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Three-Brains most popular lessons from 2023

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Why read this? : We share our most popular lessons from 2023. Learn which of our marketing, creative and e-Commerce articles generated the most interest last year. Read this to kickstart your thinking about how to grow in 2024. 

We’re all set to jump into the joys of the new year. We hope you are too. But before we do that, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on some key lessons from 2023, as we’re big on learning here at Three-Brains. As Zig Ziglar famously put it, “If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you“. 

So we’ve analysed last year’s marketing data to identify which articles drove the most traffic and engagement.  And without further ado, here are our most popular marketing, creative and e-Commerce lessons from 2023.

Key lessons from 2023 - Marketing

Our most popular marketing article came in June covering our pizza business example marketing mix. It took a hypothetical Sydney pizza delivery business and planned out all its “Ps”.

It went through the standard 4Ps of product, price, place and promotion, plus the extra Ps of people, process and physical location, given that food delivery is a service.  

Interestingly, our most popular marketing article in 2022 used the same pizza business as a case study.

Ham and pineapple pizza on a barbecue grill

That topic was targeting. However, it makes us think that one of our lessons from 2023 could be that people like to hear about pizza.

However, it’s probably more about the challenges of finding good marketing case studies online. There are advertising case studies, but they usually focus on creativity and rarely cover process or concrete results. Case studies in marketing academic books are often dry and dated. In terms of broader marketing challenges, most businesses don’t like to share their current thinking. (Assuming that they do some thinking). So it’s hard to find case studies that are clear, contemporary and relatable.

The appeal of marketing voyeurism

The popularity of marketing case studies reveals a possible insight into marketers and how they work.

Much of marketing is about observation. You observe customers. You observe trade channels. And you observe competitors to see how they tackle your category‘s challenges. 

It suggests there’s a voyeuristic aspect to marketing. You look outside your business to learn from what others do. Then you use that to drive improvements inside your business.

Blond woman partially hidden behind a leafy bush

But you don’t get many chances to see beyond the surface level of other people’s marketing. At a push, maybe if you’re a judge in some marketing award. But we’re never convinced those submissions tell the whole truth. They retrofit the insights and results to put the right “spin” on the story. You won’t get any of the lessons that come from making mistakes and things that didn’t go well. 

In contrast, what if you put yourself in the shoes of a hypothetical but relatable business like a pizza delivery place? No need for “spin”. Instead, you set up a business challenge (marketing planning in this case), and work through it. You make it easy to visualise the challenge and prompt the reader with example answers. You prompt them to think how they’d plan their “Ps” if it were their business. This article works because it allows the reader to test out their marketing brain cells.

Abstract vs concrete

The other thing that works is it brings an abstract concept (the marketing mix) to life in a concrete way. You can easily picture the product (pizza), place (Bondi), price ($20) and promotion (online and leaflet drops).  

We covered this “make the abstract concrete” idea in our writing about marketing article. For example, it shared that when you do keyword research on marketing topics, more concrete and specific terms get more traffic

This doesn’t just apply to marketing. It applies to any topic you write about.

Sydney Pineapple Pizza Company mock up company image - says Bondi Beach, has two pineapple icons, a large pizza slice in the background and superimposed on image of a turquoise sea.

Concrete items are easier for our brains to process as they’re easy to visualise. Abstract terms are harder work as your brain has to create its own image for them.

Abstract vs concrete example - customer descriptions

For example, you find this when describing customer segments. Try to imagine a 45-year-old male single-malt whisky drinker living in Sydney. You can picture him quite easily, right? Lots of concrete terms in the description help. His age, gender, something he does, where he lives and so on. 

But what if we’d asked you to imagine a bold and thoughtful adventurer who enjoys the finer things in life. More abstract, right? Harder and takes longer to picture that sort of person, right? What does someone “bold” or “thoughtful” look like? What does an adventurer look like?And what are the “finer things in life”? You can work these out, but it’s harder to do than with the concrete descriptions. 

It’s not that abstract is wrong or that you should never use it. In fact, you often need it to explore richer, deeper topics. But one of our key marketing lessons from 2023 is that if you want to convey or share lessons on abstract topics, use concrete examples to make them easier to understand. 

Like exploring how to use the marketing mix through the lens of a pineapple pizza delivery business.

Key lessons from 2023 - Creative

Our most popular creative article was January’s how to get past a fear of creativity. Now you might think this contradicts the point about abstract vs concrete. After all, isn’t fear an abstract term? Ditto, creativity. 

Well, yes. But fear is an emotion. And emotions are something our brains are set up to easily recognise, understand and engage with.

We’ve touched on this before in our how to use emotions in creativity article. This explored how the brain’s emotional system, known as the limbic system works.

Woman holding blanket over bottom half of her face to show fear

In particular, the limbic system contains the amygdala. This fight-or-flight part of our brain handles our fears. It’s on constant alert for threats even if we’re not consciously aware it’s doing so. If someone or something is making you feel on edge, that’s your amygdala in action.

The key lesson here is that showing or talking about fear grabs people’s attention. It puts them on alert. For example, it’s why insurance adverts show bad things happening. They want you to have a little fear, so you take out insurance to protect yourself from the threat of whatever causes the fear.

Does fear work?

Interestingly, after writing this article, we did more research on whether fear works in marketing. It’s a topic that’s been around for a long time. We even found a reference to it in our very battered old copy of Kotler’s Marketing Management

The consensus seems to be that “some” fear is good for grabbing attention. But if your fear “warning” is too light, customers will ignore it. And if it’s too much, they’ll mentally block it out and avoid dealing with it. Finding the right level of fear is key.

Person holding up an illustration of an angry face

Fear messages work best when they present a realistic fear the customer can relate to e.g. the insurance ads. But they must link the call to action to how the brand helps customers deal with that fear. 

When we wrote this article, we’d been doing a lot of research into using emotions. (e.g. see our surprising insights about personality and thoughts about thinking articles). 

In terms of creative lessons from 2023, a key one which stands out is that emotions supercharge your creative work’s impact. But it’s a tricky area to get right. It’s why many businesses find using emotions such a creative challenge.

Creativity is challenging

There’s another interesting parallel in that our most popular creative article the year before dealt with overcoming creative barriers

Most of us like to think we approach the world rationally. And yes, some of the time we do. But it takes conscious effort to do so. That drains our mental energy as we try to control how we interact with the world. 

However, while our rational brain recharges, it’s the emotional and instinctive parts of our brains which keep us going.

Man with hand in front of camera and the words creativity stores here on his hand

So you need to get your creative work to appeal to these emotional and instinctive auto-pilot parts of your customers’ brains if you want to connect with them. They have to feel something about you before they’ll think something about you. 

Many brands mistakenly jump straight to logical arguments about why you should choose them. But if you don’t emotionally connect with the customer first, they won’t listen to what you have to say.

Stirring emotions doesn’t necessarily mean going all gushy or gory. Part of our creativity lessons from 2023 is keeping it simple. Show that you’ve thought about how your customers might be feeling. If they’re feeling afraid, show them how you can help them overcome that fear.

Key lessons from 2023 - e-Commerce 

With all that in mind though, our most popular e-Commerce article in 2023 dealt with what feels like a very unemotional topic. 

This was our February 2023 article on mastering the challenges of e-Commerce category management. It looked at how you apply category management principles (which come from traditional retail channels) to online selling. 

However, though the topic is rational, its headline has some emotion to grab attention.

Screengrab of Coles online bottled water page showing 12 different bottled waters to choose from

For example, “master”. If you’re not mastering a skill, you may fear that you’re falling behind or will get caught out. Then, the acknowledgement that this is a “challenge”. Challenges speak to a similar area as fears. Yes, we know a challenge stretches and improves us. But we also know we may make mistakes and fail.

We believe part of this article’s popularity is that there isn’t much content out there on how these 2 topics work together. You can find plenty on category management. And plenty on e-Commerce. But if you sell to retailers and already have a category management plan, it’s a challenge to work out how e-Commerce best fits into that. 

There’s always more than one solution

The other reason for the article’s popularity is that it doesn’t try to prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenge. 

It shared the pros and cons of different approaches. You can start with your category management expertise and add e-Commerce as a bonus sales channel. Or you start by looking at the broader e-Commerce opportunity and work on what it means for the category in that channel. 

The real challenge is to work out which approach will work best for your business.

Hand holding old fashioned looking compass

You won’t know until you test some ideas to see what works. As that article suggested, the key is to make sure everyone has the same overall goal. Teams must be aligned on where you’re heading. 

The best route to get there depends on your team defining their roles and responsibilities and continuously building their learnings. You might take some wrong turns along the way, but it’s all progress. One of our key e-Commerce lessons from 2023 is that you have to be flexible in your learning approach if you want to grow what you know.

Conclusion - Our 3 most popular lessons from 2023

That’s a good place to wrap up this summary of our most popular lessons from 2023.

It was another year of learning and growth for us, and we hope for you too. 

We learned that people love pizza (!).

But also that marketers love getting to see the thinking that goes on behind the scenes on brands. And that translating abstract concepts (like the marketing mix) into concrete examples makes them easier to understand.

We learned that the right level of fear can grab your customers’ attention and improve your creative work’s impact. And that if you share how you can lessen that fear, customers will listen. 

And finally, we learned that you get interesting results when you combine 2 topics which don’t normally go together. E-Commerce category management is an interesting and still evolving subject. There are many ways to tackle the challenges. The key is to test different approaches and to keep learning.

We’ll be continuing to learn and share as we head into 2024. Get in touch if you need expert help with your own learning journey in marketing, creative and e-Commerce.

Photo credits

Hawaiian Pizza : Photo by bckfwd on Unsplash

Woman peeking out from bush : Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Woman covering face under blanket : Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

Angry face : Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Hand / Stop (adapted) : Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Person holding compass : Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

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