Making Stuff That Matters with Tim Manners

Tim Manners

Tim Manners, author of Relevance: Making Stuff That Matters, has discovered the solution to the marketing "woes of many brands." Manners wants companies to stop worrying about demographics, fads and cutting-edge advertising and instead "focus on relevance." In this interview, Manners unearths the secret to making, marketing and selling relevant products.

In your book you highlight three truths: demographics are dead, fashion is passê and advertising "smells funny." Why do you believe this?

All three issues—demographics, fashion and advertising—have a common denominator in the advent of television as the dominant medium of marketing. Television was so powerful as a medium that it overwhelmed just about everything else that happened in marketing.

In Relevance, you talk about some misused social networking tools by Al Gore in his campaign. The Obama campaign was attributed with its successes partially because of its success with online communities and Web 2.0. Why do you think Obama’s marketing strategy was different?

Obama’s use of social networks worked brilliantly as a fundraising device, but during the campaign he basically used them as a kind of online ATM machine and little more. He seems to be trying to transition into using them as a tool of governance, to gain support for his programs and encourage community service, which will be interesting to watch.

His marketing strategy worked because it was a 50-state strategy with the most relevant message (change) that ultimately had broad appeal across all groups. Rednecks for Obama! He paid people the respect of asking for their votes. Most important, he never wavered from his message (both Clinton and McCain did).

You highlight case studies of companies that have alienated consumers by communicating messages through exclusivity in their marketing campaigns. How can companies send a different message that makes them more relevant for more audiences?

Sometimes efforts to target a particular demographic group backfire and end up offending them (American Airlines). This goes back to the issue of marketing by demographics and the limiting effect that can have. The key is to understand people as people, and understand that we all pretty much want the same things—quality, value and most of all respect (Dell).

A related example includes Dunkin’ Donuts. You mention that Dunkin’ Donuts veered from its initial marketing strategy to try and take on Starbucks. After surveying its customers, a question to the effect of, "Do you get by on how you look?" Dunkin’ Donuts went back to its initial look and feel. Why do you think this strategy worked, and why was it successful?

This is a classic case of remembering what made you relevant to begin with. Dunkin’ is doing well because of that and Starbucks is struggling for the same reason.

With consideration to the economic climate, your book is more pertinent than ever. Relevance talks about making stuff that matters, so in today’s economy, which products matter?

Everybody is scrambling to lower prices, which is important. But there’s not nearly as much focus on value, which is what people really want and need. What does value mean anyway—it’s not just some combination of price and quality. It’s also important not only to offer value, but make people feel valued (Newman’s Own).