Friday, September 22, 2006

Word Inflation

Remember a few years ago when every product and service became a "solution?" You no longer bought laundry detergent, you got a garment cleaning solution. You didn't just buy clothes, you bought a wardrobe solution!

Okay, I'm exaggerating, but just a little. "Solutions" are so much sexier than products, so everyone suddenly was explaining why what they sold was a solution to a problem. Even when it was just a product- often a well-understood, valuable, useful product (whose identity was suddenly getting lost under the weight of solution-speak).

I thought about this endless human desire to use high-power words when low-power words work just fine when I saw this Houston Business Journal headline about Marble Slab Creamery:

Marble Slab Creamery unveils new marketing strategy  

Interesting headline, I thought; an ice-cream store is not someone you expect to be changing strategies that often. Their previous strategy seemed to be making really good ice cream from natural ingredients and then opening up retail outlets in high traffic locations where people could buy it. A darn good strategy, I'd say.

So what's their new strategy? Well, it seems to be making really good ice cream from natural ingredients and opening up retail outlets in high traffic locations where people can buy it.

What they have changed is their signage and collateral. According to the article, they did this after doing research on their customers - which tells me they are smart people, and this isn't an "I'm bored with the old stuff!" move (it does happen, folks).

You can reinvigorate a brand with that kind of move, and I expect that's what the good folks at Marble Slab are doing. Good for them.

But it's not a strategy change. It's an adjustment to how they execute tactics that support their ongoing (good) strategy.

Why is this important? Because your marketing can fair for different reasons. If Marble Slab's strategy was off - say, they were focusing on natural ingredients while the market has decided that processed chemicals were hot (who know?), or they were focusing on their own retail stores but discovered they could do much better by locating themselves inside of grocery stores, or they were focusing on urban locations but it was the suburbs where the ice cream was being bought, they'd need a strategy change.

But if you're falling short because you've got a good strategy but you're not implementing it well - say, the customers aren't getting the right message from the ads, or the colors of your stores make people lose their appetite - you've got a different problem requiring a different solution.

Make sure you know where your problems are, and attack them at the right level. Otherwise you're likely to spend lots of money on pretty creative work to support a failing strategy - or change a good strategy because you weren't executing it properly.

(And when you're hiring a marketer to fix things, ask about strategy and tactics and make sure she or he knows the difference!)

I don't want to be too hard on Marble Slab; it sounds like they know exactly what they're doing, but somebody writing a press release got overly excited and thought that saying that they made some branding and graphics changes was less exciting that talking about "strategy," and didn't really understand the difference. That won't affect their bottom line; it just makes for some amusing reading in a business publication.

(Here's a free and utterly non-strategic tip for Marble Slab, though, in case someone there finds this blog: your home page has no title. Look up in the title bar of your browser window. That's going to play hell with your search engine placement - your web folks should know better, so go tell them to fix it.)

But enough marketing talk - I want some ice cream.

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