Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Media revolution myths -- Part II

This is a follow up to my previous post.

Today's Marketing Daily newsletter carried an article by Brian Hunt that does exactly what I was ranting about in my previous post.

Now, I'm sure Brian Hunt is a great guy.  But he does work for Yahoo and probably needs to tote the corporate line in his writing.  I agree with him that experience is key to effective brand marketing.  It's always been that way.  I also agree with him that good creative and top-notch writing and design are essential in building great campaigns, digital and otherwise.

My complaint is about how Hunt takes a cheap shot at traditional media:  "...marketers need to envision a campaign that utilizes creativity, with a constant eye toward authenticity -- meaning it's not a two-way conversation if you're just jamming a message down the audience's throat."

There's no question that dialogue with consumers makes for better and more effective marketing.  But to assume that this kind of interaction exists only on Facebook and YouTube and, er, Yahoo, and not in creative developed for other media is just dumb.

Brian, might I suggest you take a Marketing 101 course at your local community college?  It might help you understand marketing communication a bit more broadly that just from Yahoo's perspective.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The myths of the media revolution

Marketers are bombarded these days with articles, blogs and books heralding the arrival of "non-traditional media" and the resulting demise of "traditional media." Authors of these claims could not be more wrong about all of this. I'll explain.

First, some definitions. Traditional media are typically defined as the stuff old people and other Luddites use: television, cable TV, radio, newspapers and magazines -- generally, anything that isn't primarily accessible on the Internet. Non-traditional media are the shiny, new Web-based and, to some extent, cell phone-based toys like Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, blogs, Twitter and texting.

The basic theory goes like this: The crusty, old traditional media are one-way communication devices that afford no opportunity for audience interaction, while the non-traditional media are two-way in nature, permitting audience participation. To bottom-line this, traditional media = BAD, non-traditional media = GOOD. This flimsy theorizing is based on some myths that are simply incorrect.

Myth #1: Traditional media are one-way communication forms. When I was in graduate school, I studied the impact of media (especially television) on audiences. What I discovered, and what many scholars before me had known all along, is that television viewing, radio listening and newspaper reading are not passive acts. Audiences are very engaged with these media and constantly negotiate their own realities throughout their media encounters. While it's true that audiences are the receivers of content delivered through these media, they are not simply one-way systems. Just ask the Nielsen Company.

Myth #2: Non-traditional media are two-way. Frequently, much of Internet use involves a reader or viewer consuming content much the same way he/she would consume content on television, radio or in newspapers. There is clearly opportunity to find deeper content and the ability to customize the experience, but to claim this constitutes true two-way communication is just as crazy as claiming non-traditional media are one-way communication systems.

Myth #3: Non-traditional media are replacing traditional media. It's just flat-out not true. Look at the numbers (often cited in this blog). Television viewing grows at record levels. So does radio listening. It's clear that newspaper and magazine publishing is transforming, but due less to the arrival of Facebook and YouTube and more to generational and political differences in how and what people read.

Here's the basic problem with the claims of the pundits. Much of non-traditional media is not on the same evolutionary path as traditional media. It's a huge oversimplification simply to argue that traditional media are being replaced by non-traditional media. The reality is that some non-traditional media, in fact, are being eclipsed by new media. But in many respects, non-traditional media are replacing other two-way systems (telephone, fax, two-way radio, even the U.S. Postal System). Twitter has more of its DNA in telephone communication than in TV or radio. E-mail is more related to the Pony Express Service than to Marconi.

I completely agree that there is a convergence of some media forms. I also agree that viewers and readers have far more choice today than they did 30 years ago. But I also agree that much of the erosion or change among traditional media is simply the result of audiences being distracted by the shiny, new things in their lives. Time, or better, the lack of it -- not the Internet or Twitter or the iPhone -- is the true enemy.

(P.S. While I'm on this rant, may I just say how pleased I am to see vinyl LPs making a come-back in record stores. Go figure that one out!)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Radio is dead." Yeah, right.

I continue to be amused by the fanatics who claim traditional media are dead. Consider this excerpt from an article by Bob McCurdy in a recent Marketing Daily:

And the facts are these:

  • In the U.S., 50% more people tune in to terrestrial radio each week than go to Google in a month.
  • 20% more people ages 12+ (239 million) tune in to radio each week than use the Internet in a month in the U.S. (195 million).
  • 180% more people use radio in a week than go to Facebook in a month.
  • 90% of people using digital audio alternatives tune in to terrestrial radio for about the same amount of time as those who don't use digital audio alternatives.
Check out the full article here.

Client behaviors that drive marketers nuts

Those of us who work in the marketing profession have plenty of experience working with clients, either internally or on the agency side, who need our services. Some are great to work with. Others, well, let's just say that Satan himself may have something to do with them.

There are plenty of client aggravations that we must deal with, but I've discovered they all have something in common. More on that in a moment.

Client aggravation #1: Planning? What's that?
Time and time again I continue to encounter clients who are not only bad at planning, they have a habitual culture of not planning. These are the folks who, when you try to introduce sound planning to their marketing process, react as if aliens just landed in their back yard. For them, planning isn't a business process that can bring efficiency and effectiveness. Instead, planning is viewed as unnecessary bureaucracy.

Applicable quote: “The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise and is not preceded by a period of anxiety." John Preston, Boston University

Client aggravation #2: Death by committee
I occasionally encounter clients who cannot as individuals make decisions about anything, let alone their marketing work. Sometimes this is because of the structure of their organization that prevents people from being empowered. Other times it's just a style thing -- some people just aren't decisive.

I have a client right at the moment who, after weeks of work to hammer out objectives, set goals, establish strategies and develop creative solutions, will "run this by her committee." You might as well just load everything up in a truck and haul it off to the landfill because that is surely where a committee will send it.

Marketing strategy IS NOT, I repeat, IS NOT a committee function. Boards and committees should set direction by establishing goals and objectives. Period. Leave the marketing work to the experts.

Applicable quote: "Turning a creative idea over to a committee is like sentencing it to be bitten to death by ducks." Tom McElligott, Fallon-McElligott

Client aggravation #3: I'm not sure what I want but I'll tell you when you get it right.
These are the clients who, despite your best efforts, just won't settle on a direction. You think you have them pinned down only to discover a few days later that the wind has changed direction and now they want something else.

My office has a particular client who is this way. Rather than establishing a clear direction at the beginning, our creative team is frequently asked to develop several possible solutions from which the client may pick and choose. This often leads to multiple rounds of this kind of resource-wasting behavior.

Applicable quote: "Alice: Which way should I go? Cat: That depends on where you're going. Alice: I don't know where I'm going! Cat: Then it doesn't matter which way you go!!" Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Client aggravation #4: Just give me the damned brochure!
We joke in my department all the time about clients who come to us saying, "I need a brochure." Our standard response is to take a few steps back and examine with the client the problem their brochure is supposed to solve. Once we and the client fully understand the problem, we frequently discover that there are better solutions than the one they came in requesting in the first place. Good marketers, after all, are good problem-solvers. As Patty Crane of Crane & Associates once said to me, if you understand the problem well enough, you'll find the solution embedded in it.

Some clients, though, simply choose to ignore the problem altogether. They are too enamored with their own self-diagnosis than to be bothered with reasoned facts.

Applicable quote: "The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters." Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

Client aggravation #5: I have examined my opinion and found it to be good.
Conversations with these types of folks usually go this way:
Client: Please change the font to Old English.
Marketer: Why?
Client: Because I like Old English.
Marketer: But the objectives call for strong readability. Old English is not very readable.
Client: But I like it.

For such clients, objectives and audience definitions simply don't matter. They will go for what THEY like, what THEY prefer and what THEY think is cool every time. These are clients who actually don't need help from marketers at all. They simply need people around them to carry out their every thought and whim.

Applicable quote: "Don't wrestle with a pig. You'll get dirty and the pig will enjoy it."

All of these aggravations are rooted in one, overarching problem: a deficiency of objective-based marketing. Granted, some of these aggravations are insurmountable because, let's face it, some clients are just plain neurotic. Others can often be avoided by keeping solid objectives front and center and pushing clients to evaluate work based on objectives.

What other client behaviors do you encounter?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Branding. Isn't that something you do to cattle?

When I make public presentations about branding, I often start by giving the following quiz developed by Rob Frankel in The Revenge of Brand X:

"Question: What is branding?
1. That thing they burn into cows.
2. A logo or a trademark.
3. A jingle or a slogan.
4. I don't really know, but I'll look like a complete idiot if I admit it."

Audiences normally get this wrong and are surprised to learn that #1 is the correct answer. It's that thing you do to cattle.

In a white paper for Stamats Communications, Inc., entitled Brand as Relevance, Robert Sevier explains: "Branding in the marketplace is similar to branding on a cattle ranch. The purpose of a branding program is to differentiate your cow from the other cattle on the range."

Seems pretty simple. But hey, if you've ever actually branded cattle, you know that's no cakewalk! Neither is branding an organization. Although the tools are different, the essential outcome is the same.

The secret to extraordinary crisis communication

Two nights ago my university experienced a situation that had the potential of a real crisis. After a late night party on campus, a fight broke out, then gunfire. Campus police also fired at suspects. Very fortunately no one was hurt. The day after the incident, administrators and the police were reluctant to talk about it. After all, we didn't have many facts. Still, questions persisted from the media and from the university community.

I recall an article I read last week about crisis communication management. It recounted the recent experience of Carnival Cruise Lines' disabled ship and how the company handled communication about the situation. It quoted Peter Sandman, a communication consultant, who gave a passing grade to the cruise lines' communication efforts in the situation:

"Of course, the net effect is still negative, but not as negative as it might have been....It's the nature of journalism that reporters are going to look for somebody to say it was awful and somebody else to say it wasn't that bad. Poor crisis communication is when the company is saying it wasn't that bad. Extraordinary crisis communication is when the company is the one saying it was awful."

That's a great lesson for those of us who oversee large communication operations in organizations. Extraordinary crisis communication is when the company is the one saying it was awful.

Several years ago, I worked for a company that experienced a crisis involving its new CEO. The media had the story, but the board and top management decided to hire a consultant in an attempt to control communication and to spin things. While the company made it through the crisis, its image was tarnished because it wasn't ready to be bold enough to be the one saying the situation was awful.

The lesson here is this: Even when all the facts aren't known, organizations still have a role to step forward in crisis situations, express what they do know, say it was an awful situation and thereby provide a little reassurance. In hindsight, I think my university might have handled this a bit differently.

Imagine how BP Oil might have fared if they would have taken this approach to the recent oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The power of poo

Just in case you're thinking you've got a really edgy marketing campaign idea, you'd better check out this article. This epitomizes the notion of "getting out of the box."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Customer service makes (or breaks) your brand

I just spoke to a group of high school students this morning about branding. I told them, as I've told many other audiences, that marketers control only one thing when it comes to influencing their brands: consistency. You've got to be consistent in everything that affects perceptions: communication, product quality, appearance of everything from packaging to what your building looks like, and especially your service to customers.

Read this excerpt from an article by Josh Bernoff (Marketing News, "Viewpoint: Customer Service is Marketing," Oct. 30, 2010), who co-authored the book, Groundswell. Bernoff makes this point solidly and convincingly:

"Heather Armstrong is just a mom. In 2009 she was due to have her second child and she knew, as all second-time moms do, what was coming: laundry. Lots and lots of laundry. So she bought a new $1,300 Maytag washing machine. You know, Maytag, the dependability people.

"Unfortunately, her Maytag let her down and so did her Maytag repairman. Three attempts to repair the machine did not remedy the problem. Desperate, sleep-deprived and surrounded by milk- and poop-stained onesies, Armstrong called the service department at Maytag central, which is part of Whirlpool. After reaching what she calls 'the snootiest customer service person I have ever talked to in my life,' she finally reached the breaking point.

"Here’s where you find out that I haven’t told you the whole truth. Heather Armstrong is a mom, alright, but she’s not just a mom. She has this blog called Dooce that has a readership of around 350,000 unique visitors a month. Her following is incredibly devoted, so she has resources that many consumers don’t. Here’s how she describes the end of her encounter with Maytag:

"And here's where I say, do you know what Twitter is? Because I have over a million followers on Twitter. If I say something about my terrible experience on Twitter, do you think someone will help me? And she [the customer service representative] says in the most condescending tone and hiss ever uttered: 'Yes, I know what Twitter is. And no, that will not matter.'

"Armstrong’s million Twitter followers then see this tweet: So that you may not have to suffer like we have: DO NOT EVER BUY A MAYTAG. I repeat: OUR MAYTAG EXPERIENCE HAS BEEN A NIGHTMARE.

"In that moment, years of Maytag branding begin to vaporize in the heat of a mother scorned.

"You may think you are doing branding. You may advertise, build websites and generate leads, but what are you doing with customers after you’ve sold them? Are you trying to keep the cost of service low? Or are you recognizing their potential to either help you or trash you?

"You think this doesn’t matter? Let’s look at some numbers. Based on our estimates at Forrester Research, people generate approximately 500 billion online impressions on one another about products and services every year. This includes Facebook, Twitter and other social networks; it also includes blogs, discussion forums and online ratings. For perspective, Nielsen Online estimates the total number of online advertising impressions in a 12-month period (ending in September 2009) at a hair under 2 trillion, so people are generating one-fourth as many impressions on each other as the entire marketing industry is generating. Guess which impressions they’re actually likely to believe. Who’s the influential one here, Maytag or Dooce?

"If you think carefully about this, you realize that nearly everything companies think about customer service is backward. If word of mouth is this important, why are you trying to save every last customer service dollar, putting people through interactive voice response phone trees and sending them to support reps in the Philippines or India? The only difference between you and Maytag is luck. The more you economize on customer service, the more likely you’ll get hit with your own Dooce moment sometime soon.

"There is a way out, and that is to do everything possible to find unhappy people and turn them around. People notice this sort of thing. It turns the power of that word of mouth to your advantage because now customer service is marketing...."

"The next time you are trying to decide where to put that next marketing dollar, consider ways that you can turn your customer service into marketing because customers believe other customers much more than they believe you."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Really, really risky market testing

I just can't pass up two recent branding blunders that exemplify the "ready-fire-aim" mentality of some marketers.

Example 1: Drake University
I hate picking on another institution in our own Missouri Valley Conference, but for crying out loud, they deserve it. Several weeks ago Drake University announced it had cooked up this really clever admissions positioning effort called "D+." University officials were busy explaining to the world that D+ doesn't mean what YOU think it means, it means what THEY think it means -- in other words, the advantages of a Drake education. Then they took this new campaign to their faculty. The faculty (and most others in their market and beyond it) thought that the Drake marketing team was either nuts, or drunk, or both. After suffering through their momentous roll-out of this dud, Drake revamped the concept and has discontinued using "D+."

Example 2: GAP
By now you've heard about the big GAP debacle. GAP, the national clothing retailer, announced plans to change its logo and product packaging from the familiar blue square to a revamped version of "Gap." No sooner was this announced than customers -- the people they should have talked to first about this idea -- went berserk. They hated, no, they despised the change and in a matter of hours of online social networking forced GAP executives to scuttle their plans for the new logo.

I'm not sure when marketers will ever learn this about their brands, but let me restate: You don't control your brands. Your customers do. If you mess with their brands before consulting with them first, you are destined to ridicule and failure.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Boeing learns that brands are built on little things

In presentations about branding, I continually tell audiences that solid brands are built through activities that have nothing to do with slogans and logos and billboards. What really counts are interactions with customers, the look of a lobby, the response to a complaint, employees saying the right things in social settings, and so forth. I use the analogy of an iceberg in which most of the ice -- the part the keeps everything floating -- is below the water line. (See my blog post from April 5, 2008.)

Boeing recently learned how this works when an 8-year-old boy sent the giant corporation a drawing of an airplane he had designed. You can read about it here. Fortunately, it has a happy ending -- for the kid and for Boeing.

Don't ever forget that brands are NOT built on fancy slogans and slick collateral material. Brands are built on a long series of little interactions with people. Period. End of lecture.

(Still in doubt? Reread The Nordstrom Way by Patrick McCarthy.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Marketing's yin and yang

As hard as it is to admit sometimes, Scott Adams generally has the marketing profession figured out. His strip on Oct. 1 hit the nail on the head when it comes to one of marketing's greatest challenges: It's both an art and a science.

Sure, these days there's a lot of science that goes into marketing. The recent focus on marketing ROI has decreased the level of risk marketers can afford, meaning that a lot more science and a lot less subjective judgment goes into marketing strategy. As it should.

But marketing is about people, and people are fickle. No matter how technical we become with our science, marketing will always embrace a good dose of art -- or "mostly guessing" as Adams puts it.

Bottom line: Marketers need to be seasoned pros at what they do. They need to be well invested in their craft, in understanding people and in understanding the world around them. Our guesswork, while still subjective to some degree, can be informed and expert. The challenge to marketers is to always be in learning mode and committed to ongoing self improvement.

Beware the marketers who come at their work only from a scientific perspective because they only have half the skill set required to do their work. The best marketing strategies are a dynamic blend of the best of science and the best of art.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Grand larcency, brand-style

Wichita State University registered trademark:

Recently discovered logo of the Sumner County (Kansas) treasurer's office:


#1 The little R in the circle means THIS IS OURS. YOU CAN'T HAVE IT.

#2 If you're going to steal someone's property, cover your tracks better than this.

#3 Not spending money on logo design takes a tremendous degree of courage.... or shear stupidity.

4 June 2010: I'm pleased to report that, after a cease and desist letter, the treasurer's office has seen the wisdom here and removed the errant logo from their web page and other uses.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Free advice to my former employer

When a brand icon that you had a hand in creating changes, it's like sending your first-born child off to college for the first time. Emotions range from deep grieving to deep pride. Such is the case as my former employer, MMA, changes its name, its logo, and quite possibly its basic brand orientation.

Once a small church-based financial services agency, Mennonite Mutual Aid became "MMA" during my 18 years with the organization. During that time the marketing unit I led worked to build a solid brand around the notion of personal Christian stewardship. It seemed to work well.

In the years since my departure, MMA has merged with a credit union and is fast expanding its market. For a variety of reasons, the company decided change was needed. It hired FutureBrand to create a new name -- Everence -- and logo. Reactions are mixed among various people I talk to about it. But that's not unusual given such sweeping change.

As MMA embarks on its journey to become Everence, I have a few bits of advice to offer my former colleagues:
  • Remember that it gets messy before it gets good. Much of what you'll be doing is change management, and let's face it, people don't like to change. Lead them gently and know that you may lose a few good souls along the way.
  • Don't lose sight of the fact that your brand is not your new name and logo. You've still got to feed and nuture the true brand of the organization, especially now with a new name that at this point means nothing. You will imbue it with meaning, not just in what you say, but also in what you do as an organization.
  • That said, you need to give careful attention to defining who you are and making sure you know what others think you are. Without either of these points of knowledge, you'll be lost trying to run a branding effort.
  • Keep in mind that this stuff takes time. You'll be measuring success in decades, not in years.
  • Finally, the three most important words to remember: consistency, consistency, consistency. That's the only thing you really control in establishing your new name as a solid brand in the world.
Good luck!

Monday, January 11, 2010

A testament to strong creative

My advertising professor at Notre Dame used to talk about how the best advertising concepts were those that only required a strong visual and a strong headline. Nothing else. "Poster ideas" he called them.

Rarely do you see that sort of creative execution these days. The old Episcopal Church Ad campaign, developed back in the '80s by Fallon-McElligot was a wonderful example. A more recent campaign by Campbell-Ewald is now making the rounds on Web discussion boards.

Actually, this billboard campaign has been going for several years now to support the annual Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit. But it's a great example of compelling visuals and few words that create remarkably lasting impressions.

Of course, I'm a bit biased. My first car was a '64 Chevy Belair. Chevy owners (especially former owners of the old muscle cars) in particular have a real emotional connection to these boards. We get it!