Sunday, December 26, 2010

Does Your Brand Deliver On Its Positioning Strategy Every Day . . . Or Are You Just Faking It?

Many marketers are asking the question “is brand positioning still relevant in the 21st century”? I've written on this topic before, and the majority of comments, both public and private, agree with me that positioning is still an important and viable tool in marketing. At the same time, almost all acknowledge that effective branding is much more difficult in a world where an angry tweet, critical blog post, or catchy YouTube video can cause serious damage to your brand image.

United Airlines discovered this during 2010 when their “friendly skies” were revealed as not so friendly by the YouTube video “United Breaks Guitars”, which has over eight million views (and counting). So did Maytag, Nestle, and others who saw angry, empowered consumers calling them out as branding frauds based on their actions.

But what caused that damage? Is it simply the availability of technology that allows a disgruntled customer to broadcast their dissatisfaction to large numbers of people? Or is it nothing more than poor brand management?

A brand that has been under fire this past year for major branding missteps is Toyota. Toyota shook up the automotive world with a quality message that Detroit either ignored or could not match. And for 30+ years they have enjoyed the benefits of that brand position. But all of that customer brand loyalty is now threatened because somewhere, along the way, Toyota managers failed to understand that a brand built on product quality must live that strategy every day to be successful.

One of the biggest mistakes that marketers make is not realizing that branding happens in every interaction and point of contact between a company and its target customer. They work hard on their advertising and other external communications, but don’t understand that brand communication is much more than just what the brand manager and ad agency say about it.

It’s how your staff answers the phone, how easy the web site is to navigate, what message the packaging sends, the tone of the copy writing, and even, in the case of a retailer, how the store looks and where it is located. It’s the sum total of any and every experience people have with the company.

Consistency is a critical element of an effective branding strategy, and one brand that I have always admired for its belief in the power of delivering on expectations every day is McDonald’s. Every owner and manager must attend Hamburger University in Chicago, where they not only learn the operational aspects of running a franchise; they also study the importance of providing a consistent experience for the customer. Few customers would say that McDonald’s makes the best hamburgers, but the company continues to dominate the fast food marketplace in part because the customer knows what to expect. No matter where they are in the world.

This devotion to consistency was most apparent when McDonald’s entered Russia. McDonald’s execs felt that native Russian potatoes did not deliver the same crispness and flavor that McDonald’s is famous for serving. So they delayed their introduction into Russia for two years, imported their own seed potatoes, and waited until they got it right before opening the first restaurant. That is a great story and a great testament to the power and need for consistently delivering on every aspect of the brand promise.

Branding is a tough job. And it’s certainly not getting any easier when even the slightest misstep by anyone in the organization can have a snowball effect. But some brands get it right, by building on a platform that is truly representative of the core values of the company, solves a relevant need, and is consistent over time.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Has the Internet changed more than just how we buy, but also how we decide what to buy?

McKinsey research on the Internet and its effect on our buying habits says "yes". The explosion of products, media alternatives and access to word-of-mouth experiences through social media and other Web 2.0 access points has created a radically new buying decision process.

The McKinsey study concludes that consumers no longer proceed in a linear "purchasing funnel" process when deciding to make a purchase. The funnel analogy has been a basic guideline for marketing thinking and planning for many years -- consumers start with a number of potential brands in mind (the wide end of the funnel) and then systematically move through linear stages of familiarity, consideration and purchase by narrowing the choices along the way to get to the one brand they ultimately purchase. It sounds logical, and has been until now.

Marketers and their agencies must acknowledge this new "consumer decision journey", as McKinsey describes it, and revise the focus of their marketing to be in the right place at the right time to reach consumers when their message is most likely to influence their purchases.

The first step in the buying decision is the same. The consumer considers an initial set of brands based on brand perceptions and exposure to recent touch points. It should be noted, however, that other research has confirmed that the initial consideration set is typically much larger than it might have been in previous buying decision based on the greater number of products and a decline in brand loyalty from a preferred brand to a preferred set of brands.

It's the second step in the buying decision that has been most affected by the web. Rather than narrowing the choices, the consumer enters an active evaluation phase where the number of choices may be dramatically expanded. Internet access to information from a variety of social media and other word-of-mouth touch points can have a dramatic effect on the brands that were initially considered, and those original choices can be easily replaced with more informed choices based on trusted input and evaluation.

This active evaluation phase shows a profound change in consumer response and requires much more consideration by marketers if they want to be successful. The traditional "push" marketing elements, that most likely affected the initial consideration set, can be easily modified by an empowered consumer who now takes control of the decision process. Today's empowered consumer actively seeks corroboration of previous brand impressions and new input from Internet reviews and other information sites as well as word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family and other trusted sources. The McKinsey report concludes that traditional marketing remains important, but argues that marketers must move aggressively to learn to also find ways to influence these consumer-driven touch points in order to remain in the consideration set.

Ultimately, the consumer selects a brand to close the purchase, but the McKinsey study shows that even this stage has seen changes. Their study places much greater closure importance on the impact of the in-store (or on-line store) experience as well as recollections of past experiences. They conclude that many purchases become a last minute decision.

Another important finding from this study is that the post-purchase experience has changed dramatically as well. Many consumers go online to conduct further research after the purchase, a stage never considered in the original funnel model. This post-purchase research can either confirm the wisdom of their decision, or have a significant impact on future purchases by exposing the consumer to new, previously unknown, alternatives.

This new knowledge on the "consumer decision journey" requires that all marketers re-evaluate their marketing programs to ensure that they are influencing and impacting consumers at every stage of the process. It certainly tells us that we must do everything we can to develop touch points during the consumer-driven stage of the decision process. For many marketers, this will require a mind-set shift from a reliance on buying media to a more balanced program that supports developing assets such as interactive web sites, mobile marketing, social media properties, and rich media applications that provide a way for consumer to learn more about their products and services.

This also presents a new challenge, and a new opportunity, for agencies to help their clients navigate these new alternatives to find the best solution for their brand. As I have said in previous posts, clients are not just looking for an agency to develop an ad or design a web site, they are looking for someone to help them build a bridge between the brand and their customer. Helping them understand how their customer reaches the ultimate purchase decision is an crucial ingredient in finding that bridge.

As marketers, we know that the Internet has dramatically affected the buying process for many products as online purchasing continues to grow at a dramatic pace. Preliminary results from this year's Black Friday and Cyber Monday online sales confirm this as fact, But we should also understand that the Internet has had a major influence on the buying decision process as well.

The complete McKinsey study can be accessed by following this link:

Monday, November 29, 2010

The New Importance of Customer Service As A Business Model

Last week, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos .com, gave a record PSAMA luncheon audience of over 300 attendees an inside look at his own company’s approach to customer service, and says there is no doubt in his mind that “Delivering Happiness” (his description of customer service) is, indeed, a route to building a long term sustainable business.

Based on his New York Times bestselling book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose, Tony shared his philosophy on why customer service and delivering the best customer experience for customers, employees and vendor partners can pay dividends. After all, he sold Zappos to Amazon last year for over $900 million.

But Tony is quick to stress that delivering a WOW customer experience is about much more than financial success. It’s about personal fulfillment and pride. It’s about having a passion for your job that builds a fierce loyalty to do the right thing every time. And it’s about having a company culture that strives to make every person in the company feel that they are part of something bigger than selling shoes. Happiness is a framework for business that can produce profits, passion and purpose both in business and in life.

At Zappos, they let their customers do their marketing for them.
Tony describes the Zappos approach to business this way, “at the end of the day, we aren’t in the selling shoes online business, we are in the stories and memories business. If we can create a WOW customer experience every time someone interacts with our brand, then those customers become our best marketing effort.”

To create and sustain that WOW experience, Zappos constantly asks these important questions:
  1. What do customers expect?
  2. What do customers actually experience?
  3. What emotions do customers feel?
  4. What stories do they tell their friends about us?
Answers to those questions led the way for Zappos to offer free shipping both ways and a 365-day return policy. It’s also why their website features a 1-800 number at the top of every page on the site. Tony says “we want our customers to talk to us, so we can build a relationship with them and better serve their needs”.

At Zappos, the telephone is their number one branding device.
A big part of the Zappos experience involves interaction with customers on the telephone. To make each call a special experience, there are no rules, no pre-set scripts, and no attempts to make calls more efficient by limiting the amount of time a call center employee spends on the line with the customer.

Zappos wants their customers to say “wow” when they get off the phone”. Tony offered several anecdotes on call center efforts to deliver that special experience to their customers, including a very funny story involving a 3:00 AM desire for pizza and the Zappos call center employee who took it upon themselves to find open pizza restaurants that would deliver at that hour. How many of your employees would go out of their way to satisfy a customer to that extent?

If we get our culture right, the WOW customer experience will follow.
Tony stressed more than once that company culture is the number one priority at Zappos. Their attention to maintaining a consistent culture begins with the employee interview process, which involves two separate interviews – one to determine skill set and a second interview to determine the cultural fit. They also offer five weeks of training before anyone is allowed to interact with a customer, so that everyone is on board with the core values of the company and how to express those core values to customers.

Tony related an interesting twist to their employee hiring process. Midway through the training period, employees are offered a $4,000 bonus to quit. That’s right. They will pay you to quit on the belief that if you are only working for the money, it’s unlikely you will be a good fit with the company culture.

Other culture builders include an annual “culture book” where employees are allowed to provide unedited comments on how they are “delivering happiness” in their own departments. And they also use Twitter to provide an opportunity for employees to get to know each other better and to share their experiences.

As he concluded his talk, Tony re-emphasized his belief that a strong, high touch customer service experience was a successful business strategy. But he also stressed that his message was not to adopt the same core values as Zappos in order to be successful. But rather, it was to say that it doesn’t matter what your core values are as long as you commit to them. That’s the real secret for business success.

So what does customer service and delivering happiness have to do with new business prospecting? Everything if you believe that the future of the agency business is a partnership with clients to help them build a relationship between their customers and their brands. Clients aren't looking for someone to do a new ad for them. They are looking for help. Smart agencies should know that help comes in many forms.

At Zappos, their secret to long term success is to deliver happiness through the best possible customer experience. What’s your agency's secret? Or is it a secret?

Monday, November 15, 2010

How marketers are using digital media to create a 24/7 conversation with their customers.

At a recent PSAMA Executive Luncheon, I was able to get an inside look at how some marketers are leveraging customer insight and marketing technology to grow their business.

The presentation by Joel Book, Principal of the Marketing Research and Education Group at Exact Target, was titled “Fueling the Conversation: How Smart Marketers Use Digital Media to Attract, Convert and Retain Customers”. In addition to facts and figures on the growing power of email, social media and mobile marketing to attract customers and drive sales, it featured real world case studies to demonstrate how email is being integrated with social media and mobile marketing to dramatically improve response rates.

His discussion was based on what Mr. Book calls “The Triangle Offense of Direct Marketing” – email, social and mobile. Citing a 2010 study by Fair Isaac Corporation which concluded that consumer offers that are personalized, timely and relevant significantly outperform generic offers, he shared real world examples to show us how national and local marketers are using digital technology to deliver personalized offers to customers with dramatic results.

Email is the backbone of customer engagement.
Email is being used as an effective tool to reach customers at every stage of the life cycle. Whether your marketing goal is to attract, engage, convert, serve, renew or reward your customers, email has proven to offer tremendous value. A recent study found that 50% of consumers have made a purchase due to email.

Mr. Book shared eleven case study examples from national and local marketers demonstrating how email is being used to deliver timely relevant messages and offers. Some highlights of these studies included:
  • How Scott’s Lawn Care is using email and mobile apps to teach consumers how to use their products by delivering personalized targeted soil and grass treatment recommendations based on the geographic region of the customer.
  • How Best Buy uses a pre-planned series of three emails to build customer loyalty and purchase. Email #1 at the time of purchase provides education and help on how to set-up and use the item(s) you just purchased; Email #2 at 7-14 days provides special offers on accessories and services to complement or enhance the enjoyment of the item(s) you purchased; Email #3 at 21-28 days invites you to share your opinions to help other shoppers through reviews and ratings.
  • How Volvo Construction Equipment uses a monthly email newsletter to nurture leads, aid decision-making and support their dealer network.
Marketers are discovering new ways to integrate email + social media to fuel the conversation with their customers.
With 500 million active users on Facebook, 190 million active users on Twitter and 70 million active users on LinkedIn, social media offers a great potential to build relationships with current and potential customers. Case studies in this section of the presentation included a look at how Papa John’s Pizza uses email in combination with Facebook fans and special event sponsorships like NCAA March Madness to drive brand loyalty and sales. Other case studies showed how user-generated content is being used by an outdoor recreation service to build excitement for their river rafting trips, and how Whole Foods is using email and Twitter to deliver daily special offers by store managers for their local store and customer base.

Email + mobile can drive instant awareness and instant sales.
One of the more interesting case studies presented by Mr. Book was a test promotion at three Major League Baseball parks for Scott’s Lawn Care. Scott’s used direct response text messaging to drive subscriptions to their Lawn Care newsletter through an in-game announcement offering a free Groundskeepers Guide to anyone who wanted their home lawn to look as good as the outfield grass in the park. Fans were asked to text a special number to have the Groundskeepers Guide and newsletter waiting in their inbox when they got home that evening. Not only was that promotion successful in attracting new subscribers, Scott’s was contacted by a national home improvement chain to develop customized versions of their grass seed – Fenway Blend in Boston, Riverfront Blend in Cincinnati, etc.

Behavioral modeling allows email to deliver personalized messaging to drive retail sales.
In this section of his presentation, Mr. Book shared case studies from Best Buy, The Home Depot, Johnston and Murphy and others to demonstrate how analytics are being used to personalize offers relevant to consumer profiles and past purchases. He also made a strong case for using analytics to re-market to online customers who had abandoned their shopping cart without completing a purchase. He cited a January, 2010 study which concluded that 69% of e-commerce purchase transactions are abandoned before checkout completion and then showed findings from an MIT study which found that “real time re-marketing to website abandoners yields up to 50% conversion of those who had abandoned”.

Mr. Book concluded his presentation with a re-statement of his introductory premise –smart marketing today requires a 24/7 conversation with your customers. We are living in a new era of direct marketing where “serving has become the new selling”. As noted in a 2010 report from Booz Allen Hamilton, “The mix of media channels has shifted from a one-way broadcast model to a set of dynamic two-way media forums”.

Tomorrow’s most successful marketers will be those who recognize and respond to the need to market to a segment of one, with messaging and offers that are personal, relevant and timely.

Email, social media and mobile marketing offer a variety of ways to begin and carry on that conversation. Are you encouraging your clients to talk with and listen to their customers 24/7?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Understanding the post-crisis consumer.

As marketers, we spend a lot of time and effort monitoring and analyzing the long term effects that technology will have on our media consumption habits. But I wonder how much time we’re spending monitoring and analyzing how the economic crisis will impact our buying and consumption habits?

The Wall Street slide, mortgage meltdown, jobless rate, etc. are obviously affecting our spending habits today, but what happens when all of the dust settles? Do we go back to our old ways of buying and selling in a post-crisis world that many feel will be characterized by a jobless recovery and more limited purchasing power? Or is this new economy creating a permanent shift in the way we evaluate and buy products and services.

That thought hit me this week as I was reading the just-published book, Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution Is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell, and Live. Authors John Gerzema, Chief Insights Officer of Young & Rubicam Group, and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Michael D’Antonio offer an interesting perspective on what they term “a revolution in the making”. Their conclusions suggest that people are redefining their lives and reviving core values; things like hard work, thrift, fairness and honesty are enjoying a major renaissance. And that redefinition will have a lasting impact that marketers must take into consideration as they plan their post-crisis business strategy.

From mindless to mindful consumption.
To make their case, the authors draw on hundreds of interviews with social-science experts, CEO’s and entrepreneurs, as well as proprietary data from Y&R studies and their own observations and anecdotes from eight bellwether states. Their conclusion that the economic crisis has spawned a movement in society where the majority of American consumers are embracing both value and values isn’t really new news. We can see evidence in almost every business sector that purchase behavior these days is less about materialism and buying stuff for stuff's stake. The fact that our current economy has created a "less-is-more” impulse" among buyers has been well documented in the media.

The interesting part from a marketers’ perspective are their conclusions that consumers are also "voting for values with their dollars” and this rebirth of values is here to stay. In a well-written, insightful Foreword to the book, marketing guru Philip Kotler says this “values-led consumerism is not a small, isolated target market. Over half of the U.S. population is now embracing these value shifts”. He sees overwhelming evidence that consumers are buying into brands with meaning—brands with integrity, social responsibility and sustainability at their core. They are seeking better instead of more, virtue instead of hype, and experiences over promises.

The new consumerism is creating an unexpected side effect - optimism.
Despite declining economic power, consumers are actually wielding more power as these new attitudes require that companies improve their product quality and value to remain in the brand purchase consideration set. And an interesting side effect is a new found optimism and purpose for many people.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents from a national survey on “Changing Consumer Values” report they are happier with a more down-to-basics lifestyle. Eighty-eight percent report they buy less expensive brands than they used to, and report that possessions do not have much to do with how happy they are.

Interestingly, this sentiment of a growing aversion to status brands is higher among people who earn $100,00 or more who say that keeping up with the Jones’ has been a stress they don’t need or want. And I was surprised to learn that two very different generations - people aged fifty to sixty-four and the generation between eighteen and twenty-four- share the same aversion and interests.

A shift in spending is really a shift in values that marketers need to understand.
There can be no doubt that America is moving away from excess and debt-fueled consumption and towards savings and investment.

And from the scores of interviews and thousands of data points they have collected and reported on, the authors identify ten take-aways they believe the post-crisis values revolution has spawned that will change the way we buy, sell and live:
  1. We are moving from a credit to a debit society.
  2. There are no longer consumers, only customers.
  3. Industries are revealed as collections of individuals.
  4. Generational divides are disappearing.
  5. Human regulation is remaking the marketplace.
  6. Generosity is now a business model.
  7. Society is shifting from consumption to production.
  8. We must think small to solve big.
  9. America is an emerging market for values-led innovation.
  10. Everything will be all right.

Space limitations don’t permit me to expand on each of these points in this post. But I can tell you that I found each of these take-aways well reasoned conclusions from a very thorough and thoughtful approach to a complex issue.

And I believe, along with the authors, that all are changing the way we buy, the way we sell, and the way we live.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What's in a name?

Shakespeare was wrong. A rose by any other name just wouldn’t be the same.

A recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek carried an interesting article titled The Twitter Effect: The struggle to create the next perfectly weird company name.

As I read the article, I agreed with the author’s premise that “the corporate name game” is difficult. There are more than a million names, slogans and logos registered at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. And, according to VeriSign, a global domain name registry, 11 million Internet domain names have been registered in the last 12 months, a 6 percent increase versus a year ago. VeriSign says that 193 million Internet domain names are now owned or in use.

So how does a company go about choosing a new brand name? The author chose Twitter as a brand name to illustrate his point that a brand name must be “weird” to stand out in today’s crowded marketplace. The author also cited Google, Verizon and Häagen-Dazs as made-up “weird” words that are successful brand names.

Where I disagree with the author, however, is that the name has to be weird to be successful. Different? Okay. Unique? Yes. But weird? Not necessarily.

I’ve always felt that a successful brand name carries something extra. It should communicate what the brand is about – it’s values, it’s benefits, it’s reason for being. Unless you have a lot of time and cash to seat the name in the customer’s mind, a name that carries some connotation of what the brand is about is essential.

Too many brands today are based on invented, meaningless words. A brand name that connects to a known idea and your brand promise is much more powerful.

Pollywog, a Minneapolis-based branding agency says this about naming a brand, “Unlike naming companies and consultants, we understand what a brand name needs—instant meaning, impact, emotional connections, nuance—to go beyond being merely an identifier to becoming a brand building force. Pollywog publishes an annual list of Best and Worst Brand Names. Here are their 10 best for 2009:

1. Rolls-Royce Ghost
Who would give a new product a name that reminds people of haunting, horror and death? Rolls-Royce bravely did when it introduced the 2009 Ghost. Though the name is likely a nod to the British automakers 1906 “Silver Ghost,” this is a car for the unapologetically intimidating, with a ride that’s smooth as mist drifting over a moor.
2. Droid
Verizon licensed this name from the “Star Wars” universe for the cellphone it hopes will lead a rebellion against the iPhone empire. Droid was probably worth whatever Mr. Lucas charged. It communicates extremely advanced technology, yet it’s familiar and a little bit cute—it makes the phone seem like a pocket-sized C3PO or R2D2. How could gadget geeks resist?
3. Mars Fling Candy Bar
At 85 calories per serving, Mars’ new candy bar aimed at women promises a brief, mostly harmless indulgence. Summed up by its fitting tagline, a Fling is “Naughty, but not that naughty.”
4. Hunch
This online decision-making tool learns about you through your answers to a series of preference questions. Then Hunch makes suggestions about what you might like—from movies to travel destinations to what you should eat for lunch. The name is apt, human and engaging, and it refreshingly under-promises the service’s accuracy.
5. Shard
Looking like a small, pointy chunk of metal, this new multifunction keychain tool from knife manufacturer Gerber is appropriately named the “Shard.” Though the Shard has no actual blade and is officially airline-safe, the danger implied in the name adds to its appeal and is likely a key factor in the flurry of online chatter from customers who can’t wait to get their hands on the soon-to-be released tool.
6. Envy
Only a laptop as slim, sleek, smart and sexy as this glossy-screened beauty from HP could pull off the name “Envy.” Even Apple may be turning a little green.
7. Fever
The first in a new category of drinks dubbed “stimulation beverages,” Fever claims to enhance feelings of euphoria and even stimulate the libido thanks to its mix of several herbal ingredients. The name communicates excitement and a physical effect on the body, without crossing into the risqué.
8. Thinair
Thinair is a wind turbine with just one blade. In severe weather, the Thinair turbine parks its blade horizontally, with the narrow edge to the wind to minimize damage. We like the slightly mysterious quality of the name and how it communicates the blade’s ability to effectively vanish from destructive winds.
9. Peek
The Peek is a pocket-sized device that sends and receives email and text messages. That’s it. No phone, no calendar, no music, no camera. A device with such limited capabilities needs a proportionately modest name. Suggesting a quick, casual look, “Peek” hits just the right note for customers who don’t want to fuss with complicated hardware.
10. SweetLeaf
Three stevia-based sweetener brands—Zevia, Truvia and PureVia—made our Top Ten Worst Brand Names of 2008 list because of the similarity of their unimaginative, contrived names. So it was nice to see SweetLeaf enter the market this year with a name that conveys “natural sweetener” using—duh!—natural words.

While I agree with their thinking on building an emotional connection to the brand and its benefits, I disagree with one of the brand names they listed as Worst – Bing. When I first heard the name Bing, I got a sense of immediacy and impact. I envisioned snapping my fingers. These are images that reinforce the basic brand premise, that Microsoft’s search engine does something specific . . . it gets you to the answer in a hurry.

So what do you think? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Battle For Your Inbox – Is Video Email the Next Wave?

As email inboxes become more and more crowded, email marketers are being challenged to find new ways to increase open rates, engagement time and response rates. According to a 2010 study by GetResponse, email marketers are actively looking for new ways to integrate social media tools more effectively into their email programs as a way to break through the clutter.

Over 90% of respondents said that they planned to integrate social media into their email campaigns by adding sign-up forms on Facebook and other social media sites and through adding share options through their email messages. That same study predicted a dramatic increase in the use of video in their email marketing program, with over 80% of respondents indicating they would begin or expand their use of video emails this year.

The GetResponse conclusions on the growth of video were recently corroborated by a report released last month by the Web Video Marketing Council. The WVMC study identified these key findings on emerging trends and perceptions that will influence the increased adoption of video email marketing:

Online video is already being used by 73% of survey participants for marketing, and half are using video in conjunction with their email. In addition, 24% of respondents are considering the use of video in their email marketing programs.

There is a strong belief among marketers in the study that video increases email click thru rates. A large majority of marketers (73%) believe that integrating video with email marketing will increase click thru rates. Only 6% of respondents did not think that video would have a positive impact on click thru rates. The overwhelming positive perception indicates that more marketers are likely to include video with email marketing in the future.

Those same marketers believe that video also increases conversion rates and leads to increased customer purchases. Almost three-fourths of the marketers surveyed (73%) feel that video based email marketing is more likely to generate higher conversion and purchase rates than static content. Only 5% of marketers thought that video with email would make no difference or have a negative impact on conversion and purchase rates.

Most marketers in the survey believe that video email marketing is a wave of the future. Nearly all of the marketers surveyed indicated that video based email marketing was the wave of the future (52%) or were intrigued by the opportunity (44%). Only 4% of marketers did not think that video email marketing works.

Wayne Wall, CEO of Flimp Media (a co-sponsor of the study) agrees that video is a wave of the future. He offers this opinion of the future of incorporating video into online marketing programs, "The adoption of rich media web technologies will radically change the way corporations market, sell and communicate. In the next three years we will witness a broad shift from static text and graphic print and web content to engaging audiovisual and multimedia content, more viewer interactivity, and instant activity reporting and results measurement. As broadband makes web video available to a global audience, as well as a conduit for richer interactive marketing experiences, consumption of rich media content will reshape the direct marketing and communications industries as we know them today."

Despite this overwhelming belief in the potential power of video email, these same study respondents recognize that there are barriers and challenges to widespread implementation. Almost 80% said their email service provider does not offer a video marketing solution or they weren’t aware if they did.

They felt that ease of implementation and high cost of producing video assets were the primary challenges associated with using video for email marketing. Cost and availability of video content are likely related since video production can be expensive. The study concludes that as the cost of online video development decreases, more marketers will likely participate in video based marketing.

An interesting side note to the question of barriers and challenges is that 13% of marketers surveyed were concerned about the receptivity of consumers to video email marketing. This is something that should be studied in more detail as it will certainly impact how marketers approach video as a part of an integrated web marketing program.

A final finding from the study is that current practice is primarily limited to linking to a video landing page. However, most felt that embedding a video player in an email message would be a more effective way to use video with email when the technology becomes available.

My conclusion is that online video is a fast-growing digital marketing channel that should be looked at carefully by almost every marketer who wants to implement a truly integrated web marketing effort. These two studies indicate that many marketers are confident that video will grow and prove beneficial to their email efforts.

What about your clients? Are they using video in their web marketing programs? Is this an area that you can lead your client to build value as a partner?

What about your agency? Are you using video as part of your business development emails?

Are you catching the wave?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Microsoft hits a home run with Office 2010 viral campaign

At a recent Puget Sound American Marketing Association luncheon, Jerry Hayek, Group Marketing Manager at Microsoft and Brian Donaldson, Group Account Director at Wunderman, gave a packed house an overview of the Office 2010 launch campaign. Jerry started the presentation with an overview of the challenges of introducing a new version of a product that is already in use by 80% of the world’s businesses. Their introductory program elements were, for the most part, what you would expect from a seasoned marketer with experience in launching new products – online and offline advertising, large scale events in 15 major cities, etc.

The real surprise of the presentation came in the form of an unexpected, and I daresay brilliantly clever, use of viral marketing to “influence the influencers”, i.e. developers, technical decision makers, and other IT professionals.

Responding to the challenge to find a way to speak to an important audience that is currently enamored with Google apps, iPads, Android and other sexier topics than Office 2010, Wunderman created a fictional company – The Allure Bays Corp. (ABC), complete with web site, YouTube channel, Facebook page and Twitter account. The company name originates from a broken-English Internet meme from 2000 "All your base are belong to us" (an inside joke reference that few outside of the technical sphere would understand and appreciate). But that’s okay, I’m not their target. And that’s what makes the campaign such a hit in my opinion.

The fake company's website is loaded with satirical videos that contain pop culture references and Easter Eggs (a new term for me, but one the tech audience knows well – Easter Eggs are hidden clues and content) that speak to the tech audience in a way that says “we get it”. A Twitter account was created to provide a venue for the tech audience to show off their skills to each other in deciphering clues and identifying the Easter Eggs hidden in the site and on the videos.

But Allure Bays is not just about a fun, clever game. Inside the videos are important messages about collaborating and communicating – two principal features of Office 2010.

A review of comments on their YouTube channel shows a mixed reaction among a notoriously difficult audience to reach and impress, but the majority of comments I read were positive. One of the responses to the Allure Bays campaign cited by Donaldson in the presentation described the campaign as "What happens when the marketing people at MS take acid and watch LOST? Allure Bays Corp."

Whether you like, or even understand the campaign, isn’t the point here since most of us aren’t in the target group for this element of the launch campaign. The marketing lesson, in my mind, is that this is a brilliant example of: (a) knowing your marketing situation and your target audience – how do you get an important tech audience to even notice, much less get excited about a new version of Office, (b) speaking to a highly, defined, technical target in a way they might listen to and appreciate, and (c) stepping way outside of the box in your execution.

There are a lot of sexy topics for techies to chat about, and I daresay that Microsoft Office isn't one of them. What is so interesting about this campaign is that it breaks through the clutter and makes Office 2010 a water cooler topic, love it or hate it. Hats off to Wunderman. And to the MS guy who fought it through the system.

If you want to see what MediaPost has to say about the campaign, visit their MediaCreativity blog at

I like this campaign. And I must admit I was surprised to discover that Microsoft has a sense of humor? The important lesson from this is that sometimes you have to adapt your style to speak to an audience in a way they will understand and appreciate. My hats off to Microsoft and to Wunderman for giving us a great case study on how to use viral marketing to make an otherwise routine introduction special!

Friday, September 24, 2010

How Mobile Is Your Client's Marketing?

Email, social networks and mobile devices have become an integral part of our everyday lives. Just how much influence they have is apparent when you look at these facts from recent studies:
- 97% of US households use email.
- 75% of Internet connected homes use social networks.
- 91% of the US population uses a mobile device.
- 23% use a smart phone.

Mobile marketing gives your clients an opportunity to provide an integrated customer experience using all three - email, social, and mobile. But while social networks have been embraced by a majority of marketers, mobile marketing still lags significantly. Mobile marketing offers a great avenue for an agency to help their clients grow their business.

A new study from eROI, The Current State of Social, Mobile & Email Integration, provides a good snapshot on where marketers stand today, and offers some interesting insights on how marketers can better integrate mobile into their marketing strategy. Why should they consider mobile? As this study concludes, Once a good user experience and relevant content are present, consumer adoption is accelerated and, as history has shown, companies that are first to offer these things in untapped mediums typically benefit the most from them (think, Apple, AOL, Yahoo).

So here are some of the findings from this study of more than 500 marketers that you can use to alert your clients to this opportunity:

Mobile marketing is often a forgotten medium by online marketers. The study found that mobile marketing integration into email and online programs is relatively low, and few marketers are putting much effort on this channel despite the growing adoption rates of mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Kin, Droid, etc.). Recent studies from Internet monitors predict that mobile Internet access will soon outpace PC access usage, so marketers must be prepared to adopt mobile or lose mindshare.

Only 1/3 of marketers surveyed consider mobile important.
When marketers were asked about the importance of digital marketing experiences and the importance of an optimized mobile experience, only 31.6% said that mobile-optimized experiences matter for their audiences. Another quarter of respondents (24.6%) are currently testing, while the remainder said they just weren't sure or that mobile was not important.

When asked if their companies were measuring the use of mobile devices for their email subscribers, nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents said no and another 11.5% were not sure.

Not surprisingly, two-thirds of respondents do not use mobile versions of their websites or landing pages.
Since the majority of marketers surveyed were unaware of their customer/ subscriber audience usage patterns, as it related to mobile, it is no wonder that 77% of marketers are not offering , or are unaware of, mobile versions of their websites (67.6% not using; 9.4% not sure). Of those that are offering mobile-optimized websites, 68% are providing limited versions of their websites and 32% offer their entire website in a web-optimized format.

Now is the time for agencies to encourage their clients to start experimenting with mobile to determine its relevance for their organization. Based on this study by eROI, it would appear that the best way to begin to understand the mobile web is to look at website analytics. As the opportunities for mobile marketing continue to expand, marketers need to begin to understand more about the mobile web and how their customers are using it. Providing the right content in the appropriate context is a basic rule of marketing. Not every marketer needs to provide a fully functional mobile website experience, but how will you know if you need it if you don't have a clue as to your audience usage patterns.

Many marketers unwittingly believe that the only way to do mobile right is to provide a custom application, and they are expensive to produce. But as web standards improve, there is a big rise in the use of mobile web over applications. Email remains one of the most popular mobile Internet activities not just by time spent but also by penetration. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 34% of all US mobile subscribers used email on their phone in May 2010, compared with 23% who used a social networking site.

The overall conclusion from this study is that marketers need to invest more time and energy to understand if the mobile web can contribute to their marketing program. Those who do stand a better chance at keeping pace with their customer's media usage. Those who don't may be left behind.

The full study offers other insights and opportunities on integrating social media as well. You can access the full study at

As I have noted in previous posts, many clients are simply overwhelmed by the new digital tools and how to use them to their advantage. In today's challenging marketplace, clients are not saying to their agencies, "How can you help us make ads or a new web site," they're saying, "how much do you understand about our business in order to help us build a bridge between our brand and our customers." The question is not just how to effectively use email, blogs, podcasts, mobile marketing, viral marketing, pay-per-click, user-generated content, Twitter, etc., but how to mix them with traditional media to create the most impact.

Understanding the potential value of mobile marketing is another way agencies can help their clients compete.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Are you helping your clients to monitor their corporate reputation?

Are your clients doing a good job of monitoring and managing the online conversation about their company? Maybe this is an area where your agency can help them with a service they know they need but just can't afford to add the time and resources to properly manage.

In previous posts, I have discussed the need for agencies to broaden their service offering to clients and re-position themselves as more than just a vendor of ads. I have gotten responses to these posts that say they would love to help their clients in more ways, but too often it becomes an add-on cost without incremental income.

Managing their online reputation has become a critical need for many companies that simply can't afford to do it well. So here's an opportunity to approach your clients to add a new service (and build your relationship) for a small incremental fee -- monitoring the online conversation and managing their company reputation.

As we all know, the Internet and social media have shifted a significant amount of marketing power from the company to the general public. For many businesses, this is a terrifying prospect. As an example, a restaurant owner could be doing everything right, have one bad customer experience and end up with a negative review on Yelp or another review site. Just because their 19-year old server broke up with his girlfriend and is having a bad day.

On the Internet, peer reviews are increasingly important. According to a survey by the Opinion Research Corporation, eighty-four percent (84%) of Americans say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions. A negative review or disparaging comment can now be seen by hundreds, or even thousands of potential customers, and it can hang an albatross around your neck that never goes away.

On the bright side, positive reviews and happy clients are traditionally the best source of new business. That’s why it has become increasingly important for companies to monitor what’s being said about them online.

This is an opportunity for you to build a stronger relationship with your clients. By helping them with a problem that many know they have but just can't afford to hire additional staff to support, your agency can become a hero.

Popular sites like Facebook and Twitter have become essential components of many companies’ online marketing strategy, but there are hundreds of other sites where customers rant and rave about companies, products and services. The question you should ask your client is this: Do you know what they are saying about you?

There are a host of free and low cost social media monitoring services to help you monitor and manage the online conversation for your client. Google Alerts and Yahoo Alerts are free services that allow you to select keywords and topics to track and receive email updates whenever they appear on the Web. They aren’t new tools and have some limitations on where they monitor, but they can still be useful for keeping an eye on search engine and blog activity and other mentions of relevant content.

More specialized monitoring services like Social Mention, HootSuite and Addictomatic track a broader range of social sites like Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, etc. Their function is to give you a more complete picture of online conversations and help you to organize this information better by aggregating all of this user-generated content into a single stream of information or dashboard.

Is your client aware of some of the newer monitoring and aggregation tools that focus on small local businesses, like Yext Rep? This company offers a real-time feed of what people are saying about them on Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc. as well as local sites like Google Places and Superpages - all on one dashboard as it happens.

Companies like Trackur, Radian6 and Viralheat offer a feature-rich monitoring package with more sophisticated services for a fee. These more robust service companies can offer greater appeal to a company with multiple brands and numerous keywords to follow. They can provide detailed analytics with comprehensive dashboards that show precise details (date published, source, title) as well as a summary of each item discovered. Their analysis can also allow the user to evaluate the potential influence of each blog or news site discussing your brand or company by measuring and reporting statistics like coverage, Twitter followers, friends, etc.

In addition to helping companies defend themselves and their reputation, keeping track of online mentions can create new marketing opportunities. For example, Radian6 users can drill down into several layers of detailed information on their profile results to segment comments by media type and geographic region. This data can help your client as a business-building tool by allowing them to tie this dashboard into their database to create contacts and sales leads for the sales department.

There are many other tools and services out there that you should consider. These are just a few that I am familiar with. The important thing for you to understand is that you can help your clients, and make more money, by helping them monitor what customers, prospects, and peers are saying about their brand, their company, their industry, and their competitors.

Who’s talking about your client right now? Are their ears burning?

And for that matter, who's talking about your agency right now? Are your ears burning?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Going Head-to-Head With the Big Guys

I've had an interesting Twitter conversation with Bob Sanders aka New Business Hawk this morning on his latest post "How can a small agency compete in new business". It's a good post and I recommend that you read it at

My biggest takeaway from his article is that a small agency shouldn't be discouraged or defensive when pitching against a big agency - take the offensive. As Bob points out in his article, there are several obvious advantages that a small agency has over a larger agency - senior management direct oversight, faster turnaround, more responsive with fewer distractions, and lower overhead costs, to name a few. But there are other advantages that I've found can be capitalized on when selling against a big agency.

1. Look for ways to convince your prospect they will be a bigger fish in your pond. This is similar to the senior management oversight and other issues Bob listed, but can speak in a different way to your prospect. Senior management oversight, etc. is a practical way to address the quality of service a prospective client will get in a smaller agency with less bureaucracy. Being a bigger fish is more of an emotional factor. Every client wants to be important to their agency, so emphasize that importance in every way that you can by showing it during the "courting" process.

Make sure your senior execs are very visible throughout the search process. They need to attend every meeting and phone call, be a prominent part of the email chain, and even initiate contact on a regular basis to demonstrate that they are invested in the prospect. In my experience, the big agencies are saying the same thing, but don't always pay it off in their actions.

2. Build the relationship with the people who will actually service the account. Big agencies are most vulnerable in this area as many have a new business team that the client will seldom (or never) see again after they win the business. While this seems obvious to a smaller agency, I've found that the prospect is often seduced by the glamour and professionalism of the new biz team, only to realize after the fact that they won't be the ones to actually service the day-to-day activities on the account. Get every staff member that will be assigned to the account invested early and often, and merchandise that fact to the prospect. You don't need to trot them all out at the final presentation, but you should look for ways to involve them during the RFP and prep stages to give the prospect greater confidence that your agency will deliver on promises made.

3. Stress your creativity in areas that big agencies don't always pursue because they are below the line. In my experience, the bigger agencies still live in an outdated world that stresses above the line media over other options as the basis for a campaign. They will, most likely, include other integrated campaign elements in their thinking, but still rely on traditional media in some form as the base element(s) of their campaign thinking. This is a great opportunity for a smaller agency to demonstrate their attention and focus on doing what is best for the client, not what is most profitable for the agency.

4. Show the prospect how you can provide more value for lower costs. This may be obvious when discussing overhead costs, but another great way to demonstrate this fact is through production costs. Broadcast production is a great area to demonstrate your focus on saving the client money whenever possible. I've found that creatives and producers at bigger agencies always look at higher cost directors. Smaller agencies can seize on this fact as an opportunity to cast doubt in the prospect's mind. At my last agency, we made a point to emphasize that we look for ways to save the client production dollars by combining broadcast production and print production on the same day at the same site to create better campaign continuity and to lower session fees for actors. We also stressed smaller production crews and our focus on "rising star" directors who were less expensive but would still give us outstanding production value. I've also been impressed with Partners & Napier, an agency that used Six Sigma analysis to find ways to streamline the creative development process and thus save time and money for their clients.

5. Get creative with your financial package. And I don't just mean lower costs. Many big agencies talk a good game regarding incentive-based contracts, but few are able to actually find a way to get their corporate management or holding company to agree to implement. So standard cost-plus is still the basis for most of their contracts. At one agency I managed, we had many different contracts, but the most creative was a contract we negotiated with a long time client for a flat 20% of the advertising budget for agency income, and then used cost-plus for add-on projects that arose during the year. The client paid us a flat monthly fee as income so both sides had good cash flow planning in place. And the client saw all media and production bills at net cost with no mark-up. It worked because we had a great relationship with a client who was fair and honest with us, and because we managed that account very judiciously, our gross margin was north of 30%.

Small agencies have a lot of advantages to tout when facing bigger agencies. The key is to find which advantage can best neutralize your competition and then ride that horse to victory.

Monday, July 26, 2010

To Blog Or Not Blog Is Not The Right Question

If an agency is going to offer legitimate advice to their clients on how to grow their business, social media must be a topic. So with humblest apologies to the Bard for my play on Hamlet's famous words, let's talk about the real questions your clients should be asking before they launch a corporate blog or upload a video to YouTube, or whatever social media they may think they want to use. Even if your clients are already using social media, it's not a bad idea to help them stop, take a deep breath, and really think through what they want to accomplish with the new digital marketing tools that are available.

Here are the real questions that should be asked when considering social media:

1. What is the goal for social media?
It is certainly logical to start with the big picture, but you would be surprised at how many companies say "let's start a blog" without a clear understanding and articulation of its value for their company and its role in an integrated communications plan. As with almost every new technology advancement, there are risks for companies that jump in without understanding what they are getting into.

If your clients are already using or considering how to use new technologies like blogs, podcasts, online video, wikis, widgets, etc. they need to make sure they know what they want to accomplish or they may end up using the wrong tool.

2. Who do they want/need to reach? Can social media reach that audience?
Technology has added a new dimension to analyzing and defining the optimum target audience. In addition to understanding their demographics and their psychographics, we also need to factor their technographics into the evaluation. How comfortable are target prospects with using the new technology tools? Do they have broadband access on their home computer if that's where they want to reach them? What new technology tools are target audience members currently using? How would they prefer to interact with the company?

Good marketing still requires the basics of understanding the target audience and the benefits their company (and your agency) can deliver.

3. What are the best strategies and tactics to reach this target?
This is a critical question that must be answered in order to optimize ROI. Notice that I used the plural "strategies and tactics", not the singular. In most cases, they should be considering multiple social vehicles, but before they jump in they should make sure they've mastered one vehicle before launching another. I believe that many companies that are failing or disillusioned with social media are simply trying to do too much at one time. They've launched a blog, added a Facebook page and Twitter account, are trying to monitor and evaluate, etc. with limited resources or without a realistic understanding and appreciation for the time and effort it takes to mount a successful program.

You should show them how to take advantage of the many free reports and white papers on social media for guidance on who's doing what. For example, in a recent post I referenced a new study from Hubspot that concluded that Facebook is more popular for a B2C company, while LinkedIn is used by more B2B companies. And, there are numerous case studies that show the effectiveness of Twitter for business.

Internet search can help you gain better understanding of the best strategies and tactics to consider for your client's social media program. Just type "social media research" into your search engine and see how many hits you get!

4. What resources are available and what do they need in order to implement an effective, on-going program.
Contrary to popular belief among many companies, social media is not a free alternative to traditional media, and you can do your clients a favor by making sure they understand this. It takes time, money and patience to use social media effectively, and these soft costs may not be as apparent and visible (especially to upper management) as a line item for the advertising budget. Too many companies jump into social media without understanding how much it really costs. There are many tools to help post on multiple sites and to monitor efforts and responses, but it will still require time on some one's part.

And it will require someone who understands the company and the audience, as every social media "expert" will tell you that content is king. So if your client thinks they can just hand it off to that recent college graduate who is more comfortable with technology than some of the older staff, you should advise your clients to make sure they not only understand the technology, but also know how to write well and can represent your company brand.

There are many other questions that come up along the way, but these are the basics for anyone who is considering starting or expanding their social media effort. And if your clients have been using social media for awhile, it never hurts to show them that you understand the importance of social media by recommending that they stop, take a deep breath, and analyze what they've been doing based on these questions.

Whatever your clients do, don’t let them make the mistake of putting the cart before the horse, as my dad used to say. Help them to know the basics of who they need to reach and what they want to accomplish before deciding which new technology to explore. Good marketing still requires good marketing, just like being an advisor to your clients on more than income-generating advertising can build relationships.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What's Hot and What's Not in Social Media

Everyone's talking about social media today. How do I use it? How do I measure the ROI? Etc. Etc.

I've written more than one post about the importance of helping clients to navigate these new waters, and have had mixed reaction from my readers. The most common objection stems from the question of "why should an agency promote an area that doesn't represent a defined revenue stream". My answer to that argument is that if your agency doesn't find a way to help your clients understand these new tools, then another agency will. Agencies can do their clients a great favor by helping them to figure out if social media can help to grow their business. Here are some thoughts on how to do this.

I recently came across a report on The State of Inbound Marketing, published by Hubspot in February, 2010. The primary focus of the report is on the growing importance of inbound marketing tools for lead generation, including blogging, content publishing, search engine optimization, social media and social networks.

While I'm not in agreement with their self-serving conclusion that traditional outbound channels like direct mail, telemarketing and trade shows have become "less effective over time as buyers have behaviorally and technologically (e.g. TIVO, spam filters, "do-not-call" lists) tuned these interruptive campaigns out", no one can deny the growing power and impact of inbound tools, especially social media. Many businesses are aggressively changing their lead generation marketing efforts to explore and add programs that allow customers to find them.

Marketers who are actively engaged in, or actively exploring, social media can find many interesting conclusions in this study to help them plan their own approach. Here are a few that I found interesting and enlightening:

1. Company blogs are the fastest growing and continue to be deemed the most important lead generation service for their business, with 85% of users rating blogs as critical, important or useful. Almost half of the companies using blogs (46%) have acquired a customer from a blog-generated lead, the highest for any social media channel.

2. Twitter was ranked as the second most effective inbound tool for lead generation with 71% of users rating it as "useful or better". This was almost double the 39% of positive users in the 2009 study, and reinforces the belief by many "committed business Tweeters" that when Twitter is used properly, it can be a valuable addition to a marketer's toolkit.

3. Facebook ranked third in importance with 61% of users touting its importance, barely edging out LinkedIn, which had ranked third in the 2009 study. An interesting side note to this conclusion is that Facebook has been more effective in customer acquisition for B2C businesses and LinkedIn more effective for acquiring B2B customers.

4. Other reported inbound tools - StumbleUpon, Digg and MySpace - all declined in usage and perceived importance. MySpace has virtually fallen off the radar as a lead generation tool with only 10& of users rating the site as "useful" or better.

There are other interesting facts and conclusions in this report relating to cost per lead, lead generation budget allocations by category and company size, the importance of blog frequency, etc. You can download the full report and other useful information at

Whether you use this report, and other input, to help your clients undertand and utilize social media is up to you. If it were my agency, I would find a way.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Are You Helping Your Clients Position Their Brand In Today's Digital Marketplace?

In previous posts, I've argued that the secret to new business success and client retention is to become an invaluable asset to your client's marketing team. That means you must help them in more ways that just creating advertising.

I recently saw an article in Marketing Management by Don E. Schultz, professor emeritus-in-service at the Medill School of Journalism. In the article, he argues that the concept of positioning espoused by Jack Trout and Al Reis in the 1970's is no longer valid in the 21st century. He cites several reasons for this hypothesis, but most prominent is his reasoning that "marketers don't control brand positions, concepts, images, or even experiences -- consumers do". He goes on to state that today's marketers have "only limited means to communicate with consumers today . . . to position the brand" and that "the brand manager's voice in the branding milieu is tiny and faint when compared to the branding experiences consumers receive from other sources -- such as peers, community groups, the brand's customer service group, the technical support experts, other employees, retailers, and distributors who are not even under the control of the brand manager or marketing department".

Professor Schultz concludes his argument with the question "does any of the brand baggage we've dragged into the 21st Century have any relevance or resonance today with us, our customers, or the marketplace?" Throughout the article, Professor Schultz makes it clear where he stands, which is evident with his description of positioning as "brand baggage".

An article like this can create a great opportunity for an agency to help their client or prospect succeed in a marketing environment that continues to change so rapidly. Professor Schultz is certainly right that the idea of one brand completely owning a position for all time in the customer's mind is outdated. But I don't think that idea was ever totally valid in the first place. Volvo has always been positioned as the epitome of safety, but that brand was never the only brand with safety features. So it never owned exclusive rights to that position.

Yes, things are different today than they were in the 1970's when the original concept of positioning was coined by Messrs. Trout and Reis. Yes, the proliferation of brands, sub-brands and line extensions has increased while the ability of marketers to reach masses of consumers has dwindled dramatically. Yes, there are new tools that all marketers should be exploring to discern how best to speak to today's customers.

But I've got news for you, Professor Schultz. The consumer has always been in charge.

When the marketing mavens in Atlanta tried to foist a new version of Coca-Cola on the world, consumers said no in dramatic fashion. The marketing business has always had its share of Edsels when consumers refused to buy into the marketer's attempts to position the product in the consumer's mind. Do you remember Quadraphonic sound, Apple Newton, Apple Lisa, PC Jr., the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, the USFL? These were all well-positioned, sure-fire winners until consumers said "no thanks".

So the idea that positioning is no longer valid for marketers because the consumer is now in charge doesn't resonate well with me. Nor do the arguments that marketers have limited means to communicate or that every exposure and every brand experience outside of the brand manager's voice and control is suddenly more powerful. The sum total of the actual brand experience has always been more powerful than the statements made in formal branding communications. And they always will be. The challenge for marketers today is to use that to their advantage.

No matter how wired the world becomes in the 21st Century, there will always be a need for marketers to try to position their product or service offering in the mind of the customer. There will always be a need for marketers to search for competitive niches and unmet needs, and to espouse the most salient benefits to a target group of consumers. Success, as always, will be based on whether expectations are aligned with the reality of the brand experience. And agencies can play an integral role in helping their clients define or refine their brand positioning to capitalize on the new realities of a wired world.

Is the concept of brand positioning different in today's world?

Is the concept of brand positioning more difficult in today's world?

Is the concept of brand positioning nothing more than yesterday's "baggage" and thus dead in the 21st century?
Absolutely not.

That's what makes this a great opportunity for an agency to become an invaluable asset to their client. And a great selling story for new business prospects.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Will Changing Marketing Needs Require A New Agency Model?

In the latest issue of Marketing News, Josh Bernoff (VP, Forrester Research) asks the question - Is Your Agency Relationship Past Its Expiration Date? He says it's time for marketers to rethink their agency's role, and then rethink their own.

Based on a new Forrester report titled "The Future of Agency Relationships", his premise is that in a stable media environment, agencies can specialize. Despite agency efforts to provide an all-in-one service solution, many marketers continue to have a silo-driven approach to their agency relationships -- an advertising or creative agency, an interactive agency, a direct marketing agency, a PR agency, etc. While this approach creates additional effort for brand continuity oversight and often some internal squabbling, it is the price marketers pay for getting what they believe are experts in each discipline.

According to Forrester Research, that approach works fine for a world where channels are relatively stable, campaigns have a beginning and an end, and customers respond to messages pushed at them. But that stability no longer exists. The number of channels continues to explode - today its Twitter and phone apps, but what will marketers need tomorrow? As word of mouth becomes more important and push marketing less effective, marketers will need a consistent, long-term relationship with an agency model that is more adaptive and understands the need to think more broadly than the current specialization model provides.

The new Forrester study concludes that with the rise of social media and digital proliferation, we are entering an Adaptive Marketing era. In this era, mass media is no longer the foundation of marketing communication, and will force a change in the expectations of what marketing agencies can and should deliver. Marketers will need agency partners that are more agile, can build long-term relationships with active customers and communities, and can use data to drive real-time decisions. The key needs marketers will require from their agencies are ideas, interaction and intelligence.

Agencies must think about ideas that not only build the brand, but will work across every appropriate platform. Instead of creating an idea and leaving it to other specialty agencies to plan and implement, creativity has to be collaborative so that all possible communications get considered at once. And as customers change, marketers and their agencies must change along with them.

Agencies must develop a framework for a new level of interaction with customers. Agencies have always been good at outbound messages, but have not played a similar role with inbound interactions. Smart agencies will need to adapt their approach in order to listen to online discussions, identify and connect marketers with their online social community, and build brand experiences that allow for interaction.

Finally, agencies must find ways to monitor and assimilate customer intelligence from multiple channels and be flexible enough to respond quickly to this information. Marketers and their agencies will need a more comprehensive view of quantitative and qualitative information and insights in order to react in real time and across channels to maximize efficiency. The resultant need for even more data than marketers currently have will require a shared role in evaluating and recommending strategies and tactics.

The Forrester report predicts that these changes will have consequences for both parties. Specialty agencies will need to rethink the depth and breadth of their service offering if they expect to meet this new level of need based on ideas, interaction and intelligence. At the same time, marketers will need to reconsider their own role and a new level of marketing collaboration with their agencies and this will surely require a re-evaluation of the current compensation model.

Forrester predicts that successful marketers will need to focus more on long term relationships and on speedy, adaptive actions that take advantage of the fluid nature of consumer attitudes and responses. And if agencies continue to only deliver silo-based expertise rather than ideas, interaction and intelligence, they will soon be replaced by a new agency form that meets this need.

What do you think? Does this new model sound feasible to you? What other things will have to change to make this model successful?


Friday, May 21, 2010

Adding Value - A Facebook Primer For Retailers

In previous posts, I have discussed two powerful strategies to gain new business - presenting new ideas to build a relationship and helping to guide clients and prospects through the often murky waters of the new digital marketplace. Here is an example of a recent value-added document I produced for a client to help him integrate Facebook into his marketing program.


Are you a retailer who has finally acknowledged that social media is not just a fad but a legitimate marketing tool? You might already have a Facebook page, but do you really understand how to use it to build your brand and your customer base? Are you confident that you can tap into 400+ million users who spend an average of 55 minutes every day checking out the activities of their friends and browsing for info and interaction with companies they trust and appreciate?

Here are seven practical tips you can you use to help you along the way:

1. Before you start anything, write down the objectives of your social media program and specifically how you plan to use Facebook to build your brand identity and customer preference. This sounds simple and logical, and has been repeated by almost every social media proponent. Yet clients still come to me and ask “can you help me set up or improve my Facebook page?” without a clear objective in mind.

Too many retailers and small businesses have jumped into FB on the assumption that it was a cheap way to advertise, only to be frustrated and confused about whether their efforts are bearing any fruit, and disgruntled that it takes up so much of their time. The truth is that it’s not free, or even cheap. Time is money in any business. And it will take someone’s time to effectively use FB or any social networking effort. So you might as well think it through first; determine what you can and can’t accomplish, who in your organization has the time and talent to devote to the effort, and how you plan to monitor and measure the program. Just like you would do for any other element of your marketing program.

2. “Companies they trust and appreciate” is an essential concept that must always be uppermost in your mind. In everything you do on Facebook, you should be transparent, honest, listen before you engage, and add value to the community. FB is not a push medium. It is an opportunity to have a two-way conversation with your customers. If you don’t respect your customers by adding some value to their spending time with you, they won’t respect you. And many will tell thousands of their closest friends not to respect you either. An addendum to this point is that retail brands with social media campaigns must be increasingly sensitive to the privacy of their customers. This is especially important in light of growing public scrutiny of some missteps by FB corporately on how they are using the information many users innocently added to their profile.

3. Your Facebook page is not just another shopping website for your company, but it can work like one if done right. Users come to a FB page with a different mindset and objective. Most people visit a retail website to gain information or to shop. FB users come to interact – with friends and family or with companies they trust and appreciate (see above). It’s okay to offer a shopping option on your FB page, but if that is the sole thrust of your effort, you will alienate many potential “fans” and not use FB to its true potential.

1-800-FLOWERS.COM offers a good example of walking the line between shopping and interaction. Their Facebook page allows fans to share their favorite flowers and send virtual bouquets to friends, but also to browse flower arrangements and send actual flowers to their friends without ever leaving Facebook.

But that’s not all they do on their site. Wall posts introduce special promotions, offer information about specific flowers and engage their fans with conversation starters to encourage response, e.g. what do you think is better for cheering up a sick or injured friend – flowers, gift baskets, balloons, or something else?” They also invite fans to post pictures of flower arrangements they have received and to comment on the occasion.

Shopping and selling is not verboten on FB, but it must be done in a way that fans see as a natural course of action based on interactions with the company.

4. You can engage and reward your customers and build your “likeability” through polls, contests and other giveaways. Several companies have used a “Cutest Baby” contest to not only solicit entries, but also to encourage the sender and others to solicit votes to determine a winner. In the process, they have gained awareness and fans. If you give your fans an incentive to associate themselves in a positive way with your brand, you can grow that trust and appreciation discussed earlier in this post.

Disney recently offered a great example of providing a traffic-building incentive with their “Give a Day. Get a Disney Day” promotion. Through Facebook and other media, Disney encouraged their fans to celebrate the spirit of giving by volunteering for one day with any local non-profit to win a free day at any Disney park. Their plan was to give away 1 million free passes throughout 2010. Instead, they reached the 1 million mark in only 10 weeks.

5. Cause marketing is an integral part of the Facebook culture, so a great strategy is to partner with causes your customers care about. Don’t just think about driving traffic to your site or encouraging your fans to come into your stores to redeem their coupons. The Facebook culture is steeped in sharing causes with friends, and users have a great appreciation for companies that support worthy non-profit causes. You can take advantage of that pre-existing mindset by sponsoring a cause your fans will appreciate and by creating a way for them to interact with your brand in the process.

Target found a creative way to use cause marketing this past Valentine’s Day to encourage fans to send their love via a Super Love Sender e-card to one of five listed charities. Target responded by donating $1 million to those non-profit groups based on their percentage of response. St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital was the primary beneficiary with almost 50% of the donations, but Target is reported to have gained almost 170,000 new fans.

6. Take your conversation and interaction offline by promoting events but look for ways to draw them back to your page. Using Facebook to promote in-store or other offline events is a natural, but one key to success is to find a way to sustain the event in order to promote fan interaction and discourse. In 2009, Ben & Jerry’s introduced a new packaging innovation they call Flipped Out. They used their Facebook page to promote a city-by-city national tour that was successful in gaining trial, but also kept their fans talking and sharing tips for several months.

7. One final tip is to make creative use of the tabs to direct your visitors and fans to specific pages you want them to visit. The majority of successful Facebook pages continue to use the Wall and Info tabs as presented in the basic FB format, but them rename and reconfigure other tabs to take advantage of ways to build interaction with the people who visit their page. A common tab is for Photos, to encourage users to submit their own photos, but other tabs can range from specific Shopping pages to New Products. A good strategy here would be to see how your Facebook pages can complement your website interaction approach. The important thing to remember is that your Facebook page is a two-way conversation, not a one-way push. So make tab changes that promote user interaction with your customers’

As it is with any element of your marketing program, creativity rules. And the newness of the Facebook experience offers many opportunities to try new things. I’ve given you some examples of how other retailers and companies are incorporating FB into their marketing program. But let me repeat something I said at the beginning of this post. In everything you do on Facebook, you should be transparent, honest, listen before you engage, and add value to the community.

The most important element is to add value to the time they spend with you on your FB page. If you respect your customers and make it beneficial in some way to spend time with you, they will respect you. And that has always been the first step in driving a customer to any store.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Optimize Your Elevator Pitch To Win More New Business

When was the last time you updated your elevator pitch? Do you even have a formal elevator pitch? If you haven't sat down and thought it through lately, or if you just wing it on the spot, you could be missing prime opportunities to grow your business.

Most companies know the concept of the elevator pitch, and even practice it to some degree. But, in my experience, very few companies use this important new business tool as effectively as they could or should.

Here are five ways to take greater advantage of this tool:

1. Be prepared to tout your unique benefits, not your attributes.
As a member of several business associations, I regularly meet people at luncheons and other networking events and the variety of ineffective answers to the simple question "What is your company all about?" never cease to amaze me. Two common answers are "we make widgets" and "we serve the (your industry here) industry". Neither are very stimulating or motivating answers because they tell me your attributes, with no hint of the benefit of your company over competitors.

Many who do try to tell me the benefit their company provides often use the generic phrase full-service solutions provider in their answer. I suppose this does separate you from some companies, but a quick search on Google has over 82 million companies using that exact phrase in their web copy, so how unique are your benefits?

Since many of the people I meet are in their company's marketing department, or are entrepreneurs with their own company, these answers make me want to scream. You have an opportunity to "sell" your company to someone who was interested enough to ask. Be prepared to tell me what makes you unique in a world overrun with similar competitors by telling me your benefits, not your attributes.

2. Be prepared to adjust your pitch to your audience.
As a business development consultant, I work with both ad agencies and companies to help them be more effective and efficient in their marketing efforts. If I'm at an Ad Club meeting, my benefits are focused on positioning the agency, building a better target prospect list, and more effective RFP's and presentations. If I'm at a marketing association meeting, I still talk about positioning, but the benefits of my consulting practice are focused on corporate brand values, audience segmentation and target insights. As an independent consultant, I also promote the dual benefits of time and cost efficiency to both audiences.

In both cases, I am constantly refining and updating my story to take better advantage of the opportunity. By staying abreast of what people are most interested in knowing, and understanding the basic benefits I can deliver, I can adjust the framework of my company story to match the situation and the audience.

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned as a consultant for the past five years is that you never know when an opportunity will arise from a chance encounter. The person you are talking with has other friends and acquaintances that might also be opportunities, so I never want to miss a chance to spread the word about my company and its benefits.

3. Be prepared to give your audience permission to believe.
Everyone knows that it's a tough market right now, but it has always been tough, and will always be tough. A good elevator pitch should automatically build in some statement(s) to give the audience permission to believe that what you say about your company is true.

I will always incorporate my background and experience to lend credence to my story. When I can give a specific category or company example of a project I have worked on, my benefits story is dramatically strengthened. I have also learned that when speaking to a Gen Y or Millennial, I always reference my blog and Twitter handle to reassure them that even with gray hair I am actively engaged with today's technology.

4. Keep everyone in your company informed and engaged in touting your company's benefit story whenever they can.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make is to only arm senior executives, or business development staff, with an understanding and appreciation of the company's elevator pitch. Everyone in your company has the potential to help your business development efforts, even that new trainee or summer intern. We all have family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances who know other people. Maybe that summer intern lives next door to the CEO of company that could use your services. Or maybe their parents belong to a club or association or go to church with someone who could benefit from buying your company's products or services.

The important thing to remember is that you never know who, how or when an opportunity will present itself. My recommendation is to invest all of your employees in the new business process by touting their potential importance and arming them with the right benefits to promote when they can. In my experience, younger people are often more enthusiastic than experienced veterans when talking about their company and its benefits, so why not take advantage of that exuberance.

5. Read any good website copy lately?
A final thought on building a better elevator pitch is directly related to your website copy. In today's digital world, nearly every company relies on their website to interest and entice customers. Your website is a written version of your elevator pitch, but too often sites are homogenized with buzzwords, platitudes and jargon that does little more than fill space.

Remember those 82 million companies that use the exact phrase full-service solutions provider? Would you believe that Google shows 224 million entries for full-service advertising agency? Quick, go look at your website and then see how many other companies are using the exact same words you are using. I think you will be surprised, and somewhat dismayed, at the answer.

If you subscribe to Inc. Magazine, you should check out Jason Fried's column in the May issue. His article is titled "What's Your Point? and his sub-title says it all "Nearly every company relies on the written word to woo customers. So why is most business writing so numbingly banal?"

Perhaps the same statement could be made about the elevator pitch. Think about it!