book review

Marketer's Bookshelf: Demographics, Green, Relevance


When it comes to using demographics to reach customers, marketers tend to be lazy thinkers. At least, that's Kelly McDonald's premise in How to Market to People Not Like You: "Know It or Blow It" Rules for Reaching Diverse Customers (Wiley), and she pulls plenty of surprising nuggets from the 2010 U.S. Census data to prove it. When marketers can push through the similarities of any given group, and find what's different, she argues, it's possible to tap into markets more effectively.

For a Texas Toyota dealer, for example, it's not enough to know that Hispanic men buy plenty of trucks, or even how many Hispanic men live in Texas. But by using the knowledge that 74% of all Texas construction workers are Hispanic men, "we targeted Hispanic construction workers, knowing that if they were convinced the Tundra was tough, durable and fit their needs, the word would spread through the rest of the Hispanic community." As a result, "Texas was the top market in the U.S. for the Tundra launch."



McDonald, president of McDonald Marketing in Dallas, specializes in multicultural marketing and consumer values, and peppers this book with examples of how to sell motorcycles to women, salads to men, and understanding how a mom who home-schools may respond differently to one who doesn't. And while the easy-to-skim book offers insight into all kinds of marketing divisions -- rural vs. metro; military vs. civilian, even Vegans vs. meat-eaters -- her best examples touch on the astonishing recent changes in the Hispanic market.

Pinpointing key differences among immigrant groups, she makes important distinctions between getting a brand Latino-ready -- such as having Spanish-speaking customer service reps, versus Latino-friendly -- and making changes that truly welcome Hispanic customers, like expanding business hours and having more chairs and a few toys in waiting rooms. (Latino customers are more likely to bring kids and family members with them on errands.)

The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler) also challenges plenty of conventional wisdom. While many claim marketing expertise about reaching the green consumer, author Jacquelyn A. Ottman -- an occasional MediaPost contributor and head of J. Ottman Consulting in New York -- is perhaps one of the most thoughtful observers of just how mainstream Green has become. What was once a market segment has become a national ethos, and Ottman is masterful at explaining the many ways mainstream brands try -- and often fail -- to capitalize on this increasingly complex value.

Addressing both the generational differences in consumers' approach to the environment and their growing skepticism, this book is full of examples of companies that have gotten it right -- including Timberland, Starbucks and Method, as well as Nissan, Procter & Gamble and Kenmore.

Marketers will especially like the checklists at the end of each chapter, the chapter with additional resources, and even the long section of endnotes. (One of her themes is that authenticity and transparency are critical to successfully communicating about the environment -- hats off to her for her careful documentation.)

We're a little late on reviewing Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant, by David A. Aaker (Jossey-Bass), which bowed in January, but I didn't want to miss the chance to recommend it. Aaker, vice chairman of Prophet Brand Strategy, has written a thoughtful, meaty (if sometimes laborious) look at how hard companies must work to keep brands relevant. Instead of just dissing the clunkers -- such as Crocs, Yugo, Segway, P&G's Olestra -- he spends enough time explaining how marketers misread trends and research that practitioners will profit from those missteps. And while there are a few well-worn examples (the Chrysler minivan, Saturn) there are plenty that most readers won't be familiar with, such as India's Tata and Japan's Muji. Chapter 7, Evaluation, offers a discipline for sizing up new markets that will help cut through the too-much-data problem that plagues the industry, to ask the really important questions: Is there a rosy-picture bias? A gloomy-picture bias? Is the market too small? Does it fit our strategy? And can we compete and win?

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