Never has there been a more opportune time to tell you of something else I am semi-qualified in but absolutely loathe with a passion.
So welcome to We Lack Discipline’s first ever article focussing on Business Studies! I know, it seems dull doesn’t it? That’s literally exactly what they want you to think because, like economics, if you actually understood it you’d all be off buying from local independent artisans rather than pumping your pennies into Primark and Poundland.
Even then most of those artisans, seeing the success they are having, would look to expand eventually moving to outcompete other artisans and create a further-reaching business. If conditions permit they would move multi-national, publicly float their company and be just like everyone else. Greed does that.
Specifically I want to focus on ‘marketing’. Marketing is a fancy word that means ‘making sure your shit will sell’. Whether you’re offering a product or a service it needs to be marketed. Get your marketing wrong and it doesn’t matter how good the product or service people won’t buy it.
For speed what I’m going to run through is like the AS level (16-17 year old’s) taught version of marketing. Obviously it’s a very in-depth process full of lots of people pretending it’s complicated rather than simple and not actually about deception on a mass scale – we’ll get to that.
Say, for instance, you’re selling a washing machine. This is known as a ‘white good’ – not because only white people buy them, it’s a common name used for any of those, predominantly white-coloured, electric appliances you have in your home – washing machines, dishwashers, fridges, freezers etc.
First what’s your mission? What are you trying to achieve?
So you have this banging washing machine – it doesn’t have bells and whistles on it, in fact it’s basically a design from the ’80s, some would satirically say the 1880s! It sells for a middling price, the one thing it has going for it is longevity, it is built to last and be cheaply repairable.
So perhaps your mission statement can be something like;
“We are a traditional company, believing in old-fashioned values and we aim to offer you affordable appliances that are built to last!”
Good, that’s some direction.
Now you need to know your product, and understand it within the context of your potential competitors. There is a tool, the ‘SWOT Analysis’ that is about as old as time but is still used, especially in early marketing development.
That’s what SWOT stands for. So as far as strengths go our washing machine is middle-of-the-road for just about everything except longevity. We’re old fashioned traditionalists. We have a product built to last, be sustainable, it is to be repaired not replaced. We’re talking a 50-100 year lifespan appliance! We don’t like change. The strength of the product is the long term economy provided by this longevity.
Weaknesses? Well there are plenty of other machines out there. Some of them might have more, or better, features than ours, even though they can only promise them for 5-10 years! Some of them might even have a much better model of sustainability. That might not matter in the eyes of potential customers. Significantly, our machine is a simple, lower-end product with the economy coming from longevity but what if the customer doesn’t have enough to pay extra for a low-end product that lasts longer? It’s the ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness, written by Terry Pratchett;
“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”
So our machine is slightly more expensive, but lasts longer. But we’re not going to be able to sell to people who want cheap machines. We thus cannot care about people without disposable income to afford our machines, except we are going to need to convince them to buy them somehow.
Our opportunities, though, could potentially make up for this. Since we have a product built to last and be repairable whilst we might not be able to make as much money selling new appliances we can attach a service model to our business. Rather than merely selling appliances we can also sell the repair service by offering a licensing or franchising deal with local repairers and insisting they use only approved, first-party (i.e. our) parts in their repairs. We generate interdepencies ensuring other businesses are invested in our business model and thus will always support us. This could then be a core, recurring revenue stream for the business, as well as a marketing opportunity through third-parties selling our products and services.
As for threats? Well competitors with more high end machines, or the fact that our level of machine and the luxuries it offers is more comparable to low-end where we’re going to face competition from cheap products, have already been mentioned.
As far as the business model goes, if these machines are as built-to-last as is being made out what will be the delay between the drop-off in novel sales and the first needed repairs? This gap will be a troubling time for the company as revenue from sales dries up but we do not yet have any recurring income for machines needing service. Of course we could always just borrow money in that time if things get dicey. If our customers or our board have a problem with this borrowing we can justify it by blaming the conditions of the time. There’s always something you can exploit for an excuse.
So that out of the way we need to think of our objectives and strategy. Who are we going to market to and how?
This is where it gets really difficult. As mentioned we have a no-frills product normally associated with the low-end market but it is more expensive than other low-end models due to its longevity.
What we’ve made is a product by, and for, rich people that rich people won’t like that much but will support. So we need to find a means of exploiting poorer people, getting revenue from them, whilst keeping rich people in support of our product.
I don’t think we will make the bulk of our money selling directly to customers via stores. A small amount of income could come this way, sure, but our product is not placed to compete in that market.
Industry is already catered for – many places that need a large amount of laundry done already have deals in place with launderettes or even huge industrial cleaning operations. However, smaller businesses – Bed and Breakfasts, holiday apartments, etc. offer a good opportunity.
So, too, does the buy-to-let market. Pre-furnished apartments often fetch a higher price in the rental market and having a pre-plumbed white good that could last your lifetime would be a wonderful thing.
Maybe we could do some market research, surveys, quantifying opinions and gathering demographic data on what our potential future customer base should be (this is where stuff gets shady).
Have you noticed that it has taken me approximately 1,000 words to write, effectively;
- What’s ya shit
- Who wants ya shit
- How you gonna make ‘em buy ya shit
If you have, congratulations! You realise marketing is a bunch of wank. Honestly there are textbooks analysing this stuff. Even just go down the Wikipedia rabbithole, it’s so dense and this is one of the key points of business. It’s smoke and mirrors disguising what is mostly hard work mixed with luck.
So we’re defining our objectives and our strategies and we come up against a new tool, PEST analysis (although it has many variants.)
With a PEST analysis we are looking to identify any specific exploitable conditions that can help improve our product?
As far as Political goes, we are looking to sell to buy-to-letters and small businesses, for example. What are the political conditions for this? How are interest rates? What’s the buy-to-let market like? How are small businesses doing? In covid times our washing machines are hardly going to sell to small restaurants and B&Bs that are all closed! But, due to our longevity, could we argue our product is a green product? Can we obtain any government subsidies for manufacture or distribution?
Economic factors, we’ve got a mid-priced product with low-end spec where economy is the main selling point. What are the economic trends, is everything slumping? Will that make people more willing to invest in our economic product knowing it will serve them well over a long period of time, or will they be hesitant about it? Where is our manufacture being done? With parts from where? Are import and export tariffs or duties going to affect us in any way, if so, how?
Social factors are absolutely huge in marketing these days in the ‘age of the influencer’. Is our product sexy enough to be talked about on social media? Who will talk about it? It’s doubtful Kim Kardashian is going to be touting our very not-bling washing machine but what about a Stacey Solomon? A salt-of-the-earth mum type? What are people’s purchasing habits like at the moment? What’s the market for white goods? Are people buying a lot just to upgrade, just to spend money? Or are they tightening their grip on their purses and wallets?
And technology – We’re in the appliances business trying to sell a machine that could last 50-100 years! We need to look very closely at this because developments in technology happen very quickly these days. Are we going to be outcompeted within ten years? Are larger companies going to ‘borrow’ our business model if we start to have success with it? Will they come up with their own longer-lasting machines to compete with ours? How can we adapt our tech over time.
So we have our product, our mission, our analyses done, a strategy developed, probably some knowledge of what media to use to deploy those strategies, what’s next?
The bit I really, really wanted to talk about. What’s next is the massive lying.
Advertising and public relations – The art of lying about your product and managing the messages about it to perpetuate those lies.
There are going to be some businesses that object heavily to this. They will say “Actually we really believe in our product…” etc. etc. And maybe they do, and maybe their product is the best thing since the bread-slicer. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is the next stage of the process is the management of image and information release and this part, especially by larger businesses, is always shady as fuck.
Am I choosing to talk about this today for any specific, political reason. No, of course not. I’m not Terminal Context, I don’t do politics. But do consider that this same thing works in politics too – as does everything written above!
So consider, for example, what political product or service you are selling to people and what those people prioritise. You need to have some understanding of human behaviour to truly appreciate and acknowledge these things and I can tell you there are entire departments in the political sphere set up to analyse, interpret and manipulate behaviour.
There used to be an entire government department, The Nudge Unit, or the ‘Behavioural Insights Team’ (literally a marketing name change to make it seem less like what it is, a department intended to manipulate people into changing their behaviour). I say it ‘used’ to be a government department because it is now a private company, only partly owned by the Cabinet Office, that was sold under dodgy circumstances, and made a lot of money for the public servants previously working there who became co-owners. You probably didn’t hear much about it because their job is literally to influence people to think and act how they want them to think and act.
One of my biggest, hugest problems with the science of psychology is how much of it is devoted to the study of understanding human behaviour with a view to influencing it commercially or politically. Not merely studying it and understanding it, but toying with it. When we get to the stage of business we’re looking at now – Advertising and public relations – That is exactly what we’re talking about. It is psychological manipulation.
So we’re trying to sell our product – we need to come up with an ‘image’, or a ‘brand’. An identity that is easily identifiable, maybe through a persona, a mascot, a colour scheme, a jingle – It can happen in many ways. Think of…I’m UK based so the ‘Compare the Market’ meerkats – excellent mascots but they are also these little characters, personas. “I’m loving it!” That McDonalds jingle! Or what colours do you think of when you think Coca-Cola? White and red?
Back in the early days advertising was as simple as sticking your name up on a painted sign above your shop or taking out a 400 word ad in your local newspaper describing the ins-and-outs of your product.
Around about the 1920s however, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, clearly influenced by his uncle’s theories, wondered if there may not be a more direct way of influencing hearts and, mostly, minds. Considered a pioneer in public relations, propaganda and the shift of advertising away from fact-based descriptions of product to emotionally manipulative presentations of product, he is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most important figures in world history.
He literally wrote the book on it. A 1945 book, ‘Public Relations’ outlines his ‘science’ of information management.
Much modern psychology is invested in further understanding these things. ‘Consumer’ habits are a profitable area of research and, regardless of the fact that it is basically just learning why people do what they do so you can manipulate them to do it for who pays you, regardless of good or bad, regardless of consequences, it seems of little concern to the discipline. In many ways psychological techniques have manifested the mental health crises that psychological techniques are then tasked to solve – manufacturing both disease and cure and, worryingly, taking both the disease and cure from the same knowledge pool – thus the cure merely enforces the social consensus that creates the disease.
The key problem, of course, is corporations can pay millions in funding for research on consumer habits, or even pay millions to have psychologists in their marketing departments. Neither academic, nor clinical, psychological practice can possibly compete with that level of investment. Thus the people who do it ‘for good’ are going to find themselves up against very stiff competition.
Ain’t it a pickle!
But I’m getting away from the point – Selling washing machines.
Now I’m trying to sell my washing machines to relatively affluent buy-to-let types and small business, marketing to them is tough but doable, we use our economy, our steadfastness, we associate our washing machines with pictures of indestructible things like mountains, tanks, bunkers etc. And it works but we’re not that popular. We get by.
Don’t let dirt ‘TREAD’ on your clothes!
OUR WASHING MACHINES ARE AS STRONG AS TANKS!
(Credit: Ichigo121212 via Pixabay)
Then our main competitor makes a mistake. They come up with a long-term washing machine like we have, too, but they try to discourage their customers from buying it by also offering a new higher-end washing machine.
They’ve just split their market! They used to just sell high-end machines, now, in trying to hustle our business but keep their own they’re discrediting their own product.
We can jump in! “Not even they like their own product! Buy ours! They have no faith in it! They tell you it’s cheap, it’s nasty, it will break down, it will fail – IT’S JUST PROJECT FEAR!”
Remember this is not about politics, it’s about washing machines.
Buy our washing machine!
You can’t account for this type of opportunity in your planning, you have to be adaptable to it when it arrives. You have to be ruthless and uncaring. What matters is the success of your business, the promotion of your brand, your public image and your product selling better than anyone else’s.
Well now we have a whole new home market looking at our product and it turns out a lot of these people, they like that our washing machines are ‘Made in Britain’! There’s been a lot of talk about European washing machines lately, how they’re too complicated, you can’t work out the instructions, they come in 12 different languages, you can’t find the English, it’s a faff!
So we sell it! Stick a Union flag on the side of every machine. It doesn’t matter that the parts are manufactured in Malaysia, Taiwan, China and Bangladesh. It doesn’t matter that the breeze blocks come from Brazil or the steel is imported from India. What matters is the perception of our product, the ‘idea’ that it is made in Britain.
Of course you can’t get away with that kind of hypocrisy for too long, so before you know it those bunny-hugging lefties at The Guardian are peering into our business practices.
Well wouldn’t you know it at that time our CEO makes an overtly racist statement? Or fucks his secretary. Or kicks a dog. Or dangles himself above an arena. Or bullies a child. Or offers to provide information to have a journalist beaten up. Our CEO is so wildly unpredictable, ruthlessly selfish and such an obnoxious narcissist he could basically choose to do any of a number of unpredictable negative things at any point.
Now we could seize this opportunity to oust our CEO for someone a bit less problematic but the focus being on him has saved our bacon regarding the provenance of our product. The Guardian shoves the story about our parts being imported from all around the world, our ‘green’ image due to the longevity being a nonsense due to the carbon footprint of our import/export model, and the fact that we’re only assembled, not necessarily made in Britain, onto page 35 in the business news. Front page is that our CEO is an idiot.
Do you know what? Our customers don’t care. Our CEO is not in their kitchen, their cupboard or their utility room washing their clothes. Our product is, and they like our product.
Meanwhile our competitors are releasing their own stories. “They’re only assembled in Britain not made there.” “They import their parts from countries with dodgy labour laws!” “Their products are built on exploitation!” “They’re harvesting your data to manipulate you further!” and we just reply with “Sour grapes!”
You see when people like the idea of the product your selling and then you come under attack, you can make out like they are attacking the product itself. People like the product. They identify with the product, so it becomes, vicariously, an attack on them. People do this, it’s weird, but they do. People will have loyalties to inanimate objects, brands, ideas and regardless of the obvious negativities of them, if they like a specific aspect of it, they will identify with it – thus any attack on it becomes an attack on them.
What is more our competitors get so heated about their poor sales they start taking it out on their potential customers. They call them ‘stupid’ for still buying our products, berate them as being ‘uneducated’, that they don’t know what they’re doing. They think it’s all some kind of collective madness. It make such sense to them that our washing machines are bad and theirs are good that they fail to fully investigate the reasons why people continue buying our washing machines, and instead, alienate them.
One of the things public relations can, and will, do is make a product or service a part of your identity. It will also make a commodity of your actual identity so it can sell things to you. It’s beautifully manipulative in that way!
By this point we’re a decade in to our product, our washing machines have been breaking down all over the place. Do you know what’s great? It’s these parts from dodgy foreign places we bought that are causing the problems, so it’s their fault. We can just shift blame.
People are finding it hard to get repair services because we ended up so focussed on selling more and more machines we forgot our commitment to repairs! Do you know what’s great? It’s these unionised workers causing trouble not wanting to work for us. We can just shift blame.
We can deflect blame! All the while our business model and product itself has been nearly untouchable because the buffoon of a CEO hogs so much negativity, he’s a vacuum of criticism, that behind the scenes we just carry on doing what we do.
Our competitors are reeling. They genuinely don’t know what to do. We have the worst product on the market, the least reliable product on the market, our business no longer cares about our customers if we even did in the first place, our green credentials are a lie, our longevity is a lie, and we are led by the worst-of-the-worst people on planet earth. Yet our competitors cannot defeat us.
When they try we can call it envy, we can call it jealousy. We can say they want to take your washing machines away from you. We can talk of how they support importing washing machines made in Lithuania whilst ours are ‘made in Britain’ even though the parts come from all over the world. If they do come together to try to defeat us we can talk of them ‘ganging up’ of ‘alliances’ intent on destroying what the people love, our washing machines. The identity that people have with those washing machines.
Having consolidated sufficient power we have an answer to almost every possible avenue of fairly competing our competitors may have.
They tear themselves apart and in so doing completely remove any obstacle for us and our washing machines.
Our competitors begin to attack each other, rather than work together, which would be the sensible thing.
It’s easy to see why. They don’t want some power-sharing arrangement, they want absolute power.
They don’t want their share of the market, they want our share of the market, the majority share.
What’s more they insult our customers, giving them further reason to side with us. Despite there being a significant disenfranchised washing machine market, the focus is on taking our share of the market, rather than finding a way to engage and pull customers from this huge disenfranchised base.
So we can just kick our feet up and keep winning. People will desperately try to figure out what strategies, what moves to make, how they can possibly topple us but they don’t realise that it’s all just down to the public relations.
It’s not about good and bad. We’re making so much money, hand-over-fist, that we can offer every 1,000th washing machine for free. Now you only have a 1-in-1,000 chance of getting that washing machine but everyone thinks it will be them. We can afford to buy customers.
We know, we sold that idea to them.
We sold them that aspiration. We plastered our marketing, we had segments on TV shows, magazine columns, newspaper stories about this campaign, about these successes.
We also pay for those same media companies to highlight negative stories about our competitor’s machines. Not their staff, not their CEOs, their machines. Why not attack their staff? Well because they’re infighting and doing that themselves anyway. We don’t need the ad-hominem attacks. We can attack their products and they will attack each other.
What’s this? There’s a potential for a new outlet selling our machines in Hartlepool at the same time that Scotland might be looking to completely remove our brand from their entire country due to our unethical practices!?
Well let’s focus heavily on the miniscule Hartlepool thing to remove attention from the potentially precarious situation in Scotland. Besides which if that Scotland thing comes to pass we can just argue about how they’re being ‘uncompetitive’ and ‘unfair’. We can victimise ourselves again. At best we can convince Scotland to keep our washing machines, at worst we can convince our English base that Scotland just hates our washing machines and thus, in a way, them.
By this point we have a strong identity. We are a brand. Love us or hate us you talk about us and that is publicity. Any negative publicity we spin to victimisation and envy. We turn it from you attacking us, our staff, our product and make it about you attacking our customers. We get them riled up. Then they do the marketing for us. Any positive publicity we bask in and put it at the forefront of our marketing campaigns. Most of the positive publicity has been paid for in kind, in favours and in cushy positions on our board.
We have used every opportunity, played on the darkest emotions in the human psyche to push our product, manipulated and exploited at every available opportunity, consolidated our position of dominance and we will not move until something big budges us.