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Having fun, writing about the stuff I like

A New Kind of Middleman

Oscar Foulkes January 20, 2010 Uncategorized 2 comments

As a kid growing up in a farming community I often heard talk of “middlemen”; usually in scornful reference to the perception that they inflate prices at the expense of the farmer.

The first rule of The Market is that the entity closest to the consumer gets the biggest chunk of the margin. Hence retailers may take 30%, distributors 20%, and so on. An obvious difference is Apple, which not only controls the retail prices of its products, but also is held in such esteem by consumers that it dictates to its intermediaries what (slim) margin they will get.

On a continuum from source to market, farmers are – by definition – a long way away from the consumer, both physically and conceptually. Perhaps my fascination with marketing has its roots in those early experiences; certainly, the work I’ve done in the wine industry has been aimed at closing that gap (with the internet being an obvious tool).

The private labels I developed as a retailer gave consumers the price benefit of products that didn’t have the cost of a distribution channel built into the margin. I think they also got damn fine wines, as evidenced by the number of times that Mystery wines topped either Wine magazine or Wine-of-the-Month Club tastings.

The work I’ve done at Cloof has been focused on shaping products and brands that are sufficiently interesting to consumers that they are able to cut through the clutter in the marketplace. An analogy that springs to mind is the contrasting visibility of a lighthouse on a dark night, and an individual penguin in the middle of a colony of thousands.

So, here I am (voluntarily unemployed) at the start of 2010, getting ready to apply my wild card-type thinking to product development, branding and marketing, with an holistic view of the entire business – numbers and all.

I’m calling my new venture Slingshot Brand Equity. While creative input may comprise a small part of the enterprise effort, it can have a disproportionate effect on the success of the business, over a long period of time. Apart from this amplification effect, brands themselves catapult businesses into another sphere.

Finally, business is about the numbers – if there’s no profit there’s no business. As far as is possible I’m simultaneously creative and analytical.

Clearly, at Cloof I had the opportunity of shaping the entire business from the ground up. Initial projects I’m involved in cover a variety of practical applications, sometimes affecting just one area of a business. I’m happy to look at almost anything, because it’s a great way to get exposed to new territory.

One of the things I’ve struggled with most of all over the past month as I’ve formulated my plan, has been the really important thing of a simple definition of the benefit my partners/clients will get from me. This has really bugged me, because if I can’t do it for myself, how can I do it for someone else?

So, here it is: I shape brands and bring them closer to consumers.

It’s very simplistic, because my eyes are on a lot of balls while I’m doing it, but that’s the end result of my efforts.

It’s a role that may not make me that different to the “middlemen” so derided by the farmers of my childhood, but it’s one I passionately love.


Gus CG Allen - January 20, 2010

Good Luck for 2010 Oscar and for your new venture. You certainly have a marketing mind and write well to boot!

sue van wyk - February 1, 2010

You go Oscar! Wishing you a wonderful future doing what you are so good at!

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