Today I was at the farmers market and their were clowns/mimes there from Cirque Du Soleil doing advance work for the Saltimbanco show next week. Call it “street teams” or guerrilla marketing, it was refreshing to see a business go out and actively seek customers in their environment. Doesn’t happen much anymore. We’ve gotten lazy- trying to invite our message in by interrupting their entertainment with commercials, their landscape with billboards and their websites with ads.
But while I was shopping, I was listening to American Public Radio’s Marketplace on my iPhone, and heard a story of how Procter & Gamble invented the market for Crisco- and it reminded me why they are the marketing powerhouse- not just by dollars spent, but by long history of working hard to connect with consumers. Our current industry fixation with “Branded Content” is nothing more than a new name for the soap opera- a P&G invention.
Here is an excerpt of the podcast- and a link to the whole she-bang. Highly recommended short podcast:
Marketplace: Crisco: A marketing revolution
…Crisco maker Procter & Gamble was a pioneer in the emerging science of creating demand. Historian Susan Strasser says the Crisco experiment started in 1911, when the company was selling Ivory soap. Cottonseed oil was a key ingredient.
Susan Strasser: And they decided to develop a product that would use a lot more cottonseed oil, so that they could control that market, really.
P&G’s scientists came up with this white, fluffy substance. It sort of resembled lard, and yet had no taste and no smell. It wasn’t food, exactly, but the company would ask consumers to bake and fry with it. Thus began an American mass-marketing milestone.
Strasser: Originally, they tried to call it Crispo, but then they discovered that a cracker factory already had the trademark.
P&G hawked its new product as a “scientific discovery.” The company sent free samples to every grocer in America. They held Crisco teas — an early version of the focus group. P&G even niche-marketed the product as kosher to the Jewish community….
In the podcast they talked about how P&G educated the consumer in how to use their products- something that the web is incredibly useful for. Yet, how many company websites feature big how-to communities built around their product?
For instance, BMW motorcycles has an xplor area that’s focused on tips and tricks for sport touring - the segment of the market that they have a preferred position. How to pack your bike best, tips on GPS usage, and segments on where to go. However, it’s a members only site for BMW owners- you have to provide a vin number- and not open to the general public. Why not open the doors- so that potential customers can get a feel for what “joining the family” by buying BMW means?
Back to the Crisco story:
Marketing scholar David Stewart says P&G’s genius was not only giving people a convincing reason to try the product but training them to use it as well, with free cookbooks and recipes.
David Stewart: First of all, they focused on the health benefits — recognizing that this was a time we didn’t know about transfat and so forth. And then they taught people how to use it, they taught people how to cook. They gave them ideas. And between giving them a real benefit and information about how to use the product, they were able to get people to adopt it.
Crisco’s crowning achievement was creating demand for something nobody knew they wanted.
In today’s open information economy- putting your “recipes” behind a log-in is as silly as trying to charge for it. Would Google have been as successful if they had asked users to pay per search? Sounds absolutely stupid, doesn’t it? How about having to log in to use Google? Again, very silly.
To make friends with consumers today you have to be informative, useful, practical- and be able to demonstrate value. So, before you do an ad that is either hard sell- or entertaining- think first about what it does to enhance the customers life. The same way P&G introduced Crisco as the consumers friend: “Honestly, with a little Crisco in your frying pan, you can have supper on the table in a jiffy.”
That was marketing.