One of the ‘must read’ articles for us each week is Dave Trott’s column in Campaign. He usually starts with an anecdote and spins that into a business lesson that is pithy and to-the-point.

In a recent column, Trott told the story of James Donovan, a lawyer charged with defending a Soviet spy caught in the US in 1957. The spy’s name was Rudolph Abel and this was the height of cold war paranoia. Eventually Abel was found guilty and a death sentence seemed inevitable.

Except that Donovan – much against the tide of public demand for blood – knew that a dead Soviet spy was not much use, whereas a live one might be. So he fought hard to have Abel imprisoned rather than executed. When the spy was given a 30 year sentence, Donovan was vilified by press and public alike.

The importance of a different approach

What Donovan had done, was look at the case like a business problem – one that he was very familiar with: insurance. He wanted to use Abel as an insurance policy.

Three years later, in 1960, a US pilot flying a U2 spy plane over Russia was shot down and taken prisoner. As was the vogue at the time, the pilot – Gary Powers – was convicted of spying and, you’ve guessed it, sentenced to death.

Of course, the US government had something to bargain with – Rudolph Abel – and they arranged the first ever spy exchange. Powers and Abel were swapped, both lived and the Russian and American authorities could each claim a victory.

How does this relate to marketing?

The lesson here is that Donovan understood the problem that existed – each side was capturing and killing each other’s spies. Everyone lost. But by looking at the problem and taking a different approach, Donovan and the US government found a better way.

As Dave Trott says in his column;

“We approach advertising as a knee-jerk reaction.
Here’s some money, do some ads.
But we should look at solving the business problem first.
What do we want out of this? What’s the opportunity?
If we did it that way, we might find the answer isn’t advertising.
Or even if it is, it might not be the same old advertising.
We might discover a different kind of advertising.
Starting with the business problem forces us to come at the situation out of a question rather than an answer.
It’s more uncomfortable because, like James Donovan, we have to challenge convention.
It’s more uncomfortable because we have to think.
In fact, to solve a business problem, we have to think creatively”

What are your business problems in marketing?

It’s highly likely that one of your problems is trying to capture your target audience’s attention. In a world where bought media is losing ground to social channels and blogs, it is incredibly difficult to get through to your potential customers in any meaningful way. Consider these stats;

  • Recent surveys show that only 4% of people believe marketers have their best interests at heart*
  • Brands are creating more content than ever – 78% more in 2016 than in the previous 12 months – whilst rates of engagement with that content are plummeting – down 60% over the same period**
  • Target customers have many more opportunities to avoid marketing messages, for example the growth of ad-blocking software

If you look at the business problem, perhaps the solution is not just doing more of what you have done in the past.

Perhaps the answer is to not broadcast your messages at all. Instead find influencers – bloggers, YouTubers and social media leaders – who your target markets are already engaging with and work with them. They can help you talk to your target markets in a way that they actually value and will therefore be more likely to respond to.

If you’d like to talk about how Freestak can help you reach influencers in the cycling, running, triathlon, outdoors and adventure sports sectors, drop us a line or call Simon on +44 7590 115900.





* Loyalty360 Consumer attitude survey 2016
** Track Maven report Jan. 2017


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