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Lessons From Aarhus: And Marketing Functionality

May 29, 2009

A recent night out in Aarhus, Denmark – the trendy late night student town reinforced to me the importance of how great marketing is linked to great functionality. Again. The Scandanavians certainly adore the craft of making something utilitarian – a work of wonder. The devil (and the style)  – is in the detail and the thinking of the user, not just your budget and your boss. So, some Lessons From Aarhus.

Lessons From Aarhus #1. Our cool, hip and simple hotel does not need to be flash.V. simple Scandanavian design. Functionality = location. We stayed in a hotel with a tiny room featuring furniture that folded in on itself to save time. But when it is located 1 minutes walk to a selection of hip uber-bars and gorgeous Cathederal – then who cares?

Lessons from Aarhus #2. Great functionality is about making things easy to use – not just gadgets. The groovey olive oil bottle we bought in a Danish design store features a clever suction pump, every kind of measure and fits the human hand perfectly to avoid any mishaps. It is impossible to pour the wrong amount or make a spill. It is the opposite of flashy or bling. But is a wonder all the same (and demanded a hefty price tag to boot)

Lessons from Aarhus #3. Give freedom to front line staff. Danish cafes and bars gave us discounts and treats for minor hiccups. The wrong cocktail? Sorry, misunderstood. Keep it for free and we will mix you a better one. No fuss, no argument. Simple things that create enormous trust and feeling of rapport with the staff. You end up staying longer, spending more and wanting to visit again. The young hip staff seemed to genuinely love food, drinks, coffee and music and delivering with a flourish and a smile. Do you feelthat in London I wonder? Remember that old Tom Peters stuff about delighting customers? The hip  bars and coffee shops of Aarhus have it in buckets.

Lessons from Aarhus #4. Find a sense of fun.Hip Danish cafes, galleries and bars make you smile and don’t take themselves too seriously. There is a sense of bright colours and silliness. A teeney-weeney chocolate cake is served on the plate alongside your ham and eggs. Is it right from a cuisine point of view? I don’t know. Does it make you giggle over breakfast. Of course.

Lessons from Aarus #5. Be bold. Cool does not follow the pack – it takes some risks.Day-glo fleuro lights & pink plastic walls anyone? Now, if you had a cafe and your designer suggested day-glo lanterns, plastic walls and bright fleuro partitions, would  you say yes or would it be a step too far? But great design and style needs to be bold; from cars to advertising to clothes. Do cooling utensils really need to be engineered and priced like an Aston Martin? Maybe not. It is a risk in aiming for the premium market but the coolness and uber-quality appears to wealthy Americans and Japanese.

So – what did I pick up from all of this? And how how does all of this relate to marketing? Firstly, all of these lessons from Aarhus relateto FUNCTIONALITY. So often marketers nurdle their product, service and gizmos so much that they forget what they are truly there for: to serve customers brilliantly and profitably. And as simply as possible. The Danes focus their marketing development on product brilliance and wonder, not marketing communications and packaging. Secondly, the Danes have remembered what too many in the UK have forgotten. Service is about realising your front line staff are your brand. A smile, an ability to help and touch of charm is worth a hundred advertising campaigns and endless meetings with the agency. Now, why don’t the Danes come up with a clever way to bottle it?

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