Book Review: Maverick Marketing

May 17, 2010

In Maverick Marketing: Trailride into the Wild West of New Marketing, Tom Hayes invites readers on a gallop through the new west of innovative marketing campaigns, to help generate new ideas to stand out from the herd. Written for creative types and marketing strategists on both the agency and client sides of the fence, the book highlights edgy tactics and concepts that have enhanced brand success. Although the examples come primarily from b2c campaigns, b2b marketers may pick up some useful creative ideas here as well.

Maverick Marketing book reviewHayes, Managing Partner and Principal at the New England Consulting Group, draws on his experience working with midsize to large clients across healthcare, consumer packaged goods, retail, energy and other sectors to illustrate both the theory and real-world examples of trailblazing marketing campaigns and practices. Along the way, he explains why maverick marketing is becoming essential, citing research from Yankelovich that 60% of adults say they feel overwhelmed by commercial messages, are interested in skipping or blocking ads, and feel the volume of marketing  is “out of control.” In this landscape, maverick marketing practices are required to reach consumers in a manner that will be welcomed rather than viewed as just another advertising intrusion.

Traditional television advertising, for example, comes under the whip. A study by the Association of National Advertisers revealed that three-fourths of large marketers believe their television advertising is less effective now than it was just a few years ago. Another study from McKinsey concluded that traditional TV advertising has lost a third of its effectiveness over the last 20 years. Hayes concludes that “media, and particularly television, is taking on the role of General George Custer of the Little Big Horn, glorified as a past hero…but under attack.” He notes that going beyond reaching to actually engaging consumers is a much more complex and difficult task than traditional advertising, an observation that applies equally well to b2c and b2b marketers.

Hayes notes that as the six-gun was the great equalizer of the Old West, putting small farmers and townsfolk on equal footing with the biggest, baddest cowboys, so the Internet today significantly equalizes the marketing power of small firms with large global brands. Hayes writes that “Many marketing experts…concur that a brand should not even contemplate national advertising without a $20 million war chest for television and $10 million in print. This creates an effective barrier to entry to many marketers and startups. In contrast, with the Net, tiny niches and slivers of segments can be reached in an affordable manner for smaller ‘mavericks.'” The New England Consulting Group even coined a name for this phenomenon: “Netralization,” the equalization of marketing power between big and small firms enabled by the Web. And as with the six-shooter, the results can even be fatal; online music services like iTunes killed giant music retailer Tower Records, and NetFlix has wounded–perhaps mortally, time will tell–video rental chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video.

In the author’s analysis, a maverick marketing program “must include at least three of seven key components: marketing innovation, consumer engagement, buzz or public relations, new media usage, a viral aspect, promotion, or opt-in marketing. Tying this back to his Old West theme, Hayes notes that pioneers learned there were two ways to hunt: you could aggressively march through the forest hoping to flush your game (traditional marketing), or you could, like the Indians, study the feeding habits of your prey, set out bait, and then wait for the target to come to you (maverick marketing).

Even if Hayes didn’t share so many valuable marketing insights here, the book may be worth buying just for its trivia value. For example, after noting the ubiquity of brand names Motorola and Gatorade on the sidelines of every NFL game, the author points out that “Motorola does not even make headsets, and Gatorade is not necessarily in those green buckets.” And there’s much more:

  • Viagra was originally developed as a heart medicine, but when its most notable, er, side effect, became apparent, its marketing was reoriented. Erecticle dysfunction was not a medically acknowledged disorder at that point, but it become one due to Pfizer’s marketing efforts.
  • Research has shown that the average lifetime value of a customer acquired through search is roughly 70% higher than for customers acquired through other channels.
  • Although most consumer marketing is geared toward younger age cohorts, retirees control two-thirds of all the wealth in the U.S.
  • Coca Cola failed as a cough syrup before becoming the world’s most popular soft drink. Post-Its were the result of research into extra-strength adhesive tape, and Kevlar was originally developed as a material for panty hose.

Intentionally or not, Hayes hilariously points out the hypocrisy and outright stupidity of many in the “green” movement with reference to Ben & Jerry’s and, most entertainingly, Whole Foods: “Whole Foods smartly (?) takes the offense (with regard to not stocking live lobsters in its stores) and wraps itself in a flag of `ethical sourcing.’ It utilized a study from a European Animal Authority, think PETA, which indicates that lobsters may have feelings and can learn. This is despite the great weight of evidence from biologists and oceanographers, from numerous prestigious marine science universities, who point out that lobsters have no brains and only an insect-crude nervous system…In expressing its `animal compassion,’ (by selling only frozen lobsters, which are often sourced from large, migratory lobster breeders rather than small lobster operations), Whole Foods’ action very well have the unintended impact of harming the entire species. In fact in Maine, it is illegal to sell these ‘breeders,’ which are most likely to be sold, frozen, by Whole Foods.”

Hayes maintains his Old West theme throughout the book, frequently illustrating his points by throwing in references to wagon trains, life on the prairie, square dances, saloons, Boot Hill, the town marshal, horseshoes, lariats, sarsaparilla, cookouts, the general store, smoke signals, the open plains, etc. In the hands of a lesser writer, this style could quickly become irritating, but Hayes is deft enough to weave these references through his narrative in a manner than illuminates and entertains but never annoys. Each chapter helpfully concludes with a list of “trail markers,” the key points and takeaways from the chapter.

The book has a few faults. The sections on social networking are dated. He states at one point that “no ‘promotional consideration given’ notification is required on the Net,” which is no longer true. As a byproduct of being continually updated and produced using print-on-demand technology rather than traditional publishing, the book contains numerous typos. Only 22% of consumers read blogs (the actual figure exceeds 70%). Most bizarre is the claim that Google receives 25.7 million unique views per week; the true figure is close to 1 billion per day.

Still, such minor errors aside, Maverick Marketing is an entertaining, insightful and worthwhile read for any marketer in search of strategies for success on the new frontier of participative marketing.

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