What Bananas Have to Do With Your Marketing (Seriously)
October 24, 2017 | Dan Trefethen
In essence, B2B marketing is bananas.
End blog post.
Alright, fair, elaboration needed. It’s not that B2B marketing is silly or crazy or chaotic (although those can all be true in some contexts), it’s that B2B marketing shares a mirrored existence with bananas, the two are inter-dimensionally linked, and lessons can be learned from understanding their connection.
What does this exactly mean? The Cavendish banana is just one singular breed of banana (in the Musa genus), and it was culled from thousands of other possibilities for mass production throughout the banana industry around 1950.
Here’s the crazy part, the linchpin of the banana’s history in the 20th century – there was a different and BETTER banana breed that was mass produced in the first half of the 20th century.
I know. Relax. Calm down. There’s still more to cover here. And I promise the marketing connection is coming.
Some readers may be already aware of this, and VICE news did a special about the subject some months ago, but upon discovery, I couldn’t contain my incredulousness.
The pre-1950s banana was called the Gros Michel, and was a little fatter, and apparently, much tastier.
Image source: youtube.com
So what happened? What’s the deal?
The Gros Michel’s reign was devastated by a fungal disease called the Panama disease that spread rapidly across plantations in Central America. The disease was able to spread so comprehensively because of the identical genetics of the bananas across commercial plantations in the late 1940s – monoculture.
The initial intention of the banana industry to make almost all commercially available bananas the same breed was for market scalability.
The banana business model is the cheapest fruit in the supermarket, thus scalability of production is paramount. It also greatly helps advertising to have a unified definition of this is what a banana looks and tastes like, getting as many people as possible all on the same page.
So when the entire product of the Gros Michel – bananas at large – was in jeopardy of vanishing, the banana market needed a replacement.
Enter the Cavendish and the compromise for aesthetics.
The banana industry had a decision to make. Replacement banana breeds could lean toward a similar taste as the Gros Michel, but look a little less appealing, or taste a little different, but look more sleek and, well, marketable (i.e. easily fit in hands, become a nice solid yellow when ripe, grow in easy-to-handle batches).
They went with the latter. And those are the bananas we all eat today, whether we like it or not.
However, that’s not the end. In recent years, the Panama disease has started to affect the Cavendish banana, wiping out plantations across Asia, parts of the Middle East, and Southern Africa. Though it has not yet spread throughout all banana producing continents, the search for a new banana breed for mass market is underway.
What Does This Have to Do With Your Marketing?
The goal behind almost every marketing effort is scalability. Every a/b test, experimental campaign, and content process usually has the bottom line goal of “how can we optimize a best result and then repeat that for the most audience reach?”
So, too, strives the banana industry. While monoculture comes with a fair share of baggage, debate, and controversy, purely from a marketing lens the scalability it provides for reach is undeniable.
The Cavendish was actually initially cultivated in a greenhouse at the Chatsworth House in Bakewell United Kingdom. England! This was a very deliberate process of creation that hit on a success.
However with monoculture, variety is taken away.
Think of this in terms of creating content in just one media format only because you’ve learned how to fast track the creation. Maybe it has a success for a while, but at best you’re losing an audience who prefers an alternative, at worst you’re severally susceptible to big misses in innovation and opportunity.
Audience Expectation and Saturation
With a certain success in scalability either of a process, style, or format comes audience expectation.
The look, feel, and taste of a banana became unified and understood globally. It let’s you do mass messaging like this:
Let’s take an example B2B marketing tactic: white papers (or even blogs). The format became ubiquitous across the industry with the standard lead gate form.
But with expectation and wide adoption comes over saturation. How many times have you seen the “Download now!” button? Or seen the eight-field contact form to access a 60-page document, which likely gets lost on your desktop. It leaves one asking, are white papers with lead gates relevant any more? Do audiences really want them?
In a recent study on generational B2B buying habits, across all current generations (Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers) white papers were ranked as their least preferred content format.
The buying environment has changed. Your audience (all the way up and down the decision-making ladder) is looking for more immediate value exchanges, and don’t have the time (or interest) in poring over lengthy material.
And while unlike the white paper, the general public is not rejecting the current banana (although they might if they could – there’s actually a tastier relative of the Cavendish, the Cardava, but the exterior stays green when ripe, and that’d just mess with everyone, right?), this is the second time a mass banana breed is in jeopardy. And it’s because of its one-noted saturation.
Innovation: Beyond the Status Quo
So while preventive measures are being undertaken to stop Panama disease, and create a Cavendish banana that isn’t susceptible, other current efforts have a purer motive: make a better banana for banana lovers.
If we revert back to our banana as white paper analogy, comments from Bob Williams, the Director of Plant Industries at the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries in Australia, show the implication for marketers:
“To be quite truthful, Cavendish is a terrible tasting banana compared to what’s in Indonesia, the Philippines, and PNG. The obvious application of this experimentation is to give us sweeter, more delicious fruit. But a cloned, cleaner, more palatable product also allows Australian farmers to compete better internationally.”
Those clever, innovative Australian farmers! Instead of merely trying to maintain the status quo, they’re branching out and trying to create something their audience wants: a tastier banana.
For marketers: superior content marketing formats.
Was This a Stretch? Sure.
The scalability of B2B content is hitting a struggle in terms of simply producing more and more content. But if you’re relying on the standard PDF format to achieve better results, you’re missing out on what audience expectation has now become: variety and more personalized experiences.
If we look at the evolution of banana production (from Gros Michel to Cavendish to the next gen) as a B2B analogy, you’ll see a mass trend take off, get duplicated, repeated, pushed to scale, and then killed off.
I won’t get too into the 21st century state of personalization, individual curation, and attention span (think Netflix, BuzzFeed, and Amazon shopping), but the current buyer landscape is not one-size fits all. The more adaptable and experimental your marketing efforts are to catch up to your audience expectations, the better results you’ll see.
Think of the Australian banana agriculture initiative as the marketing technology farm. The resources needed to scale more personalized and immersive content experiences in your own marketing are there. Instead of just staying with the status quo, start creating what your audience actually wants.
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