Monday, November 16, 2009

Nice and Aggressive: Post 3 of 3

We've discussed the importance of pride and desire for a brand to establish confidence and consistency. For a brand to ultimately establish a tone that is direct and positive there is one last piece in the puzzle.


The last component of success for a brand to pull of being nice and aggressive is trust. You can have confidence and create desire in the mind of consumers. You can own joy and blanket the side of every bus in North America with your message, but if you break your customers trust it is all for nothing. Breaking trust doesn't just mean lying to them. It means:

  • using one price point as bate and switching it with another when customers inquire.
  • setting up false expectations for a product based on the desire you've created. If you're T-Mobile and you say "life is for sharing" but fail to offer reliable or convenient service, you've failed to backup your promise. If you say you're better, cooler, happier or faster than be just that. Don't confuse customers with clutter and detailed product messages.
  • allowing customers to wait for more than 2-3 minutes to talk to a representative.
  • calling or emailing customers who have not asked to be contacted. Getting an email address for info about Product A doesn't mean they want to hear about Product B or C.
  • failing to help a customer because you only empower your employees to follow a procedure rather than provide a solution.
  • providing a warranty* or guarantee* - no *, it is either guaranteed or it isn't.
  • Being aggressive in mass media and but not offering the price to the mass market.
  • Using contracts as excuses to keep your customers from being treated fairly and as valuable consumers
  • Using mass media to shout out offers and expecting anyone to care. For people to notice you need to build trust. If you break the points above, everything else you say will have less credibility and will reflect on your brand across the board.
What other ways to do brands break trust? I'd actually like to build a list.

To recap, for a brand to be positive and aggressive they need to be confident and consistent in each consumer touch point (product, advertising, customer service, etc)

To be confident and consistent, a brand needs to build on three pillars:
1) Pride
2) Desire
3) Truth

If all three pillars are covered, consumers will grant the brand permission to reach them at higher levels of engagement and will ultimately make choices to choose this brand even in the absence of a promotional campaign or even with the abundance of a rational alternative. This brand will own the consumers share of mind and stand for something greater than the features its product delivers.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Nice and Aggressive: Post 2 of 3

We started this discussion on the premise that the ability for a brand to succeed requires confidence and consistency. One of the first pillars to ensure that a brand to reach this level of confidence and consistency was for it to emit pride. The second pillar is desire.

Rule #1 in sales is to build desire with your prospect. The same goes for brand development. If consumers feel that there is pride and confidence in a brand they will start to pay attention. Step two is to ensure that the brand offers something they desire. This can tangible, like an innovative product. It can be communications based, like excellent customer service. Or it can be in-tangible, like a promise to be better or a connection to an emotion (i.e.: Life's for sharing - T-Mobile).

For 90% of the brands out there, the product or service they are selling is not massively different from its competition. The employee (if they have pride/confidence may say it does) but to most consumers it does not. This is the biggest reason why finding a desire point that is bigger than the product you sell is essential to delivering a positive and aggressive message to consumers. If we look at Computers, Soft Drinks, Mobile Phone Carriers, Furniture, Cars, Clothes - in every major product category you can find a core offering and match it to a set of needs and wants within the consumer market. It just so happens that if someone is looking to show the world that they are worth more than their neighbor, they'll buy a Mercedes instead of a Buick. Although Apple is innovative as an organization, as a brand they dominate cool. The core message they deliver is that they are cooler than everyone else. Regardless of how innovative HP is able to be, they will never (at least within the current branding landscape) be cooler than Apple.

Think about this...does your brand own a desire that is greater than the tangible features of its product?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nice and Aggressive: Post 1 of 3

Can a brand be positive and aggressive? Can it hit hard but come off as nice in the minds of the consumer? The simple answer is yes.

The complicated answer has to do with confidence.

The next three blog posts will explore three pillars of the pillars to build a brand that will allow a brand to be positive and aggressive in brand communications and actions

If the nature of a brand is to be positive and optimistic - think Pepsi (joy), Coke (open happiness), Apple (experience) - it will have a hard time pulling of assertive messaging unless it shows consistent confidence. The brands I've mentioned have the distinguished fortune of providing exceptional products, however the core of any brand does require confidence and consistency so that consumers allow their message to be heard.

Emit Pride
The first step for a brand to combine positive and aggressive messaging is to show pride. Pride in itself, its people and its products. This should not be confused with self-centered advertising. It means that if the brand is going to communicate, each image, message and media will reflect the pride and confidence this brand believes in.

If we dig one foot deeper, the core of any brand are the people that stand behind it. Employees require pride and confidence in the brand for this to end up as a believable proposition in the minds of consumers. If an executive team/customer service department/marketing team/etc. cannot decide on a unifying message that describes the brand, pride will never resonate with the consumer, regardless of the clever tactics or creative advertising that are thrown at them.

There are a few industries that are often picked on by consumers and marketers for being wolves in sheep's clothing. They attempt to be nice but the core brand is focused on aggression. Think about some used car companies, insurance companies or telemarketers.

Look through your organization - do your employees show pride in the brand? Does your brand reflect this pride in its communications?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Traditional strategy bring traditional results

Last year at about this time I wrote about how advertisers and brands are working together to kill the online click-through ad industry. My point was that, as with all new media, brands who have always been concerned with impressions (i.e. yelling at consumers) have misused the power of the online ad space. My thought was that this was training consumers to lose trust in online ads, ultimately sabotaging the major benefit for advertisers - tracking. The argument from those looking to keep online ads as an attractive choice was that these ads would serve as a branding medium and reach people 'where they are' - the same model traditional advertising has delivered for seventy years, wrapped up in a digital package so that marketing budgets could go to this 'new interactive' stuff and make everyone look good.

A few weeks ago, Marketing Vox confirmed this trend. "The number of online Americans who click on display ads has dropped by 50% since 2007 - and now stands at only 16% of all US internet users..." (thank Mitch). It seems that our inability to resist the traditional way we've thought about communicating with consumers has once again burned a bridge with them.

We've seen the same thing starting to occur with Twitter, Facebook ads, Youtube ads and most Social Networks revenue models. This shift has decreased the value of these tools for advertising. I'm not saying they can't be properly used to advertise, nor am I saying that they are poor marketing channels. You can see the jump in Youtube channels and Facebook Business Fan Pages as proof that relevant and permission based marketing can be greatly beneficial for brands. I'm all for relevant, engaging, memorable and permission based content. I just need help understanding why brands continue to advertise the same way they always have (but have just changed media) and still expect different results?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Decision Time

I'll apologize in advance for not delivering something original for this post. However, the point being made takes priority over creativity. Seth Godin's recent post about decision making should be filtered out as far as it can so that those who have the capability to make a decision but choose not to (for various self-justifying reasons) will reconsider.

One more quick point. When you make a decision don't blame anyone for it. Too often people are influenced by fear from peers/coworkers/management to make a decision. Its easier for most people to appease peers then do something remarkable. Besides, if it doesn't work out there is always someone else to blame.

In advertising and marketing this is the biggest reason for failure.

From Seth's Blog - "Make a decision"

It doesn't have to be a wise decision or a perfect one. Just make one.

In fact, make several. Make more decisions could be your three word mantra.

No decision is a decision as well, the decision not to decide. Not deciding is usually the wrong decision. If you are the go-to person, the one who can decide, you'll make more of a difference. It doesn't matter so much that you're right, it matters that you decided.

Of course it's risky and painful. That's why it's a rare and valuable skill.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How to revise your keyword strategy

The agency I work with had an experience a few months ago that reminded me of the power of keywords. I know that when I say ‘keywords’ your eyes have automatically glazed over. You’re thinking about lists and bids – trying to find that word that steals people from your competition to arrive on your website. What a chore. Why don’t we just do a viral video or a huge billboard. Your reaction is on par with every reaction I’ve ever received when I bring up keywords to a marketer, client and even some agencies. Hold on for a second, this is going somewhere useful…

Over the past few years we have worked closely with the Workers Compensation Board in Nova Scotia. This relationship has seen great creative work and awesome results delivered year after year. Most public service advertising of this kind focuses on the big messages – huge accidents can be avoided, don’t take unnecessary risks, etc. For this campaign the insight was based on the little things: How a small action can prevent a major problem. We thought it was good, the client thought it was good and after the launch, the public thought it was good as it was quite successful.

Just after the launch of this campaign, Pat Cowin was putting together a safety presentation for her fellow workers at the NASA Langley Research Centre. In preparing for the presentation she wanted to demonstrate how the little things that no one thinks about usually cause the injuries. She dropped ‘safety is in the little things’ into Google and received this response: followed by the description “It’s the little things that no one thinks about that can cause injury…” . A person looking for something very specific found it from an organization a country away. There was no major keyword buy, but keywords and content were not ignored. Because the root of the campaign was based on a rationale that was easily shared and specific, it was picked up by a variety of other organizations looking to spread a similar message. Because the main idea was built around that simple set of keywords, the keywords that made it accessible were found in every piece of communication and they didn't have to be forced in.

The basis for any online strategy should be on an insight that reflects common sense. Your keywords don’t always need to be purchased, but they must always be thought of. They are essentially the only continuity between your message and a person’s action. A keyword strategy is the central point of integration between any traditional campaign, the message, and the audience response. We have the opportunity when developing a campaign, product or any communications to either

1) capitalize on existing language that is familiar to our audience;
2) or develop something new – something that stands out.

For we chose the former, as ‘safety in the little things’ was common language but rarely used to promote work safety. Think about how a similar strategy can easily be integrate for your products or services and how looking at the creative idea for its main point can leverage the online traffic searching for your solution.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Transparency does not mean trustworthy.

Being upfront and open to people has always been a challenge for companies. They live in a world surrounded by paranoia and legal teams that influence when things are disclosed or off the record. Nobody wants the competition to steel that secret and nobody wants to be sued for using some misunderstood headline. The presence of companies online has only added fire to the debate about the requirement to be transparent. They're on Facebook, anonymously dropping videos on YouTube, and talking back on Twitter. They should be upfront and transparent. If I write a blog post about a product and that product pays me, I should let readers know. If I'm a credit card company advertising a 4% interest rate, but I'm really just trying to sell an18% interest rate, I need to put a * beside my 4% followed by some legalese that states my goal. Transparency has various degrees of truth. It usually is motivated by a short term impact or action.

When something goes wrong - profits fall unexpectedly, CEO is investigated for fraud, or customers get ticked because they thought the ad actually meant 4% - companies point to transparency. Since they have been transparent you should have known all this stuff could go wrong. Even though you didn't, they would still like you to see that because they have been transparent, you can trust them.

Transperency is not enough.

It's a one way action with an expectation of return. A contract with your mobile phone company is open and transparent, but the fact that it states that they can change your monthly fee without notice and your only recourse is to pay them $200 to end your relationship is not a customer/company relationship based on trust. It's more like a protection agreement, where you pay me to look after your shop or I'll burn it down. Transparent? Yes. Trustworthy? No.

Trust is also one way, but with no expectation of return. Actions result from the decision to just be better. To look at the world through a different lense. Profits come from happy people, so rather than focus on profits, focus on happy people.

Trust is a gradual process that results from consistent behaviour and time. If a company says that they will refund your product, no questions asks and actually does it repeatedly - people will notice. Athough it doesn't make short term sence to lose the proftis on all these refunded products, some of which could be just customers taking advantage of the trust, in the long term most people will feel compelled to return to those companies that have earned their trust.

Trust is the long ball game. It's the differentiator you've been paying all those consultants to find. The reason the new company in the industry can make a big splash is that they can be reasonably trusted. They have no track record. Trust is theirs to lose. They say they'll deliver their product in 2 days and do it - they're already better than the market leader who was late on one shipment.

One final point. If a company only looks a whether customers trust them compared to the competition then they are probably no better than the competition. If people are skeptical of telemarketers, then being the most trusted of untrusted telemarketers is no prize. This is true for any industry. If your company is focused on being transparent, it probably in not actually concerned with being genuinly trustworthy. The shift to looking at each consumer as an individual and actually doing what you say you'll do - with every action and communication - will build a consumer base who is your for the long haul. They weren't baited by some promo price and won't compare you to your competition.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The best seafood in the world

A few weeks ago I took a drive through 11 states on my way to South Carolina to visit some friends. As I made my way down the East Coast the changing scenery provided plenty of entertainment for my 26 hour drive. Beyond the changing scenery, the outdoor advertising and retail signs were equally entertaining.

I was on some back road in Maine, trying to shave a few hours of my trip (unsuccessfully) and passed a small shack restaurant. It was tucked in the side of the road just outside my line of site. It had one of those back lit movable signs that allow the owner to change out the letters. You know the ones that have the arrow at the top that points towards whatever it's advertising?

On the sign it reads "Best seafood in the world". Perfect. A bold statement that could not be more clear. If it wasn't 8:00 in the morning I may have stopped in to find out what the best seafood in the world tasted like. What I love about this type of situation is that we clearly have a small business making a serious effort to market its product. This restaurant has gone out and made the greatest claim a seafood restaurant could possibly make. As a result, I'm sure they get more patrons, but more importantly, I bet they work harder to deliver on that promise. It could be argued that there just setting people up for disappointment, but I didn't try the food so I can't comment.

Side Note - this picture is not from the restaurant I'm referring to. The best seafood in the world restaurant is obviously better.

Lesson 1 from the Best Seafood Restaurant in the World:
It takes a lot of courage to actually try to be a better business than what people expect from you.

Usually making some over-the-top claim isn't the way to do it, but at least it's something. Good advertising and marketing is as much about telling a story and entertaining as it is about what you're selling. Companies reach a point where they focus so much on what they know, that they forget what makes people actually care about them. If you're in business, have customers and are actually making money - the story that captured your current customers is probably a great place to start when looking for new ones.

Lesson 2 from the Best Seafood Restaurant in the World:
Don't be so afraid to be impressive or to say something truly and unbelievably bold. In the right context and market it can be done honestly and can drastically shift the way people (customers and employees) think about your business.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The value of one person

Everyone is thinking about Social Media. They can't help it. Social Media is all over the news, preached about at every conference, added to every pitch - it's everywhere. With so much discussion going on within these organization there is very little doing. Roadblocks are everywhere in traditional organizations that keep Social Media as a fringe strategy and not an integrated communications effort. The list is long: budgets, understanding the technology, resources, content, etc. However, there is one big roadblock which will always get in the way, regardless of how you address the other insecurities in the organizations: how we view the consumer.

Acknowledge the value of one person
For any new media, you will not be successful if you make it a numbers game. These strategies do not work with a 'tell the masses' mentality. Beyond the fact that the masses cannot be found in one particular social category or new media, the nature of the media allows us to communicate more individually (which is good, not evil). In fact it is most effective when the communication is more individually focused. This is lost within most organizations who are looking at adding Social Media to their strategy. Those in charge of budgets and marketing decisions have spent the last thirty years trying to find the media that hits the most people at once. Costs are CPM. Reach is so big it's broken down into single number representations. However, the message that went with these communications was broad - a one size fits all shotgun blast. If the people who are in charge of marketing decisions do not value that one person who could be the next customer/fan/evangelist it wouldn't matter if you had Godin, Brogan, Joel or McConnell selling the strategy -the Social Media recommendation will die.

I'm not sure how you can value the masses and not value one person's opinion but that is the case for most companies. For these organizations the opinion of the masses is marketing, the opinion of one person is either a public relations issue or a retention issue. Usually in these organizations you'll find job/position silos (retention, marketing, customer service, PR) that continue to reinforce the value of the mass market over the meaningful market. By fragmenting the consumer experience into job descriptions, there is the possibility for a more individual message - however, the result is usually a mediocre delivery on the consumer promise. Acknowledging the value of one person is a cultural change that requires the same people who have been chasing the masses to focus on the micro level of consumer engagement. A focus on experience delivery over reach.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Pay-what-you-want is currently one of my favorite trends to watch. I've posted about it before, and recently came across Agencynil - the pay-what-you want advertising agency. As this is an industry I take a lot of interest in (it keeps me employed) I really looked at this one closely. From a PR perspective it has done a great job of generating buzz. As far as output is concerned, I think the jury may still be out on this one, but according to the site it is a satisfaction guaranteed delivery - so if anything they are confident.

This got me thinking about a few points:
  1. When does a company not pay what they want from their ad agency? As with many transactions, when one feels that there is something unfair about the value/price relationship one ends the relationship. Most companies request work for a fee and agencies deliver under that premise. Rarely are agencies in a position to dictate price. Which brings me to my next point...
  2. This positioning also assumes that ad agencies charge what they want.An agency can only pay its bills when a client is happy. Clients that feel ripped off won't swallow whatever their agency feels it deserves. Likewise, a client rarely pays a premium for work that delivers on a remarkable success. Maybe there's a balance...but that's a different post.
  3. Client happiness should not to be confused with client success. These two could not be further apart and have no linear correlation. Happier clients do not equal more successful clients. Great agencies can succeed by shifting focus away from happy clients towards helping clients succeed - but this runs deeper than churning out work or jumping on the latest new media bandwagon. It involves serious relationships that don't crumble under conflict and scrutiny of each party. Remarkable success comes from challenging the status quo. This causes friction as it is the status quo (either in work, in a clients culture, or in a agency/client relationship) which creates comfort and mutual happiness - but rarely sustained success. If you are a company, look for an agency that makes you feel uncomfortable, that will tell you where they think you fall and where you can do the same. It will help everyone.
The pay-what-you-want strategy is another great marketing tool. To think that in this case it lies on some deep rooted thought around fairness or market laws may be more marketing than logic. It simply addresses the eternal skepticism that an organizations has against its agency. A grass is greener strategy that may not transfer well to the perception of professional service. I'm sure there is a market for this, but it may compete more with organized online freelancers, online banks of creative work and graphic designers.

If you've experienced the agency or been involved with the work I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lessons from a crazy dancer

I love this video. It reflects a great lesson in marketing...

I'm sure that at some point, we've all looked like that guy dancing on his own. For whatever reason, we decided to take a step against the standard around us. When this happens it is hard to feel anything but foolish.

For example, let's say we had decided to implement a new media strategy. Something driven by what people enjoy, and something connected by what they like to share. Excited we take the leap and make our strategy a reality. We've flown out of the gate only to realize that we're completely exposed to everyone else. Now we're not quite as comfortable. The worst part about this is that for a while it feels like we'll always be it - that guy dancing alone at a concert. It is at this point that most brands give up. They've been dancing in a new strategy or social media space and the initial momentum has worn off - they're feeling insecure. They're starting to doubt if this whole strategy thing is going to work. Everyone's looking at them but no one is really joining in. For most brands (currently) that's enough. They've made their point. They've proven they weren't afraid to try. Another successful stunt that held the attention of a few thousand eyeballs and 'engaged the audience'.

Meanwhile, a smaller portion of brands (let's call them the Few Brands) will stick it out long enough to reach another level of 'engagement'. The Few Brands will have the reward of being noticed plus have the experience of being mocked. Much like the second guy who joined our wild man dancer in the video, another brand will try to pick-up on the attention the Few Brands are generating. For those copy-cats the visual impact will be less - their intention is misplace. It reflects a strategy based on brand insecurities or laziness.

Then there is the last segment of brands who will realize the most success for their patience and efforts. The Successful Brand sets out knowing it may look foolish, but is equipped with the strategic depth to ignore (or even encourage) those that mock/tag along to the idea. The Successful Brand will finally encourage that third person to join in. That third person represents the key audience the Successful Brand requires to break down the barrier between 'audience engagement' (those who watch) and 'audience participation' (those who join). Soon after that audience joins, the momentum carries itself. No longer needing the original brand presentation, these people define their interaction with each other and their own enjoyment as projections of the Successful Brand's original action. The people no longer notice the awkward foolish looking dancer. Instead they embrace the intention and experience the Successful Brand has initiated. In the end, it is the memory of that experience that will be tied to the brand: The experience being synonymous with what that Successful Brand means to the people it has connected to each other.
Hat Tip: Martin Delaney

UPDATE JUNE 10: Read Seth Godin's take on the video

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Back in March I talked about Montreal's Taverne Crescent, one of the latest to join the pay-what -you-want dining trend. The idea demonstrated by truly allowing people to give you what you are worth. A direct experience/reward strategy.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is Charlie's Burgers in Toronto. This restaurant does not have a fixed location. Customers must apply to eat there. If you happen to be one of the 30 of 250 applicants selected for the culinary experience, you don't actually find out where or what you will be eating until the day of your reservation (invited guests are sent to a public spot - like a phone booth or newspaper stand - to receive the address).

The whole setup leverages our own emotions and social behavior to build the brand. It plays with our heads and our internal sense of ownership over what we consume.
  • I can't go even if I want to - I have to be invited
  • The name of the restaurant has little to know reflection of the food it serves - so what am I getting into?
  • The restaurant is really only an idea (it doesn't physically exist) up until the point I actually get to eat.
All this plays on another sweet strategy to gain brand fans - scarcity.

Incorporate scarcity into your business/brand
When I say scarcity, most peole jump to the luxury brand market, but it can be an awesome tool to turn satisfied customers into fans for almost any brand. One way is to limit your immediate growth by defining criteria. An example of this is Seth Godin's Triiibes. When you pre-purchased the book, you were invited to a closed (and still closed) social network. This group of people became a tightly knit community and idea of triiibes beyond the footprint of a regular book launch truly driving word-of-mouth and future growth of the Seth Godin brand.

Another way to incorporate scarcity is to take a segment of customers and give them a privilege that no other customer gets - they'll immediately talk about it. I'm talking a remarkable perk - not movies passes to the local theatre (although those too have value for some customer service strategies). You may even have regular customers complain (which will scare your executive team, and you will have to be prepared to deal with both sides of the complaint). That's not really the point though.

Adding a sense of scarcity to your brand experience changes the game.
  • It usually eliminates most of the direct competition. Why? Because of the two points below.
  • It automatically pulls on peoples ego's (rather than rational thought). Irrational fans are every brands best differentiator.
  • Makes price secondary in the promise
So what's the problem?
The biggest problem brands have managing scarcity - they want to include everyone. If you have a high revenue customer segment who happens to be Mom's from 30-35, the impact to this segment diminishes for each additional age you stretch the criteria to meet. If I am one of 250 people I probably feel differently than if I am one of 250 million. Marketing scarcity is probably the most difficult tactic to undertake. Usually corporate self control and brand self-esteem, sabotage its implementation. The temptations to lower your standards or change your criteria, to second guess yourself, to think of all the reasons against it, or to gain the quick buck over building long-term immeasurable demand is always there. The minute you fall for this temptation, the investment into your customers is burned.

A final point on scarcity.
Regardless of the economic situation, a brands ability to market scarcity (either as the whole brand, a sub-brand, or segment of customers) provides a sense of control. You define who you want to be part of your club, and you make people work (emotionally, financially, or otherwise) to become a part of that club. In a recession, this usually means that your reputation and market stay relatively stable (remember irrational purchase behavior) - another benefit to this strategy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Social Media Myth #3: Why Change?

I've talked about two other social media myths here and here. My third Social Media Myth is based on the train of thought that if my brand has been successful for the last 30 years doing advertising the way we do, then why change.

The problem with this logic is that the last 30 years have no relevance whatsoever to what will happen over the next 30 years. It ignores all the factors that can drastically impact your business - like technology, public opinion, common sense, global governments, economics and competition.

In GM's glory days of the 1950's, revolutionary auto designer Harvey Earl warned that people, although still buying behemoth's for cars, were starting to take interest in the smaller cars offered by foreign (not yet established) competitors. The public opinion was shifting. Harvey was ignored - GM had been on a growth blitz for over 20 years dominating the market place selling well over 50% of cars in the U.S. Why change? People were still buying big. They were established. They owned the market. I don't need to finish this story as the downhill slide is a favorite topic in the media. Similar examples can be found in the music/record label business, your regional newspaper mix and the U.S banking industry.

Okay, so those examples are beyond the scale of your organization. Let's try something else.

There is a whole generation of people about to enroll in university who have been online their entire lives. They never used a rotary phone, owned a record/eight track/tape/CD collection, and can text message quicker than they can call a friend. They are currently a low value consumer. Meanwhile, your primary loyal consumer base is aging and shifting their spending to match their fixed income retired lifestyle. You know them well. Their loyalty is social across their generation. Delivering on one good promise set you up for a lifetime of loyal spending. However each subsequent generation of people is less loyal. Less loyal and louder. Delivering on one promise isn't enough. They can be in love with your brand but one bad experience and they are gone. Plus that slip up will be video taped, photographed or transcribed online and archived forever. You don't get credit like you used to. You blame 'that target market'. You focus your money and attention on the dying consumer instead. Meanwhile a competitor realizes that loyalty comes at a higher price. They change their communication model. They shift their culture to embrace the criticism and react. They win.

This social media myth is the most poisonous. Not just because it ignores the opportunity that comes from talking to people who will pay your salary (and make your shareholders happy) but because it reflects a far worse, underlying problem in corporate culture.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Barrier to Social Media: Negative Feedback

A major barrier that keeps many brands from creating an integrated social media strategy is the self conscious worry around what people are actually saying about it. "What if they don't like our service?" "What if there compliant is unresonable?" "Great, now the rest of our customers will see what a few disgruntled customers think of us". The gap between a brand's view of its current strategy and a strategy integrated with social/new media always seems much wider to those making the decision than what reality actually presents. For example, if you ask an executive why they have not looked at a social media strategy you will hear a never ending list of excuses from 'what will our shareholders think' to 'our PR team tries to keep control of that stuff' to 'why would anyone want to talk to us'. On the other hand if you were to go to a customer of this same brand and ask them what they want from that brand, chances are the response will reflect a wish for better service, a different process, or at least that a brand has an awareness of the relationship (beyond man 25-50 bought a new stereo from us). People like to know that their investment in a brand is noticed.

Simplify the barrier - think referrals.
John Jantsch unitentionally frames this up nicely for me in his recent post about increasing the right type of word-of-mouth. "Referrals most naturally happen when two people are talking and one of the parties expresses a pain in the neck. If the other party just had her pain in the neck fixed, she may very well say something like, 'ooh, you just gotta call Bob, he’s the best pain in the neck fixer on the planet.' " Likewise, if manager from a brand is at a function and overhears this conversation about their brand, they will probably react. Maybe not by joining that conversation, but perhaps by addressing the person who spoke favorably (thank you) or the reffered indivual (may we help you). So why do these same managers freeze when it comes to social media?

Whether online or offline most new business naturally comes from a conversation about a problem. Luckily, we now have the ability to see some of these conversations online and react. Not just by listening, but by promoting those conversation to occur. Maybe it's by creating/recognizing a place where customers can talk to each other. Even if its only 50 customers, that's 50 more discussions than you heard yesterday.

The more problems a brand can solve the more people will be available to help that brand through word-of-mouth. Don't ignore the fact that the reason you are in business is that you have a solution for at least one problem people have. Whenever there is a problem, there will be an unhappy person. It's always about them, even when it is inconvenient for your brand.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More personality from a local brand

In February, I commented on the common-sense approach (yet one that is rarely used) that Nova Scotian Crystal used to address consumer confidence in the financial strength of the brand. A well crafted letter written like a friendly conversation - rather than the corporate nonsense we often hear from most brands- went out to customers. It discussed how the downturn in the economy has affected Canada's oldest blown glass company, made a couple of suggestions on how one could help and even made a few guarantees about the future of the company.

Well, it's now May and a follow-up letter has been sent to the same audience. It is written in pretty much the same conversational tone, but tells a story of renewal rather than recession. I've attached a copy below for you to read.

I have not seen any formal press on this yet. I hardly expect a story like this would make it into the newspaper - it just isn't scary enough. Regardless, I don't think it matters. The previous letter came out during a time of bad press for Nova Scotian Crystal. In my post there was a comment left about the importance of balancing consumer communications with the media as both impacted perceptions and ultimately word-of-mouth. However, in this case I think that Nova Scotian Crystal has continued to acknowledge the source of its success and the power in its customer base. We often say that customers will speak with their wallets and, although the newspaper is a trusted source of information, it still does not surpass the referral or reference from a trusted friend.

This letter plays to all the common-sense marketing strategies that are so often forgotten:
  1. It recognizes that existing customers are easier and more cost effective to keep, and persuade to repeat purchase, than finding a new customer.
  2. It recognizes that existing customers usually have a vested interest in your success (they've given you time and money - which never comes lightly).
  3. The letter is about 'you' not 'us'. Although it has to communicate the 'us' story, it puts the attention on the the people that contribute to the success rather than the brand.
  4. It has done something that most brands have a lot of trouble doing - recognized that there are people who are passionate about the brand. Most brands are extremely insecure about this. They fail to give their customers credit. Need an example - think of most viral participation campaigns. Even if humor has no place within the brand it is often used because it is generally thought to be an easier sell. In these cases it is just underestimates the way people actually feel about the brand and discredits the intent behind the campaign.
  5. NS Crystal makes a remarkable product. This always helps. I know it sounds obvious, but there are a ton of just-good-enough products sitting on the shelves at department stores across the country. None of those manufacturers could establish the customer relationship like this even if they wanted to.
  6. The brand has a story (that sometimes is not told well enough). To the people that buy into the brand, the remarkable product becomes part of their life. Word-of-mouth spreads easier when your product is a big part of your brand. In this letter, the story continues to be told.
I know there are a pile of other little things I could pull from this, but I think the main points resonate well. Often marketing tactics are just distractions to the truth. However it is truth and common sense which are two foundations of any good relationship.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I guarantee that for the next 300 years...

I read this post the other day. Brikolor, a new Swedish company, is making furniture"with a guaranteed emotional and technical durability of 300 years".

Timid trapeze artists are dead trapeze artists.
To misuse a quote from Seth Godin, if you're going to do something, doing it with confidence is usually the best chance of survival (Seth was actually talking about transitions in his blog post). We often talk about how we need to be more confident in our marketing efforts. Too often we settle for just-good-enough when it comes to how we position our products (although we see many companies settling for just-good-enough products...but that's another post). I'm sure that there have been thousands of furniture companies who could have claimed a 300 year guarantee - I mean I have at least one elderly relative who has a chair that is still rocking after a few generations. But Brikolor said it first - and many times in marketing that's enough to own the positioning. In this case it is a litteral description of the product, sometimes it is less to the point but equally appealing - like T-Mobile's "Life's for sharing" (which is awesome for so many reasons).

Don't forget emotion.
Notice as well that Brikolor even provide their own 'emotional' guarantee. An ambiguous statement intended to play to your own personal ego and taste. This overrides the common sense that most of the furniture I owned in college is not still in style today, or that the ottomen that sat in my childhood living room, with it's rust plaid patch work and gold wheels, is hardly going to fit todays style - but that's the beauty of doesn't need to make sense.

Your positioning is not for your benefit.
Not only has this company gone out and made a bold statement, it has decided to make one that evokes loyalty to the customer. It is positioned to matter to the customer, rather than the industry. I'm pretty sure I will not live to be 300 (you never know) - but Brikolor's has told me that if I give them my attention and money, they will return the favor by giving me the last chair I will ever need to buy. Of course, if it's the last chair I'm ever going to buy it will take me a while to figure what style I will enjoy for the next 300 years. Basically Brikolor has tapped into the fact that people are skeptical. The guarantee attempts to bypass the history requirement that most of the competitors use to prop up reliabitly (we've been around since 1759). It also speaks to a few niche audiences, while not alienating too many people in the mass audience. Think eco-friendly, people friendly, family friendly...

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. The company is still young, but has already provided some great examples of one part of the marketing puzzle. How they service their customers and how the purchase process goes is another piece of that puzzle that will ultimately determine weather Brikolor sinks or swims for another 300 years.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Is imitation flattery?

I've been meaning to post a picture of this for a while. On my drive to work I pass these two billboards. I was hoping to get a decent picture of them side by side but this will just have to do. It's much harder to snap a photo while driving than I expected but I think you'll get the point.

So the billboard on the right is a Bell advertisement for 3G service in Canada. With the new Bell brand, the "B" is used to create the "M" in "More 3G".

The billboard on the left is for a local car dealer. You'll notice that there appears to be a "M" on the lower left in similar fashion to the Bell ad.

Coincidence? What do you think?

Or is there something obvious I'm missing here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When people become consumers

We fail.

I don't mean when-a-person-buys-your-product consumer. I mean when you start to view all people as consumers.

Here's why:

When we talk about consumers we tend to talk in general terms and assumptions. "The target audience is 22 - 54 years old, married, probably 2 kids, lives in a house, likes things, hates bad people, etc" We all do this. We may want to sell to that target audience, but that does not describe the 'people' that constitute it. It also doesn't help anyone market effectively to those individuals. How many similarities between a 22 year old and a 54 year old are there?

We tend to look at consumers with weird golden rules. We want all consumers to be our friends, while at the same time paying us with their attention and then their pocket books. I'm as guilty as the next person - often in my blog referring to The Customer in this way. The customer is always right. We want share of wallet with that consumer base. Today's consumer is not easily deceived by our crafty advertising. When was the last time your befriended a neighbour by shouting over the fence "hey 22 year old male, listen here, have I gotta deal for you...". You probably sold him that lawn mower, but he probably didn't invite you over for a beer.

This mindset leads us to create a sense of numbness and inpersonality around 'the consumer'. They become some other form. We use sentences to describe how we interact with them or to define what action we want from them. How does our consumer identify value? What is the differentiators our consumer will notice? There are two easy ways to step out of that foggy world.

1) Check your sales. Are people buying? No? Then what you are selling they do not like. It could be more complicated than that, but usually that's the problem. If they do like what you are selling you are poorly priced in comparison to the benefit you deliver to them. This is far less a marketing problem than a corporate problem.

2) Change the tone of the discussion. "How does our consumer identify value?" covers up the real point: "What do people want from us". "What are the differentiators" good to know, but better is "Why do people buy from us". You're thinking he just said the same thing in two different ways. The use of the word 'people' changes the response. Make it personal. If you want people to have a relationship with your brand, you need to pull your weight on the other end.

Monday, May 11, 2009

We have an audience in Papua New Guinea?

Who would have thought so many consumers would be interested in hearing our story? We would have never guessed that 80% of our engaged base are 32 year old males from that area of the country. Why would so many people leave that webpage? These are the voices of surprised companies upon reviewing a measurable online campaign. The response to most of these ideas and questions is pretty easy. Who cares?

The volume of information for any integrated campaign can be overwhelming. It can be paralyzing for an unprepared marketing team, leading to irrelevant questions or a confirmation biased approach to analyzing the results.

To avoid this and be better prepared here are three things to keep in mind:

1) The online audience is not always a reflection of your audience. This is a dangerous one for me to write, but let me explain. The people who react to your marketing or advertising online will be very specific to the action you instituted. In this case the word 'action' should not be mistaken with the word 'strategy'. For example, you may develop a funny viral video. As a result 300,000 people may view it - exciting, I know. Then you read the comments on YouTube that reflect disdain for the video or lower than enthusiastic love for your brand. Probably a less comforting experience. This doesn't mean that the consumer who buys your product feels the same way. In this case, your action (the viral video) may have appealled to a broader crowd. Your strategy was to reach 2,000 people (which you did) but the nature of your action allowed the online masses to take control. You can control the message all you like but you can't control who likes it.

2) Beware the vocal minority. When the agency I work for is first hired to listen online, the companies that we are working with are surprised about the level of negative/positive discussion. I often relate the online environment to any public meeting (if your in University think Student Union issues, if your have kids think PTA meeting, if you engage in public planning think 'public' feedback on the planning process). The people who are the loudest are usually those on the fringe. You rarely here someone speak up "I am adequately satisfied with this proposal, this is pretty good". You usually hear "that sucks" or "autograph me a copy so I can frame it". Some people will never like you. Some people love you (but aren't guaranteed to always love you - a post for another day).

The act of listening online alone is not enough. You require the skill to assess the risk and acknowledge the ability of when take action. Prop up the people who are your fans. Don't let them turn. Reach out to the haters, but do so knowing the probable outcome. It may be a case of showing your intent, rather than the outcome (don't mistaken this with selfishly assisting someone, that will get you burned). With this in mind, you can use the information found from 'listening' online very effectively, but do not mistaken it with the views of the majority. Most companies in Canada do not yet have the critical consumer mass to have their audience accurately reflected online. There will be people who will never speak up, but who will only watch. They are equally as important and should not be forgotten in the hype of social media.

3)Listen to the people you do engage. This may sound like a contradiction from the first two points. The intention with listening to the engaged people - the people who respond to your survey, buy your product online, engage in whatever action your online tactic is aiming to do - is to find out how to get more people like that. You're online audience may not always be a great reflection of the broader mass audience, but it is still an audience with a wallet. Identifying who reacts positively online, and tailoring integrated marketing efforts online to build this base of positive reactions in the ultimate key to a sustainable online strategy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mitch Joel on perseverence

I've been working with a few folks at Seth Godin's Triiibes project on an ebook currently titled "We want you to fail". It explores perseverance and its impact on the success or outcomes in ones life. We've been compiling interviews with a variety of individuals - from the famously successful to those stories of the lesser known. About two months ago I did my first interview for the project with Mitch Joel.

I first met Mitch Joel just over a year ago. I was attending the Annual General Meeting of a client, and had heard that there were a few guest speakers. When I arrived I was seated at a table in the front left. Beside me sat a young guy with a shaved head and glasses. We were both listening intently to Terry O’Reilly give an impassioned speech about creative communications. When Terry finished and the applause was over, I noticed he was in my direction. That’s odd, I thought. He sat down to my left. As he did this, that guy on my right stood up and proceeded to the podium. That’s when I realized I was sitting at the speakers table (uninvited). As I looked up at the podium, that guy was introducing himself. It was Mitch Joel.

I wanted to speak to Mitch about perseverance because he has had an extraordinary ride, but did not come from a priveledged environment, invent some new technology, or climb his way through some political ladder. I wanted to speak to Mitch because he has successfully made it where he is based on knowledge, insight and audience. These are intangibles that are a valuable currency in any industry and being able to use them effectively is not a common story.

Here are a few excerpts from our interview:

Q: When did you realize that for you – the rules of the game were changing and you wanted to be ahead of the curve? Your colleagues must have thought you were crazy…

A: Pereverance has two sides. One side is negative. This is has to do with facing obstacles that come along and viewing them as problems or adversity. The negative comes out mostly in external factors you cannot control, like the people who are naysayers, or the barriers you create for yourself. With this side of perseverance you have to keep on pushing no matter what people say to you or how you feel.

For example, people will look at the Newpaper industry and say ‘look how it is persevering through these tough times”. I think that’s not it at all. I would say that Newspapers, like the music industry, are failing to persevere. Persevering for these industries would be to acknowledge the shift from content ownership to content publication. They would look at what they’re creating and who they’re connecting with. They would see the change in consumer habits, the prospects in new revenue and ad models, and the greater opportunity of taking advantage of the limitless opportunities that exist beyond their traditional walls.

The other side of perseverance is positive. This is how I look at the equation. You determine what you want to do. Then you do what you want to do. It’s really rooted in the knowledge that when you wake up in the morning you know what you want to do and you’re excited to do it. You know what success looks like and that excites you. You want to learn and take the steps to get there.

These two sides of perseverance are two different worlds. The positive side is not about doing it to keep on doing it. That’s not smart and strategic. Our actions should be flowing with the times, always searching for that better way.

Q: How is that going reflected in what you do (work, book, blog, etc)?

A: The positive side of perseverance has affected my career in a fundamental way.

About three weeks ago I had a light bulb moment… I started in magazine publishing and journalism. I still love the industry. I was preparing the sales and marketing plan for the book [Six Pixels of Separation] with my team at Twist Image, and it hit me. My blog Six Pixels of Separation, my podcasts, Media Hacks, Foreward Thinking, my business book review twitter feed, the columns in the Montreal Gazette and the Vancouver Sun - wait I’m a publisher. While persevering in my career I’ve become more of a publisher than when I owned two magazines.

If you would have asked me 5-10 years ago what I wanted my book to be, I would have said the standard answer “I’m working for this to be everything I know it can be” At the time, for most people, a book was ones opinions published and projected to the masses. Now, a book doesn’t feel the same. It is no longer the single source of opinion, commentary or insight. My blogs, columns and opportunities to speak are all part of that impression and each influence the other. Think about it. I finished the book in December 2008. However it set to launch in September 2009. The book is coming out almost 9 months after it was finished. In that time I’ve published a blog post everyday, gathered more ideas from colleagues and podcasts, it’s almost another book worth of valuable content.

The book is really a reflection of all my other content publishing efforts. It’s not a feature on Mitch Joel but on the columns and experiences I write about. The blogs, podcasts, and columns supplement the book, while the book provided the road map.

And my favorite quote of the interview:
"One thing I can say that I’m most proud of - I will always try things even at the risk of my livelihood. That’s not always the best choice (ha), but it keeps the fire burning and drives my excitement. Understanding how to be proactive in a serious confrontation is the self defense of marketing."

Monday, May 4, 2009

We give ourselves too much credit

Yesterday I posted how we don't give our customers enough credit. That we underestimate the role our brand plays in their lives. This should not be confused with the other side of the equation. That is - that we over estimate the role our products play in the lives of our customers.

We love the products we make. We're pretty sure that everyone else who uses them feels the same. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this.
1) We are all very poor judges of what other people think is important (don't pretend otherwise).
2) Our competitors love the products they make, and think everyone else feels the same way.
3) Our shared customer base is not buying your product. They are buying the product that fits them at that particular moment in time. To them it's not so much a choice, as social availability: its what I want at this time and it fits my current standards.

When we focus on our product our messaging changes to focus on immediacy, exploiting the weakness of the old or building a mountain of value around what is shiny and new. This increases sales by nudging consumers into a state of inadequacy. What used to pass as 'great' drops down in their standards to 'useless'. We shift their focus to filling that void with our new product. Unfortunately, this focus does nothing to build trust in a consumer base. It does nothing to stand out from our competitors. It fails to be truly different.

This may sound crazy, but people tend to enjoy feeling confident. They enjoy being praised for their decisions or comforted by their peers. The role your product plays in their lives is only as good as the narrow promise that product can make to them. Chances are, someone else's product can make a comparable promise (I mean comparable in the mind of your consumer - yes, I know your product is different, holds more value, blah, blah, blah). Shift that focus to your brand - as my last post describes - and you change the game to a relationship strategy over a product strategy. One where whoever has the most fans wins.

Of course to do this, you require significant confidence in what you are selling. Your product needs to be great. Your people need to be better. Every measure of consumer interaction has to be held to that brand promise. In the long run, this strategy will win. In the short run, you'll definitly piss off at least a couple of sales and product managers - but it will be worth it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

We don't give our customers enough credit

We often under estimate the role our brand plays in the lives of our customers. As companies, we downplay the value of direct communication (of any form - social media, face-to-face, hand written letters, etc) because we don't think anyone cares enough about our brand for this stuff to matter. This is a problem derived from a combination of two corporate self esteem issues:

1) A brand's fear of being called out for being something other than its corporatly controlled definition
2) combined with a brand/corporate/marketing culture focused on 'the mass' rather than the customer. Our brands have long tried to get bigger, but only rarely focuses on getting better.

As a result, we avoid situations where the brand message is open for public interpretation. We over manage every piece of advertising just in case our customers notice (or even care) that our product is facing left instead of right and as a result decide jump ship. We tell our retail stores to sell but take away the opportunity to keep customers by always referring them to a 1-800 number or passing the responsibility to a higher power.

Be a brand that believes in its customers more than its ego.

One example of a brand who has made the effort to overcome its self esteem issues is T-Mobile. I've talked before about their current obsession with flash mobs. They've taken their benign, easily comparable mobile phone product, and repositioned it in favor of the customer (rather than the masses). They removed technology from the equation and made it about sharing. The Life's for Sharing campaign has so far be quite successful. I can't comment on T-Mobile's ability to fulfill the promise, as its service is unavailable to me.

The latest attempt at a flash mob involved 13,000 people in Trafalgar Square singing Hey Jude together. It has seen mixed reviews. Some digital marketing folks are slamming it as disappointing and a failure. Lucky for T-Mobile - those guys aren't really their target. The most allusive consumer are those who are 25 years old or younger. This also happens to be the sweet spot for the communications indusrty. These folks use the most bandwidth (= most profit) and have little loyalty. Mobile carriers around the world have been trying to figure out how to reach them. I think you could almost define a new category targeting this market within the mobile phone industry (thinkBoost, Fido, Virgin, Koodo).

So what are these consumers saying?
"These T-mobile events are great, keep them coming, im proud to be with T-mobile!"(15 year old CraigTaylor94 on YouTube)
OMG, I love the new T-Mobile advert that just premiered tonight at 9! #Trafalgar Square” (from this excited tweet) Source: ViralBlog

That's not everyone - but the fact that a 15 year old would say that he's proud to be with a brand from an industry full of boring players is a huge step.

Give you customers some credit. They are waiting for you to surprise them. They almost expect it. Eliminate the legal/corporate mindfield of what would make everyone happy and focus on what would make the people who care about your brand happy - a focus on the individual instead of the masses. You'll get people talking and your customers will reward you for it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

When did viral become funny?

I'm sad to say that I caught a few minutes of the latest "Apprentice" the other night. The two teams had been asked to come up with a viral video for a laundry detergent. The results were beyond disastrous and in the boardroom Trump asked the teams why they both selected humor to deliver the video. The response was "...the client asked for a viral video."

This happens a lot. The assumption that for content to be worth sharing it must be funny. This is the case with a lot of the online examples and works on occasion. Yes, most of these examples get thousands of views - but works on occasion was meant to imply that the right people share the video and actually connect with the brand. I love the use of humor in all advertising, but I think that in some cases it is too easy to jump to the conclusion that viral = humor. If you look at why we share something, it's usually funny, exciting, shocking, puzzling, self-assuring, or some other emotional response that drives us to find someone else to share that something with. The point is that we tend to only share things that are interesting. I'd avoid the word if I could - but it just needs emotion. Sometimes funny is the cop-out. The cheap trick. There can be more done with this strategy if we continue to push it past the comfortable.

Thinking interesting means using the media for what it can deliver, rather than what it does now.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Is cost per sale an advertising metric?

How do you know your latest campaign worked out? After six weeks did sales jump? Or did your neighbor mention how great the new campaign was while you were working on your yard? Chances are it's a combination - most corporate marketers rely on the this combo to push for a pass or fail from their agency.

I am a believer in the web analytic's model that says if someone likes your ad, they will reward you by clicking it (or engaging in it). I'm also a believer that most people don't know what they are looking at in the run of a day to be able to give a solid reflection of a particular campaigns effectiveness. We are all often very bad judges of what we think we (and others) actually like. This bring up a tough point - How do you gage your advertising effectiveness?

I don't think that (in most cases) it is as black and white as something like the cost per sale. It works great for an online business or a business built to be flexible enough to react and proactively adjust to the consumer mindset - however most big companies are too slow for this. Using a cost per sale method for a larger organization doesn't take into consideration the high value of an existing customer base, the internal management structure (manage the management), the effectiveness of a sales team, the call-to-customer service times, public relations, the brand equity or even the competitive environment. So what works?

Look at an organization who has got it right. Chances are they look at all those things that make up the consumer experience and opinion. The departments a large company often spend resources maintaining often build barriers between employees and consumers. In those companies which are exceeding expectations, these department have been taken apart to change focus to the consumer. Actually, even successful companies that measure cost per sale do so by taking into consideration all those other factors that influence the purchase - and they make each employee of their organization consider the impact of their action on the consumer purchase.

The role of marketer changes when the result becomes the consumer experience (rather than action). I think that for certain strategic execution in advertising we should measure the action - but as a marketer we should be more concerned about consumer experience. We can change attitudes well before we influence behavior. The need for companies to change focus from what their advertising is doing, to what consumers are experiencing is the first step to supporting any marketing initiative and finding out what works.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why the act of delivery matters

I have a new product I’m trying to sell. Basically it will transport you to anywhere you want on the continent within hours. If the product fails, you’ll probably die. The product is also severely impacted by things I can’t control – like the weather, my competition and the economy. I can’t even guarantee that I can transport you to your destination at the time I promised when you purchased from me. To add insult to injury – occasionally armed criminals will take-over my product, keeping me from fulfilling my promise while putting all my consumers in jeopardy. Because all these things can impact the product I’m selling, my support staff can occasionally get cranky. They can be rude, but most of the time you don’t have to worry because they’ll just be indifferent. The saving grace for my product is that I have only a few competitors who pretty much deliver the same thing and if all else fails I can just drop my price.

If you haven’t guest my product is an airline. You also might disagree with the last two lines about service as you probably have that one airline in your mind that stands out and reinforces the reward of traveling. This is an important point. Most of us look at our industry or job and think about how tough it is – how the status of our industry has been established and written in stone. When we market our business we look around at what everyone else is doing and try a different spin - but nothing that will rock the boat too much. We make excuses for our own fear of forcing the change that's needed within our company to actually produce something remarkable. Something that would stand out in our consumers mind just like that airline that stand out in yours. Don't hide behind your industry or that "what would our consumers think" chances are those are just corporate excuses.

Let's take a lesson from the airline industry. It was written in stone that you could deliver just good enough service so that you would not interfere with the real reason we fly – we don't by a ticket to fly, we buy a ticket to get to the destination. However – in the last decade the occasional (very occasional) airline will pop-up that focuses on you. They acknowledge the fact that the industry is broken. More importantly, they acknowledge that the service they provide can actually increase the benefit we feel from traveling.

Your service will impact the product benefit. Positively or negatively - it's your choice. Even the best products can be outsold by a better experience. They are not separate in the mind of the consumer - so they should not be separate in your organization.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Social Media Myth #2: It will stand on its own

I mentioned in a previous post that many companies make the mistake of moving towards social media and viral campaigns because they think this is a cheaper strategy to reach the masses. Saving on the bottom line is rarely the result of such an effort. The budget just shifts. It used to be 90% media spend and 10% creative/strategy. In the online space it's flipped – with 90% creative/strategy and a 10% media spend.

The problem with looking at the budget as a model in this way is that it creates a restriction on the silos of work/formula. This takes me to the second myth of social media: It can stand alone as a marketing model. The fact that many companies are blindly jumping online, going for the cheap spend and opening the doors to consumer conversation will ultimately leave a lot of folks sour towards social media. No marketing strategy works on its own. A killer ad campaign is useless if the product sucks. 25,000 followers on Twitter won’t help your brand if you use as a spam medium. Stirring up buzz with a viral video will not serve the brand if your front line doesn’t understand it – or even knows it exists.

Rohit calls this the real joke about marketing. Lack of integration is the one constant in the marketing space at this time. We are placing more weight on the shiny new social thing and hoping it will deliver corporate harmony.

Maybe the thought of integration doesn’t work for your company. Maybe you have no choice in the matter – you're just one of a team of one hundred putting out product campaign. Then think of it this way – substitute integration for thought-intensive strategy. Direct the strategy to involve the organization as a whole while reaching the most profitable segment of your consumer base. That will sound more realistic to your peers,and will keep the focus on the end benefit for the company (not the silo of business).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two tales of brand cultural integration

There is an interesting parallel being played out in the young/hip/artsy consumer market. The new team in the game is Nissan and it's star (for now) is the Cube. The vehicles design and the approach echo the pioneering leg work that Toyota successfully laid down almost seven years ago.

In 2003 Toyota launched the Scion - a brand within the Toyota brand that tried very hard to avoid association with it's large corporate father. The car entered the 'mass' market with no traditional mass strategy. Scion knew it's consumer and half a million trying to reach this consumer - not through television, social media or billboards, but by focusing its efforts on integrating the Scion into the target consumer culture. It placed the vehicle outside raves, inside art galleries, dropped them off to a few bloggers, a few niche zine editors - and ended up winning, as sales of the Scion far exceeded the expectations and grew substantially over the next few years.

Jump to 2009 and we have Nissan tapping into a very similar market with a very similar looking car. The Cube is taking its own approach to cultural integration. Focusing on a sub-culture turned mass-cultural medium - Twitter. The Cube is running a contest to aware 50 fine citizens with a new car. I know this doesn't sound like cultural integration - but it's not really the tool that makes this story interesting - it's the strategy.

The contest was open to everyone. If you wanted a free car - if the design spoke to you or [better yet] if the brand meant something to you - it was up to you to define what the vehicle stands for and why you deserve it. As a result thousands of entrants started blogs, tweeting, producing videos, stunts, art exhibits, and other reflections of their cultural communications to spread the word and generate buzz. Then Nissan selected a short-list of 500 and have left it open for public voting. This has only increased the buzz generating efforts of the chosen 500.

The underlying impact on the Cube is twofold:
  1. The brand is being defined by those who will ultimately buy into it. The catch is that it is being defined in a multitude of ways - as each contest consumer has a different opinion or connection to the brand.
  2. Through generating buzz the Cube is finding its way into the consumer culture it needs to be successful. The beauty of the online space is that it can create a substantial echo that reaches far beyond the reach and time originally planned.
The Scion approached the underground culture with an aura of secrecy, hoping to intrigue the key influencers (think Gladwell's Tipping Point). By creating curiosity and allowing these influencers to own the buzz/brand - it was able to leverage the independent underground and evolve a brand within the culture. The strategy wasn't 100% driven by key influencers, but it did manage to hit all the right people at the right time.

The Cube is assuming that those who are working so hard to prove they are worthy of a free car will become influencers during the process. A more open ended approach, it has forgone the secrecy that accompanied the Scion and went for full disclosure - but in a targeted consumer effort. As a result this campaign has the possibility to reach a wider audience and be less of a strict underground/alternative brand. A mass friendly approach to grass roots advertising.

The story has yet to finish. The Cube has just narrowed the list to 500, and we are a few months away from seeing whether the strategy will lead to a win on the car lots. Regardless of the result, a contrasting case study of two similar vehicles using the tools of the hour to reach a narrow band of consumers promises to be entertaining.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Social Media Myth #1: It's a low cost alternative

Sometimes I get the feeling that companies request new media or social media ideas for the wrong reasons. Sure, they are probably sick of their current media strategy - usually radio, print, a bit of TV, a handful of online ads and maybe even a microsite for a special offer. It could be expected that these old tools offer little ROI, fail to reach consumers in a relevant way, or do not 'tap into the conversation' that is the newest (and oldest) buzzword amongst marketers. But I think that expectation is usually false and presents the wrong motivation. There are at least four myths that go into the decision by most companies to enter into the new media/social media space. For this post, we'll focus on one:

New Media and Social Media are low cost alternatives to the old marketing plan

This myth has been supported by marketers and the perception of free content online. We are used to consuming content online for little to no cost. We are also used to the cost/quality of producing a television commercial. When we view that new viral video in our inbox and see the relevant quality versus our television spots - we're thinking 'that's entertaining and looks like it was made on a shoe-string budget'.

The problem with this perception is that the cost to reach the fragmented online audience and the cost to build a brand using non-traditional offline media is not nearly as free as the content it creates.

Do you remember when the Scion was launched? The Scion - built by Toyota - never produced a television ad or entered the mass advertising space during its brand launch (although it did eventually enter the main stream). It opted for an underground approach to marketing; lending the new vehicle to editors of small niche magazines, block parties, art gallery's, and other not-so-obvious marketing events. This stuff worked, the car brarnd sold 125,00 Scions in 2005 and saw increases each reach after. The reported budget to plant the seed for this new brand? $50 million.

Then there is the commonly known energy drink Red Bull. Rob Walker dissects the launch of this brand in this book "Buying In". No big television spots, no huge radio buys or billboards- this brand started out targeting extremely niche markets and influencers by lending its name to events, organizing odd sporting competitions and dropping product into the hands of the consumer to generate word-of-mouth. This at a time when the Energy Drink was not even a beverage category. The results were huge for Red Bull and it successfully established a market that did not previously exist. You couldn't find a magazine or website that wasn't praising these creative low-cost marketing efforts. In reality Red Bull was spending $100 million a year to reach it's target audience. They knew who they were talking to and they were motivated to reach these people in a way that would embed itself as a lasting brand in the minds of these consumers.

The decision to forgo your traditional ad plan requires greater thought and a more substantial motivation than money. If the cost to acquire new customers or keep existing customers seems to high, it is time to rethink your consumer insight. All the successful brands or campaigns stem from remarkable consumer insight. No amount of marketing or budget cuts will cover for a poor understanding of your consumer.

Monday, April 6, 2009

1500 people every second

It's easy to send an email. It's increasingly easier to send an email to that list of 200,000 names you've collected over the last two years. If you've collected them, you probably feel that you have permission to email these people. That's where things get foggy. One easy way to keep this in perspective: If you have a list of 200,000 (or 40 or 35,000) names always consider the opportunity to piss 200,000 people off equally as great as the opportunity to positively connect to these people.

When the Canadian no call list was instituted in 2008, there was a period of time where 1500 people every second were requesting to be added to the list. Could the Canadian consumer base be more clear about how welcome sales messages were in their personal space? The 'masses' we try to reach have never been more united. The telemarketers ruined it for themselves. There is no chance for a noble company or the sale of a life changing product because this side of the industry has repeatedly burned the trust of consumers. It is only a matter of time before these same consumer get sick of sending unwanted emails to the trash or managing a blocked e-mail list. How many Canadian consumers would sign up to a no email list today?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Newspapers and Twitter

Yesterday my post about the Chronicle-Herald in Halifax mentioned it's absence from Twitter along with a few other possible opportunities for the newspaper.

It turns out they are on Twitter, but I hadn't noticed. The paper has 242 followers and joined back in September. There are two things I wonder when I see this:

1) Did they join as part of a greater shift in engagement strategy? I don't mean a social media strategy - I'm thinking a holistic shift. Does this signify a priority on growing readership over advertising revenue? I'd be interested in knowing the strategic objectives.

2) Does it make sense that they follow those who follow them? A lot of national publications do not. However on the local scale there may be a few benefits:
  • Local followers are usually close to or a part of local news. Following these people could lead to new sources of news and real time access to local events.
  • Following these people could also provide real time editorial and a pulse on the mood of this segment of the online community. This would allow content to be tailored - further increasing audience engagement.
  • Advertisers always benefit from knowing more about the audience they are talking to. Engaging the follower base on Twitter may allow the Chronicle Herald to present the local advantage of their more online reader base.
  • Perceived Value. Twitter is a bit egotistic. People enjoy being followed. Even the perception that the Herald might be following them may increase engagement and readership of the tweets/content. This is not the most moral of reasons but it does hold some validity in the short term. In the long term people will know whether you are actually listening and care what they say, so action would need to follow.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why would I pay for a newspaper online?

That's a bigger question than it looks, and one that The Chronicle-Herald in Halifax, Nova Scotia would pay to answer.

The Chronicle-Herald has been struggling just like most papers across the continent. In fact, the city had two subscription papers up until 2007 when the Daily News shut things down. I'm sure that they are trying to figure this mess out - how to increase readership, so they can increase ad revenues, while cutting back to a skeleton staff. I know of at least one solution - a newspaper sale. Last week I received a call offering me 45% off a subscription. I don't even know how much that is (the caller didn't say, they just said the percentage) but it's probably within my affordable range. But for news, it's not about spending the money, it's about utility. I read the paper at work - after I've read my blog roll, tweetdeck and handful of online news sources.

Of course the list of problems that plague this industry is longer and more complicated than a guy like me denying a 45% off subscription. There's media saturation, competition from alternative sources that are faster or more accessible, deflating ad budgets from national ad buyers in crisis, etc. As I do enjoy reading off of paper and see value around the idea of the printed newspaper, I'd like to hope that some of the players in the newspaper industry are at least trying to think sideways on how they can deliver the news and make money.

Last week the Chronicle-Herald tried an online poll that asked the question: Would you pay for an online version of the Chronicle-Herald? Was this a glimpse at the future? To pack it in like that paper on the west coast and move to an online model. The answers from the readership was a resounding no. 81% of respondents said they would not pay for an online version of the paper. Ironic considering they were answering the questions online. Maybe the poll question should have been directed at advertisers: Would you pay print ad rates for better visability online?

The problem is not that the Chronicle-Herald is looking to save itself. The problem is that it is looking to do so using the same model that is currently leaking money. The idea to just move the paper online is the same mistake often seen from any compnay looking to:

1) reach new markets of people, or
2) increase interest from existing customers

They use the same tactics offline to move a product online. When a business model is on life support in the 'real world' moving the business model online only prolonges its failure. For the newspaper industry, a move online would require a different set of priorities. It's a different market with different players. Readers are different. Although many online readers probably read the paper - online they tend to read differently, browsing, linking and scanning through information.

The key to the newspaper industry will be to find a way to do what it does best, while reaching the types of readers that attract advertising.
  • Maybe it's a mixture of staff taking a hyper-local approach to the community with opportunities for reader response and influence. Step up the editorial. Listen to the reactions and taylor the content. Respect your readership. If it's readers you need than attract readers, not advertisers. I hate arriving on a site to have an ad jump in the way of my reading. "Site domination" is attractive to companies, but it's just another version of spam.
  • Maybe it's an online advertising model that differentiates from the usual pay-per-click banner ads, like a monthly rate regardless of clicks. Or try what I mentioned earlier - offer online ad rates that mirror print ad rates. Find out what makes (or is that 'made) paying print rates tollerable and create a solution online. For example, don't have alternating banner or big box ads. Offer exclusive space or relevant space. Develop a bank of advertisers that is served to the reader or the article (like Facebook or Google does). If it's advertisers you need than attract advertisers, while maintaining readers.
  • Or maybe it's segmenting the distribution of information to those who want it. I don't read the obituaries, classifieds or comics. Don't send them to me. There are existing online tools that could distribute news in this foramt. I follow the Globe and Mail on Twitter and I get news a hundred times a day.
There are many different ideas that might help, but trying to continue business under the same business model is not one of them.