Try taking your eyes off the road and thinking about the destination

marketing direction[Image courtesy of Emma Dermott at Flickr Creative Commons]

Let’s play an association game.

I’ll give you a word, and see what’s the first thing that comes into your mind. No need to think about it too hard – just let the association pop up all by itself. 

Ready? Here’s the word: 


So what was the first thing you thought of? Road? Car? Burning rubber? The squeal of tyres on the road as you brake? Struggling to loosen the wheel nuts as you change a flat tyre? Or maybe changing a bicycle tyre? Or a spare tyre (in the boot or around your waist after the excesses of Christmas)? 

How about this? Pregnancy test.

Yes, that’s right, pregnancy test – or more accurately, the smile on a couple’s faces when they discover that the result is positive.

And if you’re thinking that has nothing to do with tyres, then you’re exactly right. But it didn’t stop Michelin including it in a TV advert last year with the tagline When it matters most.

The characters in the ad are all travelling to see loved ones, having received messages (Can you come home? / Max is homesick.) on their mobile phones. And so they drop what they’re doing and head home to be with their nearest and dearest – carried there safely, of course, by the latest high-tech Michelin tyres. 

If you think about it, it could just as easily have been an advert for a mobile phone company. Same story, same characters, same tagline. With some tweaking, it could have been about private medical cover. Or a helpline. Or a credit card. 

Or just about anything.

Because the advert isn’t about the product. It’s about an entirely different, abstract story that has no direct connection with what the company is selling. And whether it’s Michelin or Bridgestone, I’m sure the husband will get safely home to his wife to celebrate the good news.

Looking beyond the obvious

It’s not just tyres or mobile phones that this applies to – it’s absolutely everything. Whatever you think you’re selling, you’re not. If you take a closer look, you’ll see that it’s the knock-on effect that you’re really selling.

Not the what, but they how. 

Technology is a great example of this, as I’ve recently been reminded again. I’ve had several discussions in the last few weeks with people who’ve developed some really cool (watch out when you hear that word) solutions. Not to knock them – they’re genius in their way, and as a closet geek, I find myself fascinated by the technology. 

But swapping my techie hat for my marketing one, I know that most people don’t care. They really don’t. 

Business decision makers want a solution that gets the job done faster, keeps costs down, eases operations and gets one up on the competition. They also want something that steers a middle course between cutting-edge and tried-and-trusted. 

So the what is data farms, and servers, and websites that are responsive. Intranets with dashboards that let them slice and dice the numbers. And maybe it’s all built on Java, or node.js or PHP, or Ruby or something else. 

But they don’t care about the what.

They care about how it will enable business, let them make more sales, serve their customers better, scale up quickly, and have information at their fingertips so they can make better decisions faster. How it will make them and their employees feel better about coming to work, and how they’ll feel when they’re giving their customers a better experience. 

One step back, two steps forward

So here’s another association game for you. Whatever it is that you do, or whatever it is that you sell, take a step back.

  • What’s the story around it? 
  • What emotions does it evoke? 
  • How will people use it? 
  • Who will they be with, and will they share the experience? 
  • What possibilities does it open up?
  • Can you link it to a dream or aspiration?
  • Is it possible to give your product or service a personality? Can you reflect that in the way you talk about it? 
  • What’s the downside of not taking action? (Nobody likes the feeling of FOMO – fear of missing out.)

Everybody likes to feel good about themselves and the choices they make – just like our technology BDM. They want to be happier, more connected and have more friends. They want to work less and play more, or if that’s not possible, then to feel that work is more like play. 

Anything you can do to plug into their hopes and aspirations will create a stronger connection with them.

And if you can persuade them that you’ll be with them when it matters most, you’ll become the go-to company for when it does.