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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Create More – Expertise

Use expertise, not yours you idiot – theirs!

Brand managers aren’t stupid. They know that their most valuable customers account for most of the profits. Which is why experiential marketing is big news. So is informationalising. Both however rest on an assumption which is soo 20th century – namely that the client organisation has acres of expertise and resource, and the job of marketing is about pumping it into to the most deserving consumers in order to increase sales and customer value. Thoroughly old skool marketing. Experiential marketing just means the goose gets to enjoy it more – the goal is exactly the same – its an exercise in forced learning.

Using exactly the same statistics we can also say that expertise is concentrated in the same proporitions. So that on any given subject 20% of any group will know 4 times more about a topic than than everybody else in that group. It is on this that so much hype about viral marketing depends. People know stuff. They have interests – and they work at it. But when did you last find a brand manager working with this? They are far more likely to try to outdo these nerdy upstarts. To provide even more expertise – and to dismiss the expertise of ordinary people as unreliable, misconceived and irrelevant. Irrelevant it certainly is if what you are trying to do is to mass market to an audience which had better stay passive it it knows what is good for it. But if brand building depends on getting your customers to engage with your brand then it is high time that you identify the expertise your customers already have and to acknowledge that in many areas their expertise vastly exceeds that of the client organisation.

I can hear the objection already “They don’t know about my brand, or product area so the brand needs to ‘educate’ them”. No it doesn’t – what you have to do is harness the relevant expertise – not to try to turn them into little clones of yourself. Here’s a very simple example – the NCT (National Childbirth Trust) operates on the premise that the parents are in a better position to know their own needs and the needs of the baby than the healthcare professionals – so all of the training is geared towards giving the parents the confidence and knowhow to make informed choices so they are able to make best use of the midwife, health visitor and doctor as support. What they can’t do is turn the parents into experts. But since the parents can be spending virtually all their time observing the newborn they are better qualified to identify what the baby may be needing even if they haven’t the training to do a clinical diagnosis. Harnessing parents learned expertise is a much more efficient way to use resources. What I am saying is that marketers need to learn to experentialise and informationalise as a support leaving their customers in control.

Expertise begins with a passion and grows with specialisation. It is not enough to find out what people are passionate about. You can’t give them the passion in the first place. What you can to do is to help them to specialise. And that will build the expertise which in turn will help to feed the passion. And while a proportion of customers may be willing to become expert in your product area it isn’t necessary to focus on this. The remarkable thing is how widespread expertise is – virtually everyone has developed expertise in particular areas – my neighbours have included someone keeps an owl, someone who has built go- karts by hand since childhood and a professional drummer. In the last week I have benefitted from expertise in 1950s gospel music, trend analysis, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the writing of movie screenplays and the pruning of hedges and fruit trees! This week a friend spent all week on the phone to Capitol radio to ensure that she won the ticket to go on stage with Madonna who she idolizes. The buying chain in a house purchase is a fascinating example of expertise and co-operation where the buyers who are in theory trying to take advantage of one another – to get the best house for the lowest price, in reality work together to ensure that the purchase goes through because if one fails then all fail. To this end learnings about financing and conveyancing are handed up and down the chain. The internet has become an extraordinary place where individuals parade their knowledge and help one another. The Cluetrain Manifesto website is a valiant attempt to encourage companies to permit their staff to speak as openly as their knowledge allows if they are to keep up with the expertise of the independent experts each with their own website or forum. And make no mistake about it – companies are trailing miles behind individuals on the internet when it comes to expertise.



So here’s a few action points:

1. Treat your customers with respect as potential experts or aspiring experts – all of them are experts already and more than a few may be aspiring experts in related territory. Above all don’t patronise them.

2. Feed them don’t overwhelm them – they are enthusiasts, not textbooks or trade apprentices.

3. Be very careful how you parade your expertise. Here are two example websites from Unilever: Homebasics and Flora Proactiv. One is considerably less bossy than the other (spot the US site!) but with both it is quite clear that Unilever knows best…

4. Try to be particular and specific – general comments smack of old fashioned mass marketing. You have only to look at the Epson family to see that ‘average’ families aren’t that interesting Newspapers are readable because every story is supposed to be special and newsworthy.

5. Ask them for help. Why should all the expertise flow one way from brands to customers? Why can’t customers be given the chance to put something back? Here’s two sites manned by volunteers who do just that and Music Web. And how could I ignore A nice cup of tea and a sit down (lucky for Huntley and Palmers!)?

6. Allow them to do the work but don’t expect them to do it all. Earlier this year I did some work for an IT company who thought they could create a programme where all the content was provided by the participants. Otherwise known as levitation and no it doesn’t work.

I was once playing guitar in a band called the Woebegone Brothers (see picture!) which suddenly became popular. It took us 3 months to get our act together. By which time the fans had already made and distributed bootleg tapes, badges, posters and even Tshirts. All we were doing was catching up with the official merchandise.

So here’s the second takeout to help you to help others to create more than they consume. Find out what they are expert in, help them to specialise to increase their expertise. That will help them to fuel the passion. But notice this – you can’t do it TO them. They have to choose to let you help them.





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