Does your marketing provide a service?

Your marketing should provide a service, not just seek to sell more stuff. This is the thought-provoking proposal made by Alan Mitchell in a recent edition of Marketing. He argues that "Advertising is a product, like any other. It has no exemption from the requirement every product should meet: that of value to the consumer." In this post, I look at some of Alan's examples of "useful" brand marketing, and suggest what this could mean for your brand.

Example 1: Volkswagen GTI US launch

Alan's first example is the US launch of the new GTI, VW's sporty "hot hatchback". The VW team created the Real Racing GTi iPhone app as the main launch activity, rather than a classic advertising based program. The best game performers had the chance to win a customised GTi. And the app made booking a test drive easy. The app raced to the top of the app charts in the USA and is claimed to driven an 80% boost in sales leads and test drives.

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Example 2: Nike Training  Club

Nike were a pioneer in offering services to "augment" their product. This started with the Nike stores. They then created the Nike+iPod offer to help you track your runs, that I posted on here, back in 2006. Now they also offer the Nike Training club, which gives you the services of a professional coach for free. Alan reports that it has been downloaded millions of times and that 100 million minutes of coaching have been used. This is an impressive number of app-driven GRPs, and for what was apparently less than the cost of a producing a single 30-second TV advert. And this form of brand exposure also works better than advertising, according to Nike's VP of Digital Sport, Stefan Olander: "The better the service, the stronger the connection". 

So, what about your brand? How do you go about thinking through what services you could offer?

1. What service could your brand offer?

This is the easy bit, if you have defined your market in benefit terms, rather than product terms, as we help teams do in our brand strategy work. In the case of Nike, the market could be defined as "inspiring and helping people achieve their fitness goals". The VW GTi could be "Exciting driving entertainment". In both cases, this opens up service opportunities for the brand, related to personal fitness and driving entertainment.

2. Is your service superior?

This is the trickier bit. It's one thing to brainstorm service ideas for your brand. But will these be any better than the current offer from service specialists?
You need real added value to get decent reach with your service idea.
In the case of the GTi and Nike services, the answer seems to be "yes". The racing game was a very cool one, that many people download and played and it connected well with the brand's target audience. And I think the Nike service had limited competition in the online personal coaching space.
In contrast, Knorr, for example, could offer a recipe service app. But would it be better than the avalanche of similar apps, such as Jamie Oliver's 30" meal maker? Ryvita could offer a weight management service, but would it be better than Weight Watchers?

3. Are you serious about service?

How serious you are about being a service business? Unilever launched Lynx/Axe barbers shops, Bertolli sandwich stores and a chain of tea shops trying to compete with Starbucks. But they struggled to make money, and closed these down.
In today's digital world, services can be created without the capital costs and complexity of "bricks and mortar" stores. But sustained investment if time and talent is still needed to compete with companies for whom service is their core business, whether they be video game makers, fitness clubs or cook book publishers. Nike are in this for the long run, as shown by having a senior dude like Stefan Olander in charge of digital sport.

In conclusion, the idea of brand marketing providing a service is potentially powerful, provided you have the right brand and business model to offer real added value versus the incumbent service specialists.