Mark Ritson: more of the same is the key to growth

Mark Ritson

Did you hear the one about the blockbuster movie, the Ritz Carlton hotel, the lubricant and the man who shaved off all his pubic hair? No? Well, let me tell it to you because it’s a cracker and the punchline is just about the best marketing lesson you will ever hear.

Let’s start with the movie blockbuster. Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, opened back in July. Any film that generates almost £6m on its opening weekend is obviously going to be a hit. Of course, it wasn’t the kind of mammoth opening that the real blockbusters enjoy. Eclipse, the sequel to the popular vampire film Twilight, for example, opened a week earlier than Inception and did a whopping £14m of business in its first weekend of distribution.

But then something unexpected happened. By the time Inception had completed its UK distribution, the film had earned a whopping £36m – a full £5m more than its vampire competition had managed. Inception was clearly a better film but surely one with a much more limited appeal than Twilight. How had DiCaprio and Co produced such a superior result given Twilight’s better opening weekend?

Onto the Ritz. New York-based research firm the Luxury Institute recently launched a CRM association for its luxury brand clients. According to the Institute’s research, nine out of ten of its executive members surveyed in 2010 cited a “consumer centric” approach and CRM methodologies as being directly linked to their brands’ “long-term growth and financial success”. Big players like the Ritz Carlton, Moët Hennessy and Ralph Lauren have all signed up for the CRM service. Why would a technical, database-driven field like CRM prove so popular with the illogical, irrational constellation of luxury brands that the Luxury Institute typically works with?

And how about the lubricant? WD40 is a peculiar brand. Invented by a rocket scientist (literally) in the Fifties, it has become a much loved brand in the UK. Like all brands, however, it must grow sales. Faced with an embarrassingly rich array of product applications, why has the UK marketing team launched its biggest ever campaign around one of WD40’s least well known applications? Last week the brand launched a multimillion-pound integrated campaign to highlight WD40’s ability to clean pretty much any household or garden implement. Why not awareness? Why not preference? Why focus on cleaning of all things?

Finally, there is the pubic hair. And the shaving of. In 2009, Gillette’s US brand team was faced with an unusual marketing problem. With an 85% share of the market and almost total brand awareness, the marketing team had to somehow grow sales even further. After much strategic discussion, Gillette launched a series of online videos on Google that helped consumers appreciate the benefits of shaving one’s head, armpit and nether regions.

Too many marketers think they need new products to make more money. But in reality new products rarely succeed and even when they do they can take years to become truly profitable. An even bigger proportion of marketers think that the route to success lies in targeting more consumers and other market segments. Again, it’s often an expensive and unsuccessful endeavour to try to attract new customers to the brand.

Only the best marketers know that the real secret of making incremental profits is getting the same consumer to buy the same product or service more frequently. Of all the objectives a marketer can direct their attentions to, greater use is a happy combination of being both the easiest and most profitable to achieve.

Inception has become one of the most profitable films of the year because, according to film critic Mark Kermode, audiences flocked back to see the film twice and even three times to work out its cryptic ending. Luxury brands, like the Ritz Carlton, are flocking to CRM because, although their exclusive brands might only appeal to 1% or 2% of the total market, that tiny minority can be targeted directly with CRM to return more frequently and spend more money. WD40 is pushing its cleaning properties because it has a whopping 98% aided awareness and is already present in more British homes than it is absent. The key to the brand’s success is to get punters to use the spray more frequently – and of all the uses for WD40 cleaning is both the least well known and the one that uses the most liquid. And Gillette realises that getting any more consumers to buy its razors is almost impossible. But it also knows that getting to grips with the pubic forest down below is the fastest way to use up its blades and drive frequency of repurchase.

Before you start the innovation quest for new products or the targeting challenge of finding new consumers, challenge yourself to consider increased use. The same consumer, the same brand – just a little nudge to use it more often. It’s less sexy than launching a new product but it’s often the surest path to profit growth.

Mark Ritson is an Associate Professor of Marketing, an award winning columnist, and a consultant to some of the world’s biggest brands.

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