Whenever I’m about to launch a marketing campaign with a client, I always tell them a personal anecdote regarding the East of England Coop’s ‘Guide to Dating’ initiative. While stood at the check-out watching my items get scanned through the till, I happened to notice an intriguing looking pamphlet on the side for the first time, with a headline stating ‘The Coop Guide to Dating’. It had already caught my eye. Were they suddenly launching a new advice column for food-loving singles? Was this about some BOGOF deals that could be utilised for cash-strapped, DIY dates? Curiosity got the better of me, and I picked it up.

At the exact same time I went to flick through this brief leaflet with its bold cover text, the check-out guy noticed what I was doing. “Oh, don’t bother looking at that – it’s a load of rubbish” he commented, as I read the title of it out loud to my husband. “Really?” I asked back, interest peaked as to why he was so disengaged with it. “Yeah, it’s some campaign they’re doing at the moment”, he replied, with enough disdain to make most people not bother looking any further. Unfortunately for him, I’m a marketeer – and therefore this kind of reaction interested me even more. What was it actually all about?

Immediately I didn’t understand the connection between the copy and the messaging. What had dating got to do with the amount of food we chuck out?

I opened it up and scanned through the copy. It was all about food waste. Immediately I didn’t understand the connection between the copy and the messaging. What had dating got to do with the amount of food we chuck out? Where was the love in throwing away food so extensively? Perplexed, I walked off with the leaflet to give it some thought – and also confused about how the Coop had come up with this idea. Were they trying to put something attention-grabbing on the front just to make me look, but then not relate it to what they were saying inside? Or was something else going on here that I hadn’t understood?

With a quick Google search to find out more (which is certainly not something most people would do to learn more about a marketing campaign), I learnt that the use of the word ‘dating’ was in fact a play on words with the idea of food having a sell-by date. The whole campaign was geared to the fact that the Coop wanted to reduce their waste and were trying to keep as much food as possible in the food chain. They were choosing to do this by selling food beyond the ‘best before’ date to help reduce the levels of waste in store. The ‘Guide to Dating’ campaign was their way of educating their customers about their change in perception of food dates, and how they’ll be dealing with it going forwards.

The real issue that was affecting the success of this campaign – and the reason it has become an anecdote I tell my clients – is due to the way the sales assistant reacted.

Perhaps I was a bit ‘slow’ that day, but I didn’t immediately see the connection between the eye-catching headline and the goal of the campaign, so the lack of clarity had me perplexed. It was almost being a bit too clever for its own good. However, the real issue that was affecting the success of this campaign – and the reason it has become an anecdote I tell my clients – is due to the way the sales assistant reacted.

No matter what job role you have within a company, when speaking to the customer, you are acting as a spokesperson for all the beliefs, values and ambitions of a business. In the moment that I picked up the flyer, the sales guy could have told me all about the way the Coop collectively wanted to champion food waste and inspire their customers to do the same thing. However, he wasn’t on board with the campaign in the same way the marketing team most likely was, and therefore he didn’t communicate any of this. What the Coop had forgotten when producing their pamphlets and bringing their campaign to life was who their spokespeople were. In any campaign, having your whole team on board is the most vital part of its success. It’s not just about the office team, or the graphic design team, but every single person in the business.

If you communicate with your team and explain why you want to champion a certain idea, they’ll be able to help you feed this through to your customer in a way that actually works, rather than them contributing to its demise by ridiculing what it stands for.

If you communicate with your team and explain why you want to champion a certain idea, they’ll be able to help you feed this through to your customer in a way that actually works, rather than them contributing to its demise by ridiculing what it stands for – or showing their complete lack of understanding. When you create great marketing material, it shouldn’t work in isolation to the rest of your business operations. It’s a unifying tool for the whole business, and everyone really ought to be on board. If someone isn’t, it’s key to find out why they object. They may have valuable feedback, identifying why it may not work. They may also point out that for the average Joe, the messaging is inconsistent or unclear. If they don’t ‘get it’ immediately, it could be that what you’re trying to say just doesn’t make sense – and this is important to note.

In large organisations, this is especially key as often the people who make the driving decisions in the organisation and marketing don’t have the one-on-one contact time with customers in the same way as others further down the hierarchy. I recently had a tradesperson come round my house and spend a good 15 minutes reeling off everything he disliked about the building company who hired him. I couldn’t help but think that if they spent some time listening to his woes and alleviating his concerns, he would be of far greater use to them singing their praises and that this small investment could actually go a very long way. The problem is that many people don’t look at the larger overall context, and it’s this part that’s crucial.

When you’re creating a successful marketing campaign (and who’d want it to be anything but successful?), you need to ensure you:

  1. Consider whether the messaging is clear, consistent and easy to understand (particularly given people’s limited attention spans nowadays)
  2. Get everyone on board – from the lowest-paid position to the highest-ranking manager. If you’re going to run a campaign, it needs to be an overall team effort
  3. Explain the campaign to your staff in a bite-sized story so they can easily reel the same anecdote off to customers in a way that everyone can understand, rather than trying to remember something long-winded and complicated
  4. Listen to anyone’s concerns and consider whether these may have enough gravity to them to change the direction of your campaign
  5. Get some external advice from someone whose nose isn’t so close to the company fire, to see if it makes sense from the perspective of an individual who isn’t involved in your day-to-day operations.

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