All this online blogging, tweeting, messaging and chatting can get awfully circular. I’m writing this, for example, to draw your attention to a discussion that I just contributed to in a group run by Magnus Spence on LinkedIn, and having resolved just yesterday to try to make more of Twitter I probably ought to go on to write something there drawing your attention to this blog.
Still, somewhere deep within this digital message-storm, there is a point I actually want to make – you’ll find it here in Magnus’s discussion: http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers=&discussionID=4655332&gid=1912019&trk=EML_anet_qa_ttle-cThOon0JumNFomgJt7dBpSBA.
If you’re put off going there by the frightening length of the address, allow me to summarise. In passing, in a debate on another topic entirely, a big cheese at an investment firm wrote that as he sees it, in FMCG markets consumers choose leading brands simply because they have famous names which in some vague way inspire confidence, without knowing why or understanding what makes them better: he chose P&G’s Pampers as an example of this brainwashed, zombie-like behaviour.
My reaction, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, was more bull-confronted-with-giant-red-rag than zombie-confronted-with-well-known-logo. Why oh why, I wrote in response, won’t fund managers start to understand that the brand isn’t a separate, arm’s-length construct built and maintained by the marketing department, but is rather a construct that’s built and maintained out of the totality of the target market’s experiences and perceptions of the product, service or business in question – including, first and foremost, their experiences and perceptions of the fund managers themselves, and the funds they manage?
The widespread and continuing refusal to recognise this obvious truth leads to some bizarre outcomes. Some years ago, I worked for the marketing team of a very large and well-known retail fund management company who decided, on the basis of an admirably market-focused planning phase, that their firm’s brand should stand for the concept of “accessible expertise.” The only slight problem was that at the time, the fund managers themselves, who presumably owned most of this expertise, were so arrogant and aloof that no-one else in the company was actually allowed to get out of the lift on their floor without first making an appointment. It’s difficult to imagine less accessible expertise: but, unbelievably, neither the fund managers, nor the senior management, nor indeed even the marketing team, saw any difficulty with the disconnect.
One reason why so many people in investment companies go on living in this fantasy world is that the alternative – a world in which the investment managers have to understand, buy into and positively contribute to the brand positioning the firm is aiming for – is too different, and too difficult, to contemplate. In a good FMCG company, the people who are closest to the customer have the greatest strategic power to affect the direction of the company, and everyone else within it. In asset management, the reverse is true: the people who are closest to the retail customers have little or no strategic power, and the fund managers who have the most strategic power know little or nothing about the customers and often care less.
They say that people who lead deeply abnormal lives often assume – quite wrongly – that they’re perfectly normal and everyone else lives more or less as they do. In describing a world in which Procter & Gamble’s brands are not built on any real understanding of consumers’ needs, are not concerned to deliver superior performance against those needs and aim only to build a kind of false and groundless trust that cheats people into making bad purchase decisions, the correspondent in Magnus’s discussion group tells us nothing at all about the way Procter & Gamble works – but a great deal about his own industry.