Mozart and marketing

Vintage Productions celebrates its 25th anniversary. On this occasion, founder and chairman Jos Dillen looks back at 25 years of international communication and gives his advice for the future.

What is marketing? According to some people, everything is marketing. But that would mean that everything can be reduced to a product with a certain price-tag that can be offered and promoted through specific channels. Let’s hope that this is not the case. The finest things in life have little or nothing to do with marketing. ‘Little’ or nothing? Yes, Mozart’s music for instance is also a product which has been actively sold, but its effect on you cannot be captured in the language of Product, Price, Place and Promotion. When you would listen to Mozart’s Gran Partita, you don’t think about its Unique Selling Proposition!

As a good friend of mine says, “‘Marketing’ or, to be more specific, ‘marketing communication’ is my profession and talking about it is my hobby.” Together, we have dedicated countless hours to his (or our) hobby. For me personally, the time to take up another pastime is gradually drawing closer. Today, however, let’s look back at the hobby that has coloured most of my existence.

Vintage Productions started in 1992. You probably remember 1992 as a year of crisis. General Schwarzkopf and Kuwait didn’t exactly have a positive influence on communication budgets. Representatives of big companies were no longer allowed to fly. Luckily, there was this small company in the centre of the world – Antwerp – with no travel restrictions and an ability to optimise budgets by globalising communications on a pan-European scale. Even for products that had always been characterised by a fragmented marketing approach. The vision that we put into practice then hung on the wall in our lobby for a long time:

“One should not focus on the differences between people, but look for commonality and similarity.”

This quote comes from a 1988 article by Theodore Levitt who, along with Kottler, is one of the few writers on marketing worth reading. I know that will rub some people up the wrong way! It was also Philippe Kottler who revealed to me at a symposium – in 1994 I believe – the importance of one-to-one marketing. There could be no ‘one-to-one’ without databases, and no databases without extensive digitalisation. And digital we went! Not that Vintage was the first past the post in this respect – my IT knowledge was too limited for that – but we have always been early adopters and, in the meantime, apps, interactive literature, configurators, virtual reality… have become our bread and butter.

Openness to the digital world, combined with creative content have ensured that, after a quarter of a century, Vintage still exists as a mid-sized independent communications company.

Twenty-five years… Let me quote the Bible. The gospels according to Saint Matthew. To be precisely, chapter 5, verse 14-17 read:  “Do not hide your light under a bushel”

When you look at the communications landscape, 25 years is quite an achievement. For once we should not be too modest. And, although we have had our ups and downs, we never had to resort to credit of any kind. Through a policy of continuous investment and, above all, hard work, we have managed to avoid being taken over. Mergers have never been on the menu either. Shall we keep it that way?

But back to our question: “What is marketing?” At the end of the nineties, a big client of ours was guided by a philosopher. His name: Hiroschi Hamada. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr Hamada in person; as the president of a large Japanese multinational, he was more or less ‘inaccessible’. But without knowing it, he had a significant influence on the day-to-day business of Vintage Productions. Hamada-san wrote a book with a very exotic title: “OYAKUDACHI’”. This can be translated as “standing in someone else’s shoes”. It’s not a technical approach or a forced attempt to make marketing into a science, but rather a request to live the needs and desires of clients. For the company celebrating its silver jubilee today, “Oyakudachi” has not become an empty word. Our clients and, even more, our clients’ clients: that’s what our craft of communication is all about. In that respect, nothing has changed in 25 years.

So what has changed then? “Communication itself has changed,” I hear you say. And indeed, where the transmission of information used to be primarily one-directional, digital communications made it first bi-directional and then multi-directional. Once a message is placed online, it can end up almost anywhere. As the communicator, you can only hope that it reaches the targeted recipient. But there was waste in the past; just as much as there is now! Perhaps because of the sheer quantity of information that we all receive to be processed, it is becoming more difficult to attract the attention of your target group. Perhaps communication is becoming less subtle. It must be childish, infantile, babyish even in order to have any chance of being understood. Maybe everything has to be ‘fun’ in our Disneyfied culture. Maybe, as some people are convinced, we are all happily becoming more ignorant because of a decline in the quality of communication through the internet and new media. These things may all be true, but that doesn’t mean that all communication is without substance. Neither does it mean that content is completely determined by the media. No, Mr. McLuhan: the medium will never be the message!

People are not a ‘resource’; ‘body leasing’ should remain out of the question

And that leads us to the first piece of advice that I want to pass on to Claudia (our CEO) and the Vintage staff for the next 25 years. Vintage, stick to your core business and, as the pay-off says, stay committed to producing quality communication, ‘communication with bite’. Be wary of passing trends, even if it means placing yourself in a niche. Believe me: that niche can only grow. We are noticing now that prospects are showing a strong and renewed interest in good content.

Secondly, stay ethical. Always be truthful. One can embellish sales arguments perhaps exaggerate a little bit, but leave the alternative facts to politicians. Don’t ever work for Lockheed or FN – yes, our national weapons factory is also interested in virtual images and animations. And, last but not least, leave children’s marketing to the exploiters from a certain company with the figure 100 in its name.

And my third piece of advice: never form a HR department. People are not a ‘resource’; ‘body leasing’ should remain out of the question. Choose honest colleagues with personal value, ideally people who are more capable than you. Don’t be afraid to set the bar high, even if it means that young artisans sometimes get too big for their boots.

Don’t choose people according to a model that you have drawn up completely in advance. As a rule of thumb: every new colleague must have a ‘kink’ (in Dutch: Er moet een hoek af zijn). These rules don’t constitute a vision. Nor should they ever be read as a manifesto cut in stone. However, I am sure that if you follow these simple rules, you can already send out invitations to a golden jubilee.

Jos Dillen