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September 14, 2005
In Today's Marketing World, "Close" Doesn't Cut It
 Once upon a time, marketing was a bit like horseshoes: close was good enough. If you advertised and came anywhere near your target, you were in good shape. Most strategies and tactics focused on simply selling more with little regard for what customers really wanted, as long as it was "close enough."

As this way of selling wore thin with customers and competition grew stiffer, marketers began looking to the buyer side of the sales transaction for improvements. And, a new philosophy emerged: FIRST, know the customer. THEN, develop and market products based on what they want. Suddenly, marketers needed to throw ringers to succeed.

The last half of the 1900s and the first few years of the new millennium have been all about refining this concept. Today, you might even say the balance of power has shifted completely from where it was when marketing got its start. Now, the customer is boss and has the upper hand in the buyer/seller relationship. No longer must the consumer settle for whatever is thrown into the marketplace. The customer has greater choice and can seek products and services that specifically address his or her personal interests and needs. This dynamic has spawned a new phenomenon called "lifestyle marketing."

Until very recently, advertisers relied heavily on hard demographic data to gain insight into consumer behavior. Basic data such as age, education, and income served as critical drivers in determining how, when and where a marketer would connect with customers.

Today, this type of data is grossly insufficient in developing a marketing plan. Consumer empowerment, media fragmentation and proliferation of new technologies make it undesirable, and sometimes impossible, for marketers to rely on conventional demographic data to reach their target audience. Another complicating factor is the lack of leisure time in today’s world. A recent Harris Poll found that free time has declined by almost 40 percent since 1973. To add insult to injury, many of our high-tech assets – the things that have made life faster and "easier," like cell phones, pagers, Blackberrys and wireless computers – have actually become leisure liabilities, making it possible for the office to track you down anywhere and anytime. It's no wonder that consumers are resisting advertising messages and working hard to manage their own entertainment time.

It's pretty clear that now, more than ever, it is imperative that marketers understand how and why consumers behave the way the do. We must be able to anticipate and forecast market and consumer conditions if we want our brands to grow and thrive alongside the ever-evolving customer.

To that end, marketers have, out of necessity, morphed into a blend of pop psychologists, behavioral analysts and influencers. We’ve become lifestyle specialists, tapping into consumers’ core beliefs, their attitudes, their perceptions, their needs and desires – and, of course, their consumption patterns. This notion of lifestyle marketing isn't new, but it's evolved to new and improved heights as we address the radically shifting media and consumer landscape.

So, just how does a marketer identify a consumer's lifestyle and how can that information be used to create a campaign that really resonates with the target? First, we conduct and analyze research. Research comes in all shapes and sizes, and a marketer will typically use a combination of tools to identify lifestyle markers. Focus groups are a great way to unearth motives, passions and experiences that define a lifestyle. Formal and informal surveys can be useful, as can syndicated research like MRI. Experiencing the consumers’ lifestyle first-hand, a practice called ethnography, is another way to understand what drives a consumer. At Empower MediaMarketing, one of the tools we use is a proprietary system called TIESM, which stands for Target Insight EngineeringSM. TIE delves into consumer habits, beliefs and behaviors; explores the emotional connection between the product and user, and evaluates the psychological elements of the purchase decision. The end result is the identification of the consumer's "passionate media connections," or the best ways to reach that individual.

Once the information is gathered, there are many ways we can tap into and capitalize on lifestyle marketing. Three, in particular, are Image, Experiential and Brand Extension.

Image - More and more consumers see their purchases not just as material objects, but a reflection of their person - their coolness, their popularity, their elegance – or whatever qualifiers are an expression of either who they are or who they WANT to be. The idea of "ownership" plays into the image concept – people want to feel the product is theirs, that they own it as part and parcel to their personality.

Experiential marketing – Clutter in the media is at an all-time high and consumers are responding to the constant, ubiquitous barrage of messages by resisting and opposing them. Spam blockers, do not call lists, video on demand, TiVo and satellite radio are all ways the consumer can pick and choose what messages, if any, he or she wants to receive. So, clearly, one of the challenges for the marketer is to simply get the message in front of their target, but the other is to make that message really resonate. And that's essentially the crux of experiential marketing – building relationships with consumers in unique and memorable ways – by combining lifestyle and product in a new form of live event marketing. It’s designed to demonstrate how a product fits into a customer’s life by allowing them to experience the product first-hand.

Brand extensions - This trend is exploding, especially in the retail industry. Many marketers have extended their brands far beyond the original, core product, thereby creating a culture or feeling that touches consumers in many facets of their lives. One great example – Ralph Lauren – started as a clothing line has now morphed into an empire encompassing couture clothes, jeans, t-shirts, sunglasses, jewelry, bed linens, upholstery fabric, furniture, shoes, cds and house paint. In short, Lauren promotes a very specific lifestyle that people can embrace by using its products.

Image, experiential and brand extension marketing are all ways we are trying to get closer to consumers in our ongoing effort to influence purchase decisions. What will be the next big marketing idea? It's hard to say. But without a doubt, it will be driven by a desire to please the individual consumer.

This is just a continuation of marketing's evolution from a seller-centric to a consumer-driven discipline. Today’s advertiser must throw marketing ringers by getting close to consumers and building long-term relationships. Those who consistently hit the mark will be the big sales winners.

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In the media world, Brian McHale has power. He's the president of Empower MediaMarketing, a Cincinnati-based media buying/planning and consulting company. Brian has been honored by AdAge as a "Media Maven" in 2004. As the world looks to media to lead the way in the 21st century, clients and media professionals will seek Brian's wisdom.
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