pink batts. And he told him, these batts were seconds that had not passed the quality inspection, and were died pink so that the packagers would know to discard them.

When he returned to Australia he asked the ACI Operations Manager to dye all the batts pink, and created a marketing campaign that implied that the pink batts were superior to the yellow ones (but in such a way that could not be challenged- since technically, all batts rated the same performed the same).

But the pink batts became a brand. Not only did ACI’s sales greatly increase, but even when customers called ACI’s competitors, they asked for pink batts. To which they replied: “No Sir/Madam, our batts are yellow and perform just as well as the pink ones.” They knew they were in trouble, and started their own advertising campaigns.

But it was too little too late. And yellow was such a boring colour- even if you didn’t see them when they were installed.

ACI became the market leader. They had taken a commodity product where the competition was basically price driven. They had created a brand, and a point of difference. There was also a fun element to the campaign. (Pink is more fun than Yellow. And who do you think this colour difference influenced most?)

After all these years, they are still at it (although they have changed the name).

And there it was. Someone had created value for a business, not through technical innovation, but by marketing innovation. My transition from the technical world started shortly thereafter.

As for the Mareketer- I never saw him again.

Dr Greg Chapman is the Director of Empower Business Solutions and The Australian Business Coaching Club and is a Business Coach and provides Coaching and Consulting advice to Australian Small Business Owners in Marketing & Business Strategies Planning & Systems.


onionfutures said...

Great story. I'm not sure if it makes marketers more respectable, but perhaps more useful.

Nudge Marketing said...

Yeah I agree, brilliant story. So much so that I felt the need to retell it the otherday to a friend and realised that i have always refered to them as pink batts, even the ones that were yellow.

Unknown said...

I love it!

Marketers prey on the undeveloped moral compass of consumers by convincing the otherwise ambivalent consumer one label (or description) is "better" than another.
Gawd, that sounds soooo very leftist! (insert wry chuckle here)

Good and bad are defined by ethics. in this game.
When you cross the boundaries of ethics with morality -- by defining the "right" or "wrong" perceptions of pink bats because that is what someone hears first or more often -- this is how marketers and lawyers make their money.
Both professions enrich themselves and pollute the wider perceptions by seeking out or creating conflicting perceptions between right and wrong, and good and bad.

Ethical becomes a game which is scored by money or influence to determine right or wrong.

Your marketer is at truly creative and brilliant person, but s/he has probably long since lost any moral -- and probably ethical -- compass.
More power to him!



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