The ‘Mephisto Waltz’

The 'Mephisto Waltz'

Why brands need real insight

Before we go any further, some of you were undoubtedly hoping this was a piece on a new dance trend to replace flossing, sorry to disappoint. I’m sure some of you may know who Adam Morgan is in the marketing world. He is an author, brand strategist and renowned speaker. One of his more recognised theories is the ‘Mephisto Waltz’, designed to highlight how brands can lose sight of what is truly important and fall into ruts.

I can’t recall a pitch document in the past year that hasn’t contained an insight slide pertaining to ‘Market Share’, ‘Industry Challenges’ and ‘Competitor Analysis’. These three elements of insight help a client appreciate that you understand their objectives, their industry and where they stand within it. It’s a pretty standard 3-pronged approach to insight in marketing.

Ditching the mundane

Though those three “insights” can make an agency seem like a grounded and knowledgeable entity, what it doesn’t provide is how this will change the agency’s response. Let’s take an example, RBH pitched for a client in 2018 (who shall remain unnamed) that told us every agency they had seen so far had included Brexit as a key ‘Challenge’ in their industry right now. This was undeniably a key factor in their industry, with many trade relationships inside and outside of Europe. Our insight team came to see Brexit as a cop-out, a buzz word that was thrown around too often. I remember sitting with our pitch team and deleting 85% of the stats we had from IBIS World, Mintel and ONS on Brexit’s effect on the market.

Sure, we showed how it could affect the industry based on all potential outcomes. We did so briefly and moved on. The brand needs to know that you understand their challenges. It is a fine line between teaching someone to suck eggs and showing them humbly that you have an idea of what landscape they are facing. The real issue with dwelling on these insights comes back to what all clients come to see, creative. Top level challenges don’t influence creative routes, channel recommendations, planning or targeting. Therefore, it can quickly become moot.

So why do agencies (and businesses alike) focus so much on the top level, the mundane and the ever expected? How can you possibly expect a creative brief to generate something truly exceptional, truly disruptive or innovative? If all you provide are insights that a well-trained marmoset could google? I’ll answer that quickly, you can’t.

We’ve had a number of different members of staff work on ‘insight’, everything from ex PWC corporate types who obsess over the percentages and shares to upstarts keen to find the niche for each client. This year we are taking a leaf out of Adam Morgan’s book and we thought we would share it with all of you. To balance those different approaches to insight we will be using two simple questions before each pitch or research project: What hasn’t the client thought of? What hasn’t the industry thought of?

Racoon hats and market share

This doesn’t mean we abandon market share and competitors; instead in 2019, we are going to be flipping it on its head. Instead of looking at what the competitors are doing we are going to keep strong in our mind that phrase: ‘The Mephisto Waltz’. The phrase has taken many meanings, both in Adam Morgan’s works and in music; the reference we like the best is found in astronomy. When two black holes are locked in a dance around one another, inching closer and closer to a singularity, imploding and taking both out in the process.

Why are we talking about black holes now? You’re going to have to bear with us, let’s use another example: Say your company Racoonheadware™ holds 41% market share of the booming Pet Racoon Hat industry, followed closely by your biggest competitor Racoonhatz™ at 39% market share. Racoonheadware™ spends £120m a year on above the line (ATL) initiatives, out of home, corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects. Racoonhatz™ decides the best way to respond is to use similar channels and spend £123m a year. Both companies fight over getting a coveted Superbowl spot for their impressive polished ads made by big international agencies. Racoonheadware™ wins the bid but realises next quarter their market share has decreased. Panicked, they see if Racoonhatz™ have snatched it away from them. They haven’t.

CuteFurryAnimalAccessories™ took some of that, so has RacoonHappiness corp and even SmallMammalTrends™ had a slice. CuteFurryAnimalAccessories™ might have used dark social channels to garner a trust in their audience creating an organic domino effect. RacoonHappiness corp noticed people care more about self-worth than ever in 2019 and know that ensuring animal happiness is more important to consumers than product quality or price, focusing all communications on that. SmallMammalTrends™ knew the next big things were racoon gloves and in fact, people want them for Koalas too.

Year after year, market share decreases again and again until these smaller challenger brands, ones never considered a threat originally, take over. The market has changed, Racoonhatz™ have no idea what to do, they improve their hats, cut costs and increase media spend, still nothing.

Black holes dancing

How does this happen? Remember those two black holes endlessly spinning closer and closer, well, they collided. The principle when applied to marketing and communications shows, in its simplest sense, what can happen when two behemoths focus only on one another.

This is happening all around us. Take a look at Apple’s latest earnings report. Is it down because their devices are too expensive? Is it their biggest competitor Samsung? Or is it because they’ve ignored the insights that lead to OnePlus, Xiaomi, Huawei and Oppo developing some of the most disruptive and exciting mobile phones of the past two years? I’ll give you a hint, Samsung’s market share has dropped consistently for two years now…

The underdogs, the challengers, the disruptors. Whatever you choose to call them, they are always there. All the while the big boys are cutting costs to get a better return on investment (ROI) and narrowing their targeting further and further for ‘efficiency’. They missed out on how the market expanded, how its needs shifted and underestimated a consumer’s loyalty to beliefs over brands.

Looking only at your top competitors, the market shares and the top line, you and the rest of your industry will consistently be blindsided by challenger brands. You don’t have to look far to see examples of this. Hello Fresh, MVMT, OnePlus, Eve Mattresses, Netflix, Monzo and Waze just to name a few.

We at RBH love our clients, we do everything possible to stop them from dancing the Mephisto Waltz, be they big or small. We want them dancing their own dance, we just help them learn the steps.

RBH Mindset

Want to grab some insight yourselves? Head over to RBH Mindset to catch our latest insights into your industry.

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