The Marketing Musings of Donna Karan

May 31, 2010

When you think of Donna Karan, you think of fashion, right? Right, but Karan, known most for her Donna Karan, DKNY and Urban Zen brands, should also be known for something else:  Marketing savvy.

Donna Karan: CMO Marketing Advice

At a recent M50 CMO Summit I attended, Donna Karan talked at length about her business philosophy and passions. And, while she wasn’t talking directly about Marketing, she had some important things to say about it.

Marketing Musings — Donna Karan

1.  Work Where the Consumer Is – Donna started her talk by stating that she spent her formative working years working in a clothing store. There, she could observe consumers firsthand in all clothing dimensions:  looking at clothes, trying them on, walking in them, doing mirror evaluations, etc.

She literally lived with her consumers day in and day out — and developed an instinct for consumers and what they wanted. Here’s how she responded to the final question in the Q&A session:

What one piece of advice would you give CMO’s ? She replied: “Understand your consumer.”

Understanding Consumer Behavior: Critical to Marketing ROI

2.  Celebrate Artistry & Creativity - Of course artistry and creativity are central to the fashion business and Donna Karan’s success. But what about Marketing? Marketing is moving toward greater measurement rigor and increasing use of ROI metrics, as discussed in “The Genetic Markers of High Advertising ROI Brands” — so her advice is timely and important.

Artistry and creativity are also central to Marketing success; artistry and creativity are the wellspring and driving force for the transformation of mundane Marketing strategies into engaging and exciting Marketing — and terrific ROI results. CMO’s would be smart to remember this when they’re reviewing their metrics and dashboards.

3.  Look for the “Void” - What’s the “void?” The void for Donna Karan is the big unmet consumer need. She described it in almost mystical bright white light terms; the void was something she could see, focus, and lock onto, with laser like intensity. No focus groups or 1:1 interviews, no satisfaction studies, no product testing, no consumer research of any kind.

Sometimes you need to trust your gut instinct about what you need or want that’s missing in the market (for more on marketing innovation, see my post ““Leading Your Brand Beyond Marketing.”). If you’ve lived and breathed a business for some time, your gut instincts are often right on target–so trust them. Donna Karan trusted hers, and built a great brand from doing so.

Innovative Thinking Leads to Robust Marketing Plans

4.  Use World Cultures as Inspiration – World cultures are the inspiration for many of Donna Karan’s designs–particularly in her Urban Zen Foundation work. Donna talked about her interest and love of Balinese culture, along with the aborigines in Australia.

There’s an important learning for CMO’s here. It’s the power of sourcing your Marketing ideas from everywhere. Search and reapplication, best practices, whatever you call it, identifying great marketing ideas–wherever they’re created–and exporting them around the world is one of the smartest, cheapest ways for CMO’s to build the business.

Global Thinking Expands Marketing Capabilities

5. Make a Difference on the Outside and the Inside - With Urban Zen, Donna Karan focused increasingly on meeting both the external needs of consumers, but also their internal needs. She believes consumers want to be “conscious consumers” and engage with brands that make a difference socially.

As the world becomes more open and transparent, consumers are more networked and up to date than ever before. They often know the good and bad things about your brand before you do–and they increasingly know your company’s position on a range of economic, social and environmental issues.

In this environment, it’s increasingly important for brands to stand not just for an important functional benefit, but to also stand for being a brand that consumers can believe in–whether that’s being environmentally friendly, etc.  CMO’s need to define not just the functional benefits for their corporate brands–but important emotional ones as well.

Success = Understanding and Practicing Marketing Fundamentals

What struck me most about Donna Karan was that she really “gets” Marketing, even though she’s not a trained Marketer by profession. And this just confirms for me what I’ve always believed: most successful people inherently understand and practice the fundamentals of great Marketing.

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What Consumers Don’t Like About Your Advertising – And 5 Ways to Fix It

March 22, 2010

What do consumers think about advertising? Is it broken? As I noted in a recent post, “The 5 Truths of TV Advertising Effectiveness,” single source and syndicated ad effectiveness studies generally line up on the side of advertising continuing to be effective. But, as they say in NASA speak: “Houston, we have a problem.” And the problem is that consumers are increasingly telling us they are fatigued by and distrustful of advertising. How should brands respond? 

Advertising Viewed Thru Anthropology

The Associated Press and Context Based Research Group recently published an intriguing report: “A New Model for Communication:  Studying the Deep Structure of Advertising and News Consumption.” The researchers used cultural anthropology methods to follow consumers from around the world throughout the day, observe their real world media behaviors, and question them about their attitudes toward news and advertising. This was an opportunity to go beyond hard numbers, to get insight into how consumers are thinking and feeling about advertising as a medium. 

TV Advertising: Omnipresent to Consumers

First, the news. Consumers feel bombarded by it, particularly the daily snippets and sound-bytes that provide basic facts and updates. Consumers felt these are necessary, but not sufficient. They also want the back-story behind the facts and to understand relevant “spin-off” stories. In short, they wanted news that provides depth and context. 

What Consumers Say is Wrong with Advertising

Moving from news to ads, consumers expressed feelings of fatigue and distrust. There is just too much of it. It seems that if an ad can be served somewhere, it will be, whether consumers want it or not. And how does this leave consumers feeling? Taken advantage of. 

Further, because of both its ubiquity and uni-directional nature, consumers are left feeling they are not in control. While advertising has never been seen as a high trust medium, the above factors work together to exacerbate the feeling that advertisers just can’t be trusted. 

But, Advertising as a Necessary and Even Useful Medium

The learnings from the news world are also learnings that apply to advertising: consumers want more than to just be bombarded by advertising everywhere they go. Consumers recognize the importance of advertising and, in fact, even value the information and entertainment value that (some of) it provides. 

And, they like sharing valuable information, some of which comes from advertising, with their personal networks. The research showed that consumers want to clear the clutter, regain control of the advertising information they receive, and reestablish trust with brands. This is reflected in how they actually consume media: they encounter ads, get over-saturated, investigate brands and information, and ultimately, share perspectives with peers when relevant. 

Consumers Trust Online Social Networks

5 Ways Marketers Can “Fix” Their Advertising

So, how can Marketers respond to consumers needs for an overhaul in the advertising environment, all the while respecting the fact that good advertising continues to work in building brands and business results? 

  1. Deliver More Engaging Ads – Research shows that ads which are relevant, persuasive, entertaining and emotionally engaging work to build brands and sales results. Research has consistently shown that creative quality continues to be the dominant driver in marketing communications success. And the AP research reinforces that consumers actually like and value top flight advertising creative.
  2. Deliver Ads in Relevant Content – Consumers really do pay more attention to ads when they are more relevant. And relevance is higher when you place your brands ad in a program which has relevant context.
  3. Create a Conversation – Consumers are looking for more two-way communication. While Forrester research shows that less than 1/4 of consumers will actually participate in conversations with your brand, there is a substantial group who will. They want to share their opinions and feel like they matter.
  4. Make Sharing Easy – Many consumers want to share relevant information and opinions with their personal networks. Brands need to make it easy to do so. Facebook Connect and other tools will increasingly enable consumers to share their views on brands with friends and others as they traverse the web.
  5. Be Honest, Open and Transparent – The AP research shows that consumers want to re-establish trust with advertising and the brands behind it. To do so, your brand must be honest, open and transparent. Brands that tell it like it is, listen to consumers, and deliver on promises are more likely to rebuild trust in their advertising.

So, it seems advertising still works despite the shortcomings of the current advertising environment. This is an opportunity for brands. Brands which directly address consumers concerns about advertising have the potential to provide useful information, regain consumer trust, and build long term relationships. 

Perhaps brands should even go so far as to tell consumers how they’re going to behave with respect to advertising. This would be a good first step in letting consumers know they’ve been heard and that brands are responding to the message. 

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