The Apprentice continued last night with a prickly task that had the remaining 17 candidates in a lather. As teams Connexus and Versatile battled it out again for the £250,000 prize investment, there were plenty of lessons to learn about marketing, branding, and how not to upset your target market. Exclusively for SME Insider, we bring you the expert commentary on the show from last year’s runner-up, entrepreneur Bianca Miller, and Neil Dagger, senior product marketing manager for domain name registry Nominet. Warning: contains spoilers.
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The task was to create a marketing strategy and advert for a shampoo containing the key ingredient, cactus – apparently surprisingly moisturising! – which they then pitch to industry leaders.
The teams were strangely arranged back into women vs men, I can only assume to ensure there was an element of chaos but also, I am sure, to make the teams choose products that aligned with a niche audience.
Charleine put herself forward to run the task for team Connexus, leaning on her experience of running a hair salon. However, Aisha argued that the task was not about haircare and more about marketing, so won the vote for leadership. Then suddenly turned into a bit of a dragon.
To some degree she is right: marketing and advertising is and can be different to running a business in that industry, however, and this goes back to what I said in the last blog about episode one, it is crucial to understand the market. Charleine made a good point when she said that not only does she use shampoo every day on customers, but she sells it to them and knows what they want to see from the product.
This isn’t ultimately where the task was lost because Aisha could have better utilised Charleine’s experience and knowledge within the team dynamic and strategy, but it wasn’t a good start.
Richard volunteered to lead team Versatile, and suddenly became the ultimate listener – or was he trying to cover himself by letting everyone have their moment, then making an executive ‘seemingly inclusive’ decision?
Team Versatile identified the male market and promptly designed a masculine, upmarket bottle followed by a masculine ad campaign.
Team Connexus identified a more niche market of the ‘grey pound’, realising that women of a certain age have not only the disposable income, and thus buying power, but are also interested in beauty and hair enhancing products. It seemed simple enough: if you’re selling to this market you would choose a chic older woman to represent the chosen demographic, and so in your advert, you would have one older woman complimenting the other on their hair and asking how to achieve this look… right?
Wrong. Sadly the team decided to book a 20-something model deeming her ‘aspirational’ for the older woman. Then they chose a mother-daughter combo to discuss the shampoo in the advert.
For a team of women who on looks alone seem to know a thing or two about shampoo or haircare and for whom I assume know or have a mother, aunt, or older woman somewhere in their lives I wonder if they just totally stopped thinking.
Then came the pitch. I have two words for it: boring and flat. Pitching and power presenting is a skill, one which I teach clients, so Natalie, who professes to be a ‘professional presenter’, should be able to pitch anything with the passion and enthusiasm required to convey the concept to the audience. Negative assumptions and sweeping generalisations like ‘people over 45 don’t like anything new’ are sure to alienate any audience!
It was a prickly day in the boardroom and I half-expected Natalie to be fired for not being a team player! But Aisha was fired – no great surprise there. Even in the aftershow she still didn’t appear to grasp that they didn’t lose because they decided to target the niche ‘grey pound’ market, which shows she didn’t really understand the task.
Why was she fired and why did her team lose? They failed to observe some key business principles:
1) Understanding your target audience: who are your customers, what are similar popular products doing within this niche, what are you selling, and why should people buy it?
2) Any marketing campaign needs to be created on the basis of ‘problem versus solution’: you want to be able to identify the problem in the market and why your product is the solution to that problem, thus illustrating why the customer would want to part with their hard earned cash!
3) Identify your market and choose a campaign to support that niche: i.e. don’t choose a 20-year-old to front a campaign for 45-year-olds.
4) Utilise the skill set of the team to work towards the greater goal.
5) Create a product that aesthetically suits the demographic and price point.
Round 2 and it’s back with the traditional Boys v Girls contest designing a branding campaign for a new cactus-based shampoo. It was a simple task to design the product, packaging and branding for a new shampoo judged by a panel of advertising experts.
The girls’ team, Connexus, got off to a poor start with an obvious choice for project manager being overlooked for an alternative candidate who never really seemed a popular choice with any of her team mates. The planning phase became fractious, critical and negative. No one seemed to be listening to anyone else and it went from bad to worse.
The boys’ team, Versatile, was by complete contrast a more supportive and positive affair. A popular project leader was elected who listened and invited input from the whole team. They were enthusiastic and really got behind their product. The project leader took responsibility, delegated well, maintained a firm control and joined in the pitch to the panel of experts.
Importantly, the boys’ team followed the brief and delivered a strong campaign with a good product name, attractive branding and design that addressed their market audience. They also defended their proposition with energy. But it nearly all unravelled for the chaps when one of the pitches dried up and several seconds which felt like hours passed by. The pitcher finally regained control, restored the link between brain and mouth and we all breathed again. Situation saved.
The girls’ team delivered a poor pitch which demonstrated that no matter what you feel about the campaign, you need to get behind the team and your product, and give it your best shot.
Although it was a poor pitch, in the end Lord Sugar did fire the correct candidate. The project leader of the girls’ team made some poor decisions, ignored advice and never enjoyed the support of her team. She had to go.
Overall the lesson was clear – support your team, be positive and supportive, get behind your product, seek out and listen to advice. Think about your customer and ensure your product campaign communicates the benefits clearly. Ignore this and failure will be your prize.
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