“Never ask a barber if you need a haircut. The answer is usually yes.”
This well-known business saying is sometimes attributed to Warren Buffett, the Billionaire US investor.
But this modern proverb can be found in an article from 1972 and its roots can be traced back to 1834 ("Ask a barber how to make your hair grow and he will bid you shave it off.”) and probably before.
The saying is probably accurately attributed to being repeated by Buffett, who employs common sense in many of his principles. And we’d argue they’ve served him well.
The phrase is often used to remind business people that no matter who you are dealing with, remember to consider their area of expertise and motivation.
The same runs true for other examples: Never ask a painter if your house needs painting, and never ask a lawyer if you should sue a defendant.
I’m reminded of it every time I hear a business has appointed a specialist digital marketing agency to aid its marketing efforts.
You can almost hear the conversation,
‘How do we increase sales revenue from new customers?’, answered, ‘Erm. You need our digital solution’.
‘How do we increase distribution?’ answered, ‘Erm. You need our digital solution’.
‘How do we increase the equity in our value proposition to raise prices and therefore profitability? … answered, ‘Erm. You need our digital solution’.
You knew the answer before you asked the question.
It’s like going to the doctor and asking for the treatment to a self-diagnosed illness. Ignoring the cause just to remove the symptoms.
The doctor should ask why as many times as necessary to get to the root cause.
A case study in Why
We were recently approached by a new client that thought they ‘needed’ to improve their ‘social media’ to move them towards their goals.
When we enquired about the self-diagnosis we discovered somethings that led to a more effective marketing solution.
First, we asked 'why social media"'. The answer was their existing social media was not achieving their desired result.
We asked why. They said that they wanted to increase pull through of the product in a retail settings (on and off trade).
We asked why. They said they had some distribution channels that were under performing.
We asked why. They said because they are overwhelmed by dominant players in their category.
We asked why. They said that dozens of years of big spending brand campaigns had programmed their target audience to repurchase from habit rather than from seeking a better value proposition.
We asked why. They said consumers were unaware at point of sale that the product was new, award-winning or local, and that they weren’t sure how to ‘use’ it.
We asked how ubiquitous their distribution was. They said, not very. They have limited distribution across the state. They are aiming to grow distribution.
Now we knew the real challenge we could devise a solution.
We asked ourselves if social media alone could drive traffic to specific locations, overcome habit, educate and communicate a better value proposition and grow distribution.
If we were a ‘digital agency’ I’m pretty sure the answer would have been 'yes'.
But we’re a strategic first, media neutral full-service and integrated agency.
So, the answer was no.
The solution we proposed and implemented was a multi-disciplined channel support strategy: an off-line traditional approach combined with on-line solutions.
To push and pull through sales at existing channels in order to increase repeat orders and to support any new channels to improve initial sales critical mass.
The tactics then looked after themselves: We designed, and produced neck-tags for the bottles, shelf wobblers for the shelves of bottle shops and menu suggestions for the bars.
The neck-tags and menus communicated the brand story, and cocktail suggestions. The shelf wobblers communicated ‘new’, ‘award-winning’ and ‘West Australian’.
We also wrote, filmed, edited and published to social media a series of five videos showing the same cocktails being made.
Finally, we used the powerful demographic and geographic micro targeting tools built into Facebook Advertising. This allowed us to promote the videos in targeted nano campaigns around their top 10 distribution channels in the lead up to the peak seasonal Christmas / New Year period and beyond.
This meant that for very modest budgets we were able to stimulate awareness and traffic to the most valuable channels.
Commercial confidentiality prevents us detailing the spend or results.
We can say that the client had to urgently restock many distributers and ran impossibly low on available stock.
We can also say we’ve been retained to continue assisting with the ongoing sales growth of this new brand.
The conclusion of this case is ’never ask a social media agency if you need a social media campaign.’