Thursday, December 13, 2012

Forrester Study Shows How Social Media Is Changing Brand Building

A 2012 study by Forrester offers agency management a new tool to consider when advising your clients on when, where and how to use social media.  Their conclusion: social engagement is a necessary ingredient to brand building in today’s digital world, but does not have the power to build a brand alone.

That should make agency management happy because it reinforces the need to continue to take an integrated marketing approach to building a brand.  But no agency can dismiss social media as unnecessary to brand building -- it has fundamentally changed how consumers interact with each other and with brands.

As a result, 93% of their study respondents agree with the statement that “Marketers need to reinvent their brand building strategies as a result of digital innovations”.
The challenge then becomes how to how to use social media and determine its relative importance for your individual corporate or brand situation.

Many businesses have erred on the farthest extremes on the opposite sides of this issue – some are using social engagement strategies as their sole basis for brand building, while others have ignored its value altogether.  The truth lies somewhere in between, and the Forrester study, How Social Media Is Changing Brand Building (, offers some good insight into how social marketing can advance your brand building.

The Forrester study offer some positive advantages for social media's value as a channel, but at the same time lists these limitations for brand building:
1.     Social is not as scalable as mass media.  Social media does a good job of reaching a defined audience of platform users, but cannot reach critical mass in the same way that paid media can.
2.    Social is too fragmented to provide a consistent brand voice.  The unique power of social media is through the many voices of the consumer, and that naturally leads toward a fragmentation of essential messages.  According to digital experts, you need to invite consumers to join the party, but if you are too collaborative, you aren’t able to clearly establish a strong foundation for your brand.
3.    Social can offer a distorted vision of who the brand is and what it stands for.  Without a firm brand identity to start from, the social strategy can be artificially influenced and distorted unwittingly by passionate fans and detractors.

The Forrester study, on the other hand, points out that social can contribute to building trust and bring a number of key benefits to your brand building efforts.
1.    Social can put a human face on a corporation and provide a deeper meaning to its relationship to customers.
2.    Social can be used to “test the waters” for alternate promotional concepts.
3.    Social can create a groundswell of support for risky decisions or changes in your marketing strategy.
3.    Social can use its two-way communication basis to correct a negative image regarding controversial topics.
4.    Social can bring the emotional benefit(s) of your brand to life through peer to peer input.
5.    Social can create bond with customers by rallying consumers around a shared cause or ideal.
6.    Social can segment communications to a group of  fans and emphasize an understanding and support for their passions.
7.    Social can generate brand advocates though access to brand-supported communities.
8.    Social can promote better, more responsive customer service.

Many of these points are expanded on in the Forrester study so you should check it out.

Despite the fact that social media can be a valuable asset to your branding strategy, It is important to remember that the fundamentals of brand building have not changed.  You must still generate a consistent brand identity and communicate it across all consumer touchpoints to create a consistent brand experience.

But as this study points out, an effective social marketing strategy can leverage a number of emotional and persuasive elements that are difficult to deliver through traditional media and marketing efforts.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Understanding the changing client.

There's no question that client attitudes towards agencies have changed over the years. We've gone from being a trusted partner and business confidante to a vendor of ads or specialty services for many clients.

But I believe that better times are ahead for those agencies that understand clients' needs and the role they can play in helping them to succeed.

Let's take a step back and look at things from the client's perspective. The technology explosion and the resulting choices that need to be made can be daunting to clients. Just think about all the new media and selling channels that continue to open every day. It's no longer a question of which media do I use/can I afford; the bigger question is how to integrate a coherent and consistent brand message across multiple channels while trying to read and react to the new input that is arriving every minute. Add to that the fact that the buying and decision process for consumers has evolved from an information evaluation funnel to a continuous smorgasbord of often conflicting product reviews and peer recommendations both pre and post purchase.

Clients need help, and a smart agency can provide that help.  Here are five things to consider when  approaching clients and prospects about new business:
  1. Clients are confused and overwhelmed by the pace of change. New options continue to come on the scene every day, and clients need help in evaluating and determining which options make the most sense for their needs and budget constraints. 
  2. Clients are under more pressure than every before.  The 2012 Spencer Stuart CMO Tenure Study pegged the average tenure for CMO's at 43 months (versus 9.2 years for CEO's).  But some categories are much more pressure-packed.  The average tenure of a restaurant CMO is only 22 months.
  3. Clients want leadership, not partnership.   A recent New Business Study confirmed this with client quotes like "I need an agency to help me figure out how to take advantage of the new tools that are available", and "I need an agency that can help me invest in the right tools".
  4. Clients want new ideas, not better execution of old ideas.  Clients are searching for the "holy grail".  You need to give them something new to think about, if for no other reason that for them to demonstrate to their boss that they are moving the brand forward.
  5. Clients want process (it reassures them).  Clients don't want to take chances.  They can't afford to take chances because someone is looking over their shoulder questioning every decision they make.  In most of my new business projects over the last few years, I believe the client prospect made the safe decision, whether it was the best decision or not.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that clients aren't asking "How can you help us make ads or a new web site".  They are saying "How much do you know about our business in order to help us build a bridge between our brand and our customers."

And they are saying "Help".

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Who is responsible for new business at your agency?

If you didn't answer everyone, you are missing an important opportunity for growth.

One of the first things I tell my agency clients is that everyone in the company should be responsible for new business,  Not just the New Business Director.  Not just the President or Chief Executive.  Everyone.

But unfortunately, most companies don't take advantage of an obvious and relatively easy way to make sure you are always prospecting for new business.

When you are at a party and someone asks you about your company, a senior manager can probably come up with a relatively good description of not only what you do but why that is important.  Some people call it an "elevator pitch", some call it their "company mission or vision".  Most experienced, senior executives with the company could handle the question with ease.

But what about your junior people?  How would they answer the question "what do you do for a living" if asked by an outsider?  Can they describe your company's unique selling proposition in a short, coherent sentence?

In my experience, most junior employees would fail to take advantage of an opportunity to promote your company if asked that question because too many companies (a) don't have a written "elevator pitch" about their company, and (b) haven't shared what they believe is their corporate USP at every level of the company, and (c) haven't taken the time to promote the valuable role every employee can (and should) take in marketing the company.

 A simple question about your company can be a great opportunity to gain awareness and potential customers, but not everyone understands the role they can play in helping the company with the right answer.

I was reminded of the importance of being able to quickly state something about your company on two occasions last week.  At a recent committee meeting, we introduced ourselves to each other and I was struck by the dramatic difference in the way people described their company.  Some had a very succinct statement of the unique way in which their company approached the market, but others, mostly younger, had only a generic description of their company's business category.

At a networking social last week, the host invited attendees to come up to the microphone to introduce themselves and what they did for a living.  Several of the marketing directors/ company owners confidently introduced themselves and stated something important about their company, but others fumbled the ball.  I was particularly struck by one gentleman who very meekly said that "I guess you could say that my company ..."

What a missed opportunity!   Fortunately, there is an easy solution -- develop a short, 25-30 word statement that describes these three points: who you are, what you offer, and why that is a benefit to your customers.  It doesn't matter if you call it an elevator pitch, a mission statement or simply a company credo.  The important thing is that every employee, not just the owner or marketing director, should be armed (and encouraged) to sell the company at every opportunity.

At my agency in Virginia, I gave everyone in the company a hat with the phrase "insights and solutions" stitched into the back of the cap as a reminder to everyone of our company mission.

A written statement about your company that is shared with everyone in the company can be a great way to ensure that all staff members can contribute to the company's business development efforts.

Draft a statement, then call in key managers (or all employees, depending on the size of your company) and give everyone a chance to react, respond and truly understand the importance of having a concise, accurate statement about the company.  Be sure to seek their opinion and listen to their suggestions for edits.  By having others involved in drafting and approving the statement, they will develop an emotional equity in the result.

When developing your "elevator pitch" or "company mission statement" follow the K.I.S.S. principle"

1.  Keep it short.  Studies are varied on the average adult attention span, but all agree that is is short and getting shorter every day.  So be sure your statement has just enough information so that after only hearing a sentence or two, someone knows what you do.
2. Keep it simple.  Avoid industry or technical jargon that your listener may or may not understand. This can especially challenging for a technology company, but should also be considered regardless of your industry.   I remember my first trip to the furniture market in High Point, NC when I was just learning that market.  In a casual conversation at the airport, I asked the man standing next to me at baggage claim what his company did and he said they manufactured cocktail tables.  When I asked what a cocktail table was, he looked at me like I was crazy.  Apparently, the furniture industry didn't use the term coffee table (and many still don't), so make sure you avoid company or even category jargon that your listener may or may not understand.
3.  Keep it sales-oriented.  Find the benefit that is most relevant and compelling and make sure you keep that thought front and center. 

You should also stress to everyone in your company that you never know when a new business opportunity will arise or have the potential to develop. Being armed with a quick statement about your company can be especially helpful when meeting someone in a non-business setting - at a social event, at church, waiting in a ticket line for the new summer blockbuster movie.

Even if you don't think the person asking the question is a new business prospect, they may have a friend, relative or former college roommate who is. So everyone in the company needs to be prepared to give a consistent and accurate description of your company's USP.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Have you "mobilized" your clients?

Or for that matter, have you "mobilized" your own brand by optimizing your site for mobile viewing?

I continue to be dumbfounded by the number of agencies that have not optimized their site for mobile.  And I wonder if they are also missing that opportunity to lead their client by helping them to understand and appreciate its value to their business?

InMobi released a new study this week that examined the media consumption and shopping behaviors of 9,600 U.S. consumers across PC’s, smartphones and tablets.  We all know that mobile is growing - just take a look at your own personal use. So it shouldn't come as a shock that the rapid growth of tablets and expanded use of all types of mobile devices is impacting how U.S. consumers shop and consume media.

After all, tablets are now owned by 11% of the total U.S. population (29.5 million U.S. users) and I'm betting by almost all of an ad agencies staff.  But this study reminded me that consumers are spending more time on mobile connected devices, with time spent on smartphones and tablets playing a significant role in purchasing decisions.  Some of the more important findings are shown below.

Mobile devices are cannibalizing other forms of entertainment consumption as users are spendiing more time each day accessing media content.
According to the study, over 60% of tablet owners spend at least 30 minutes each day, and 29% report that they have reduced reading books in print after owning a tablet.  Another 29% report they have reduced surfing the internet via their PC or laptop and 48% agree that the design and readability of a tablet make it easier to access media content than on a PC or laptop.

Tablet users report they are shopping less in brick and mortar stores since purchasing a tablet.
Almost one in four respondents (22%) say they are shopping less in physical stores and more than half (55%) make purchases on their device in an average month.  The survey also demonstrates the impact of their lifestyle on shopping, as tablet users prefer that device at home, but prefer smartphones while on the go.

Mobile devices are impacting every stage of the purchasing decision, from evaluation to post-purchase.
Tablets are affecting all stages of the buying process, from awareness to browsing to the buying and even post-purchase social media stages. The study reports that transient shopping is help by the smartphone, while tablet use peaks at home in the evening for larger purchases that require greater consideration.  Among respondents that reported this use of connected devices, 55% say they first learn about the product on their tablet, while 53% actively evaluate and 58% follow through with purchasing those goods on their tablet.

Wake up agencies!  Clients need leadership, and this is a chance to demonstrate your value beyond a vendor of ads, or whatever.  If you have clients that want to optimize their selling opportunity, then now is the time to "mobilize" them.  If you wait until tomorrow, someone else may have already shown them the error of their ways.

And while you are at it, maybe you should  re-examine your own brand.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Does the agency that "wants it more" win?

I just watched an interesting discussion on ESPN between Mark Cuban and Skip Bayless, where Mark told Skip that his statement that Miami wanted the NBA Championship more than OKC was "horses*#t" and "the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard."

Cuban explained his statement this way,  "Does anyone think that Kevin Durant, Russell Westbook, didn't want to win a close-out game for the NBS Championship?  No, it's that Miami was better prepared with adjustments and changes and they simply executed better".

I agree with Cuban's assessment that the media often tries to simplify with generalities and overstatement, but would add to it by saying that "there's no doubt that both teams wanted to win, but the Miami did more than just execute better, they convinced observers that they wanted it more".

There is a great lesson in there for agencies in a new business pitch - can you convince the prospect that you want it more?  I remember a new business pitch several years ago for a regional restaurant chain that our agency really wanted to win.  We had restaurant experience, had pitched the prospect in the past so we knew them and their needs, and they had a budget and attitude toward advertising that would allow us to do some great creative work.

We did everything right - we did our homework, we had some great insights about their customers, we put together a really strong creative pitch that included a built-in promotion angle that could be used for a long time, and the new business team did a great job in the final presentation (I gave us a 9 out of 10 rating after the presentation).

But we didn't win the business.  When the marketing director called me to tell me the bad news, he praised our efforts and recommended solutions, but just felt like "the other agency wanted it more".  He went on the say that "I know you guys wanted it as well, but I just felt like the other agency guys would crawl through a glass-lined pit to make my business succeed".

I never found out exactly what they did, or what we didn't do, that made him feel that way, but I never forgot what he said.  We wanted it, but they convinced the client that they "wanted it more".

I never went into a new business pitch after that without making sure that the client would feel our passion for their business and for them to succeed.  I'm sure I was over-zealous at times, but I think prospects will usually forgive too much attention and too many questions over the alternative.

I have always maintained that you win new business before the pitch.  So I believe that an important ingredient in the mix needs to be how effectively you build a relationship and convince the client prospect of your desire to work with them and to help them succeed.  You won't always win, but you won't be second-guessing yourself, and your efforts, after the fact.

BTW, I agree with Mark Cuban that most of what Skip Bayless and the sports media says is "horses*#t", but that's a story for another time.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Does your client have a "Genius Bar"?

David Asker's latest blog highlights the success of the Apple Genius Bar and what has made it such a big hit with visitors to the Apple Store.

As a quick reminder, the Genius Bar provides technical support within Apple stores to customers having problems with the product or application. The Genius Bar has been hailed by many retail consultants as a key element in the most successful retail concept of recent times and a builder of the Apple brand and relationship.

As Aaker points out in his post, "the Apple store's financial performance and impact on the Apple brand is amazing. The sales per square foot for its 380 or stores is more than $5,000, which is six to ten times other successful retailers, and the average store pulls in 18,000 visitors a week. Perhaps more important, the stores provide a way to express the Apple brand and showcase its products."

Aaker lists these seven reasons for its success:
  1. Apple owns the brand and the concept. No other firm can have a Genius Bar because Apple owns the brand. Any other firm will at best be an imitator. 
  2. The brand has a distinctive personality — humorous and understated yet competent and reassuring.
  3. It is staffed by people that are both knowledgeable and disciples of the products and philosophy.  
  4. Their training is disciplined following the APPLE dictum of Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome, Probe to understand the problem, Present a solution, Listen for issues, and End with an invitation to return. That means consistency no matter which store you are visiting.
  5. Apple makes both the hardware and software and, thus, has a unique ability to create and staff a Genius Bar. 
  6. It enhances the customer relationship with its person-to-person approach. 
  7. It can transform a disgruntled, disappointed customer with the potential to have a distasteful retail experience and become a negative voice in the marketplace into a satisfied if not enthusiastic supporter of the Apple store. 

  8. What about your clients? Is there a "Genius Bar" in their story? If you can find one for them, you can be their hero!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Are your clients thinking about how technology is affecting consumer behavior?

Mickey Alam Khan, editor in chief of Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, has written an excellent post on Consumer 2.0: How brands and retailers must anticipate the shopper behavioral shift in five years.

His point is that so much dialogue has been focused on new technologies, that too many marketers are forgetting to discuss the "sea-change in consumer behavior expected in the next three to five years".  I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Khan.

The traditional sales funnel has been displaced by a new brand decision model that continues in many cases right up to the point of sale.  And with the continuing impact of peer-to-peer influence and the advent of mobile shopping tools, marketers cannot afford to keep their planning focus solely on which is the best technology to use.

He goes on to say that "smartphones and smart televisions and smart cars and smart clothes and smart food will shape consumer behavior in the next three to five years where most marketing fundamentals developed even a decade ago will be rendered obsolete".

I was particularly intrigued with his identification of four growing consumer behavior trends that will greatly influence how customers interact with brands and retailers over the next few years.

Customer impatience will doom many potential sales.  With so many options, consumers will have no tolerance for anything that delays their purchase, online or in-store.  Every element of the customer service response, from page uploads to physical or online/mobile checkout will be scrutinized and only deemed acceptable if there are no delays. It is not seconds, but milliseconds that will matter here.
A frictionless shopping experience will be the goal. The entire searching, shopping, browsing or buying experience has to be devoid of hurdles or pain points. Smooth transactions will be the minimum expectation, and intuitive response to customer overtures will be the norm.
The lowest price will be the deciding factor for most purchases.   We can only blame ourselves for this expectation. We have trained most consumers to shop by price – except in the case of brands that maintained their mystique and value to customers.  Consumers will not always expect cheap, but they do expect affordable.
Brands will need to be connected 24/7. Consumers do not expect brands to have a downtime in any area – be it shopping hours, product delivery, returns, customer-service calls or email or text responses. They expect to access the marketer or retailer on their own terms – always on, always there, always helpful, always friendly, always obliging.

We've all got to keep up with technology changes, but we can't forget how those technologies are impacting the buying decision process.The launch of new devices every year – new tablets, new smartphones, new smart TVs, new applications, new smart appliances, etc. – is forcing consumers to change their ideas about how to buy, when to buy and what to buy.  Are your clients ready for this sea-change?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Don't let your branding strategy get lost in the digital shuffle.

What's happened to branding in the digital marketing era?

It seems like 99 out of 100 posts/articles/reports these days are focused on social media or some other tactical tool that is the next big thing in the world of digital communications.

Recently, I've been seeing more (or maybe it's just my noticing more) on branding.  And that's a good thing.

In his latest book, Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant, David Aaker analyzes case studies on dozens of successful brands to offer guidance on how to create or dominate new categories or subcategories and thus make competitors irrelevant.  He stresses the importance of identifying and building new categories and subcategories that contain innovations that customers "must have" and that competitors cannot or don't offer.  He also points our that these customer "must haves" can involve brand characteristics that are beyond attributes or benefits, such as brand personality, organizational values, social programs or self-expressive benefits.

In a recent Marketing News article, he reiterated the importance of establishing brand relevance in a competitive world of me-too products, and  the need to become an "exemplar" of the new category or subcategory in order to stave off competition.  By positioning  your brand as the innovator and quality standard, your brand can define others as imitators and inferior.

The 2012 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI), now in its 16th year, was just released, and concludes that emotional engagement factors are driven by the brand’s “values” and the consumer’s brand “experience.” In a post published by MediaPost, Brand Experience, Values Increasingly Drive Loyalty, Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president,stated that “across most of the 83 product categories studied, we found that consumers’ loyalty now hinges more than ever before on the degree to which a brand has established a clear core value proposition -- a differentiator that goes beyond the basic utility of a product or service.”  H went on to say, “Today, delivering on the ‘rational’ reasons to buy a brand -- good or superior quality and value for the price -- is just the ‘door-opener.’ If that’s all a brand is doing, it’s in grave danger of being commoditized. In fact, it’s not a brand; it’s a category placeholder.”

It's good to see that some folks have not lost sight of the basics.  As we are looking for ways to succeed  in today's digital marketing era, don't lose sight of the importance of a solid brand as the underpinning for your social media and other marketing communication strategies.  The best tools are meaningless unless they are in the right hands!