In search of the unordinaires; Willy Wonka

The Unordinaires are those marketing individuals who decide to take a different path to the conventional types. They believe  ‘better for customers’ is never a strap line nor a project, it’s a way of business life and they pursue it in an authentic and original way others can only aspire to. They put their trust in customers, letting their loyalty repay the shareholders. And whilst their individual stars may shine brighter in bursts rather than constantly their enduring legacy is more than a sonic logo, a witty TV ad or memorable sponsorship. They win a place in their customer’s heart for their brands. Their stories are often well known, but not always. But what is always present is the spark of unordinary thinking we at Lexden celebrate.

In a new series of interviews, we will be inviting a number of Unordinaires (as they are affectionately known)  to share their unordinary marketing stories with us. And, by doing so, they will become honourary members of Lexden’s The Unordinaires Club. We will gather these thought leaders every few months at various locations in London, Edinburgh and beyond to share unordinary stories and help with guest marketer’s challenges.

So without further ado, please show your appreciation for our first member of the Unordinaires Club; Mr Willy Wonka.

If you want to know why or how it came to be Willy Wonka, please read the previous blog.

I caught up with Mr Wonka, now retired and living in a small town in mid America with his wife Biddy and 3 year old son James, earlier this month. Willy once ran his self-created empire Wonka Confectionery. But now when he’s not keeping up with James or tinkering with his glass elevator in his garden stables, he tests the latest new inventions the current CEO of Wonka, Charlie Bucket send him.

Q. Thinking back to when you were in charge of the Wonka brand, if you’d only been allowed to run one marketing activation campaign, which would you have chosen?

A. Mr Wonka replied in a shot, “The Golden Ticket of course. I created a demand for my Wonka bars which outstripped my ability to produce them. In Germany and the United Kingdom we got our numbers wrong and couldn’t keep up. But in other countries we launched a series of new product lines through the promotion which ensured they were established with market share within a week of hitting the shelves. The competition didn’t know what to do. But with each bar at the time containing the new ‘tastelicious’ flavour I knew customers would have to come back for more and more, even when the promotion was over.”

Q. You were the Wonka brand, how concerned were you that it couldn’t last beyond you?

A. “I think that’s where people really did get me wrong. I was simply an exaggeration of the brand. The brand was and is Wonka. I proved that by spending my final years at the factory focussing on a successor. To me brands are there to be handed down to the next generation in a stronger shape than they started. Sadly too many people these days seem to think a brand is there to advance their own careers.

Until they work out that they are nurturing it until someone who can continue the work comes along, they are holding the brand back. Charlie Bucket fulfilled the criteria I was looking for in a brand manager, marketing director, product manager and MD. And he’s managed to continue and grow the work I started. For instance,  I was delighted to see Johnny Depp playing me in the Tim Burton movie. And as fantastical is it may have seemed on film, that dedication to the brand I had is what made me unordinary, not my father or the chocolate river. Which was an idea which came from a customer focus group by the way.”

Q. Finally, we believe in the ‘customer first, profits follow’ model. Did you?

A.  Absolutely. I used a very simple test to see if something was good enough; not a business case nor a profit model but ‘a smile’. We invited people who loved sweets to sample our new tastes. As an entrepreneur I believed in getting things to market in as good a shape as you can manage and then perfect them when you are there, rather than working the hell out of them to find by the time you get to market you are out of fashion. So I found the smile test helped me get that quick response. The only flaw in the approach was most couldn’t help following the smile with a sentence of compliment.  Something I didn’t want to hear, so I always ignored it. In fact, I drowned it out with loud clasical music. As long as I could see that smile, that’s all the research I needed. After all that’s what making sweets is all about right? Making people happy. If a sweet doesn’t do that, it shouldn’t exist.”

Thank you Mr Wonka for a magical journey from brand management, to product testing and customer insight through to marketing activation. In our short discussion Mr Wonka highlighted how his unordinary approaches to marketing are actually very sane. If only we all had his confidence we could be making bold decisions that some 40 years later are still being copied and admired by millions across the world.

Thank you Mr Wonka, and we hope to see you at the first The Unordinaires Club to be held in Late June in  London. If you would like more details about the event email christopherbrooks@lexdengroup.com or ajai.ranawat@lexdengroup.com.

Posted by Christopher Brooks

Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which creates unordinary propositions to motivate customers and deliver commercial advantage for brands. 

For more information on how we can help you, contact christopherbrooks@lexdengroup.com orajairanawat@lexdengroup.com, or call us on T: +44 (0)20 7490 9123.  And you can follow us on Twitter @consultingchris.

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