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Deep Dive

Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland on why marketers are wasting 75% of their powers; top CMOs on how Bunnings, Woolies, Atlassian and Four Pillars Gin are saving the world

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

1 December 2020 4min read

CommBank, Xero and Simply Energy marketers join Mi3's Paul McIntyre on the CMO Couch this week.

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

1 December 2020 4min read

Ogilvy's Rory Sutherland, renowned behavioural scientist and vape-toting macro brain, says marketers are leaving most of the money on the table by placing too much faith in 'rational' marketing strategies. He questions why the rational business people, e.g. accounts, always get to run the rule over creative ideas and never the other way around. Meanwhile, top marketers from CommBank, Xero and Simply Energy give big, emotional kudos to the brands that have helped them power through Covid. It's all in the series final of A Show Called Brandin'.
Check out the fifth and final episode of A Show Called Brandin' below:

 

Brought to you by LinkedIn, The Behaviour Report and Mi3, A Show Called Brandin’ looks at brands in culture, creativity and commerce. Each episode explores one of five principles of growth identified by LinkedIn’s B2B Institute fellows, Les Binet and Peter Field. This one delves into emotional versus rational messaging.

 

Who put rational people in charge?

B2B marketers in Australia and New Zealand are twice as likely to use rational messaging than emotional, according to research by LinkedIn.

Big mistake, says The Behaviour Report’s Dan Gregory, because business is emotional too – and advertising that appeals to the heart fills the funnel with new and out-market customers.

On the flip side, “there’s nothing like putting your hand in your pocket to shift that focus from the heart to the head,” he suggests.

“The bigger the purchase and the closer to the point of purchase we are, the more proof points we seem to need. Rational appeals work best for in-market customers: they’re already interested and already paying attention; we just need to tip them into a sale.”

But Ogilvy UK vice chairman, Rory Sutherland, takes issue with the very concept of ‘rational’ business decision-making. He argues B2B marketers that focus only on what they can measure are shooting themselves in both feet - and at least one hand.

The founder of Ogilvy’s behavioural science practice thinks the whole notion of business rationality is founded on a fallacy. He dubs his theory ‘Sutherland’s Law’.

That is: “In any kind of business or institutional setting, creative people have to submit all their thinking for approval by ‘rational people’.

“You take your creative idea to a bunch of accountants who do a cost benefit analysis, a feasibility study and demand to see a model of how it will work. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can provide a useful check,” says Sutherland.

“What annoys me is that it never happens the other way around. If you get a bunch of rational people with a spreadsheet making a decision on the basis of some mathematical model, they never take it to the creative people for a second opinion. It is much easier to get fired for being irrational than it is for being unimaginative,” says Sutherland, warming to the theme and throwing wild shapes with his vape. “And I think that is a problem.”

 

Rational marketing risks unsafe assumptions

While some research suggests marketers may need to pivot towards rational messaging to close a deal, Sutherland is not entirely convinced.

“The phrase ‘rational’ I find very difficult, because what it means is ‘capable of being rationalised’ and we use rational to mean ‘optimal’ or even, ‘right’,” says Sutherland. He borrows a mantra from Chris Graves, who runs Ogilvy’s Centre for Behavioural Science in New York: “Just because something makes sense, doesn’t mean it is true.”

Cleaning teeth is a shining example: “People say it’s for dental health. But when you look at when people brush their teeth, first thing in the morning, certainly before they go on a date, you realise that deep down, it’s much more about fear of bad breath than it is long term dental maintenance,” says Sutherland.

“If it is really about dental health, why is 99% of the world’s toothpaste flavoured with mint?” he asks.

“So these assumptions are often unsafe. We love to rationalise things, because if we can make sense of something, we treat that as the whole explanation – and we stop looking any further.”

 

Build fame, then provide an excuse to buy

Asked what role emotion plays in the B2B sales cycle, Sutherland, a Fellow of the LinkedIn-funded B2B Institute, chooses a broader question to answer.

“I would make a case for wider indiscriminate probabilistic fame among B2B brands, because it does have a big bearing on people’s confidence in decision making,” says Sutherland.

“At the very simplest level, no one can buy from you if they don’t know you exist. Fame just increases your exposure to upside opportunity: People return your CEO's phone calls. People come to you with good ideas; people want to work for you - all that kind of stuff,” he suggests, vape carving arcs across the screen.

So indiscriminate fame is still valuable, and I think B2B people get obsessed with measurability and quantification. The danger is, if you do only what you can quantify, you are forced to effectively use only about 25% of the power of marketing,” says Sutherland.

All customers really need in terms of ‘rationalisation’ he suggests, paraphrasing David Ogilvy, is “a bit of an excuse to explain their behaviour to others”.

 

Why CMOs rate Woolies, Bunnings, Atlassian and Four Pillars Gin

Top marketers on the CMO couch need few excuses to go back for more of their favourite brands.

For CommBank CMO Monique Macleod, that’s Bunnings, a love affair ignited during Covid. “I’m there practically every week.”

Meanwhile, the pandemic reignited her passion for Woolies, whom she awards the unofficial Macleod prize for ‘most improved customer experience’. “I’d drifted away, but they opened up a new store close by to us and the experience, particularly this year with Covid challenges, was sensational,” she says.

For Rachael Powell, Chief Customer Officer at Xero, Melbourne’s lockdown has brought life’s essentials to the fore: Lululemon for leisurewear, Spotify for aural accompaniment to exercise, and spin class masters Studio Sweat. Plus some obscure sports brand from Richmond called the Tigers.

Also based in Melbourne, Andrea Bernard, General Manager, Marketing and Sales at Simply Energy, says one brand has helped her survive four months of lockdown: “It’s Four Pillars Gin for me.”

 

B2B brand heroes

When it comes to B2B brands, CommBank’s Macleod says those that solve specific pain points, “the Xeros and the Squares”, stand out for her. But she takes the opportunity to plug CommBank’s award-winning Vonto app as the best new business innovation to hit the market of late.

“It’s an app for small businesses that combines data from all channels that they are engaged in – from their accounting software, their Facebook feed – and curates them into daily insights.”

Xero’s Rachael Powell says innovation within collaboration tools is taking the stress out of her business day.

“I remember when you would send a spreadsheet back and forth as you were doing budgeting – and you could never work out which was the last version. Now you can have 15 people working on the same document, so I think that has been incredibly innovative,” she says, tipping the hat to Australia’s Atlassian as much as any of the big guns.

For Simply Energy’s Andrew Bernard, Uber is doing the business. “It’s a seamless for expenses, you can get an Uber from wherever, which is especially useful when traveling internationally. They have done heaps to tailor their offering to the business market.”

For the Melburnites’ picks for brands with most improved CX during and post-Covid, plus to gauge all three CMOs’ powers of brand recall under intense pressure from inquisitor-in-chief, Paul McIntyre, watch the final episode of the current Brandin’ series.

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By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

1 December 2020 4min read