In this guest post, Mike Edmonds (pictured below), the CEO of Perth-based business solutions agency Meerkats and author of Truth. Growth. Repeat, says when it comes to honesty and trust it’s hard to beat our mothers! And, he argues, there’s a lot of learnings in that for brands, too…
Let me tell you a story. It’s a modern business fable about a multinational corporation, a group of mums and a cow named Ugly.
Once upon a time a little dairy company was founded by a hardworking man who believed milk was essential for growing bodies. Over the years his little dairy company became a local hero, inventing new types of low-fat milk, delivering free milk to schools, pioneering yoghurt as a healthier family dessert.
The little dairy was so successful it eventually attracted the eye of a multinational corporation, who bought them. Smart men in suits in a city far away then instructed the little diary to stop making cheese and ice cream because their corporation already made these elsewhere. They told them to focus on plain milk production and stop messing about with fun new dairy products. And for goodness sake stop those unprofitable school tours.
This was a corporation with revenues of $17 billion and 30 per cent of the global dairy market, so staff at the little dairy duly obliged.
You know what happened? Over the next decade sales slowly began to slide, product awareness dropped and brand image withered. Eventually, the multinational corporation, thinking they’d bought a dud, offloaded the dairy company on a small investment group.
Thankfully, though bruised and battered, the spirit of the founder still endured in the dairy’s senior staff. Who happened to be mostly women. Who happened to be mostly mothers. And who happened to admit to the new owners that they didn’t feed their children their own products.
Enough was enough. These amazing ladies asked for more say in the business and were given it (smart new owners). They ignored the obsession with competitor activity that the multinational had ingrained in them. They resisted the temptation to let research determine product strategy and instead set about giving their customers innovative, quality dairy at an affordable price, just as their founder had done.
The turnaround was extraordinary. Their very first new product, an affordable natural fruit yogurt, increased sales by over 50 per cent. Soon after they launched a low-sugar flavoured milk just for kids, creating an entirely new category. Within a year they were completely rejuvenating this company’s fortunes. And bringing pride and shared passion back to the corridors of their head office.
So how is it that a group of mums in a small regional market could outsmart experienced executives at a billion dollar corporation? Because we now live in a new era of commerce. And the rules of business have changed.
Truth is a potent business tool, not a fluffy cultural value.
In a world where every consumer can share their brand experience instantly and globally, it doesn’t matter how good your image is. If it doesn’t reflect the reality of your product or service, you’re toast.
Environmentally-conscious outdoor brand Patagonia tell their customers the absolute truth about the materials in their clothing. Like when they have to use plastic thread, for example. Critically, they also share how much that aggrieves them and what they’re doing to fix it. Sales continue to increase. Customer churn continues to decline.
Real innovation and growth come from looking inside, not out.
Stop asking consumers to solve your business problems. For enduring business growth in a world where truth beats image, look to the humans inside your company. Their passion and skill have enormous untapped commercial potential. You just have to ignite it with an authentic motive.
Tesla don’t ask consumers what they want before conceiving their market-making energy products. They use focus groups to refine products, not invent them.
Marketing is now an accelerant for the truth, not a replacement for it.
In a free market economy that is transparent, advertising can hasten the uptake of a product truth, but can no longer be a substitute for it.
Apple primarily advertise new products. And with very short media buys. The allure of their products is almost always based on new truth, so they can outsell rivals while spending a tenth of their ad budgets.
Oh, and that cow named Ugly? She was on a dairy farm I visited during the field research my company did to help that little dairy company rediscover their true purpose. A trip that really opened my eyes to the human factor in the complex world of FMCG.