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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Growing pains

Growth probably needs to be a part of your business plan. There are a handful of businesses who are happily producing at capacity in a profitable way, but it is rare. Even the most content business will eventually begin declining returns.

So we must grow.

Like a plant, we can't grow indefinitely by just growing up. We need to expand the roots and have new avenues of growth. This takes more work than just watering and maintaining the status quo. But that's why it's called growing pains. It may not be easy, but it is necessary.

If you're a restaurant, this may mean adding a new dish to the menu occasionally. A service provider may need to explore new services to add to the repertoire. Movie theaters have been adding special events and screenings other than the new-release blockbusters. Marketing and public relations agencies have begun adapting to social media. The key is to keep the steps close to your roots, and make it a natural change that makes you stronger in the long-term.

Growth is something that requires you to think and behave differently than what has brought success in the past. It requires taking chances. Not every new seedling survives, but a plant that keeps trying will endure.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Does Redbox exist anymore?

Of course I am kidding. But there is definitely a lot less talk about the DVD rental kiosks lately. It is still a household word, but could it be that like all new retail concepts, people have gotten used to it? Or, could this be an early indicator of another business destined for the declining revenue train?

Right now, Redbox kiosks are still being installed everywhere. It is the best deal in movie rentals in nearly every city across America. But recent changes to their promotions are not only causing increasing frustration among customers, it has also stopped the conversation about the brand.

Customers subscribed to receive emails and mobile updates so they could receive free rental codes every Monday. The codes worked for every customer, which prompted people to forward the SMS messages to everyone on their phones, post on Facebook, and post to Twitter. The codes were spread so quickly and frequently that you could count on Redbox as a trending topic on Twitter each Monday.

Then the free Monday rentals were cut-off. Redbox announced it would only offer their mobile subscribers one free code each month. Shortly after, the codes became personalized, so that each code could only be redeemed once, not just once per customer.

Understandably, it can be hard to make money when giving your product away. The problem is that Redbox cut off too much, too quickly. Then they followed that up by eliminating their best advertising program when they made the new codes unsharable.

Customers can understand when prices increase. We are not happy about it, but we know it happens. However, Redbox needed to find a way to increase revenue without throwing this many disruptions into their customers' behavior. Especially considering that they are in a business that is increasingly threatened by new technology.

I'm sure Blockbuster could tell them what happens when the customer base is no longer talking about them.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Keep your fans & subscribers

Every day we see or hear ads from companies that want us to sign up to receive emails, SMS alerts, facebook updates, tweets, and more. But what does the consumer get in return? Sales pitches, irrelevant updates, and repeated messages from their many methods of advertising.

The value exchange is out of balance. The advertisers get what they want, but too often the consumers don't often get anything of significant value in exchange for the opt-in. Companies assume that when people opt-in, that they want to hear everything from that brand. This may not always be the case, which results in unsubscribes and consumers who just ignore and delete.

When a customer opts-in, this is not traditional advertising where you broadcast the same message everywhere and hope for a small percentage to act on it. This is your time to show these customers you truly value them. Offer your text-message subscribers something more than the general public will receive. Give your "fans" a reason to follow your facebook updates. Most importantly, encourage these opt-in customers to talk about you and share with their friends.

It's about building business, right? So make these fans of your business fanatics. Don't just buy your time with them until they give up on you.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Trust: desired by you, required for you

When you have a problem with Amazon, they send you a replacement before they get your returned item. They trust you.

Zappos does the same, if the shoe doesn't fit, they replace it immediately.

Popular retailers are the ones who treat their customers with respect, and trust. They don't give them problems or hassle them when a return is being made.

Would you let an issue of trust destroy your reputation and lead you out of business? Instinctively, everyone would say no, but more often than not their behavior does otherwise.

When you have a disagreement with a customer, do you send them away upset? I have been watching the unfolding of a dispute between a local restaurant and a group of disgruntled customers who believed they were lied to, then subsequently treated poorly. At issue: a $60 cover-charge added to the bill for a pay-per-view event. What that $60 got the restaurant: a horrible rating on UrbanSpoon, Yelp, and throughout the internet; also 12 former customers who will now tell everyone they encounter to avoid the restaurant.

Is it the end of the road for this establishment? Probably not, but would they be better off today by forgiving the customers and making everything peaceful? Definitely. There are situations when customers are truly taking advantage, and you have to walk away, but your business needs to establish trust with your customers to become the business everyone loves. Especially today, where every upset customer can reach more people, faster than ever.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Domino's is rolling the dice

Domino's Pizza is taking a couple of big risks. First, the chain will change the recipe of its pizza from the crust up. Second, it will promote the change by gathering bloggers and others who have criticized the taste of their product, asking their opinion in a live tasting.

Can a major chain change the recipe of their product? According to Russell Weiner, marketing chief at Domino's, "We weren't winning against everyone at taste." One consultant cautioned, "It's like McDonald's changing the ingredients in the Big Mac. Risks are akin to Coca-Cola's change — undone after a fan revolt — in Coke's taste." While Coca-Cola failed to understand there is more to a brand than blind-taste-test preference, this assumption implies that Domino's customers are primarily concerned with the taste of the product.

Domino's ranks first in convenience and price. The delivery pizza industry has declined 6% over the past year, and Domino's feels the crunch. While some may believe that a recipe change is admitting that what the brand stood for was wrong, would you rather ride a sinking ship until you've drowned, or get that boat to dock and make repairs? The essence of Domino's brand is hot, convenient, and affordable. Why wouldn't they make an effort to add delicious to their brand?

The only risk I foresee is their challenge to get reaction from their critics. Asking for live feedback does have a chance of backfire. The bloggers could taste the new recipe, claim it's still not great. Honestly, what do they have to lose? The people who have a poor perception of the brand will have not changed, but if Domino's is confident with their recipe they could get those very people who advocate against their brand to give it a nod of endorsement. Sure, it's a bold chance they're taking, but one which could pay off for them.

It's not unprecedented for a chain to make recipe changes. Adding enhancements to your product helps gain new customers, and satisfy existing customers to keep them longer. Domino's enhanced their brand to include hot with the introduction of their heat-wave bags. No one will complain when their convenient, affordable pizza arrives hotter and more tasty.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Time to buy the stuffing

An antic from my past, that is a little late for Thanksgiving but ironically appropriate.

I worked for a foodservice company one autumn. The company excelled at tracking average use of products, but did not have any protocol or support for forecasting seasonal needs. This is bad news for a food item such as stuffing, which has more demand in one week than the other 51 weeks combined. Just days before the holiday, all the stuffing was sold out, and there was massive demand from upset customers.

It was a crisis, and it was about to be held very badly.

Rather than determine when the stuffing could arrive from suppliers, and how much demand would be remaining upon arrival, the merchandise manager simply ordered all the stuffing available. Unfortunately, even stale breadcrumbs have a best-by date, and they take up a lot of space in a busy warehouse.

In business we will face many crises, we can choose to take a deep breath, evaluate options, and minimize the damage; or we can make a quick over-reaction that will provide us a new set of problems.

  • - Did you run out of a key item in your store or restaurant? Don't just buy up everything you can get your hands on, make a plan.
  • - Get bad feedback from customers in a public forum? Don't try to discredit the commenter with "positive" comments. You'll make their opinion (and others) much worse.
  • - Try a promotion that didn't work out as planned? Think quick & carefully about what will rectify the situation rather than make it worse.

You need to act quickly, but quick does not mean without significant discussion and evaluation. Maybe it's time to call in some help to put a fresh perspective on the situation from someone not directly involved.

Just don't buy too much stuffing.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Social is the key word in "social media"

You go to a party and there is someone you haven't met before. This guy spends hours talking about how great he is, putting others down when their opinion is different than his, and even outright lying to make himself look better. I think we would all agree this is antisocial behavior, and this is exactly how many individuals and organizations handle their social media strategy.

There are many involved in antisocial media, they may even offer a few shallow incentives to get more friends, fans, and followers. But they never listen to those people who have agreed to be part of the conversation with them.

A couple tips to stay out of antisocial media:
  • - Offer your fans something without worrying what you are going to get in return. Whether it be advice, a discount, anything to be a resource. People know when they're being sold to, and would rather have someone being a resource than a salesperson.
  • - Be a part of the conversation, don't just use social media to advertise to everyone, it is a medium that requires being a part of the party.
  • - Know that you will be criticized, and train employees and other customers how to react to criticism. Never allow an employee to criticize those who comment on your blog or other pages. You cannot put out a fire with more fire. Reach out to the upset customer, and if there is no pleasing them, just let it go.
  • - Be human, a business is made up of people. Your customers are people. Everyone should be on the same level, rather than a hierarchy that puts the business on top. We rely on customers for our living, so they are just as much a part of the party as those who are hosting.
Think about others, and truly be their friend.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Clarification of "viral"

Since the Utah Flash fiasco continues to get as much media attention as a Tiger Woods family crisis, I thought I'd take a little more time on the concept of viral and the natural spread of word of mouth.

In a blog post apology, Brandt Anderson states,
"off the court we are going to embrace the fact we are a minor league team, and therefore do crazy fun promotion in the hope to get people talking about the team... If you were offended by the stunt I sincerely apologize. Good or bad I hope it got you talking."
In a statement to ESPN, he further stated:
"We wanted to test the strength and effectiveness of viral media by putting him (the impersonator) out in Provo with bodyguards, and some hype," he said. "I always assumed it would be uncovered very quickly that it was a hoax. I'm tremendously sorry for the way it came off. It was never intended to play out the way that it did"
The assumption in this entire situation was that viral=good. They believed that getting people talking about the team would be good, even if it was talking about a hoax.

How about we ask Motrin how awesome having an ad go "viral" can be? The "Motrin Moms" debacle caused a lot of pain for the company, and certainly did not leave a good taste in anyone's mouth.

How about Mel Gibson's famous rant? The video of his drunken rant went viral, and how has that worked for his career?

There is bad publicity. You don't want it for your business. If the general consensus of your target market is that you have done something wrong, then you have done something wrong. This is not a shock-factor marketing tactic like heavy-metal artists use to excite their target audience. When Marilyn Manson pisses off the Christian Coalition he is not trying to sell albums to them, he is selling albums to those who want to rebel against the moral majority.

A good viral campaign is when people are sharing their positive experience with others. A funny ad shown on TV or online that appeals enough to make people want to share it. A new product launched which finds evangelists telling everyone how much they love it. Viral is not planning a hoax or asking people to talk about something. That is fraud.

Motrin did not mean to upset thousands of mommy-bloggers. They stumbled accidentally into a bad situation. The Flash created this bad situation for themselves. Perhaps they hadn't considered the backlash, but it could have been easily avoided, and should have.

So what now? Continue to reach out the olive-branch to the public, apologize profusely, and mean it. Do not tangle at all with anything that could fuel the fire. Brandt Anderson has been openly accepting comments on his blog, and has addressed some of the concerns. Some of the comments may need to be moderated, and it's not the ones you may be thinking. It sometimes is better to delete those "defender" posts, the people who are supporting Anderson and calling the negative commenters idiots. Whether they are or not (and I am certainly not making the accusation) the public will believe these are shill comments from those involved with the organization.

Never, never, never, never post fake comments or reviews to attack criticism and bad publicity! Commenters who are taking your side are often more damaging than saying nothing at all. Once people suspect a shill there is very little that any official word from the organization can fix.

Stay classy, listen to your customers, and learn from your mistakes. Bad publicity is a virus, not a happy viral campaign.

No such thing as bad publicity?

I have sat in many meetings, having laughs about ideas that seem hysterical when proposed. These times are great for building teams, generating ideas, and loosening up everyone's stress levels. However, the ideas that have everyone laughing often need to die in the meeting.

We want our customers to be entertained, but we don't want them to be offended.

Now I am not one to avoid all risks, and there are situations when reaching your target audience may result in upsetting people outside of your target. Not in a blatant way, but messages cannot be perfectly safe for everyone. What I am talking about is sending out a message to customers that will back-fire. The old adage "there's no such thing as bad publicity" is a lie. Bad publicity can destroy a business.

Today's example comes from the Utah Flash, a professional development league basketball team who has a very enthusiastic owner. Looking at some of the activity he has been up to shows someone who is willing to take some risks and think outside of the box. More sports teams need to be like this. It is not a great time to be a sports-owner, as many markets simply cannot afford the big dollars to sell out stadiums at premium prices. I am not poking fun at the situation, rather showing how good intentions and enthusiastic marketing can lead us to bad decisions.

It all started with Bryon Russell calling out Michael Jordan, challenging him to a one-on-one match to show who was the better player. Sports commentators have been mocking this suggestion for months, but Utah Flash owner Brandt Anderson decided to capitalize on this media spectacle. They put a challenge to the hall of fame basketball player, and told fans of the plan to have a Jordan vs. Russell half-time show at the season opener.

While there were no definitive promises that Mr. Jordan would be there, the game sold out. There was also a staged "sighting" of the legendary player in the Provo area, where a look-a-like was dining with Men-In-Black security entourage by his side. At half-time it became obvious that there was to be no real Michael Jordan appearance, and many fans walked out.

Mr. Anderson posted an apology on his blog that evening, stating that the "challenge didn't go like any of us hoped." By Tuesday morning, there were 55 comments to the post, most critical of the stunt, and many demanding refunds. In reading the comments, it is apparent that many negative comments were deleted. Likely profanity-laden, and I do not condone Mr. Anderson for deleting that type of content from his blog, I would likely do the same in his position. The point is, this upset people. It did exactly the opposite of what a marketing person is responsible for doing. Just because something was risky, does not make it brilliant.

Great idea to propose the challenge. Get your name out there, participate in the world of sports entertainment. Had you approached Michael and he turned you down, you're not out anything for trying.

Great job of posting your blog apology. You didn't want thousands of angry fans. As you said, you wanted a season of fun. It was a bold move, that could have worked had there not been the outright deception.

Bad ideas: getting peoples' hopes up. You knew there would be no MJ, which is evident by the phony sighting. Think of this like any product, you can tell people about the attributes of your product, how it tastes, what it contains, what it can really do for customers. You cannot and should not imply something that is not going to happen. It is illegal. While there was not implicit promises that MJ would be there, and therefore you're not likely to be fined, sued, or otherwise punished, it is a bad road to walk along using deception.

Another bad idea: calling this "viral" marketing. Rather than the positive buzz-word that viral has become, people will be talking about this like it is a virus no one wants. You do not just want people talking about your product, you want to connect good-feelings with your product. No one ever got rich by selling the product no one wants.

My message to Brandt, please keep taking risks, be bold, and put the fun into sports. But get someone on your team who is a seasoned veteran at making people happy. My offer stands, I will take on the Utah Flash as a pro-bono client. No bait & switch, no strings, no hoax, and no imitators.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Freebie Friday: Not the Droids you're looking for

AT&T & Apple need to strike back at Verizon. As you may have gathered from my previous post, I don't believe the Wireless Wars will be won with vicious attacks but with smarter tactics to entertain and make people feel good. So how does a company go about fighting smarter? Who fights smarter than the Jedi?

My free advice for AT&T: Call George Lucas today to negotiate terms for an ad campaign using the most iconic sci-fi characters of all time.

Commercial 1: A group of storm troopers walk into a Verizon store. They survey the phones available, shake their heads disappointed. A Verizon employee approaches them to offer assistance.
"These are not the droids we're looking for."
Close with storm-troopers carrying iPhones, using various applications to locate the right droids, communicate with the Empire, and view tweets of the rebel alliance.

Commercial 2: A customer walks into a Verizon store which is entirely staffed with Sith lords. A customer is looking at a Motorolla Droid, explaining that he/she wants a phone that is effortless and provides thousands of reliable apps. The customer mentions wanting an app store that recommends apps based on interests and is easy to use. After a short discussion about what he/she wants from a phone, a Jedi knight approaches and waves his hand "these are not the droids you're looking for" and presents the customer with an iPhone.

That's my free ad campaign idea for you, AT&T. But feel free to send a check as a sign of thanks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

You've built a monster, please don't feed it

This is my open letter to Ted Gilvar - CMO of Monster.

Dear Ted, you've made it about 18 months in a big role and continue to have an even bigger challenge ahead of you. Unemployment is high, which means a couple of things. You have a lot of potential users who need your service. But, there are fewer opportunities for those people to find on your site. So what do you do when there are too many customers looking for too few products? You need to make it the best damn experience those people have ever had.

You've already built a monster, please don't feed it anymore.

As someone who has frequently utilized Monster and many other job search boards, we hate them. For the most part, job boards are just a necessary evil that we endure. Painfully gnashing our teeth and cringing as we type every letter of the URL. To be fair, Monster is infinitely better than CareerBuilder, and I do prefer it over HotJobs. But no one is getting excited to use your site.

We don't need any more advertising. We don't need clever promotions. We don't need banner ads, search ads, a social media presence, or interface updates. We don't need a logo redesign, website refresh, or anything like that. We need a brand we can trust.

Why does a marketing executive of over 10 years get search results for a "home health nurse," "finance & accounting manager," or "administrative assistant," all of which could be disastrous. But even worse, there are somewhere around 2,000 ways to say "door-to-door commission salesperson who will never earn $1" and you have them all wonderfully camouflaged as legitimate job listings that we have to sift through to find something that may even be remotely relevant to us.

I understand that you don't create the jobs, and there is a natural urge to not turn down money from advertisers. But a bit of quality control and categorization to help users find relevant jobs would make you the uncontested number one job site and make your brand the one and only household name anyone would ever think about using when they need a job. It is time to improve your product. It's called brand management. Make a product that people won't stop talking about. If every user was able to upload their resume, fill in a profile, and see nothing but relevant opportunities, hiring managers and candidates alike would love you forever.

You've got $250 million to spend. Certainly it would take a lot less than that to make it happen, and you'd never need to advertise again. It is time to improve the product in a big way. It's not as if we don't know what Monster is, we just don't want to use it.

Are consumers gaining power?

A report from the Chief Marketing Officer Council states that out of the 91% of consumers who opt-out or unsubscribe from email marketing, 46% are driven to brand defection because the messages simply are not relevant. Don't worry about those who unsubscribe? Perhaps you should be a bit concerned about those people who hit the unsubscribe button. They may be opting-in to your competition permanently.

A blog post from Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, provides additional interesting insight into the future if you read between the lines. Facebook originally created networks by region and school. While the community was small, this worked to achieve what people wanted. It connected those students who wanted a way to connect and communicate to others around them. Now that seemingly everyone is on Facebook, people do not necessarily want to share their information with their bosses, family, and advertisers. The connection of living in the same region is not necessarily relevant to all consumers.

What do these things have in common? Consumers exercising their voice to make real changes in new media. This is not a new concept, it is likely that consumers have been defecting due to irrelevant messages since the first time a cobbler hammered an advertisement on a lamp post. This puts some information in our hands that we need to use in communicating.

Traditional wisdom was to create a message and broadcast it to the largest number of people possible. It was known that not every person would react positively (make a purchase) to the communication, and only in the event of accidentally insulting people would that communication result in negative reactions. What this information shows is that a very large number of consumers may actually gain a preference for the competing brand if they feel your communications are irrelevant.

Putting it all together now. Facebook is an example that shows people want to communicate and belong to a community. They are willing to become "fans" of their favorite brands, join in discussion groups about products and services, but that does not mean they want to connect to everything. Consumers who actually opt-in to communications from a brand they use, then defect to a competitor because of irrelevant communications shows that what we say and do can have positive and negative effects. Even if the communication was simply an offer that was not relevant to that consumer.

What you say matters. A lot. It is not safe to assume that you can bombard people's inboxes, television sets, Facebook pages, Twitter streams, etc. with any message, as often as you want. People watching may not just unsubscribe or change the channel. You may be sending them right into the arms of your competition.

Every time you communicate with your customers, think carefully about what you want to say. Make an offer that people will appreciate. Be relevant.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Now with more juicy bits of orange

Several years ago I ran across a selection of orange juices. There was a pulp-free variety, one with added calcium, and a variety with "some pulp." All were priced the same, except for one that had the following label:

"Now with more juicy bits of orange!"

That variety was 75 cents more per gallon. Someone successfully was charging more for doing less because they took a negative sounding word and made it delicious. The word pulp is not pleasant sounding. But juicy bits of orange are downright tasty. Certainly most people would understand that juicy bits of orange are what they know as pulp, and those who are anti-pulp would avoid this variety, but there are people who like this product and they want something that sounds good.

Take a look at your products. What attributes are there that people enjoy, but you are selling short or failing to highlight at all? Shouldn't you get noticed for those benefits before your competitor comes along and sells the same attribute but gets more attention?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's all about making money

Car rides can be quite interesting with the children. Sing-a-longs, fighting about who is sitting too close, begging for Slurpees, and talking marketing. Today's revelation from my 6 year old daughter showed more insight than many professionals in the workplace.

"There is more commercial time on the radio because it is getting close to Christmas, and they need to sell more things to make money."

Yes, at 6 years old she was able to identify that commercial time is ramped up for the holiday season. Not an earth-shattering thought, but unique for someone that age to identify. But then it got really deep and interesting.

"I think the Shane Company sells fake diamonds, and that is how they are cheaper than other jewelry stores. Except for Walmart, but those are fake too."
You have been successful at getting attention, but has your advertising been too good to be true? I have bought from the Shane Company a couple of times, and was quite pleased with the overall experience. Low prices, friendly service, and honesty. I never felt pressured or looked down on for wanting to buy something less expensive. I wondered, if it is so pleasant to shop here, how do other jewelry stores exist in the face of this tremendous competition?

Quality jewelry at low prices is something we are trained to believe does not exist. The other jewelers I have experienced are masters of reinforcing that belief. High-pressure, poor service, and a feeling that you do not belong if you are trying to be frugal. The message sent by the industry is that you must spend several months of your income to make a decent gift.

I won't get involved in any debate over actual merits of jewelry, but my point is that a 6 year old can identify the purpose and effectivity of advertising. Your target customer is likely much more experienced than a child at making consumer decisions. Perhaps your advertising may be saying the wrong thing to potential customers, be it too pushy of frequency, or unbelievable claims that cause people to doubt your product.

Need help to communicate effectively? Drop a message for me, I'll even throw in a 6 year-olds advice for free.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why the line?

In-N-Out Burger(R) opens today in Draper, Utah. From the look of things you would believe they are giving away million dollar bills. People are camped out and lined up causing traffic problems. Everyone in Utah wants to be among the first to taste the legendary burgers.

Don't bring out the torches and pitchforks, but I may inadvertently (okay, maybe not so inadvertently) dispel the power of the legend. If you want to understand why all the hype, read on. If not, just know that I am not bashing on the success, but rather explaining the science behind a phenomenon.

For a number of years I drove past two locations of In-N-Out Burger morning and night. I have eaten at several locations, a number of times. The food is fresh, inexpensive, and served quickly. The locations are clean, attractive, and usually energetic. The same can also be said for many other fast-food restaurants across the world.

Looking at the quality claims made by In-N-Out reveal their use of 100% pure, high-quality beef. No fillers, additives, and preservatives. Is this much different from the competition? You may think so, but it isn't. In fact, there's another chain who does the same which may surprise you. I am not saying there is no difference between In-N-Out & the world's most famous clown, but there are many things the same.

So why does an In-N-Out grand opening result in people camping out? Excellent branding. They always have been privately owned, which allows them control of the brand, quality, and experience which their customers enjoy. The company also maintained their expansion within close proximity, most locations in California, and they have slowly spread to adjoining states where they could control the supply chain and properly manage each location. A great management strategy maintains quality, which extends a positive experience with the brand.

There are also several factors which affect the psychological connection with the legendary chain. Beginning in southern California, they had access to a large number of vacationers. People on vacation are pumped full of endorphins (technical way of saying they feel good) and that results in general enjoyment of most things, even waiting in lines at Disneyland to an extent. Vacationers come back with memories, which often included a visit to In-N-Out, which was an exciting and new burger to these people. Their excitement and bragging makes great word of mouth, thus a legend is born.

Choices are great, right? The more options you provide to your customers makes people feel special. But there is also much to be said about the In-N-Out menu, exclusivity shows confidence. Do you want a Double-Double, Cheeseburger, or Hamburger, and would you like fries with that. The lack of dozens of menu items tells people the food is so good, this is all you need.

Finally, the "not so secret menu" makes people feel like they are in a club. As previously mentioned, customers like choice. What they like even more than that is a feel of belonging. All these factors add up, and what happens is the making of a legendary brand. Even from something as simple as a common fast-food burger.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We don't want to hear from you

Companies have been communicating via e-mail for over a decade, so why do customers get so excited when they are contacted via twitter? Why do we crave companies with a social media presence? Because we are not used to getting a response, and we have been trained to believe email is a one-way street from companies.

One simple mistake:

First things first, if you email customers you need to dump the "Do not reply" addresses. Also, you must make it easy for customers to contact you, and you need to reply to them.

When a company has an active Twitter account or Facebook fan page, it makes them approachable and customers like to feel like they are on even ground with the company they do business with. When they see Do Not Reply in every email, the message they receive is "we want to talk at you, but will not listen if you have anything to say."

With that said, if your social media plan is just to "build a Facebook fan page" or get on twitter, please don't. Your plan should be how you plan to communicate with your customers. Not just set a page, and forget it. Customers will either learn that you don't listen there either, or they will just forget you are there.

Just like with all advertising and marketing, why spend money telling people about your company if your potential customers will just feel disappointed once they find you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Everyone says they hate it, but...

Spam is universally hated. Not only is it hated, despised, and otherwise frowned upon by everyone, but it is also the topic of a $712 million lawsuit. Facebook sued spammer Sanford Wallace and was awarded the second largest settlement in a spam case. The infamous "Spamford" as he is known was also fined $230 million in a case with MySpace last year.

So why are there so many spammers out there willing to take this risk? Because unfortunately, it works. As much as people claim to hate spam, they sure do make it valuable for the spam dealers. A recent investigation showed that pharmaceutical spam can generate more than $4,000 per day in sales.

Further, the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) reports that 52 percent of email users have clicked on spam, with 12 percent of those doing so "because they were actually interested in the product or service being offered." Think of how few people redeem coupons or act on legitimate emails from companies they subscribe to, and these are outstanding numbers. That level of response is enough to keep the spam industry in business.

So who are these rogues who open spam? Considering it is 52%, it must include people that you speak to and who you have heard complain about spam. Another example of people's behavior being counter to what they say.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Shhh, we're trying to get publicity

If you want people to talk about your business, you need to give them something to talk about. Seems pretty simple. However, some do not seem to understand this.

A recent example of this was seen on Twitter when Steve Murphy began his @Twakeup_Now campaign. On October 23 we began seeing tweets telling us to get ready to Twakeup on October 27. The tweets were coming from users around the country who were asked to help lead their community to this event. However, they were sworn to secrecy as to what the event was. Of course, this led to followers of these individuals to comment that they are tired of being spammed with Twakeup tweets.

No details and no hints as to the topic. When visiting the website only revealed a list of the people tweeting about Twakeup, called pod leaders. It may have created interest among some people, but many of the replies I saw were just of annoyance and questioning the "pod leader" what they were talking about.

Remember, spam is something unwanted by the reader. Twitter followers will always find topics they know nothing about to be spam, especially if there is no method to find out what is being talked about.

Four days later, it is revealed that Twakeup is a fundraiser for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Great cause, but a few fatal flaws in this campaign. The biggest, if your intent is to raise money for a charitable cause, why not just reveal that on October 23 when the Twitter account is created and website put up? Even if the infrastructure had not been created to accept donation on the website, you will get more attention if you tell people what to expect.

Most would not call a awareness to support cancer research spam, but when they do not know what @Twakeup_Now is, it is just spam.

Keeping the intent quiet for four days simply does the opposite of what is desired. Instead of getting people excited for the event and making the general public want to be a part of it, these individuals frustrated their followers and failed to capitalize on building word of mouth. People will talk about your product, if you tell them what it is. Keeping secrets from the public will not help build momentum.

By the end of the first day, they tweeted that they were almost to $1000. Four days later, the tweets revealed that bigger donations were coming in and they were up to $5000. Had Mr. Murphy been up-front to the public about the intentions of Twakeup_Now, that first day may have brought in bigger donations and they would not have had to wait for four days to get to $5000. The potential was there, but he stunted the potential to make Twakeup even more effective. Lesson here, if you want people to be aware of your product, get it out there as soon as possible. Don't keep it a secret and hope people will become interested in mystery meat.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Demographics, useless to marketers?

As we gain more insight into consumers we find that many of the age-related assumptions we made in the past are incorrect. Apparently there are people in their 60s who love candy, just like those who are only 6 years old. Just as there are bloggers and Facebook users who are in their teens, as well as those who are grandparents to teens.

There is value to knowing who your consumers are, but the typical "demographics" research typically falls short of drawing important correlation to who consumers are, and what motivates them to buy. Does being 32 lead someone to purchase Crest toothpaste versus Colgate? Moreover, some demographic categorizations do not even make sense. 18-49 is often used to describe a consumer group. Aside from "people who most likely have jobs" this age range has very little in common simply because they are within an age group. Of course you will find 18 year olds who buy the same products at the same store of 49 year olds. How does that help you better position your product?

There are times when an age group is an important factor to consider. The important thing to remember is to question those demographics rather than jumping to a conclusion and alienating your customers because someone showed you a statistic.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Small business doesn't get social media

Small business does not find value in social media. Does this mean there's no value, or simply that many small business owners (or large businesses for that matter) just don't understand how to use it?

According to a recent poll by Citibank / GfK Roper survey of 500 small business executives across the United States, 76% have not found social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to be helpful in generating business leads or for expanding their business during the last year, while 86% say they have not used social networking sites to get business advice or information. Maria Veltre, Executive Vice President of Citi's Small Business Segment, concludes "... small business owners are still feeling their way into social media... many... may not have the manpower or the time required take advantage of them." This is the bottom line, it is about the time and manpower rather than a reflection of the media.

If a business bought television advertisements at 3 am, and did not see a return, does that mean TV advertising is worthless?

What if an advertisement was run in print newspapers and magazines, but the company forgot to put contact information in the ad? Does that make print ineffective?

These examples may seem obvious to many, but that is because this media has been around for a long time and we have gotten used to what works and what does not.

Social media is something that takes time to understand, and most small businesses do not have a lot of time to devote to learning and connecting in this user-generated media. There is value, it will just take some education on the media, and time to connect with your community. Furthermore, if small businesses turn to social media for advice they are connecting with the people who matter most: the customer. This is why so many businesses fail, they are trying to interpret business advice from Forbes magazine rather than connecting with the people who will keep them in business. You will never find the secret to success published in a book, magazine, or newspaper. The secret to success is listening to your consumers.

Nothing just happens for free, that's why it is called work.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hitting where it hurts, there's an app for that

Part of me wanted to applaud the new ad campaign by Verizon Wireless, "There's a map for that" but then I saw the end of the commercial. The part that has prompted a lawsuit by AT&T, in which they show a map of AT&T's 3G coverage. The graphical display of the two providers' 3G coverage area is shocking, and although Verizon states that it represents AT&T's 3G areas specifically, AT&T feels that customers believe there is no wireless coverage in the white area.
The lawsuit requests an emergency injunction to stop the ads and claims significant losses of market share and goodwill, prohibiting them from competing. It is true that customers can be easily confused with the technical differences between having 3G coverage, and having slower wireless coverage. What matters is what the public believes, and AT&T polled many customers who were indeed under the impression that there was no coverage.

The Verizon commercial was upbeat and positive, and sold benefits of their available smartphones and superior 3G coverage. It should have left it at that. While Verizon technically did nothing wrong, it is an accurate map, directly attacking their rival was not a necessary maneuver and could cause problems for them. It is usually wise to keep your hits above the belt, even when you have a knock-out punch ready to deliver. In business, your competitor can hit back with the legal system.

The bigger the company, the bigger the blunder

Toyota stumbled into a mess with a launch of their new 4-Runner website. (I imagine this site link will soon be broken, since they're going to need to rectify the situation). To set the mood of wildlife for their SUV brand, they looked to photographers on Flickr to provide photography for the microsite. They found several great photographs which were used, unfortunately they never asked the photographers for permission.

Michael Calanan (a talented photographer & friend) posted his concern on Twitter the evening of Tuesday, November 3. The conversation towards @Toyota must have got their attention, as they promptly tweeted Wednesday morning to the photographers involved.

This is why your company needs an experienced marketer on staff. Real marketing directors have an understanding of intellectual property laws. Photographs, fonts, illustrations, and other design elements found online are not free for you to use, especially for commercial purposes. Further, marketing personnel are meant to understand consumers. First and foremost, the responsibility of marketing is to know what motivates people, and how they will react. Not knowing that professional photographers would certainly notice the increased traffic on their Flickr pages, and be upset about someone using their work without contacting them is a fatal mistake. If they fail to understand this, do they understand what Toyota customers actually want from their vehicle? There may not be a correlation, but it begs to be asked.

If I was to guess, I would say it was not malicious intent of Toyota to steal these photographer's work, but was a lack of intellectual property understanding. That does not excuse what they have done. Ignorance of the law is not a valid defense. Whether you are a multi-billion dollar company, or a small boutique, you need to respect the property rights of others. If you are unsure of what you can or cannot do, ask for help from a real expert.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Will you pay for an online newspaper subscription?

I am actually not going to enter the debate over whether newspapers should or should not charge for access to their online material. In the end, some will, while others will not.

Online subscriptions will provide revenue for some newspaper companies. The restriction of access will cause some newspapers financial grief.

What I will say is this, if the management of a newspaper company is too preoccupied with this decision of whether to charge or not, they will fail.

Why will people pay for information from one source versus another? Content and reputation. Otherwise known as their brand. If we know the brand of the news source represents the very best information, and what they provide enhances our lives, we will pay. But if your paper is just kicking out basic information that was covered by a dozen other sources, you lose.

Rather than debating "do we charge, or don't we," it is time to evaluate how your media source is different and what value can you provide the readers that they cannot get elsewhere. When you have a valuable, trusted brand, you can more easily find your income.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Did I ask to be spammed?

There are a lot of ways to connect with your customers, they can be a fan on Facebook, follow you on Twitter, or even the classic opt-in to receive email updates. The important thing is knowing what to do with those customers once you have them. How do you communicate with them, how often, what do you say? These are even more important than the campaigns to attract the customers to opt-in to your marketing efforts. Not only because of "unfollows" and unsubscribing, but the long-term damage to your brand.

Open your email anytime and it is sure to have a message or two that you simply do not find useful. All too often though, there are companies sending messages that make you ask, "did I ask to be spammed?" I like to have updates from the brands I use, it is helpful, helps me remember what is going on, and hopefully provides monetary benefits to being one of the customers who is on the list.

Take a look at the messages you are sending your customers. Ask yourself honestly, does the content represent a significant value to them, or to you? Most of the time we will find that the message is more about us than the customer. This will often result in the customer feeling we are just providing spam.

You may not see that perception from the number of lost fans or customers leaving your mailing list. Many will just ignore, delete without reading, or hit the "mark as spam" button on their email program. So it is always important to remember who keeps you in business and put yourself in their shoes. Your brand reputation depends on it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do I intervene?

Funny how the human brain works, isn't it. For some reason I just thought about an experience from just over a year ago.

I was trying a new restaurant with some friends. We lived out in a remote suburb, and it was exciting when something new opened that was not a franchise chain. The menu was quite eclectic, southwest fusion and gelato. Big rewards for creativity and focus on some of the hot food trends of the time. The woman helping us made mention of the owners having a meeting that night. There were six individuals at a table, having big ideas and discussions about marketing tactics.

I really could not help overhearing their discussion. It was a small dining room and they were pretty loud. As they discussed their ideas I just sat there nodding in disappointment. My friends could see what I was thinking, and said I needed to drop them my name and offer to help. I thought that would be a bit presumptuous of me to interject and try to tell them their ideas were money traps that would not make a difference in their business.

The meal was predictable. Not bad by any means, but didn't offer much of a compelling reason to come back. Within a few months they had gone out of business.

What would you have done? If you were a small business owner, do you want someone to politely interject and offer ideas?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Listen to your customers - but not that way

You need to be listening to your customers. Success is that simple, as long as you remember what to do once you have heard them. A business also needs to acknowledge what their purpose is, to provide for, solve, or otherwise make our consumer's life better. Why else would they part with their money if your business did not provide something of value to them? We need to listen to our customers, but if we are not the experts who solve the problem, rather simply facilitating the literal translation of what they asked for, why would they need us?

Henry Ford once said, "if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." Asking a customer exactly what product they want will not yield the innovation that will make you the market leader. You need to listen to your customer's goals, desires, and aspirations to develop a product that they did not know they needed.

Focus groups and other consumer feedback help us understand what is important to people. However, as Ford learned with Edsel, consumers all loved the features of the car but that did not turn into an overwhelming success. In fact, despite the consumer feedback, Edsel is often referred to as a colossal failure. Where Ford went wrong was determining what was most important to the consumers, which was a more affordable car.

Coca-Cola made a similar mistake with a cola formula that was preferred in most taste tests. Despite the positive reaction they received in blind-tasting results, New Coke became a disaster for the company.

Conversely, Dietrich Mateschitz hired a market research firm to test his new soft-drink and received bad news. "People didn't believe the taste, the logo, the brand name." But he launched his drink anyway and Red Bull has been a tremendous success.

The lesson is, if you present product options to consumers, they will pick what they are familiar with. This is not because they are uncreative or resistant to change, but that they have to base their opinions on what they know. It's your job to introduce them to the next thing they will want.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Does the type matter?

Typophiles have been up in arms over a furniture retailer and its choice of typeface. If you're missing the controversy, type "verdana" into Google to see how much talk is circulating about Ikea's choice of fonts for their new catalog and in-store signs.

If you're not familiar with the typeface, Verdana is a font developed for easy on-screen reading at very small size. It's not an attractive typeface, and immediately drew massive criticism by designers, marketers, and type developers.

Ikea, please get rid of Verdana.

But according to Ikea spokesperson Camilla Meiby, "We're surprised. But I think it's mainly experts who have expressed their views, people who are interested in fonts. I don't think the broad public is that interested."

True, designers, typophiles, and marketing experts will know why they do not like this move, but just because the general public does not know what the typeface is does not mean their opinion does not matter. By the end of the week I began seeing comments on Twitter from people who visited Ikea and mentioned the signs in the store were unpleasant.

According to the AP, Ikea said that in order to reach many people in many different ways, it needed a font that works in both digital and print media. Read between the lines and we see the novice brand management mistake that nearly every marketing firm makes. The belief that design consistency is brand management. While it is important to have consistent elements to your brand design, it is your product (which includes customer experience) that matters most. Put another way, Ikea was more concerned with a consistent use of a typeface rather than asking their customers what they like.

Does typeface matter? Yes. Your printed materials need to be pleasant to the consumer. First & foremost, your customers need to be happy. There are elements of your design that should be consistent so that customers make the connection and feel the trust you have established with your brand. But getting wrapped up about the ease of website text and trying to make it consistent across all mediums is ignoring aesthetics.

Just because your customers are not graphic designers, does not mean their tastes don't matter. Never underestimate your customers.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Social technology, antisocial?

The darling of story of editorial writers lately seems to be the criticism of Facebook, Twitter, SMS messaging, and similar technology that is supposedly filtering people from actual interaction.

The Wall Street Journal reports on how Facebook Can Ruin Your Friendships, while USA Today publishes the story that Twitter haters see no point in tweeting. Reporters and bloggers discuss how people are increasingly hiding behind their computers and cell phones to avoid personal contact. Does this happen? Most likely. Is it the norm? I would disagree that we're facing an epidemic of antisocial behavior.

If Facebook and other communication tools are filtering you from human interaction, you're doing it wrong.

Since I began using Twitter, I have met many interesting people that I spend time with regularly "in real-life." I have made business connections, met clients, and made lasting friendships. I will admit that I don't chat frequently to all my Facebook friends, but to be honest I can sometimes be a bad friend and neglect people. My fault, not Facebook's. The point is, these are communications tools that should be used to improve communication rather than replace human contact. If you don't find them helpful then it is either not your audience on that site, or it is a tool outside of your comfort zone. Either way, don't blame the media.

Think of these as channels on television. Not every channel works for every person. That doesn't make the content on that channel worthless, just not relevant for the user who doesn't enjoy that programming. Is it really a news story that journalist John Doe thinks Facebook, or Comedy Central pointless? Surely there are more important and/or entertaining things to talk about.

These tools can be used to enhance social interaction and increase face to face time. Try to make the most of your interactions.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Istanbul, not Constantinople

I've been debating where to write this post. Is it politics? is it branding? It's both, but ultimately it puts me on my branding soap box to point out that many "marketers" have no clue what a brand actually is.

Throughout history there have been several nations, cities, and other geographical locations which have changed their names. Most of which have had to do with a change of government structure or independence from a former ruling nation. Little known fact to the citizens of South Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas is that former Salt Lake City mayor Deedee Corradini seized control of South Salt Lake during her term and controlled it as a puppet city. Rocky Anderson continued this oppression over the neighboring city for an additional 8 years, depleting it of its natural resources and using its prosperity for the benefit of the master city.

When South Salt Lake finally gained its sovereignty in 2009 it decided that a name change was necessary to raise the spirits of the formerly oppressed city. No longer would they be the plaything of that oppressive Salt Lake City...

Don't believe the story? You shouldn't. But it is only as outregeous as the city hiring a marketing firm and wanting to rename itself to improve its image and strive for future prosperity. The project could cost the small city of approximately 22,000 people $6500-$600,000 to complete the name change. Steve Aste, a developer whose Market Station development is on hold for financial reasons, even suggested that city hall be relocated to create a more downtown feel.

All of this talk about big spending while the city is trying to balance its 2009-2010 budget and cannot provide raises to its employees. Sounds like the right time for useless wasting of the public's tax dollars, right? Since they seem to have money just sitting around in this extremely prosperous city.

I am not insulting the economic plight of the residents of South Salt Lake, it is unfortunate that this happens to be an area plagued with poverty and crime. The point is that a city's leadership should not be looking at ridiculous temporary marketing antics rather than solving the problem which is South Salt Lake City's brand. The brand is not the name, changing the name to New Millcreek or any other sweet-sounding moniker is not going to end the crime. It will not provide prosperity to its residents and make everyone wealthy enough to tear down their old homes and allow Ivory Homes to rebuild the city to become North Draper.

The real brand work is to help the city reach its potential of being a perfectly located suburb of a busy downtown Salt Lake City. Spend the time and money on encouraging modest affordable housing to fill the empty lots and shopping centers. Provide grants to unique small businesses that can add character and prosperity to the neighborhood. Clean up the blighted areas and provide playgrounds where families can feel safe. Help the residents who live there overcome the crime and poverty.

South Salt Lake has a prime location to be a great city. But the "leadership" needs real strategies on how to make the South Salt Lake brand great, not paint a new name on the city that will still be known as the bad part of Salt Lake County.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sci-Fi catches syphilis

Okay, so the Sci-Fi Channel didn't really catch syphilis, but it did catch an equally horrible disease: Marketing Myopia.
There are very few reasons to change a brand name, most of which revolve around having such a poor public opinion of your brand that customers will not trust you. In the case of Sci-Fi Channel, I don't believe their viewers were running away from the station.

No, the powers that be wanted a name that they could trademark. Sci-Fi is a generic term that refers to the genre, and therefore they cannot trademark "Sci-Fi." Also, their programming has always been more than just science fiction, so they wanted something that was not so limiting in perception. The first point, ownership, is a nonsense reason to pursue a name change. They had legal protection for the name "Sci-Fi Channel" and the related logo. Now, I can give them a little credit on the second point. It is important for customers to hear your name and instantly know what it stands for.

But here is the problem, their customers already knew what to expect from them. Brand equity existed with the old name, and ultimately it made sense. Not everyone on earth strictly defines science fiction the same way. There was no need to change the name to broaden their scope. Even if the argument was to attract new viewers, what is the sound they will hear? It still is pronounced the same, but now they have lost the inherint definition of what viewers can expect from the channel.

What has the name change accomplished? Likely made some design firm money to design the logo and change their collateral material, added confusion, and gave their loyal customers a reason to have a grudge against them.

Fiscal irresponsibility and angering customers. Hmm, isn't that the opposite of what marketers should be doing for their firm?

For a great counterpoint in support of the name change, read SUb's post on Why Syfy is a Good Idea.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Twitter fail? Let's see how they handle a brand disaster

Twitter Blog: Small Settings Update
The platform that helped facebook users rise up against changes in their epic "Terms of Service" debacle has made a ridiculous change that is upsetting users. 

So, let's see if @biz pays attention to his customers and reverses this position. Or is Twitter suffering from the myopia that they have some magical ability to know everything without their biggest customers' input.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Poisoning the well

I wanted to mention this because it is a topic most near and dear to my heart. Seth Godin mentions the growing frustration of customers to marketing tactics.

Irresponsible, unqualified, and ignorant marketers believe everything is about the noise they make. They just want to be heard about. What does it matter that you're heard of, if no one knows why they hear about you?

It's about value.

Most marketing tactics are missing the value in their message, and that is why customers are frustrated. They're being victims of the hard-sell, rather than informed of the benefits of the product. The well is poisoned, and now everyone is scared to drink from it. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In your!

Can Facebook be the Twitter killer? Recent changes have suggested that is the new direction for the popular social networking site. Tweetdeck users can even combine their friend's status updates with their twitter stream. But is this a good thing? Is Twitter being killed?


First, they are different products. Facebook grew as the safer, cleaner alternative to MySpace. It started slow, with an emphasis on privacy. Originally restricted to college students, it still maintains more privacy as you have to be a member of Facebook to browse the users. Advertisements are minimal, and the primary use of the service was communicating to your friends. 

Along came "social media marketers" who embraced the platform, speak loudly, and gather thousands of "friends." This is not inherently a bad thing, as people are still opting in who they consider to be a "friend" and has access to their family pictures and conversations on the wall. The downside to this, is the death of what a friend is on Facebook, which slowly whithers away the engagement that people have with the service. When they are no longer communicating with their close friends, Facebook is losing that valuable data they can mine.

But recent months have shown that Facebook is more concerned with making a more public service, and reaching out for devices that investors and advertisers love, yet users do not. There was the change in the Terms of Service which ignited outrage among users who spoke loud and clear "change this back, or delete my account!" Rest assured that they have only reversed that policy to think of an easier way to introduce it so people will not resist.

Now, the most recent change was not just a design change, but an entire usability and focus change which makes Facebook look more like... Twitter. Also, speculations of search tools and other "enhancements" meant to more closely mimic Twitter are showing the likely future. Add to that, the overwhelming noise going on with the countless apps and you see this:

The Social Media experts are quick to point out that users can block apps, and customize the information that comes through your news feed, but the point is that people used Facebook because it was easier than e-mailing and keeping a personal web page. They do not want work.

The outrage is sure to keep stirring as Facebook plans more monetization, and less user enhancements. Is Mark Zuckerberg concerned with the customer base being unhappy? No, he has actually said that companies who listen to their customers are stupid

So what's the score? Privacy: disappearing. User base: increasingly upset. CEO: doesn't care.
That doesn't sound like an up-and-coming market leader.

Facebook sold itself to the 185+ million users as one thing, and is now trying to convert those people over to something else. Good luck. This brings us to what Facebook seems to want to be: Twitter.

Twitter has never sold itself as a place for privacy. It is near digital anarchy. But that is exactly what their user base seems to want. It is helpful to many because of the engaged real-time user base is always talking. Simply, they are different products. Facebook is still growing subscribers, but users are tending to be less engaged with the service. In the meantime, Twitter is growing quickly, and their users simply do not shut up. Twitter has a very high engagement. One of the best comparisons I have seen about these two services:

Am I saying that Facebook will fail soon, and Twitter will take over? No. Facebook will continue to exist in some form or fashion, but what will be missing as they continue down their current path will be the engagement of the users. They will survive, but they will never be Twitter.

Twitter, providing they can maintain funding, will continue to grow and evolve. The future is wide open to them because they have never claimed to be something they are not. The user base is highly engaged, and has been guiding them to be the service they want it to be. 

If you call yourself a marketer, you must remember first and foremost: It's all about the brand/customer relationship.

Monday, March 23, 2009

From the "What the Hell?" file - a success

Every once in a while there is an ad campaign that makes us say, "what the hell?" Who am I kidding, this is more often than not. Most of these are a complete disappointment and have absolutely nothing to do with the product. But the latest activity from Kelloggs Corn Pops gives you a "what the hell?" moment followed by a cleverly worded product endorsement.

Kudos to you Kelloggs, keep up the fun work.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Skittles - Anarchy marketing?

So much chatter about a move by the Skittles marketing team to fully engage themselves in the social media universe. But does it really matter? Outside of the handful of us marketing professionals and twitter addicts, has Mars really added any value to the Skittles brand?

First, I must point out that this is not a "bold brand move" for Skittles. In fact it has nothing to do with branding. Brand is building familiarity, recognition, comfort, and engagement with a product. The current actions are a marketing gimmick. While there is a demonstration that the brand does have legs to stand on, and the display of some fan's engagement gives testimony to the brand power, this act in itself is not a bold brand move. 

So Skittles made their homepage a Twitter search, then a Facebook fan page, then Wikipedia entry about Skittles, then a YouTube page... So what? Other brands are utilizing these things, yet maintain a rich web site with value adding content from the people who tell the message the way it should be told, the brand management team. No F-words, no mystery content, no age-verification to keep away the children. Which really is the biggest loss in all of this, they've abandoned the largest audience that can tolerate eating Skittles. 

Will any of this activity hurt the Skittles brand in the long-term. It's not likely. Just like Coca-Cola, Budweiser, or any other mega-brand can afford to take a chance on a losing ad campaign occasionally, this just gets chalked up as another marketing tactic and they take what they can from it. The real measure will be in whether they use that attention and testing to make positive strides with their sales efforts.

But please, don't call it branding.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Be a leader, not a drunk

"I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support rather than illumination"

- David Ogilvy

While research is helpful, there is a limit to it as it is simply information of the past. Marketers must be able to make decisions for the future. A marketer must be a leader.