Art & Commerce: The Power Of Choice

The temptation among marketers to try to do too much is lowering advertising’s success rate. Indeed, Copernicus, the Waltham, Mass.-based consulting firm, found that 84 percent of consumer and b-to-b marketing programs failed to create value for their organization.

What’s largely behind this trend is the difficulty marketers have making the hard choices that can set them up for success. If agencies are going to establish credibility with clients and deliver results that positively affect bottom lines, they’ll need to start applying more disciplined focus to what they do.

When a campaign is spread across too many communications channels, the economies of scale from media buying are lost, as is the opportunity to own a particular channel or create a media first. When spending is inefficient, there’s too little frequency, repetition and consistency, which weakens leverage with channels and suppliers.

Warren Buffett is legendary for sticking to a few fundamental investing principles when making decisions about his portfolio. Rather than buying and selling impulsively, he re.searches the market and focuses on a few key, high-probability events that are more likely to yield big, long-term gains—an approach he calls “focus investing.” Marketers and agencies would do well to research and focus their strategic efforts on a few key messages, audiences or media to drive results, rather than spread a campaign too thin or plan reactively within an ever-changing media landscape.

Without regular opportunities to connect with consumers—and by trying to target too many with blanket executions—a campaign will fail. Virgin Mobile U.K. attracted more customers when it chose to strictly define its audience as 16-24 year olds. While its competitive set continued to be mass market, Virgin Mobile realized it could be more profitable by being more specific. It kept communications relevant to young people and enjoyed an impressive return: Its market share within that demographic increased from 34 to 47 percent.

So many products vie to show off what good value they offer that consumers aren’t given a chance to learn how they’re truly different. Not focusing the message across particular communications channels can cause a brand to be unclear about what it stands for. Procter & Gamble positioned its Gain laundry detergent based on its distinctive fragrance, and the strategy has helped build a small but loyal following while increasing sales to more than $1 billion annually, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

Focus investing is what smart marketers do. Absolut vodka mostly buys back-page magazine ads. T-Mobile has consistently leveraged the popularity of its “My Faves” feature. And who can doubt the wisdom of Altoids sticking to its “curiously strong” proposition?

The Buffett approach to investing helps facili-tate choices that, in turn, differentiate products. This offers brands the best chance of being seen, remembered and known for something when customers are about to make a purchasing decision.