Wednesday, June 15, 2011

C'mon, marketers, WAKE UP!

This is going to be a rant. No, this is going to be a I'm-mad-as-hell-and-I'm-not-going-to-take-it-anymore rant. My apologies in advance....

Have you seen this blog entry by Peter Shankman? This may well be the single most important thing written about marketing this year. Maybe even this decade, although I won't go quite that far. If you're a marketer, please read it, then do some close, personal reflection.

Shankman's main point: Never lose sight of the primary role of marketing strategy. If you start from the perspective that you've got to use social media -- or any particular medium, for that matter -- no matter what, you're doing it very wrong. Period.

I am tired of all the marketing hype about social media. We as marketers need to be careful about what I see as a serious misreading of what's happening with the so-called media revolution. (Just a side note. The revolution did not start with the invention of Facebook. It started with Gutenberg's printing press and movable type. Read up on basic communication history if you disagree.)  Let's unravel some of the hype.

Social media is two-way communication. Yes, there is opportunity for interaction. But look at both the content and the use of social media forms. There's tremendous voyeurism in social media use. It's really not quite a conversation. In many respects, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and their ilk are more forms of self-publishing than conversation. For many users, they are merely forms of entertainment, not conversation.

Social media are replacing traditional media. I've commented many times before on this. This argument is pure bunk. It's just not true. Explain why television viewing and radio listening are at all-time highs. If you study communication history since Gutenberg, you learn very quickly that media are rarely replaced. Rather, they simply adapt.

"I get all my news from social media." I heard this exclaimed yesterday by one of Wichita's leading advertising executives. Her argument was to avoid television news coverage "because no one watches television news anymore."  While it's true that social media deliver news in all forms, they are really just consolidating news from other sources as well as allowing individuals to publish their own version of "news." Be careful here. When you're reading news on social media, or from any Web channel, check the source. Often that news is coming from newspaper and broadcast news rooms. You're not really doing something so revolutionary. You're just not getting your fingers inky.

"Even if you can't measure results, use social media anyway." Holy @$%#&!  I read this all the time in the marketing trade. Why do marketers just give up on all the progress our profession has made over the past two decades? If you can't measure results, your aren't doing your job.

Wake up, marketers!  There's no doubt that social media are an interesting option among many options we have to reach and interact with people. But your clients are not asking you to experiment with social media. They're asking you to solve their business problems. Start focusing on your clients' needs and stop drinking so much Kool Aid.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Teaching the old dog: Give it time

I have two grown sons. When they were teenagers, I tried very hard to be "hip" in their minds. (The problem is, even saying the word hip isn't very "hip" to a teenager these days.) But, as other parents of teenagers have learned, the harder you try, the harder you fail.  I recall once when my youngest son introduced me to a particular band that was hot at the time.  I actually enjoyed that group -- still do -- and that, alone, may have been the only time I really impressed him! It was, alas, a fleeting moment.

It turns out the same is true for Web etiquette.  One of my colleagues at work pointed out that it's gauche to write "Click here to read the article" or "Open this link" when blogging.  Of course, I knew that. Sort of.  I've gone back and tried to repair all of these faux pas in this blog.

Given sufficient time, I will learn all of these rules -- probably just in time for them to be replaced by a new set.  Meanwhile, just for the hell of it, click here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The secret to great client relationships

I've written before about problem clients.  We all have them.  But the responsibility for client relationships rests primarily with us marketers.

In a recent article entitled "3 Ways To Improve Client Services Success," Lori Goldberg hits the nail on the head: "Too often we let clients tell us what they want without asking why or understanding their needs from a larger perspective. When this happens, it positions the agency as a tactical execution team, rather than a true strategic partner."

Goldberg goes on to lay out her strategies to overcome this problem.  (By the way, in case you're not familiar with the term, KPI stands for key performance indicators.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mind your core

You hear it all the time from exercise gurus: "Mind your core."  They know that without a strong body core, health and physical fitness will suffer.

The same is true for marketing. It's all too easy to neglect the central part of your business and the reasons customers chose you over your competitors in the first place. In a recent article, Sarah Mahoney quotes Marketing for Dummies author Alex Hiam as saying, "Customers defect more quickly and permanently over core-product issues than over any of the fancy apps and whistles."  And, I might add, clever advertising and the best-placed promotion.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is bad communication inevitable?

I've been reflecting on a recent address by Avinash Kaushik to a Canadian Marketing Association gathering (I wasn't there, but I have read the script).  Kaushik aptly laments the state of web-based marketing, calling it "faith-based" since it often lacks clear success measures.  Kaushik concludes, "So in a channel that is so full of promise, so full of data, so empowering when it comes to relevance and creativity… why is it that we suck so much?"

So much of marketing has been this way over the course of time.  Why is that?

I recall a conversation I once had with Horace Newcomb. He was the chair of the Radio-TV-Film Department at the University of Texas College of Communication when I was a grad student there.  Newcomb's focus was television criticism and his classes always examined the "texts" that could be deciphered from television programming.  I was admittedly idealistic about all of this.  As we sat in  his office one day, I asked him if he really could find value in everything he encountered on TV. A Southern Baptist, Newcomb laughed and said, "Not value. Just meaning. The fact is, most of what's on television is terrible, just like most of the books you find in the bookstore are terrible."
Why is it that marketers tend to add to the glut of communications drek in the world?  Is it really because we aren't careful in establishing success measures?  Or is it really largely a "faith-based initiative" as Avinash Kaushik puts it?

Last Sunday, the Super Bowl featured all the new TV spots that marketers seemed so ready to offer $3 million a pop for.  Some were funny, some weren't. Some were clever, some weren't.  Was the point selling products?  Or did much of this advertising represent leaps of faith in believing that some impact -- any impact -- would somehow be good for business?

With all due respect to Mr. Kaushik, I think marketing is, by it's very nature, a leap of faith to some extent.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On demonstrating the value of marketing

An old business adage says, "You can't manage what you don't measure."  Marketers have struggled with this for years.  But in tough economic times, measuring results may be the only way to demonstrate the value of marketing in an organization.  Otherwise, marketing expense lines become easy prey at budget time.

Laura Patterson of VisionEdge Marketing makes a strong case for not just measuring metrics, but figuring out ways to measure performance. After all, if you can tie your organization's bottom line to its investment in marketing, you insulate yourself from the budget axe, plus you grow your own job satisfaction.

"Marketers need to move from managing metrics to managing performance. When marketing achieves this level of competency, it will be able to leverage metrics to support the decision making process, investments, and drive change. The value from the investments in marketing tools, processes, systems and skills for measuring marketing effectiveness will be lost if we do (not) use the insights from metrics to help guide the organization."  (Read the entire article here.)

Friday, January 21, 2011


When planning strategy or creative, marketers know that their audiences seek a clear answer to this one, basic question: What's in it for me?

Now comes a new question we marketers should be asking, whether we're planning strategy, writing copy, considering using the latest, greatest social media plaything or otherwise developing interaction with our audiences: What would humans do?

Think about all the marketing and advertising that we've suffered through that fails to consider such a question.  Come on, we're marketers, but we're also humans (at least most of us are). Let's do better.

(Credit goes to Amanda Lannert of Jellyvision Lab for this idea. Thanks!)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Weighing in on Starbucks' latest move

I've been trying to avoid comment on Starbucks' announced logo change. Part of my reluctance is out of professional courtesy -- logo changes are hard enough without armchair quarterbacks trying to call plays. But Starbucks' has broken my heart before, and I'm simply not as loyal to the brand as I once was.  Nevertheless, I have a couple of things to say about their latest move.

James Gregory, CEO of CoreBrand, is unhappy with Starbucks' plans. He argues that dropping the name "Starbucks" from the logo is detrimental to the brand.  He also notes that the siren symbol simply doesn't have the same visual recognition as the Apple logo, McDonalds golden arches or the Nike Swoosh.

Any logo change, especially one involving such a recognizable international symbol as the Starbucks logo, is risky business.  While I tend to agree with Gregory, I offer a couple of cautionary points before we hang Starbucks' marketing department the way we did the marketing brains at the Gap.  First, we really don't know the specific objectives Starbucks is trying to accomplish with this change.  Their CEO claims the new logo better represents the company's broadening product line.  Gregory suggests this could be accomplished without catapulting the name "Starbucks" from the logo. However, it's quite possible Starbucks plans to introduce new stand-alone brand names, like Via, its instant coffee line. The point is, without knowing the objectives, evaluating Starbucks' logo change by just looking at the new artwork is basically judging a book by its cover.

Second, as I've argued many times before, virtually any logo can be made to work in a branding environment. With all due respect to my art director friends, the logo itself matters far less than the consistency with which visual standards and brand strategies are applied.  Logos are simply symbols that stand for things.  In the end, its what you do to imbue those symbols with meaning that really matters.

So good luck, Starbucks.  I think you'll come out all right on this one.  Just don't mess with the coffee!