On being appropriate: part one of a series

One word that the people around me have to get used to is “appropriate”. It’s a great word – seemingly innocuous, it is in fact the key to successful marketing.

Marketing works when the message is appropriate to both the product and the customer.  Should be a given, right? But missing either side of the equation produces marketing material which does not work.

What marketers often forget is that people, the people who we’re trying to persuade to change their minds, are enormously efficient at spotting when the message does not work. They may not know why it does not, but they’ll know it doesn’t. The uneasy feeling that something is not quite right can kill the effectiveness of any campaign.

We sometimes spend so long ensuring that the material and the message we produce is appropriate to the client, that we forget that the client’s ambitions may not reflect those of their target customers – and it is in this dichotomy, this failure of appropriateness, that the unease, and ultimately the failure to connect, occurs.

It’s this failure to think about the end user that appropriateness collapses. It need not be as egregious as Habitat’s use of hashtags to promote furniture in the context, for instance, of coverage of the Iran protests. It can be as simple as addressing a group of target customers in a language which is not theirs (for instance, expecting that a group of schoolchildren will understand a piece written for technical specialists). Or developing an international marketing push using colours which are inappropriate in specific jurisdictions. Or using small type in a publication addressed at pensioners, or realising far too late that the logo the client has just settled on looks, well… inappropriate. (Anyone who reads b3ta.com will by now have started looking at least three times at any logo every possible way up so that someone won’t suddenly decide that, in a certain light, it looks rude).

You’re now thinking,

Good God man, this is obvious. Why are you telling me this?

Because of appropriateness, of course. We blog abut what happens, to people who are interested, in language they use. When we produce a campaign, we research it so solidly beforehand that we know what it is that the customers want. Whilst this can sometimes be a real shock to our clients, it ensures that what we produce is appropriate to them, but most importantly to their customers – and because of that, to the success of their project.

A good question to ask when you see some advertising that does not work to you, is “Is it appropriate?” Is it right for the product, for the medium, and for you? It’s in understanding what’s appropriate that marketing works – and in forgetting it, where it fails.


Jonathan Blanchard Smith
A strategic marketer with a range and depth of international experience, Jonathan is Managing Partner at Vivid London. He coaches at executive level and lectures on cultural integration with specific reference to cross-border mergers and acquisitions. Past chairman of a national patient advocacy charity, he also chairs the board of a technology company and a number of committees.



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