Saturday, February 28, 2009

Social Media Best Practices

Looks like a Media 2.0 Workgroup has organized a group of great minds to to work on an initiative that will focus on the ethics of participation. The project however, is fairly open to anyone looking to get involved - just head over to Media 2.0 Best Practices page to learn more.

I think the approach is great - collaborative and community oriented. Definitely reflective of the social space. It is also relevant. Although many of us who engage in the social media space tend to practice and preach the genuine connection of community and corporation, there is a silent majority who are still uncertain of what this new media stuff is all about. Clients flood agencies with requests like "I think it'd be great to do something social in Q3" or "I want to do something around social media. Here's my budget. Now get to work and we'll talk in five days". These requests are not ignorant - just uncertain. Having a definitive document that is as dynamic as this industry should help educate that silent majority and allow for better decisions prior to getting their feet wet.

We don't have to look far from home for an example of unethical marketing. The dangers are easily seen within the Facebook advertising model. Find a truly relevant product/service ad in your Facebook profile. Chances are at least two out of three ads will be bait & switch ads or spam proclaiming the glory of "I got fired and now I make $7k a week". Most of these ads are just hunting for mobile phone info (and will abuse the "permission" you give them). As a result there will be a very [very] skeptical consumer base on Facebook who will eventually block all ads from their impulse and memory. Marketers tend to ruin it for themselves. Hopefully Media 2.0 Best Practices can capture some attention from those who spend money in this space.

Go check it out at @ Media 2.0 Best Practices

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New is not always better

Improved is not always better either. As companies we often try to quickly improve on what we previously sold or serviced. The lure of doing a new product launch, the temptation to ignore the dismal sales of the old product, and hearing our new and improved product excitedly discussed within our company in a sort of messiah tone is a great pat on the back. However, sometimes that new and improved product is the wrong answer. Sometimes what's new doesn't actually matter to the consumer.

There are a lot of reasons why this may be the case - a poor product, high competition, mixed messaging, no market, the crap economy - all the excuses we tell ourselves when something doesn't go as planned.

One of the biggest reasons stuff that is new, improved and offers 'more value' rarely takes off is that there is no scale. What is it better than? Is it better than something I even care about? If it's improved, what does that even mean? Does the improvement relate to me and how I use your product?

Roger Dooley wrote a great article in Neuromarketing about the need for consumers to be able to compare and relate. This is less about choice (which is often debated as a consumer purchase trigger) and more about scale. If I know that x service gives most of what I need and costs me y, and x2 service gives me all of what I need want and costs me y2, then I can make an 'educated' purchase that leaves me happy and comfortable. I've left educated in quotes as Martin Lindsrtom will quickly point out that we rarely make a purchase based on a cognitive decision making process.

Roger uses the case study of the The Economist, which was trying to sell combined print and online subscriptions. Here are the results:

Offer A:

$59 - Internet Only Subscription (68 chose)
$125 - Internet and Print Subscription (32 chose)

Predicted Revenue - $8,012

Offer B:

$59 - Internet Only Subscription (16 chose)
$125 - Print Only Subscription (0 chose)
$125 - Internet and Print Subscription (84 chose)

Predicted Revenue - $11,444

Crazy. No logical difference between offers. The only difference - Offer B gives me more information to judge my decision. Not just that, Offer B actually persuades me to spend more on what I want rather than what I need. Classic decoy marketing. Often misused and overlooked in advertising and product launch marketing.

Lesson Learned:
  1. We focus too much on the story we want to tell and to little on the story the consumer wants to be told.
  2. Consumers aren't logical, so don't market as if they are.
  3. The success of a new product has far less to do with the new benefit, and for more to do with how that benefit relates to your consumers view of your existing benefits.
  4. Usually the last thing on a marketer or product/service managers mind - sometimes targeting the low hanging fruit is just better. This is about raising the floor instead of just focusing on raising the ceiling.
You already know that it is easier to talk to someone you know over a stranger. Apply that to your marketing and you'll end up finding a new standard for value and something that's actually relevant to consumers.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why we fail.

Have you ever been in a meeting and found it truly motivating and insightful? Not insightful in the "wow, this is the start of something great" kind of way, but in a "holy sh*#!, this is a train wreck" kind of way.

It is all too common to hear about the experiences of a company trying to rejuvenate there sales and marketing efforts. You find yourself in a situation where the more you listen the more you feel that something isn't adding up. It runs deeper than the initial pain of hearing the "sell to everyone" message that has crippled dozens of once-great companies...then it hits you. The strategy being discussed is based on assumptions rather than insight.

Polaroid failed because it assumed that it would be the 'instant' photo choice forever. Who would have thought consumers would stop printing photos?

Hotmail faltered because Microsoft assumed that, just like Explorer, nobody would need an alternative to the webmail app. Where was the insight into internet habits? The search is more powerful than the browser. Gmail popularity has sky rocketed.

Palm got blown away by a company that only delivered one solution. In 2002 I sat in a Palm product launch where they said "Sure, Blackberry might give you a better email experience - but we have endless applications, colour, and a touch screen!". Unfortunately people only wanted email at the time. Then came out new Blackberry's, Smartphones from every manufacturer, and then the iPhone. All of them full of colour, applications and touchscreens. Where is Palm's market share? (side note: Around the same time I also sat in a Blackberry product presentation where we were assured that Blackberry would never change it's monochromatic screen to colour as it was "it's not what consumers want - they want the functionality. Colour is just not that important" - turns out there was more than one lesson learned from the popularity of colour TV vs. B&W TV)

  • We assume we know the reason why we are the best in the business.
  • We assume we know why our product is popular.
  • We assume we know why our consumers go to the competition (let me guess, it has nothing to do with your competitor's price, personality, marketing, experience).
  • We assume that the tactics we used yesterday are relevant to use tomorrow.

We avoid thinking hard and, instead, react. We just do what we're supposed to do. We go through the motions. We avoid the tough questions. We rely entirely on our experience or, worse, the collective corporate instincts.

Luckily, finding insight has never been easier. There are endless examples of organizations successfully turning the tides. (Just search the big companies - Dell, Boeing, Dole, T-Mobile. and these small companies Moleskin, NS Crystal, Etsy, Toms Shoes, and Umpquabank)

The consumer has never been more accessible and influential. The first step is to acknowledge this. Then we can change the way we think of that relationship and how we can grow it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A little personality can go a long way.

Although they hate to admit it, the media is loving the doom and gloom that is smeared through each of its channels. "Thank god the economy sucks - we finally have a story that doesn't involve that old war (where is that again?) or those [insert local sports team name here]". Instead they can focus on how the fall of Wall Street and gross mismanagement of the world's leading industries are dragging down our local businesses.

So what do you do when that target lands on your company?
How about this:
1) Don't get a response drafted and released by your lawyers or a PR team.
2) Try (even if it hurts) to be a human, rather than a company.
3) Talk to the people who matter most. Hint: that's not the media.

What do I know about being a target for doom and gloom media? Nothing. But Nova Scotian Crystal does. After seeking debt protection for a slow Q4 2008, the local media jumped on this industry gem like a fly on crap.

The response: a well crafted, human letter that went to loyal/paying customers. It gets a bit formal at the end, but the language is in conversation form. The tone is frank and sincere. Nova Scotian Crystal even asks for customers to buy from them as that's what it takes to stay in business (Holy Sh*t! That's just crazy).

Here's the letter in its entirety that was sent to a colleague of mine. Awesome example of how to be a better business.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mannequins can't dance.

By now you've probably joined the other 5 million people who have viewed T-Mobiles "Life's for sharing" video. It features 300 joyful dancers in London's Liverpool Street Station. The emotion felt real, it was a engaging and it tied into the companies new messaging. The video was also followed up with "Join the Dance" promotions and a website. All-in-all this would pass for a successful viral campaign.

But do these things actually work? Did it inspire emotion and engage consumers? Isn't that what most of this type of communication is for - to inspire emotion? A brand wants to leverage an emotion in order to be associated with it and, as a result, be more relevant to the consumer and sell more stuff. But I think most of the 5 million viewers were skeptics and thought..."Wow, that’s great but my brand is different. I just don’t see how this could leverage our brand or connect with people beyond the video”. Well, it was an idea the people connected to. So much so that a consumer Facebook group invited people to gather at London’s Liverpool Street Station to do a much bigger dance. The output and buzz you can see in this video…

Now let's take that campaign and compare it to Sony's mannequins. You get a group of models, dress them the same, equip them with Viao's and... BAM! instant buzz. Models become the surreal mannequins/art while performing for a surprised audience. Here's the video...

So what's the difference? Who wins - Mannequins or Dancers?

T-Mobile managed to produce emotion and a tangible shared experience. It can be repackaged and repeated. It can be easily shared. People can keep returning to the idea behind "Life's for sharing".

Sony on the other hand produced a stunt. One blast landed in front of a couple hundred people. Sure, the video shows a few guys using the product - but how many people in that one location felt engaged with the product. There's no emotion. No shared experience.

The audience watching the Sony stunt is just that - an audience. For this type of marketing to work and to continue working we have to move past the stunts and cool one-offs. It will get some YouTube views and will give some buzz. Instead, use the flexibility of these strategies to engage the audience. Take them from audience to participant. Let them own the idea.

Challenge: How can you take a single point of advertising or communication in your business and allow consumers to participate? One rule: No Contests.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My product won't sell!

You are a corporate marketer. You and your team constantly pump money into marketing and advertising. You're job is to make sure that the gospel of Your Product is getting out to the masses connecting with consumers (you also caught the last 15 minutes of that new marketing guru at your AGM). But you're not alone in your quest. There is a Product Team responsible for coming up with new features or versions of Your Product. They want you to make sure that Your Product sells - that's how they get paid. Units Sold = Money. The pressure they put on your back. With that in mind, every new version of Your Product is better, offers value in ways nobody could imagine, and is finally that differentiator that will leave the competition breathless. Exciting...I know.

But its seems your mass advertising consumer connecting isn't doing the trick. Your Product continues to struggle. That's the fourth straight quarter. The Product Team is up in arms. They just threw you another quarter million to push out that message. Connect damn it! You're trying old things, new things, everything to sell Your Product. Why isn't it working?

Chances are...the problem isn't so much that you and your team aren't selling Your Product. It's that nobody is buying it.

Maybe your product is boring. Maybe it is actually worse than your competitors. Maybe the value you are selling is not the type of value people want to buy? More realistic (because you would have analyzed the market for Your Product) the value you are selling isn't the value that triggers that desire in people to buy. Your selling the wrong thing. Look for the thing that people will buy and sell that. This doesn't mean Your Product will change (but maybe it should). It just means that what you sell will be different.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sex with the lights on

The big companies (and perhaps not unrelated - the companies that are in the most financial trouble) have always built stuff that was made to reach the most amount of people. General Motors, Blockbuster, Circuit City, AT&T, pick a clothing company - all these companies, and most of their competitors, have all focused on pleasing - at most- the widest variety of people with the fewest products possible.

Now, we hear a lot about the Long Tail, Tribes, the Herd, and the need for new marketing and new companies to narrow their focus and do better than please people. All consumers will tell you there happy or "feel good" about the interaction. That's less of a compliment and more of an auto-response. Plus, we've set the bar so low on "happy" customers that it only means they don't hate us. Consumers need and want reasons to be absolutely passionate about the things that make up their lives.

The problem: If you are going to take your company/product past pleasing and into absolutely passionate consumer interactions you will piss a lot of people off.

Passionate = polarizing. True passion is almost blind to the opposing view.

The benefit: Passion is also an emotion that continuously drives desire. Rather than make an ad that drives a little bit desire, make a product that drives passion and desire will follow.

UPDATE: Feb 16, 2009. Turns out the Anti-Gym is a not-so-great example. Lawsuits and unpaid taxes shut it down. Lesson: every brand needs more than a reputation - it needs to have competent people behind it and needs to work for its consumer. Sound business is always a great place to start. So, I apologize for the terrible example, but it was polarizing regardless. If you're looking for another example of a more narrowed approach by brands look at: The Container Store (niche marketing), Umpqua Bank (not your grey suit bankers), Toone Guitars (get off the bandwagon), and even Toyota's choice to make the Prius (not so big news now, but considering who it was launched by and what state the auto industry is is big news).

Now for the not so great example I gave of the now defunct Anti-Gym...

A great example of love it or leave it positioning is summed up well by Anti-Gym. This Denver based fitness centre understands the words "polarizing" and "passionate". It speaks to a well defined group of people. Because Anti-Gym knows who it is talking to, it can clearly speak to those people. It doesn't worry about everyone else - just the people who will be passionate about this fitness brand.

Ant-Gym is against the gym/spa culture of fun weight loss and evening leisure that currently pollute the fitness centre market. For example: Why do people work out? Is it to run marathons? Sometimes. Is it for their highly laborous lives? Rarely. Is it to look better and be attractive? Almost always. So Anti-Gyms answer: "Have sex with the lights on".

Or how about this...most people that joined their local gym in January have long returned to their evenings watching reality TV. Anti-Brand has one thing to say and it clearly narrows who will accept their message: "No chubbies allowed! A 'chubby' is not necessarily someone with a spare tire or thunder thighs, it’s an unmotivated, lazy slob who wants to blame everybody else but themselves for their shortcomings."

So Anti-Gym is a great example of a narrow focus and leveraging passion. If you end up browsing the site, their mass marketing ads are a terrible example of how to communicate the brand promise. They also push the boundaries on communication and message to the point of ignorance. But that probably won't stop this brands growth. (update - it has. This brand died after lawsuits and tax trouble).

Monday, February 9, 2009

10 steps to build a brand story

  1. Find a need. Take the need to educate and combine it with need to feed the hungry.
  2. Approach like-minded people. Find a pile of sponsors who share both those values.
  3. Secure funding. Have them purchase thousands of bags of rice as their sponsorship.
  4. Work on the mechanics. Take all you know, your need, and your funding a build a model to fulfill the need(educate and help the hungry).
  5. Deliver an experience. Build a database of trivia questions, covering all major areas of education. Then build a really great website that's easy to use, easy to find, and provides the greatest payoff the more people use it. Associate a story, a payoff, and reach out to like-minded communities/people.
  6. Find people who want to be a part of something.
  7. Give them the opportunity to make a difference.
  8. Make it worth it. Reward them for their efforts.
  9. Sharing is everything. Encourage them to share the feeling of being part of something.
  10. Execute. Show your sponsors and your people how together everyone has indeed been a part of something and together they have made a difference.
In case you haven't figured it out - these steps reflect An amazing story about 37 billion grains of rice going to those who need it while including thousands of people as participants in the charitable process. A win-win situation. You answer educational questions correctly and you get smarter. For every question you answer correctly we'll give some rice to a deserving person.

But that's just half the story. The really interesting twist is that didn't have to go through the effort to build an experience. It could have been just another NPO that helps the hungry. In this case, I think that most of the rice is paid for in advance - so its already going to the hungry regardless of people participating. The real marketing comes from how packages up the experience. It added value on both ends of the process by changing the context from we're feeding the hungry so pay attention to you can make a difference, be a part of something bigger and be rewarded. recognized that there are millions of people who want to help but don't. There is a whole generation who want to be involved, but need that first push. FreeRice took two simple ideas (education and charity) and made it a story - a true experience that engages the participant and creates a sense of action and community.

There are lots of brands that could easily survive by just doing what they do - by showing people how they do it or telling them about the brands progress. The brands will win bring people into the process. They invite participation. They look to serve a community of individuals with similar values who are as excited about the brand as they are. They focus on making the story interesting rather than the process. Everything is people/consumer facing.

Doing what you do best is easy. Making what you do best interesting enough for people to talk about is tough.

Martin offers a great post on experience marketing and connecting people to something bigger. It's not charity - but it's still emotion.

Penalize Your Worst Customers

It is a generally agreed upon strategy to reward ones best customers. Airlines offer luxury lounges for frequent flyers, Amazon offers discounts or exclusive offers to high volume customers, even the local coffee shop is willing to give me one free coffee for every ten I purchase.

There are a lot of ways for a company to show that great customers get great benefits. Penalizing your worst customers is not one of them - but it is often used. For example:

I have been a customer of the Royal Bank (RBC) for over 15 years. My first account was there. My first loan. My savings and investments were all there. In my early twenties, in the mind of RBC, I was a great customer. Then I wanted to build a house. Before going to the bank, I made sure I was prepared and a sure thing for approvals. I did my homework and had everything was in order. My RBC mortgage guy agreed, but he felt that a guy my age should be renting. He felt the necessetiy to preach how tough building a house is. How much time is needed to invest. He offered personal examples of house building gone wrong when his niece tried to build a home. He made me feel stupid for even walking into his office.

So I left. I built two houses instead. I've since sold both of them, and purchased my third house. None of these properties have had RBC's name on them. I went to RBC with an opportunity to expand our relationship. To sign my next 25 years away to them. They put up road blocks. They found the opposite of help in the dictionary and made that their customer service policy. That was the start of the end of my relationship. I pulled all my accounts, investments and insurance and went to a competitor. A company who actually made my life easier.

But that's not really my problem.

The only service I had left was a small line of credit. About 10 months ago I received a letter from RBC. They were notifying me that my account had been "reviewed" and that the interest I was paying on my line of credit was about to increase by 6%. I called RBC. The account "review" had nothing to do with my personal situation, my payment history, or any other influencing factors. I was told that the bank had just decided to increase my interest because of market conditions. The last time I checked, interest rates were at a basement rate. Maybe the increase had something to do with me pulling my services and closing all my account? I had been rewarded for being a great customer (user of lots of services) rather than being a loyal customer (15+ year relationship). I was worth less to them, so they needed to make more from me before I was gone for good.

The worst part about this situation. I never received a call from RBC. Nobody asked me why I didn't go with them for my mortgage. I never heard from the mortgage guy again. When I pulled all my accounts, the teller didn't question me. Nobody cared. Then when their auto-review program flagged my account as low-value they hiked my interest.

  • Don't piss off your loyal customers.
  • Don't provide opportunities to completely destroy the relationship.
  • If a customer is unhappy they may no longer require your services - but that doesn't mean that the decision is life standing. Talk to them, invite them back. Tell them the door is always open. Explain the benefits that the customer may not be focusing on in their current situation.
  • Putting up barriers to keep customers from leaving is always a bad idea.
  • Try to avoid squeezing the last few nickels out of your customers before they move on. It only reinforces their decision to leave and forever leaves a bitter taste in their mouth.
  • Banks have high growth based on word of mouth and I bet your business does as well. How does penalizing a low value client help?
Do you penalize your worst customers (even unintentionally)? Do you think a lost customer is gone for ever? What is the definition of a great customer to you - a loyal customer or a high volume customer? Or can it be both?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

5 Quick Ideas for Valentine's Day

Let me take a moment to step back from the marketing talk and address an upcoming event.

(Guys listen up)

Sometime in the next few weeks you’ll be asked about something called “Valentine’s Day”. It’s not a real big deal, but in the chance that you would rather avoid any distraction from your job, the time you spend on Twitter, or a cold beer on a cold February afternoon - let me offer you this 5 step program to ensure that after February 14th you'll maintain your title as hero of the household.

Step 1: Start with a slide show – This site will do all the heavy lifting – just make sure you use pictures with you and your Valentine in them, or at least a picture of you holding a picture of your Valentine.

Step 2: Follow this up with a truly thoughtful gift. I recommend this gift that keeps on giving.

Step 3: Then write buy a song that someone else wrote and hack the lyrics. This site will do it (it will take a minute to load) Browse the site to find something that just feels right - if Tex-Mex is not your song style, perhaps try Glam Rock or Easy Listening.

Step 4: Then when you’re looked at with tears of joy, refer to this application on your iPhone to help you through the monotonous dialogue.

Step 5: Finally, dry your Valentines' tears with these and sit back knowing you are truly an exceptional human being.

BONUS OFFER – When it’s all said and done, you may need to enlist this tool to take one of the biggest, heartfelt, thoughtful decisions of your life and make it into a 2-click decision. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

Thank me in March.

Hat Tip to Seth, TechCrunch, Kottke and every other blogger who has helped me prepare for Valentine's Day 2009.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Marketing Decision

Let's say you run a company. You're stressed. Business is slowing. You have investors, employees and customers all wanting to know how you're going to lead them through this recession. You're also brave. You're going to stay the course. You're just going to keep doing what you've been doing for the last 10 years.

This pressure to stay the course can be crippling? Isn't doing what you've been doing one of the things that has helped you slip into this recession?

Who will be better off:
1) The company who increases their imprint into the consumer mind in this time of uncertainty
2) the company that disappears until we all have money to spend?

Need an example? Think of Post Cereals and Kellogg's. Before 1929 Post was the leading cereal retailer in North America. The recession hit. They needed to cut back. Stay the course, but eliminate frivolous spending like marketing, advertising and branding. Kellogg's did the opposite. The Kellogg's brand became a point of stability in homes across the continent. It became the household name. Then the market turned around. People became consumers again. Kellogg's is still winning 80 years later. If that's not enough, check out the story of Purina, La-Z-Boy, Texas Instruments, Motorola, or the launch of Kraft's Miracle Whip - all brands that broke through the market during the Depression.

Use your circumstances as an opportunity and the excuse for uncomfortable and seemingly irrational change. Remember that the ideas that succeed wildly are the ones the experts deem to fail.

The concept is interesting… but to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.” ~Yale professor on conceptual paper that became FedEx.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Is McDonald's successful because it's 54 years old?

What would happen if an established brand - like Coke, Marlboro or McDonald's - were to begin their brand building journey today? Would they use the same tactics, leverage the same tools, or grow as quickly? Or has the game changed? Have the smoke and mirrors that built many old brands disappeared in todays consumer connected world?

Let's look at McDonald's.

Every kids piece of paradise, McDonald's is one of the privileged brands to be globally recognizable, while being loved and hated. It's got the logo, the experience, the environment, the mobility, the scalability and the famous (but fictional) spokesperson that all work to reflect and support this established brand. It's gone so far that even the iconic Ronald McDonald has a more recognizable face to children than the Pope and some prominent political figures.

Let's take it all away and say that today McDonald's is opening its first hamburger stand in Des Plaines, Illinois in 2009. Would McDonald's be able to build its brand with the speed and profit that Ray Kroc managed to create using new media tools? Would Ronald McDonald be introduced through the corporate blog? Would Ray monitor twitter for brand remarks? How about a targeted Ad Words campaign for keyword "Cheeseburger" and "Fries"? Forget the TV investment that allowed McDonald's to enter the living room of every kid in North America - aren't kids glued to YouTube and creeping on FaceBook? Why not post some low budget videos and setup up a Fan Group.

I'm obviously exaggerating and I know that the context that made McDonald's do what it did in 1954 is different today. However, I wonder if the McDonald's brand is the result of a keen businessman, a new business model, a consistent experience and a long history? Or is it because Ray took an ordinary product, created an extraordinary experience and used the tools available to spread the message widely? It's probably both.

The key string that ties this stuff all together - the McDonald's brand always knows what it stands for and who it speaks to. The investment it made in creating the experience (think McDonald's Playland, the Hamburgler, The Big Mac song) were not just targeted sales tactics, they were adding to the foundation needed for a sustainable brand. Regardless of how much the game has changed:
  • the consumer still buys on emotion,
  • there is always something to be said for a good story,
  • consistent service and product delivery defines value and quality for many people and
  • service with a smile goes a long way.

Your thoughts?