Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's Time To Wake Up and Smell the Digital Revolution

Why is it that some of advertising’s best and brightest still don’t get it when it comes to appreciating the impact that the web is having on the advertising business?

Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP and a man whose impact on the architecture of the modern advertising agency is unparalleled, recently wrote an article for The (London) Times on the digital revolution. In it, he tried to calm the fears of those in the traditional advertising business by comparing the impact of the Internet to that of television in the 1950’s. Here’s the lead paragraph from that issue of The Times:

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, the British advertising giant, believes that the internet will not prove the death knell of traditional advertising channels. Writing exclusively for The Times, the advertising guru says that, despite “constant competition between the old and new”, the emergence of the internet will not “displace” other platforms. He likens the internet advertising threat to that posed by the advent of television in the mid-1950s.

To Mr. Sorrell, the Internet is just another new medium –albeit a very powerful one- and eventually the Internet will settle in along with other media as part of an integrated media buy. Unfortunately, his view on the subject is inflicting a grave injustice on those in the business who are uncertain about what the internet and the digitization of media will mean for them, their work and their jobs. The digital revolution unfolding today is about much more than the introduction of a new medium into the advertising mix. There is no question the internet as a medium is quite powerful and growing rapidly every day. Studies from Forrester, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and many others chronicle this fact on a regular basis. But the advertising business is in for a much bigger storm than most, including Mr. Sorrell, can even imagine.

Consider if you will, the undeniable fact that marketers are continuing to shift monies away from advertising, which favors media, to direct marketing and promotion, which do not. While this has been happening for decades, the digital revolution has helped accelerate the shift. This means less advertising in the future and less money for media -- all media. Consider that all media are going digital and that this will fundamentally change how they operate and are consumed. We all know the impact that TIVO and VOD are having on the world of television. Its effect on the print medium is becoming more apparent everyday. I vividly recall a recent occasion when my daughter and son-in-law were visiting. Each morning I got up early, had my morning coffee, and read the local newspaper. My son-in-law also got up early, but along with this cup of coffee he powered up his laptop to read a digital version of the same paper.

The traditional definitions we use for magazine or newspaper or television or direct mail, will become meaningless to most consumers. To them, it will just be news or information or entertainment or games or great offers. Most folks in traditional media are not prepared for this -- and they are powerless to stop it. Yesterday, the media controlled the time, place and message. Today, with the digitization of media, the consumer does. It’s that simple. This new “consumer-centric” world makes traditional advertising and media very uncomfortable as they are used to talking to, or shouting at, consumers. Now, it's about marketers having a conversation with one consumer at a time. But the consumer determines when and where that conversation will take place.

Here in Seattle, this may not seem like news, because we are the most wired city in the U.S., and everyone is directly, or indirectly, involved with this new digital world. But believe me when I tell you that to the majority of the country this is still a foreign concept. Mr. Sorrell’s attitude and understanding of the digital revolution reminds me of a book I read several years ago by David Halberstam, titled The Reckoning. The author chronicled the rise of Datsun (now Nissan) and the concurrent decline of Ford, and attributed much of the blame to Luddites in Detroit who refused to believe that Americans would buy an ugly little box from Japan over an American made car just to save gas. Automakers in Detroit all drove American cars, lived next door to someone who drove an American car, and simply didn’t realize that the world was changing until it was too late.

I fear that Mr. Sorrell must live in that same sheltered environment if he believes that the Internet is just another medium. Digitization of media and communication means real-time interactivity and two-way conversations. Traditional media and advertising agencies that don't embrace this way of operating will go away. Consumers will leave them behind, and marketers will eventually refuse to fund them.

Sir Martin, it’s time to wake up and smell the digital revolution. The Internet is about much more than a new medium, it’s about the end of advertising and media as we have known it!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Branding 101: Building a Strong Brand Identity

Every marketer accepts the power of branding, but not all know how to do it well. So here some tips on how to build the power of your brand.

1. Building a strong brand identity starts with knowing who you are, who you want to be, and who you can be.
Knowing who you are is the first step, but you must also know who you want to be and who you can be. Your vision for who you want to be must be consistent with what you can deliver to your customers. Promising without delivering is the kiss of death.

2. Building a strong brand identity means aligning your external messaging with internal awareness and action. An important part of “inside-out” branding is to ensure that your internal audiences are in sync with your external communications. Too many marketers fail to nurture an internal awareness and passion for that external promise. One great example of this are banks who want you to believe they are friendly, but don’t deliver. When was the last time you saw a branch manager rush out of his chair to greet you? Or had a teller stop and smile and ask how you are doing today? Now I am sure that there are some friendly tellers and managers out there, but if your brand strategy is “we’re friendly and we care about you”, then your customer interactions must live up to that claim. All day and every day. If the expectations you create aren’t delivered, you may lose a customer for life.

3. A good branding strategy addresses these four elements – it is unique or differentiating; it is believable; it is relevant; and it is true.

• Strong brands offer something unique or differentiating to their customers.
Most business categories have too many choices. Customers need to see you as not merely a good choice, but the best choice to meet their needs. The challenge of a good
branding strategy is to find out what makes you unique, and then communicating that difference to your key target audience.

• Strong brands make claims that are believable to their audiences.
Customers should have permission to believe that your brand promise can be met. Today’s consumer is more knowledgeable . . . and more skeptical, than ever. Make sure you can give them enough logical rationale to justify their brand decision.

• Strong brands highlight their most relevant benefit.
This seems obvious, but this is often missed by marketers who forget to ask these basic questions. Does this really matter to my customers? Is this the most motivating way to present my brand? Our creative strategy for Puget Sound Blood Center is a great example of the power of communicating a more motivating benefit. Most blood centers simply say “please give blood” on the assumption that people will automatically understand the importance of their action. We highlight the benefit of giving blood with our theme “Imagine Saving a Life” and the Blood Center rarely needs to issue a distress call for donors.

• Strong brands make sure that what they promise to deliver is true.
Making an unsupportable claim may get you a onetime sale. But if you don’t live up to that claim, you will probably lose that customer. Plus all of the others they will tell about their bad experience. A Yankelovich study found that, on average, people with a positive experience tell three others, while people who have a bad experience tell eight. With the Internet’s easy access to thousands of potential customers, a bad experience can be devastating.

Whatever you do with your brand, remember this: Brands that thrive reflect their core culture and unique character, solve relevant needs, and provide a consistent experience for their customers.

Good luck with your branding development. I hope these thoughts help you along the way!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Looking Ahead: How the Changing Social Landscape is Affecting Marketing

We know that technology continues to encroach on every aspect of modern life. Innovations like Bluetooth, social marketing, blogs and mobile marketing are no longer just being used by the young technorati; they are being used by almost everyone, regardless of age and technology comfort and are rapidly becoming a part of the mainstream of American life. The Blackberry is an essential business tool, regardless of your age. Snapfish allows me to share photos of my children and grandchildren with my 80+ year old mother in Tennessee. The recent iPhone introduction is another example of the mass appeal that new technology can generate.

Perhaps just as important for marketers is to recognize that changing social behaviors, attitudes and mores are also affecting marketing. Here are ten things I believe will have major impact on how we market in the future.

1. Corporate greed is not good. In a world of increasing corporate transparency, consumers will reject companies and their products if they do not live up to proper ethical standards. Marketers need to examine every aspect of their business, not just the boardroom. Not every brand is as strong as Nike, and able to withstand the negative publicity of child labor exploitation.

2. In a multiple-choice world, you must differentiate or die. Jack Trout was right on target when he said that in today’s ultra-competitive world there are so many choices that companies will be hard pressed to survive without a point of difference. The average supermarket has over 45,000 branded items. There are now over 3,000 brands of bottled water. Huh?

3. To blog or not to blog, that is the question. Social networking is a fact that cannot be ignored. But companies must be careful when using tools like blogs, vlogs and Podcasts or face the wrath of a networked audience that can love you one minute and hate you the next. Some forward-thinking companies have created a new executive position of Blog Monitor to be able to respond quickly to new issues as they arise, or to correct misinformation that can damage a company unfairly.

4. “Word of mouth” can no longer be a happenstance event but rather an important part of an integrated marketing program. In today’s world, “word of mouth” can travel around the world instantly via the web. Viral marketing efforts like the Subservient Chicken and Lonelygirl15 have gotten millions of exposures for little to no cost. Social marketing and Web 2.0 will impact your business, whether you want it to or not. The next wave of “word of mouth” will be user-generated reviews of everything from restaurants to shopping to hair salons. One disappointing entrĂ©e or a surly waiter has the potential to ruin a restaurant’s reputation. Is that scary, or what?

5. Video messaging still rules, it’s just the delivery methods that are changing. Everything we learned in marketing class about sight, sound and motion still holds true. It is unquestionably the most powerful way to inform and persuade. But the continued fragmentation and decline in viewership of traditional television is being replaced by on-line video. We can’t all afford to back something as ambitious as Bud TV, but keep a close watch on YouTube as the next mass medium. Politicians have certainly jumped on that bandwagon. Are you one of the 2 million plus viewers of Obama Girl?

6. It’s not easy being green. Kermit was right. But if you aren’t looking for ways to include some form of green marketing or sustainability (the next great marketing buzzword), then you will be left behind, choking on ethanol exhaust fumes. Wal-Mart is touting itself as the world's largest buyer of organic cotton, fair trade coffee, and energy-efficient light bulbs. Companies across America are looking for ways to “green” their products, their manufacturing, and their distribution processes. Let’s face it. When a slide show can win an Oscar, it must be real. Since the original Earth Day in 1967, marketing periodicals have been saying that green marketing was the next big thing. It wasn’t then. It is now. Better get with the program.

7. Go organic. Go natural. Go anything but artificial. Organic foods. Organic skin care. Organic pants. Organic pants??? That’s right. A recent TV spot for Wal-Mart featured an on-camera spokesperson talking about her new organic pajama pants. The idea behind this spot shows just how deeply rooted the organic movement has become. It’s all part of the get real, get healthy, and environmentally-conscious world of today, not tomorrow.

8. CRM are the three most important letters you should know. Customer relationship management should be part of every marketing plan. We have always known that it is more expensive to recruit new customers than it is to retain existing ones. With ever-increasing expectations, and lower tolerance levels, consumers are demanding instant gratification at every turn. Retailers like Nordstrom are a great example of the power of being customer-centric – they continue to prove that people will pay more for better service.

9. East or west, home is best. A global economy, mass production and outsourcing, are contributing to a growing backlash against imported products and services that are putting American workers out of business. Many consumers are willing to pay more to get local goods that are presumably made with more care. With the recent product contamination scares from China, we may even see a resurgence of Made in America.

10. The era of “one size fits all” marketing is over, and niche marketing is the future of our business. If you haven’t read The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, buy it today. It’s one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in a long time. It makes a strong case for an entirely new economic model for business that is being created through digital technology. The Internet opens a new world of possibilities for niche products that never existed before and the primary economic value of the Internet to consumers comes from providing access to products that might never have been made available in a mass market economy. In a digital world where everything is available to everyone, niche marketing is the natural and inevitable wave of the future.

I’m sure you can find many other issues, trends, and social behaviors in your own business categories. The important thing to remember is to keep looking ahead if you don’t want to get left behind.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Building Client Relationships


A couple of years ago, someone asked me to give my thoughts on how to build a stronger relationship with their clients. Here’s what I wrote then. After reviewing them in today’s context, they still make a lot of sense.

How to say “no” to a client.

The only way to say “no” to a client, and not totally piss them off, is to have a left-brained logical reason for why it’s not a good idea, or can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done. If you can tie the “no” answer reason to financials, it usually goes down a little better with the client. Most clients won’t accept the “we just don’t like that idea” answer from their agency.

Another good strategy for saying “no” to a client, is to not react immediately. Rather, I prefer to say let me see if that is possible, wait some time, and then try to tell them that we’ve reviewed it thoroughly, and think “no” is best for them (important that you say “no” is best for them, not best for us).

How to calm an angry client.

My first step is always to try to get the client to express the reason for his anger. If you can get him to talk about it, you can understand more about why he is angry.

My next step is to try to empathize with his situation. When an AE comes to me to tell me a client is angry about something, my first question is “why” and my second is “do you agree with him”. If they don’t agree, then I try to understand the AE’s perspective first. Then, I ask the AE to put themselves in the client’s shoes and try to understand why they are acting or overreacting the way they are.

A final tactic is to get a senior executive at the agency to call the client to let them know we are aware of the situation and take it seriously enough to have the boss call them. Sometimes, just knowing that we are listening to them helps.

How to build the your business with a client without alienating the client or appearing to be opportunistic.

If your true desire is to help the client grow their business (not just yours), then you can do things to make sure the client knows you are sincere. I have ridden on a bread truck at 3 a.m., made store checks at all hours of the day and night, made pizza, flipped hamburgers, toured chicken processing plants, and a bunch of other things I never thought I would do in order to understand the client’s business better. Then, I have some credibility when I recommend things that might generate more business for the agency.

By the way, one of the most powerful things an agency can do is offer suggestions to the client on how to grow their business that don’t involve advertising. Then, a key element, is to find a way to merchandise your selfless actions to the client without appearing to have just done something for the recognition.

If a client has multiple agency partners, you must never, ever denigrate the other agency or their work. You don’t have to praise it, but any criticism is a criticism of the client who approved the work or who hired the agency. And it seems petty and unprofessional.

How to identify integration opportunities.

Get inside your client’s head to understand what his business is really about. How do they really make money? What are their long term goals? Understand his problems, before you offer solutions.

Another tactic is to probe for their personal or professional feelings on what you are trying to sell as an integration opportunity. If the client hates the Internet, or doesn’t really understand something relating to newer technologies like mobile marketing or social networking, maybe you should pre-sell them by feeding them statistics on penetration and usage, or demographics to show how their target audience is using these tools. Sometimes, giving them new information about how a competitor is using a new marcom tool will stimulate their desire to think more about other options.

How to get more deeply involved in the client’s business.

I’ve already addressed a few of these in a previous answer. Volunteer to work with the field sales force. Or work in the store.

Subscribe to all trade journals, and always be on the look out for articles of interest that you can send to them.

Call the client every day. Make sure they know you are thinking about their business all the time.

Buy stock in their company. It shows a real commitment on your part when you casually mention that you just read the Annual Report and were very impressed with it.

Use their products as another way to demonstrate your commitment to them. At Leo Burnett, they were fanatics about this. If you smoked anything other than Marlboro, you’d better not leave the pack out in plain sight. When I was there, the company brought in special coffee machines that only dispensed Taster’s Choice coffee. When Leo died, a long-time employee, Phil Shaaf, told a wonderful story about Leo’s dedication to using his client’s products. It seems that Leo often had severe attacks of angina that could only be soothed by chocolate. Once, at a P&G meeting in Cincinnati, Leo had an attack in a client meeting, and was doubled over in pain. Someone said “Get him a candy bar”, and Leo shouted “Make sure it’s a Nestle”. I can tell you clients appreciate it when you are that dedicated to them.