John Hess, Nike Golf US’s global senior brand director, was first cab off the rank in this morning’s Ministry of Sports Marketing conference, brought to you by yours truly, B&T. And the straight shooter had a few sage words for marketers and sports fans alike when it comes to understanding your consumer.
Hess started by telling a joke about two fish swimming in a bowl. The older fish says to the younger fish, “Morning fish, how’s the water?” And the other fish replies, “What the fuck is water?
“The main purpose of this joke is to remind you to get back in the water with your consumers. Don’t sit outside and study them from outside the bowl. Get in there with them,” he said.
“The feeling of forgetting you’re in the water is dangerous as a marketer.”
Hess said through Nike Golf he sells “the notion, and the idea, of sport”.
“We don’t just sell the thrill of victory, we embrace the agony as well. Look to those edges in marketing.”
“Ask people what they want,” said Hess in his next piece of advice, suggesting that if you asked the horse-riding, pre-car consumer what they wanted, they’d say they want “a faster horse”.
“Consumers don’t know what they don’t know. When it comes to willing to be wrong you have to take that chance, and have vision. Say to them, I’m not going to provide a faster horse, I’m going to create a shiny, fast car.
Hess said to ask yourself as a marketer, “Who are you and what is your proposition? What is your thumbprint?”
“I’m a hockey guy. I tell people that I don’t need two left wings; I need a left wing, a right wing, a centre and defence. But I don’t need two left wings.
“Find your position, find your thumbprint, and find your water.
We live in boxes but we don’t like to live in boxes,” Hess added. “So don’t put me in a category, don’t put me in a line up, I’m more than that.
And it’s the same for a brand, Hess explained, adding we have to remind ourselves of that all the time.
Using the example of classic cult film, The Breakfast Club, Hess said the final scene changed the way he thought about people, when protagonist Andy tells his principal they think he’s “crazy for making us tell you who you think we are”.
“Embrace that notion,” Hess said. “Too often as marketers we view our consumers as a brain, as a jock, as a princess, as a basket case. But that’s not true at all.
“Our consumers live in cultures, they don’t live in demographics. And for that we can thank the Internet. It has broken and fixed everything, but marketers get to get up and have access to everything that exists. That means our culture is shaped more widely.
“It used to be, ‘who’s right around the corner from you, what do you believe in, what language do you speak, where were you born?’
Today a culture is anything you want to pull out of your closet, your phone or your computer. You have to be true to yourself.
“It’s about pull marketing. It’s about ‘build it and they will come’. It’s about going out there in the right context and pulling people in. Content is king but context is queen.
“When we talk about those consumers and experiences, one of the things we forget is that we do sell cult culture, the broad idea.
“A lot of people would be critical and say it’s mass thinking but it’s not. Every single fan is having their own experience. Yes, it’s shared but they’re not all having the same experience.
“We can thank the Internet for that. This generation, millennials, they don’t want to be famous, they assume they will be famous, because fame has taken a completely different turn and means completely different things.
“What that means is we have to make sure our connections are personal. It’s one of my beefs about social media, it’s very social but it’s not personal.
“Take social media and make it personal. Make sure you’re connecting with those consumers, with your fingerprint in their water.”
Hess said it’s really hard to get people to tell you what they want, citing a classic Simpsons consumer research clip as evidence.
He ended up describing consumer research as being like “a string of lampposts for a drunk person trying to get home.
“You can go to the first one and cling to it, wait for the sun to come up and hope someone finds you, or you can use it to get to the next one, to then get to the next one, to eventually get to the insight.
“It’s rare people just hand that insight to you. It’s wrapped in enigma. And if you know who you are and have your fingerprint sorted out, this will help you refine it, and legitimise it.
If you know who you are you’re going to get home. If you don’t you’re clinging to that first lamppost.
Hess wrapped things up by saying, “I would urge you to figure out what that water is. Where are your consumers swimming? Get in with them. Immerse yourself literally and figuratively.
“Studying them from outside the bowl won’t give you the insights you need. You’ll be social because you’ll be waving from outside the bowl, but you won’t be personal.”