Who Has Time for Shopping?

The cognoscenti will remember two big statements glittering on the screen behind me during the opening moments of the Magical Worlds Communications Workshop:

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
— Niels Bohr, physicist
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer

What I’m about to say may prove to be just such a test.

I’m counting on you to possess a first-rate intelligence:

“People love Donald Trump.”
“People hate Donald Trump.”

Those two statements about Donald Trump seem to be mutually exclusive until we realize that neither statement purports to describe ALL people. Different people feel different ways. We understand this when it comes to politics.

But let the discussion turn to advertising and you will soon hear voices begin speaking of Millennials and Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers as though every member of a birth cohort is somehow compelled to make their decisions based on a single, shared set of values determined by the year in which they were born.

It’s like listening to people who believe in astrology. “Your fate is determined by your birthday.”

The only thing weirder is listening to wholesalers and distributors speak of the men and women involved in “B to B” (Business to Business) as if they were an entirely different species. “Roy, I hear what you’re saying about using words as tools of persuasion, but my business is B to B and B to B is different. What can you tell me about selling B to B?”

Blanket statements result from a belief in stereotypes.

Stereotypes are attractive because they allow us to simplify complex realities.

Stereotypes are false categories that allow us to feel good about stupid decisions.

People are extremely different.
People are all alike.

Both of those statements are true.
Both of those statements are false.

How’s that first-rate intelligence holding up?

I’m now going to make 5 true statements. Some will confirm your suspicions and beliefs. Others will stick in your throat like a fish bone, forcing you to cough and sputter.

I apologize in advance.

1. Your perfect “target customer” is probably a false category.

This is one of the two reasons why your advertising is performing poorly.

The first time I visited Procter & Gamble headquarters in Cincinnati, I was greeted warmly and shown the auditorium where I would be speaking. After all the equipment had been tested, my guide asked,

“Do you know the unofficial slogan of our company?”

I shook my head from side to side.

“In God we trust. All others bring data.”

In an August 9, 2016 story in the Wall Street Journal, Procter & Gamble Chief Marketing Officer Marc Pritchard announced, “We targeted too much and we went too narrow.”

Example: Sales stagnated when P&G aimed Febreze ads on FaceBook at pet owners and households with large families. But sales rose when the same budget was spent reaching “anyone over 18.”

P&G has been spending hundreds of million of dollars on tests like that for the past two years. The jury has now returned with a verdict: reaching influencers is just as important as reaching the decision maker.

You feeling that fish bone yet?

2. Millennials are easy to attract.

According to an Aug. 5th Daily Beast article by Samantha Allen, one in three young adults is still living at home.

Touchy-feely theorists say this is because “Millennials desire safe spaces.”

When carmakers realized Millennials weren’t buying cars, they appointed “youth emmissaries” who came up with new colors like “techno pink” and “denim.”

It isn’t “fear of commitment” that keeps Millennials from buying houses.

The Economist wondered aloud in June, “Why aren’t millennials buying diamonds?” and speculated it was “the taint of conflict and exploitation” that was keeping them away.

But according to Samantha Allen,

Millennials are not some vast unsolvable mystery… basic economic math can explain much of the younger generation’s behavior… Cars cost money and millennials have less of it and diamonds are freakin’ expensive… So the next time you have a hunch about why millennials are the way they are, ask yourself if economic insecurity might be a better hypothesis.

In truth, Millennials are easy to attract. Most of them just don’t have the buying power that most businesses assume they have.

3. Growing companies are desperate to find employees.

Wait. Didn’t we just say that one in three millennials is still living at home because they’re poor? Yes. They’re drowning in college debt because we lied to them. We said a degree was the key to getting a good job. So they got an education but they have no marketable skills. 

You would be startled by the number of recruitment ads my partners and I are writing each week for client companies that can’t find capable employees.

If you are a Registered Nurse, a Licensed Practical Nurse or an air conditioning technician, you can walk into any city in America today and instantly get a job making an above-average income. I know this to be true because I’ve spent the past several months scouring the nation for them.

4. Store traffic is down but sales are up.

Last week I spoke with an independent rep that’s been selling upscale brands to major retailers for more than 20 years. “Everyone is terrified at the decline in traffic,” he said, “but sales haven’t really declined at all.”

His experience is similar to my own.

E-commerce is real and it has devastated a few categories, to be sure. But for most retailers it’s just an imaginary boogeyman hiding under the bed.

Retail traffic is declining and service business call-counts are falling because people are doing their information gathering and comparison-shopping online.

They’re not buying online nearly so often as they’re researching online. The result is that a single brick-and-mortar store gets visited instead of three or four. The traffic you’re not seeing is the traffic that went to your competitor.

You’ve got to become the company people think of immediately and feel the best about. This is how you increase traffic.

5. Radio and television advertising are working better today than ever before.

Yes, I’m aware that radio listenership has declined from what it was 10 years ago and that people are using DVRs to fast-forward past the ads on TV.

I also know that entertainment is a currency that will buy you the attention of the public.

Entertainment must – by definition – employ elements that are new, surprising and different.

Private music libraries play the same songs over and over and over. This is why we’re spending less and less time listening to our own libraries of downloaded music.

Do you remember when I said that targeting your perfect customer was “one of the two reasons why your advertising is performing poorly?”

The other reason is that your ads are predictable.

The reason they’re predictable is because you’re telling your prospective customers exactly what you think they want to hear.

Big mistake.

Roy H. Williams