Marketing: Thoughts from the Minnesota AMA Conference

Yesterday, Liz and I attended the Minnesota chapter of the American Marketing Association’s annual conference (this year’s theme: design) in downtown St. Paul. The conference was just one day, but the breadth of topics and the bevy of presenters was outstanding.

Under the umbrella theme of design, I expected the presentations to air on a gritty, almost technical side, but I was pleasantly surprised to find this not to be the case at all. Instead, almost every presenter talked at length about the importance of brand, the importance of a consumer’s interaction with brand, and the delicacy of growing and developing a company’s brand in a way that attracts new customers while retaining the old.

The most interesting presentation was from Eric Ryan, founder of Method Home. I’m using ‘interesting’ in the most Minnesotan of ways here because I was actually slightly confused. I’ve seen Method’s products for years at Target and although I have bought its hand soap frequently and love the product design, I had two important misconceptions about the brand. First, I didn’t realize it was eco-friendly! Ah! Clearly I would have been a more avid consumer but I had no idea. While I credit Method for relying on stylish design rather than the eco niche, for someone like me who’s dying to make that choice, it would have been great to know the products are eco-driven, especially as Method’s prices are a good deal higher than its competition.

Which brings me to my second point. Until yesterday at approximately 1pm CST, I thought Method was a fancy house-brand of Target. I had no idea it was its own entity! This isn’t necessarily Method’s fault (or Target’s), but it isn’t mine either. It certainly doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault, but I’m a very attentive (and avid) consumer and I had no idea, after seeing Method at Target for all these years, that it was anything other than Target’s Archer Farms of the cleaning aisle.

Method has obviously done very well for itself, and deservedly so, but I wonder how much more successful it could be. It already has the design differentiator down, but if even the most perceptive consumers can’t see its real brand differentiators, is it holding itself back?


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