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Microscope Marketing

February 12, 2010

STEWART K KELLY, Marketing Strategy

"Don't roll your eyes, Jeremy, there's 33 million dollars to be made in this market segment."

If you’re a small operator in the consulting business, it’s time to think tiny.

The global consulting market is worth hundreds of billions of dollars. The big fellas like McKinsey, Bain, and Booz control a sizable chunk of it. Some mid-sized firms battle away for a slice of the pie, too. And below that there are thousands of small and independent operators nibbling away.

If you’re a small consultancy, you’re not interested in capturing 30, 20, 10, or even one percent of the market. All you need is a little sliver (we’re talking less than 0.0001 percent) and you’re in good shape.

This is an important consideration. The big firms need to worry about market share, and they scuffle around the margins to win more of it. But if you’re a tiddler, you have no such concern; in fact, trying to broaden your appeal is a surefire way to look just like the tens of thousands of other consultants around.

It’s critical to apply this microscopic approach to your message. What is the unique problem you solve? What specific market can you find traction in? What is it about your methodology that’s distinctly different to the others?  How can you become totally irresistible to the really really small minority who happen to need exactly what you offer? The other 99.999 percent? Who cares about the other 99.999 percent?

For industries that sell tangible goods, this is a blindingly obvious and poorly constructed familiar argument in favor of differentiation. But it’s a little trickier when you’re in the business of selling your brainpower. And the penny hasn’t dropped among many of the smaller folks in the consulting business. This is to your significant advantage.


What’s in a Name, Part II

February 4, 2010


Here’s a fun one: the Boston Globe reports that companies with simple or easy-to-pronounce names outperform companies whose names are more of a mouthful. It might seem crazy to go picking up a company’s stock based on their name, but the basic concept makes sense: if people can’t say or understand your name at first glance, that’s already a strike against you. It’s a bit like having a shabby storefront – like it or not, people judge a book by its cover.

Then again, there are plenty of wildly successful companies with troublesome names. Take Ruth’s Chris Steak House. “Ruth’s” is already tough to pronounce, with the ‘th’ followed immediately by the apostrophe ‘s.’ The addition of “Chris” – apparently the founder, Ruth Fertel, bought the existing Chris Steakhouse in 1965 – renders the name borderline nonsensical to those unfamiliar with the company’s history. Who or what is Chris? Does he/it belong to Ruth? What does any of it have to do with steak? While the mystery presented by the name might get a few curious people in the door, I’d imagine that even more potential customers have been put off by the peculiar and difficult-to-pronounce name. And yet the company has thrived, with over a hundred locations across the US. Having eaten there, it’s not hard to see why – for all the problems with their name, their product is clearly top-notch.

Another example is the financial services company TIAA-CREF, which its own CEO concedes is a “clunky name.” It’s one of those dreaded acronym names: it tells you exactly what they were when the company was founded (“The Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America-College Retirement Equities Fund”), but isn’t exactly easy to say. While acronyms can sometimes result in a decent name (take GEICO, The Government Employees Insurance Company), TIAA-CREF sounds more like an obscure government agency than a financial services firm. Yet TIAA-CREF has likewise prospered, becoming one of the largest financial services companies in the country. Still, it’s hard not to wonder how much more successful they would be with a simple name like “Fidelity.”

I suppose the lesson here is that even the worst name isn’t enough to sink a truly great company. But why would you put yourself at that disadvantage? The good news is that with no mergers or complicated acronyms in our past, Ictus has been free to formulate a simple, easy-to-pronounce name. As such, we’ve always had a simple and inviting “storefront” – and as our rebranding proceeds, it’s only going to get nicer.

Branding Sense

February 1, 2010

NAOMI HUI, Creative Director

Name recognition used to be the biggest objective of branding. But, branding is not just a logo, tagline, or color palette. Not anymore. A strong brand now includes all fives senses. Sounds, smells, and even tastes are a part of a company’s branding essence.

Think about the last time you saw a McDonald’s sign. Did you also smell or taste the fries in your mind? What about Southwest Airlines’ commercials? Do you hear the “ding” of the announcer over the loudspeaker? How about the refreshing taste and bubbly sound of a Coca-Cola being poured in their ads?

All these things contribute to a strong and lasting message in the minds of consumers. The mental images that are associated with the brands should be positive and easily understood. Additionally, the company’s message should reverberate throughout all their marketing materials and corresponding web/print media. We also have to add social media venues to the mix. The brand of the company should be easily recognizable from the language of tweets and posts on Facebook.

Smell of Success

"Mmm... the sweet smell of success... with a hint of hazelnut."

An example of a strong brand is Starbucks. The smell of their coffee (and pastries), their earthy colors, their quality and fair trade messages—all of these tie together cohesively into their branding campaign. Every item they sell, and the advertising that accompanies it, is permeated with their brand. In return, they earn a devoted following.

On the other hand is Walmart, a larger company. Walmart’s brand, though, is nonexistent—the blue letters and yellow starburst do not evoke any positive mental image of the company, employees, or shopping experience.

The flavors of a company’s brand should be discernible from others out there. The visuals should be unique and stimulate the senses, but simultaneously not water down the message. If this is successfully achieved, the audience is left with a satisfying aftertaste that keeps them coming back for more.

The Business of Happiness

January 26, 2010

DEREK MCIVER, Public Relations

Stewart started a discussion on global marketing, so I thought I’d continue…

A few weeks ago, I visited the office of Chias Marketing in São Paulo, Brazil. The consultancy, which has been extraordinarily successful with its “Marketing, only marketing” model, was started in Barcelona by Josep Chias.

You might recognize their work. Among many other highly visible campaigns, they were responsible for the marketing plans for Spanish tourism, the Barcelona Olympic games, Asturias tourism (personally significant), and, most recently, Brazilian tourism. They have become global leaders in the tourism and cultural marketing space, and Flavia Matos, one of their senior consultants in Brazil, presented to us about just that.

Some of Chias' well-known work

Brazil, as you probably know, will become front-and-center on the world stage in the next few years. In 2014, they will host the World Cup and 2 years later, in 2016, Rio de Janeiro will be the home of the Olympic Games. So far as I know, Chias will be heavily involved in the promotion of these events and Embratur (Brazil’s Board of Tourism) has entrusted them with presenting Brazil as a “Sensational” destination that people want to visit. And while this will be an exciting effort, they must work hard to overcome many negative images people have of Brazil, like violence, poverty, and corruption (to name a few).

This upset one of the Brazilian members of my group. To him, violence and poverty are realities in Brazil, and brushing them aside ignores a huge part of his Brazilian culture. While I understand his perspective, I know that promoting travel to Brazil would not be successful if it highlighted the potential dangers of visiting (“Copacabana – picture perfect, until your camera’s stolen!”). Josep Chias has called tourism marketing the “Business of Happiness” and he has even written a book with that same name (only available in Spanish and Portuguese). He’s on the nose with that – people travel to find happiness outside of their normal lives, so it is a marketer’s responsibility to create the impression that a certain destination can help them discover that.

This is what struck me most about Flavia’s presentation, even though it was only a minor point on her behalf. In a way, our work at the Ictus Initiative is the same. Our clients hire us to promote them, and we will obviously promote only what’s best about them. Of course, there is nothing at all negative about any of our clients, but if there were, it would be illogical to focus on any of those traits. Our clients wouldn’t benefit from it at all, and we’d, well, get fired.

Our primary goal is not necessarily to make our clients’ audiences “happy,” but speaking more broadly, we are responsible for highlighting their value, which is exactly what Chias is doing. I wrote before about the idea of brands as an experience, and whether the brand is Brazil or an Ictus client, the experience the consumer/tourist/audience takes from them must be positive. If we are successful, happiness will surely follow.

In the Marketing World, Americans Have the Bragging Rights

January 19, 2010

STEWART K KELLY, Marketing Strategy

Patrick O'Flaherty. "Who does he think he is?"

Self-confidence plays a big role in marketing. If you’re going to tell the world how good your organization/product/service is – while keeping a straight face – it helps if you really believe it. And it helps even more if you’re not ashamed to be enthusiastic. After all, one way or another, marketing is about creating a buzz.

This clever opinion piece from yesterday’s Financial Times looks at the role of naked enthusiasm in America’s business success; it reminded me why Americans seem to be so much better at marketing than their counterparts across the Atlantic.

As individuals, they learn to self-promote from an early age: to secure a prestigious college place, plum first job, big scholarship, or top internship. So as adults they’re quite comfortable waxing lyrical to anyone who’ll listen on why their approach to investment or sales or combine harvesters is the best on the market.

As a Dubliner living in the US, I can offer some anecdotal evidence to back up the FT columnist’s argument. Us Irish – and to a lesser extent other Europeans – learn from an early age to resent and begrudge those who display overt self-confidence or enthusiasm. “Who does he think he is?” is a popular Dublin refrain, usually aimed at a well-known entrepreneur or business exec. From birth, we are conditioned to play down and trivialize our own achievements and strengths, and we snicker at our brash cousins across the pond.

Yes, it’s part of our endearing self-deprecating culture. And perhaps we’re onto something when we accuse the Americans of taking themselves a bit too seriously. But when it comes to marketing – especially when you are selling your own expertise – self-deprecation has no place. This is why America continues to do it best.

New Year, New Ictus

January 13, 2010

New packaging, new content

Happy New Year from all of us at Ictus!

This year, we have resolved to roll out our newly-rebranded website. Even though we may have a new look, we are still the same Ictus you all know and love. What is changing, though, is the organization of the site. The information that you are looking for will be easy to find. There will be compelling case studies, new examples of work, and more importantly, the website will be a showcase of the kind of outside-the-box thinking that we do for all our clients.

So stay tuned…


December 16, 2009

BRANDON GILSON, Sports Marketing Associate

Customization is the key for collaborating with our clients. How’s that for a tongue twister? Working with retired professional athletes, authors, and other experts, one of the first steps we take when working with our clients is to build customized databases that we can use to directly reach their market. Since our clients have highly specialized skills and expertise, casting a wide net in our PR activities is not a good use of our time. Instead, we pride ourselves on the level of customization that we are able to provide in our services – that way, our clients’ messages are being heard by the right people.

Here at Ictus, GAP is more than a clothing line; it’s also an acronym that stands for “Gather, Analyze, Present,” and is the very core of how we begin a project that falls into our world. Our first step is to Gather information about our clients and to learn everything we can about their professional careers and even their personal backgrounds. Using all the knowledge we obtain helps us to get a better understanding of the client and learn about their goals and needs.

Next comes the Analyze stage, during which we examine the data we’ve collected and figure out where our client’s intellectual property begins. Do they have a unique motivational strategy that they’ve been using for years? Is it their own personal story of how they achieved success? Do they have an inspirational message to share with the youth, or is their message more appropriate for a corporate audience? This analysis is fundamental to the process, since it helps us to prepare the highly targeted lists we use when reaching out to media.

Lastly, there is the “fun” phase, also known as the Present stage. This is where we plan on how to present our clients and the ways to publicize them best (using those customized lists I’ve talked so much about). Whether it’s a retired athlete, a former professor, or a previous CEO, we work to get our clients’ names out to the world so their voices can be heard.

We mind the GAP. Do you?