Friday, December 18, 2009

Clam chowder, anyone?

This gorilla marketing campaign by Heckler Associates in Seattle wins my "Best Damned Non-Traditional Marketing Campaign" award for 2009. It was designed to help a local restaurant sell more clam chowder. The company did everything, including inventing a fictitious clam entrepreneur, raising fake 1950s-era billboards from the bottom of the ocean, inventing old letters, invoices, blueprints and other documents in fabricating the elaborate hoax.

It worked. For $250,000 they got lots of media attention, raised customer counts by 5-10 percent, and more than quadrupled sales of clam chowder.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Radio wins big

Eat your hearts out, all you "traditional media are dead"-types. A new report shows that radio is bigger than ever, even with young audiences.
"It becomes quickly apparent that radio holds a special place among media consumers. Broadcast radio is the dominant form of audio media at home, work and in the car. In fact, a remarkable 77% of the population listens to broadcast radio each day for an average of 109 minutes, or nearly two hours, according to the study. Among key advertising-based media platforms, live television had the highest reach and daily usage at 95.3% for 331 minutes a day, but broadcast radio far exceeded the Internet at 63.7% and 77 minutes, newspapers at 34.6% and 41 minutes, and magazines at 26.5% and 22 minutes.

"More than 90% of adults are exposed to some form of audio media on a daily basis, with broadcast radio having by far the largest share of listening time. And while the perception is that younger listeners are abandoning radio for iPods and MP3 players, the reality is that 79% of 18-34 year-olds are listening to radio every day - for an average of 104 minutes."

Read the entire article by Bob McCurdy.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Web site as an element of brand strategy

In my organization, as in many these days, our Web site is the centerpiece of our overall marketing communication program. How well does it support our brand?

In a column in a recent issue of MarketingDaily, Matthew Schwartz makes an excellent case for how Web sites should support the overall brand strategy. All too often, Web sites are built and maintained by people with little interest in or responsibility for their organizations' brand strategies. These are often the cool or flashy sites that win awards but don't build brands.

Schwartz emphasizes the need to measure user experience. If brands are built on experiences, and if Web sites are centerpieces of the marketing enterprise, then we should darned-well know how our sites meet (or don't meet) the needs and desires of those we serve.

Read the article here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lessons I learned from behind the mic

My first real job was working at my local radio station. I started my broadcasting career as a disc jockey at the end of the glory days of local, live AM radio. There were no computers. Creating a live show involved vinyl records, tapes, teletype machines, and a damned fine sense of timing. It was great fun.

When I began, I had little idea what I was doing. But 33 years later, when I finally hung up the headphones, I had changed, just like the radio business that had changed around me. I had learned a great deal, too -- the kind of stuff only people who have spent years in the business truly know. And the learnings that really mattered are ones that don't just apply to radio, but to any communications pursuit:

  • You'll never hear from your audience when you do things well, because that's what they expect you to do. But screw something up, and they're on you like flies. Learn to understand the audience feedback you receive, and the feedback you don't.
  • When you're on the mic or when you're writing copy, talk like you're communicating to just one person. When you do, the result will make your audience feel a much deeper sense of connection to you.
  • Think ahead. Anticipate what's just around the corner. If you don't, you'll come off sounding like an amateur.
  • The same goes for show prep. Spend the time to be fully prepared before you go on the air. Do your homework. Get your reading done. Prep spells the difference between a great show and one that sucks.
  • No matter where you are, you'll never have the perfect equipment, the perfect staff, or the perfect studio setting. Be really creative with the resources you do have, and you can still win awards.
  • You've got to stay up-to-speed with technology. If you don't, no-body will hire you.
  • Likewise, things will change: technology, trends, tastes, and the competitive environment. Learn how to adapt and stay ahead of the curve, or you'll find yourself flipping burgers before you know what hit you.
  • Ratings, resumes, money, and prestige are all important. But in the end, building relationships is the single most important thing you can do. It's all about relationships.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Marketing Starbucks Via

I'm a marketer and a coffee aficionado. Because of this, I'd make a lousy coffee marketer. In Starbucks' early days, I was a member of their elite mail order club. I got special coffees in the mail, plus other perks. It was expensive, but darned, it made me feel like a Starbucks insider.

Then Starbucks announced it would sell its coffees in grocery stores, including Walmart. Walmart? Wait! Starbucks is special! I'm special! You can't cheapen the brand by selling in Walmart! But the experiment worked. I was forced to accept the fact that I was too drawn into the Starbucks brand to ever really give it good marketing advice.

You've gotta love Starbucks' latest marketing move: to sell instant coffee (Via) in many of those same outlets. My heart says, "Please, Starbucks, no..." But my brain says Starbucks is probably poised to capture an even larger share of the coffee consumer market.

Here's a great commentary on Starbucks' marketing genius behind Via by Kate Newlin.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

At the heart of effective communication

I'm going to venture out onto the ice. I have a general rule of avoiding political issues on this blog. But the current fracas over the U.S. health care system is such a rich case study in communication and marketing, I just can't hold back any longer.

A friend recently pointed out an article by George Lakoff. In it, the author makes a strongly convincing point about how the Obama administration has missed the boat on the health care debate. They've relied on policy wonks to carry forward the progressive perspective by focusing on the long list of needed reforms, but they've missed on opportunity to convey a unifying idea. They've operated from the assumption that "if you just tell people the policy facts, they will reason to the right conclusion and support the policy wholeheartedly."

Of course, it hasn't worked very well, certainly not like it did in Obama's campaign when it was more about a unifying idea and less about facts.

This brings me to something most marketers know: Effective marketing communication has to reach people at a heart-felt level. All too often, the facts just aren't enough. Communication has to touch at an emotional plane. That's the basis of brand building: Brands are felt more that they are arrived at through facts. Good communication is most frequently a heart thing rather then a head thing.

Lakoff concludes his argument: "Emotion is necessary for rational thought; if you cannot feel emotion, you will not know what to want or how anyone else would react to your actions. Rational decisions depend on emotion. Empathy with others has a physical basis, and as much as self-interest, empathy lies behind reason."

Bam! This is stuff professional communicators have known for years. And frankly it's why the radical conservative fringe has the upper hand in the health care debate at the moment. They're not focused on facts; instead, they're reaching their base at a highly charged, emotional level.

I'm not suggesting here that their arguments are sound. I find the distortions, name-calling, false claims, and other bullying tactics of the right-wing to be downright childish and harmful to the political process for this and other important issues. But they're effective, because they go right to people's emotions.

Progressives and conservatives alike shouldn't follow the radical right-wing playbook, but they ought to rely on proven brand communication principles in reshaping their respective sides of the debate. Marketers often seek to answer the question, "What's in it for me?" when framing communication designed to reach people at an emotional level. That would be a good starting point for progressives if they want health care reform to be decided somewhere other than AM talk radio.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to win in the "I hate your new logo" game

I write a good bit in this blog about objective-based marketing. Objectives keep the marketing enterprise focused on business drivers and not on personal whim. That's important. Still, subjectivity is a factor that marketers need to be ready to understand and address. (I wrote last year about objective versus subjective reasoning. Here's a link to that blog entry.)

We've just announced a new logo in my current organization. This organization has a high public profile in the region, so there was a good bit of news coverage and an accompanying wave of opinion expressed by lots of people, both pro and con. For the most part it was all subjective: "I like it." "I don't." "I think this change is stupid." "I think this is a big improvement." "I think this is a waste of money." Etc. Do you see a pattern in all of these responses? They all start with "I." They're all subjective responses.

Some of my staff and colleagues allowed this subjective reaction to get to them. To them, it felt like the project was failing. Of course, none of these subjective responses had anything to do with the actual objectives for the project. These were what mattered most. Few of the people expressing their personal opinions had even explored the actual business reasons for the logo change and what the initiative was meant to accomplish. They were just expressing their personal, gut-level reactions.

The first few days or weeks of a new logo's life are its most vulnerable moments. At this stage the new mark has no real meaning (read more about this phenomenon). In some cases, as is the situation within my organization, the new logo represents a change in tradition. This naturally invokes peoples' sharp emotional responses. During such a time, it's critical that marketers keep their objectives squarely in mind. Post them above your desk. Make sure your CEO has the objectives in his or her talking points. Remind your staff of the objectives constantly.

Years ago, when I was vp of marketing services for a financial company, we rolled out a new logo. There was a strong emotional reaction among some staff people who saw the "mark of the beast" in the new logo (I'm not kidding). Their reaction had nothing to do with the objectives and was, quite frankly, outrageous. But our CEO and other key leaders teetered on their decision because of the subjective reactions. We almost lost the logo because of this, but objectives eventually saved us. The logo is still in use in that organization some 15 years later.

Remember, people will react subjectively to a new logo. It's human nature. Just be ready with carefully crafted objectives to help everyone understand the true nature of such an effort. And a further caveat: If you don't have objectives when you launch a logo change in an organization, you will lose. I guarantee it!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Making a case for standards

In a recent article in MediaPost News, Larry Oakner offers some simple but powerful tips on making your brand work:

See branding as an investment and marketing as an expense.
Every dollar that's ever been spent on the brand adds leverageble equity to help launch new products, or associate brands with the parent company.

Follow brand standards to speed up success.
Guidelines help keep the creative process on track, which eliminates wasted time pursuing ideas that aren't "on brand."

Build the brand, don't erode it.
Launching a new brand without following corporate branding may solve immediate issues, but over time -even a short time- it can erode positive associations or create negative ones. Get the job done AND build the brand.

Celebrate the organization, not the individual.
Like the bricklayer who can point to a completed skyscraper and tell his child he built the building, you are contributing to the overall success of the company when you stay on brand.

This is one of the best arguments I've read for using guidelines to stay "on brand." We've all worked in organizations where domineering people use subjective (me, myself, and I) reasoning to justify their decisions rather than thinking in terms of leveraging the whole. Guidelines -- or better, policy -- can build brand equity faster and stronger.

I'm reminded of an axiom I heard in a financial marketing conference about 15 years ago: There are two kinds of activities in any organization: those that build the brand and those that destroy it. Use guidelines to help you avoid brand-destroying activities.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One-to-one redux

Comment from Barth: Don Peppers and Martha Rogers introduced the concept of "one-to-one marketing" decades ago. The Web and its related technologies now offer marketers ways of accomplishing one-to-one relationships that heretofore were complex and imprecise. The following article is a great update on where we're progressing, based on "one-to-one" methodology.

Excerpted from MediaPost's Marketing Daily, July 28, 2009,
"Put Out The Welcome Mat" by Mark Wilmot

Through an anthropological approach to consumer market research, creativity, insight and cutting-edge analytical tools, thought-leading companies in our industry are able to uncover clues in customer behavior that translate to customer-centric marketing for shoppers and increased market share for clients.

Being invited into homes across the country rather than invading them is becoming the standard norm. Something amazing happens when marketing efforts are actually relevant to people. We see this step as initiating that crucial dialogue. And shoppers, for their part, are replying; essentially giving permission to marketers to learn their habits and respond accordingly.

When a message is perceived as useful, it is not advertising. When the right content is delivered at the appropriate time, people are motivated to put out the welcome mat for marketers and brands. Offers that reflect consumers' specific shopping habits will be more successful than an annoying flood of mail-in surveys, trial offers and other coupons that inevitably find their way in the garbage.

Companies can initiate ongoing conversations with people by closely tracking and analyzing the shopping habits of loyalty card shoppers, which enables marketers to reach the customers they already have and reward them. One leading grocers invested in the skills, processes and technologies necessary to boost loyalty and was inspired to develop a loyal customer mailer (LCM) unlike any other.

Once a quarter, millions of LCMs are mailed out to households containing customized messages specifically for them, a thank-you for their business and offers reflecting a specific household's previous shopping experiences, thus recognizing and rewarding their loyalty. That weakness for double fudge ice cream amid a cart full of low calorie, low-fat choices? Just another idiosyncrasy that can easily be tracked and targeted, resulting in offers that make each shopping experience unique.

An envelope filled with relevant content and the right offers that reflect a shopper's actual shopping list isn't considered junk mail when it's the result of a dialogue between consumer and marketer. Again and again, people say they feel like their LCM was designed or customized just for them, and they look forward to the correspondence, whether it is in their mailbox or in their inbox. This dramatic shift in perception translates directly to motivating consumers to act. Over 30% of households redeem an average of five offers.

As the consumer-marketer relationship continues to evolve, customization will be critical not only in message, but in delivery. Without dialogue initiated by the marketer but controlled by the customer, the connection will be lost. In fact, the industry talks about that futuristic day when consumers decide what advertising they want to see, when they want it, and in what medium. Technology and honed strategies are already allowing us to develop the future as we uniquely get to that level and move with the consumer on this extraordinary journey.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The fine art of buy-in

We're getting ready to roll out a new visual identity system in my organization, including a new logo. This is typically a contentious event in an organization where people often feel left out and, as a result, unhappy with the outcome.

I can't help but reflect on my experiences with logo changes over the years in other organizations. I learned from my own mistakes -- you've got to bring people on board early. By making them a part of the process, you allow them to form a relationship with the outcome, even if it's an outcome they're not entirely satisfied with. This is especially true when you're working with an outside design firm. In such a case, it's easy to force change on people. It's harder to give everyone a chance to be a part of the process. But doing so spells the difference between success and failure.

In my present organization, there's history around this issue. A number of years ago, our athletic department attempted to change a logo with virtually no consultation with people within the organization. The negative reaction was palpable and this fiasco still resonates in people's memories.

Today, I trust it will be different. We'll roll this out after having met with many stakeholders, involved our design and Web teams, and conducting listening sessions with students, faculty, and staff. Not everyone will like the final result. I'm certain of that. But most everyone has been carefully heard and can claim involvement in the process.

This reminds me of a little axiom cited by Keith Reinhard, former chairman of DDB Needham Worldwide. He quoted the Daughters of St. Paul who had developed a list of the most important words in the English language. The most important word, they contended, is "We."

Allowing people to buy-in on a project, especially one that brings tremendous change, moves them from a "You" to a "We" orientation. "We" = success.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Remembering Cronkite

I try to focus exclusively on marketing issues and musings here, yet I can't help but add a few lines upon the passing of Walter Cronkite. My early career included a stint as a broadcast journalist, and like any journalist 40 and older, Cronkite represented both the craft's standard and its pinnacle of achievement.

One of my few brushes with greatness included an exchange of "hellos" with Cronkite. It was 1986. I was a graduate student in the College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin. I had known that Cronkite was on campus for a series of meetings and lectures, but it hadn't registered much because the school frequently had celebrity communicators on campus.

I had left a class and was heading down the hall to a meeting with a professor. The hallway was empty, but an older gentleman was coming in the opposite direction. "Hi," I said as we passed. "Hello," he responded in a profoundly familiar voice.

About five more steps, maybe ten, and the light bulb finally went on. I turned back, and he was gone.

I've often reflected on that little encounter, wondering what might have happened if I'd recognized Cronkite right from the start. A brief conversation? Something more substantial than "hello"? Nevertheless, I always felt a kind of personal connection to the guy after that.

I won't eulogize Cronkite or broadcast journalism here -- plenty of others have done that. Plus, I said goodbye to top-notch broadcast journalism years ago, long before Fox showed up on the scene to clinch the end of professionalism in broadcast news as we had known it.

And that's the way it is.

P.S. Cronkite was a student at UT Austin in the 1930s. Here are some links referencing his UT Austin connections:
Artifacts to be displayed at UT
Cronkite's UT connections

Friday, July 17, 2009

What are social media, really?

A recent article by Educational Marketing Group experts is extremely helpful in clarifying the role of social media in the marketing mix: "The social network should be thought of as an extension of the brand experience, not strictly as another publication or advertising."

This underscores a previous argument I've made that social media can't simply replace traditional advertising in setting a comprehensive marketing strategy. Think "both/and," not "either/or."

People use social media quite differently than they do traditional media. Social media are used primarily as a means of connection with other people, not simply as sources of news, information, or entertainment. It's like the difference between television and gossiping at the back fence.

Research bears this out, and now the experts are starting to clarify how to most effectively use these tools. It's about time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Let's talk "marketing principles" for a minute

From time to time I encounter marketers who overreact to clients. A client will try to express a particular perspective on a marketing problem and behind the scenes the marketing folks will cringe, arguing that the client just isn't following sound marketing principles.

What ARE marketing principles, anyway?

Marketers should be, first and foremost, problem-solvers. In the words of a respected marketing practitioner, Patty Crane of Crane MetaMarketing Ltd, (I'm paraphrasing here) every marketing problem comes embedded with its own solution. If we understand the problem well enough, we find the solution buried within it.

I submit that the FIRST marketing principle we should care about is listening. If we don't listen first, there's no way we can help anyone solve a problem, and we'll never find the solution.

Let's be careful about turning "marketing principles" into a form of our own bravado.

Monday, June 29, 2009

New study on teens' media habits

Nielsen has just released a new research report entitled "How Teens Use Media." It's a must-read for anyone who clings to the notion that teens are abandoning traditional media to spend time on Facebook and Twitter.

The report busts a number of myths:
  • Teens use media 10 screens at a time. Not true.
  • Teens are abandoning TV for new online media. Not true.
  • Teens are driving the growth of online media. Not true.
  • Teens are the most avid Internet users. Not true.
  • Teens' online habits are different from adults'. Not true.
  • Teens don't listen to radio or read newspapers. Not true.
  • Traditional advertising doesn't work with teens. Not true.
So, this got me thinking. Why is it that there's a new book written, seemingly every day, on the death of traditional media and the notion that the only way to reach teens is through non-traditional means? Several theories come to mind.

First, we don't really understand this market. We think we do, based on our own perceptions, but not on facts. (My youngest son, who's just a little past his teen years, dropped his Facebook account a few weeks ago. I quizzed him about this, because I thought at the time, "This is strange. He's supposed to be really into Facebook. That's what young people do, right?" He dropped it because he felt he was spending too much time with it and it wasn't offering him much meaningful information. Hmm.)

Second, we tend to use projection to decide what the trends are rather than analyzing what's actually happening. In other words, "I'm really into Twitter, all my friends are really into Twitter, most of the business books I see in the bookstore are about Twitter, therefore Twitter is taking over the world."

Third, as I noted in my last post, it's fashionable to latch onto what seems like a trend, write a hot book about it, go on a speaking circuit claiming something outrageous like the death of the newspaper industry at the hands of online media, sell lots of books, then take the money and build a 15,000 square foot home in Aspen. A lot of gullible and not-too-careful marketing practitioners get swept up in this hype, then unwittingly promote the myths themselves.

Fourth, it may have something to do with parenting itself. Today's parents are far more involved in their kids' lives than was true a generation ago. And as these "helicopter kids" become the early adopters of media like Twitter, Facebook, texting, and so forth, moms and dads are right there, trying to make sense of it and attach some profound meaning to what's going on. (When I was a kid, I don't think most parents were aware that a social revolution had happened until a decade or so after it had happened!)

The lesson, quite possibly, is that the real revolution now taking place is happening more on the business shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble, rather than in the media habits of Americans.

Friday, June 26, 2009

On social networks vs. traditional media

This is not a technology blog, but technology has always factored into media. (If you question this, read up on Johannes Gutenberg. He was a technology guy!) The current fashion among some communication writers these days is to write books and articles about how the new social media are replacing traditional media. Television is dead! Radio is a thing of the past! Newspapers are no longer efficient! They're all being replaced by Facebook and Twitter and MySpace. It's because people now demand interaction, the pundits claim, and the old media just don't offer interactive communication. Blah, blah, blah.

Let's review some communication history:
  • Television was to replace the cinema shortly after WWII.
  • FM radio was to replace AM radio in the early 1970s.
  • Cable TV was to replace broadcast television in the late 1970s. Later, the threat was from video cassettes.
  • Personal computers were to replace all this stuff toward the end of the last century.
Do you see a recognizable pattern here?

The fact is that throughout communication history, media have adapted rather than been replaced as technology advances the way we communicate. Sure, things change. But claiming that TV, radio, print, or other communication forms are now irrelevant because people are using Twitter is simply narrow-minded.

One reason I'm certain that the so-called traditional media are going to be around for a while is this: People's reasons for using social networks are different than their reasons for using traditional media. Television, radio, film, and print all serve a sort-of town crier function, reporting information and offering entertainment that have mass appeal.

That's not what Twitter and Facebook try to do. The social media are used to connect individuals and unique groups together. They play a social interaction function. They help people have conversations with one another. The fact is, media consumers want and use BOTH types of media.

If we want to talk about where the true impact of social networks will be, we should consider the U.S. Postal System or the telephone rather than TV, radio, magazines and newspapers. That's where the train wreck will happen.