Monday, February 28, 2011

Marketing Without Bias

If 100 of best marketing minds around gathered to discuss the industry, do you think that they all would be able to agree on a single dictionary definition of marketing?

I don't. In fact, good luck even reaching agreement on who the 100 best marketers are. I don't believe complete agreement is possible because marketers- like scientists, politicians, artists or sports fans, don't come without bias.

For a researcher, great marketing is researching, calculating, organizing and pouring over their statistical findings. On the other hand, to a strategist, great marketing is discovering key insights from proper interpretation of the data collected.

Talk to a copywriter and they will say an effective outdoor ad campaign must have well written copy that resonates in an instant. Yet, the media planner will likely say that finding and securing the perfect spot along the highway is the key to success.

In the graphic design department, great marketing is all about designing a package that will stand out among the thousands of products on store shelves. Of course, the sales department might say that the hard work is done before the product reaches the shelves. Just getting that big order from Wal-Mart is truly great marketing.

I'm not saying that marketers cannot look beyond their own job descriptions and see the value in the work others are doing. However, I am saying that there is a reason we value the things we do and view the world with those values in mind.

Therefore, I think we must ask two questions of ourselves. First, do we know why we value what we do? Second, is it more powerful to align ourselves with people who share similar values or must we convert outsiders to see the value in what we do and begin to value it for themselves?

The High Cost of Email

A countless number of people all share the tiresome computer ritual of checking email. Personally, I waste time every day deleting at least 20 useless and unnecessary emails, despite leaving what I consider to be a small footprint of Internet usage. I unsubscribe to things I never really explicitly subscribed to, yet the emails still pile up. This leads me to wonder how us marketers might react if email worked like snail mail and cost 44 cents (or some other nominal amount) to send.

Ideally, this would create a more efficient system for all. Marketers would focus their email communication on the community of people they serve most. A small 44-cent investment requires marketers to make a big commitment to understanding the recipient and perfecting the message. Consequently, success rates will increase because the message is more personal, relevant, and effective. On the other hand, with less email to check, consumers can give the precious few more of their attention.

Sure, charging for email is a far-out hypothetical scenario, but marketers must realize that flooding anonymous inboxes comes at a price (even if the accountants cannot see it). I just wonder if they could see a financial cost (along with the corresponding income generated), if more marketers would put in more effort to transform email into a legitimate marketing tactic.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Are Billion-Dollar Ideas Worth?

While I'm really not the type to get hyped up for a reality television, I admit I am excited for the premiere of NBC's America's Next Great Restaurant. It's Top Chef meets The Apprentice, and the show is searching for the next "billion dollar" restaurant idea with the winning restaurateur receiving enough capital to start up a three-location chain. For a marketing guy who loves his fast food, America's Next Great Restaurant feels like it could be television gold. However, I'm worried that the promise this television series has will not equaled by the success of the entrepreneurs it produces.

While I'm sure all the contestants are extremely smart and talented, the concept of converting an idea into a billion-dollar enterprise on an NBC sound stage is a bit misguided. On a reality show where competitors compete for one ultimate prize, the focus will remain on the prize at the end, instead of focusing on the daily (or hourly) process that's necessary. I cannot help but wonder if there are a few entrepreneurs out there who now feel like their time could have been better spent refining their business models and marketing plans instead of competing for immunity on the next episode.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid that the "be an instant somebody" mindset, which the faux reality programs all cater to, is reinforcing that it's perfectly acceptable to skip steps along the way. The danger is becoming mesmerized with an outcome and having no clue about what steps to take to make it happen. That requires a whole different kind of reality thinking.

So, to me, the real show will start once the director yells cut and American's Next Great Restaurant leaves its incubating sound stage. Only then can we find out exactly a billion-dollar idea is worth.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Code of The Digerati

Hammurabi was a king that ruled the Babylonian Empire in ancient Mesopotamia. Today, he's best known for his code of laws. The Code of Hammurabi is one of civilization's first known written set of laws and might be most remembered for its retaliatory brand of justice: "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" the law says."

Thousands of years have passed since Hammurabi ruled Babylon, yet many marketers are using his ancient philosophy to try to "engage" digital communities in the Twitterverse. Our quest is to engage people with follow (and hope) people follow you. Call it the code of the Digerati; it says I follow you so you should follow me.

Of course, there are a lot of problems with the new code, but the biggest is that it doesn't accomplish any of "engagement" it's intended to. Who exactly is "engaged socially" if the only reason they follow is to get one back? What ends up happening is that Twitter becomes a one way communications tool where a lot of followers are, at best, barely listening. Living by the code of the Digerati becomes self defeating.

To avoid this requires a fundamental change in how marketers think about social media. Rather than thinking in terms of engagement of fans and followers perhaps the question should be how can we deliver something of value to our fans and followers.

With our current mindset the question we perpetually seek an answer for is how many followers do we have? The goal itself is to increase that number and that becomes our misguided proof of success.

On the other hand, by thinking in terms of delivering value to followers, marketers will start to answer the question of why the number really matters. They will better appreciate and respect the inherent value of a declared follower- one who gives explicit permission that you are worthy of their attention.

And if marketers value the attention of their followers they should no longer be wasting it...they will actually be marketing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Correcting Mistakes Is Key For Marketers

Everyone has experienced that people make mistakes, promises go unfulfilled and stuff just gets messed up. Surly, it's bad for business but it's most definitely a going to happen at some point.

For the National Football League, that point happened to be Sunday, during the Super Bowl. Fans couldn't get into the game. Their tickets were good. The seats were not. The temporary seating was deemed unsafe on the day of the game, just hours before kickoff.

To recover from their fumble, the NFL is welcoming them as "guests of the NFL" to next year's Super Bowl in Indianapolis and refunding their tickets for three times the face value. They also allowed these customers to be part of the on field celebration on Sunday and were given free food and drinks. (Although at least one Steeler fan is disputing the last claim).

Initially, it sounds like the NFL goes above and beyond to atone for its mistake. That's until one remembers that a lot of customers were here to see the Packers or the Steelers, and it's unlikely they will be in next years big game. Tickets to the next Super Bowl will mean a lot less to them. Also, while while refunding three times the ticket price is sounds like their making a profit, some customers that purchased from secondary markets may still wind up in the red.

Easy for me to say, but I think it sounds fair. Of course, resolving this issue is made more difficult logistically because a ticket holder isn't necessary a ticket buyer. As tickets are circulated beyond their original owners, it's impossible to determine what every individual paid. I think three times face value sounds close to the average price on the secondary market.

UPDATE: Shortly after this post went live, the NFL announced a change to their recovery plan. Now offered is free tickets to any Super Bowl.

I have correction as well. I omitted earlier that fans would receive airfare and hotel accommodations for that week as well.

What do you think? Should they have done anything else? Should the 800 others who got in but missed parts of the game standing in line get something as well? What would you do to fix the mess?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Celebrity Endorsements Less Than Super For Brands

The celebrity endorsement is a Super Bowl ad staple; however, I wonder if the tactic is just a super waste. If I've got this right, the consumer is to perceive certain human qualities in a celebrity (that they don't actually know), and through the magic pairing of said celebrity with some brand name, the perceived human qualities are transferred to a product or service. Am I supposed to believe that Richard Lewis embodies everything good in a Snickers candy bar? I've questioned the tactics of a paid celebrity endorsement before and after watching a full slate of ads graced with some celebrity star power, I still can't see the value.

Yet, on marketing's big night, when the best of the best should be on display because simply taking the stage costs $3 million, the flimsy strategy of employing the celebrity endorsement is usually a must-have for marketers. The 2011 Super Bowl advertising was no different.

The enigmatic Eminem actually made two appearances. The first was a spot for Brisk Iced Tea. It features an animated Eminem whose tough-to-impress taste is only satisfied by the brand that pays him. Additionally, the animated rapper tries to maintain his street cred by differentiating himself from the corporate bosses he now associates with. The message is that Brisk is well, brisk—just like the rapper's attitude. Eminem's second act was very different than the first. Em drives a Chrysler (I know) through images of his hometown of Detroit. He's there to be the proud face of a proud people who embody the American work ethic. However, completely lost in the ad's tough and defiant tone is the fact that Chrysler is trying to execute a strategy of selling luxury and beauty in an automobile.

Best Buy does a better job and is more direct in its purpose. Its mission is to introduce a buy-back program that will entice consumers to upgrade their older technology for the newer stuff. However, communicating this strong marketing strategy is not as effective as it could be when mixed with the distraction of the Ozzy and Bieber show. The hook is that one's old and one's new, get it? I believe the resources would have been better used communicating facts about the actual marketing program, not just making associations to it.

Faith Hill appeared in this year's timely Teleflora advertisement, which says nothing unique about the brand and doesn't even attempt to associate Ms. Hill in any way. If Faith was replaced with any female extra, the context and message are completely unchanged. The ad would be as is, just way cheaper to make.

This year, spokeswoman extraordinaire Kim Kardashian was pushing Skechers Shape-Ups toning shoes. I guess a high-priced Hollywood trainer has nothing to do with it. However, I seem to recall Ms. Kardashian being the embodiment of the west coast burger chain Carl's Jr. during the big game last year. It's ironic—Ms. Kardashian moving from a fast food endorsement to toning shoes actually makes perfect sense. If celebrity endorsements are all about creating positive and credible associations with the brand, wouldn't Shape Ups be better off with fitness junkie Jillian Michaels as the spokeswoman? Oh right, she was busy trying to sell us domain names from GoDaddy.com.

Call me skeptical, but advertisers don't just exaggerate on television. In boardrooms everywhere, marketers are repeatedly sold on the idea that a celebrity endorser is going to create positive associations to the brand. Yet, all the dizzying abstractions will do nothing for it.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog.