March 14, 2010

Pullin’ a Godin: Behold the Cheeseburger POV

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Practicing Metaphor Engineer

Looks like it’s over for us marketing strategists.

Now I’m not saying that there’s no more need for marketing strategy; if you look at the anemic brands of most banks, airlines and Web 2.0 startups, you’ll see that the need for marketing is growing faster than Rush Limbaugh at a cheesecake bake-off.

But the opportunity to develop a revolutionary new marketing strategy may have passed. Sure, we marketers can still develop new tactics based on new mediums and new markets, but the big picture strategies have apparently all been done. Even worse, they’re now being recycled…

This dawned on me while teaching competitive strategies in my integrated marketing course at UCLA Extension. Although I’m quoting different marketing experts and their theories, I found myself repeating the same ideas disguised as different metaphors.

For example, in the 1976 classic “Marketing Warfare,” Jack Trout & Al Ries recommended that “a good flanking move must be made into an uncontested area.” Nineteen years later, W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne recommended the exact same strategy, but opted for a nature metaphor with their “Blue Ocean Strategy.” A couple of years after that, Marty Neumeier’s “Zag” tapped his design experience and recommended “look for the white space.” Three bestselling marketing books. Same basic idea. Different metaphors.

Then there’s the current reigning king of marketing metaphors, Seth Godin

Godin is an extremely savvy marketer who’s cranked out an entire shelf of business bestsellers. His method? Devising wildly creative metaphors — sneezers, purple cows, meatball sundaes and big red fezzes — for basic marketing concepts. Three of his books extol the virtues of being “remarkable,” which is his way of saying “be good and different,” which is to marketing what “profit” is to financiers. Common sense stated in an uncommon way, resulting in millions of books sold. Godin is the Rachael Ray of business lit.

Since I found myself wading knee-deep in metaphors before a score of marketing students, I decided to show them how they, too, can contrive their own. I asked one student to pick an item, any item. He suggested a cheeseburger. (In these late night classes, food is always high on the mind.) And right there in class, the Cheeseburger POV (Proposition o’ Value) was born…

The Cheeseburger POV: The Exclusive Recipe…

Your basic American cheeseburger consists of a meat patty layered with cheese, an obligatory slice of lettuce, and a bun. And like a cheeseburger, a good value proposition is greater than the sum of its parts:

  • The meat: This is the core product benefit, which is what consumers primarily want. In a car, that would be the drivetrain that takes them from point A to point B. But a drivetrain is not terribly exciting by itself, so…
  • The cheese: You layer your core product with features like leather seats and a killer stereo and xenon headlights. The more cheese, the tastier the product, and the more you can skimp on the expensive meat.
  • The lettuce: This is the token nod to nutrition that enables consumers to say, hey, we’re eating healthy! In marketing, this is the corporate social responsibility element that’s the trend du jour. Think of the hybrid technology used to greenwash an SUV.
  • The bun: Then there’s the styling, design and other fluffy branding elements that hold it all together.

Just apply this Cheeseburger POV, and you’ll have a product that satisfies the consumer and commands a tasty margin. (Ever see what a hybrid SUV costs?) If you crave even more profit, just ask your customer if they want “fries with that” (an extended warranty). The Cheeseburger POV can help you sketch out an idea for anything from an ecommerce site to a coffee shop to an MBA program.

Now it’s your turn to pull a Godin…

Anyone can coin a marketing metaphor — go ahead, give it a shot here. To help you get started, I’ve posted a list of suggested terms below. What do you think they represent?

Bacon Bits
Dodo Birds
Shrubbery
Tabernacle Choirs
Lederhosen
Duct Tape
Baba Ghanoush
Spackle

Just take one of those, apply it to some basic concepts from a marketing textbook, and expand it to 200 pages (large type, lots of leading). Voila! — you’ve got the basis of a business bestseller. Easy, right?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to concoct my own hit book — and find a late-night burger joint.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

5 Responses

  1. Freddy: Don’t forget the Special Sauce! My friend Joe Pulizzi at Junta42 looks to engaging content marketing – the discussions you have as a company/brand with your customers — as a ‘secret’ or ‘special’ sauce.
    More broadly put, it’s the differentiator, the zag, the thing that truly makes your burger different from the rest of the QSR offerings.

    As for a late-night burger joint in SoCal, there must be an In-and-Out within a ten-minute drive!

  2. Keith: OMG, how could I forget the special sauce?

  3. Freddy,
    You have a new follower…….
    just make sure those burgers ordered “to go” get wrapped in earth friendly material.

    Freddy’s comment: Would you like me to supersize it?

  4. But all these guys tell us that old marketing doesn’t work and we have to buy their books about cheeseburgers to learn about new marketing. What shock to learn that the thing they are best at marketing is themselves. :-)

    BTW, nice company name…

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