Posted: Fri 16th Oct 2015
I normally don't think there's much that us business owners can glean from the cliched caricatures on The Apprentice. But that's OK, because we only watch it to be ironic, right?
However, last night's exercise in shampoo marketing episode was an exception. The boys team created a strong brand, aimed squarely at a market they knew well: vain boys with egos to maintain. The girls, on the other hand, created a muddled brand, poorly aimed at ladies over the age of 50. The boys romped home to victory: I think there's something we can all learn from this.
The reason why the boys did so well is because they (perhaps accidentally) nailed a crystal-clear vision for their product early in their process. Everyone knew the market (themselves), and knew what they'd respond to. The execution was far from perfect, but the brand seemed solid. If I had hair I'd buy it.
The girls, on the other hand, were in a tailspin from the start. They identified a market, but then failed to understand what the market needed - the pains they experience, and they gains they're seeking. The lack of a solid foundation meant they were destined to fail.
The learning we can take from last night's episode is this: the key to marketing success is understanding your customer and building (and communicating) a proposition to solve their problem. There are many proven techniques for building propositions, but most share three common questions you'll need to answer:
What do my customers need to do?
What are their pain points?
What could they gain from my product/service?
Let's look at shampoo again. It's a given, most people buy shampoo to clean their hair. A pain point could be dry hair, or dandruff. What would be a real gain, a bonus, from a shampoo? I think most people would be pretty happy to be noticed for having incredible looking hair, and feeling like they're in the know, in an exclusive club (which is perhaps why there are so many salon-only brands out there).
Now apply the same thinking to your business. Try and step into the shoes of your customer to understand their motives. This is much harder than it sounds, and you'll naturally write down things that you think are important, rather than what your customers do. There's a simple solution to this; try talking to your customers. Ask them 'why' a lot to drill into the detail. If the girls had sought (and listened to) insight from some older women before designing their brand it would have been a much closer contest.
Once you've got a clear idea of what your customers want, you should then build the key messages that convey how you'll solve their problems. You'll find it's much easier to do this with confidence with your new found customer insight to hand. It also works well for teams too as it gives everyone a single vision and helps to remove pointless debates, saving that energy for more fruitful conversations.
Only once you've nailed (and ideally tested) your messages should you start to engage in the more creative activities of designing bottles and billboards. And if you're still tempted to jump the gun and start designing your adverts without considering your customer, reflect on this: what you say has a three times greater influence on success than the design of your marketing material. Crafting your message is time well spent.
And I think that's why the boys nailed it last night. They knew their market because they knew themselves. Their egos would be seduced by a masculine brand, edgy packaging and homo-erotic hipsters. And that's what they delivered.
I do, however, wonder if they tried to make a shampoo to sell to my 67 year old dad if they'd have been as successful. Especially seeing as we share the same hairline.
Meet all the candidates from the 2015 series of The Apprentice here.