Monday, September 13, 2010

Intent and Behavioral Targeting

Can I change the ads?

An interesting by-product of behavioral targeting (BT) is that I get a lot of ads from the same industry.   Over the last couple of years I've worked with clients in the education space - particularly around graduate degrees from for-profit institutions.    The side-effect: I see a tremendous disproportionate number of ads from the likes of GCU, Western Governors, etc. whenever I surf for interesting news stories. 

It seems that a weakness of BT is that just because I visited a site it doesn't mean I'm interested in buying the product.  There are numerous reasons to visit a site and only some relate to the purpose of display ads - driving traffic.  Since I rarely (never?) go to the "Apply Now" pages and only review course descriptions the systems should infer my intent as something other than a prospective student. 

I wonder what ads I've been missing. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Branding, Content and Segmentation

Is there a single voice?

We often talk about using a single voice and message as a means of conveying a brand to an audience.  This recommendation is based on the argument that we do not want to create dissonance and confuse the market with various and conflicting messages.  But what happens when there are several potential segments, each with their own view of the world and needs?  As an example, education deals with a very diverse set of segments, even within the same degree program. 

So, let's revisit the question:  How do we portray ourselves to different segments?

Creating different brand promises is not the answer.  All great brands have a single point of view or essence; often defining the category.  They own one and only one idea, e.g. Red Bull is the "energy drink." There are few brands that mean radically different things to different groups - Yamaha being a successful example in pianos and motorcycles.  

Audience segments are often described in terms of demographics and lifestyles.  But there is another potential dimension to explore: need.   What underlying benefit does a degree provide?  Is it skills to do something or is it a sense of accomplishment or is it fulfilling a life-long dream?   If we can get a prospect to talk about their vision of the future then we can better understand why they go back to or continue school.   If these views can be reduced to a small set of outcomes then a new possibility arises for developing content: Write the content in a way that reflects the underlying need.  Two really simple examples to illustrate the point:

Skills: describe the practical tools they gain; expertise of faculty
Achievement: provide job and career options; testimonials of successful placements

In this day of landing page optimization and dynamic key word insertion it isn't hard to envision an environment that works more like face-to-face selling.  By sensing what is important to prospects and responding with appropriate content we might be able to improve conversion. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Match Making in Edu

Can we redesign a match-making service for education?

In "Fiddler on the Roof" Hodel sings about match-making:

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
catch me a catch
Matchmaker, Matchmaker
Look through your book, 
and make me a perfect match. 

In some ways lead generation vendors in the education space think they're a modern day Yenta (the match maker in Fiddler) by offering site visitors a matching service.  With a few exceptions this is pretty much a smoke screen and gimmick.  If anyone has looked at the form that prospects fill out it is pretty easy to see that there isn't much to go on.  Contact information and year of graduation just isn't very good to pick an institution.  How'd you like to be served up a list of cars to choose from based on the same information?  

To make matters worse for the prospect, many options run with caps so when a school hits a budget goal for the month the spigot is turned off.  What other high-consideration industry turns away potential customers just because the quota is full?

There are a couple of additional issues relevant in this day and age.
  1. Where is the personality, values and brand connection?
  2. Where is the ability to compare and contrast? 
  3. Just what do the myriad of degrees and specialties actually mean?
The match maker's book Hodel referred to contained all the attributes, characteristics, and family history of individuals.   It was meant to provide introductions that would lead to a true and lasting marriage.  So, if Yenta were to enter the edu lead generation space today what dimensions would her match making service be based on?  Here's my top three:
  1. Compatibility is based on alignment.  If the key values of an institution don't match with a prospect's the outcome is predictable - "it was not a good fit".  These values are often best communicated by the deans of various Schools or Colleges whose vision and passion creates a connection.
  2. Satisfaction is based on fulfillment.  With the rapid proliferation of degrees, specialties and courses it is increasingly difficult for prospects to understand which option is appropriate.   "What will I learn?" and "How can I use it?" remain questions. 
  3. Success is based on the delivery of a benefit.  Whether the goal is an introduction to Fortune 20 CEOs or reinforcing the belief that "I can change things, even if I'm not in charge" an institution must understand what the metrics of success are.  (Hint: it is not really a career or better job.)
If dimensions of compatibility sounds a bit like eHarmony, that is intentional.   We're currently working with their former CTO Marcus Trevisani of Semantic Systems to create a better 'matching' experience for education prospects.  

Just need to find a better word than 'match'; that's been abused.   

Friday, June 25, 2010

Job Swap: Education and B2B Marketing

Why should education institutions hire B2B marketers?

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to write two guest posts recently.  The first was for myUsearch and focused on battling the sameness of branding and admissions marketing in the education space.   The second was for Content Marketing Institute that offered a way of segmenting prospects based on their need state using the B2B market as an example.

The education piece argued that the 'sameness' of their marketing reduces colleges and universities to the lowest common denominators of cost and convenience - not a position many schools actually want, nor where they can actually survive.  The B2B piece suggested that at any point in time prospects are in one of several need states with respect to a given problem, e.g. think of a pain as being latent, chronic or acute.   

Since both markets consist of high-consideration products where the decisions are made by a very social group there could be some complementary thinking.  What would B2B marketers bring to education?

The best B2B companies, and particularly technology-focused ones, identify or create the category they want to dominate and compete in.  They are often experts at setting the rules that establish how their offerings are perceived.  'Industry leading', while over used, does reflect an understanding that it is critical to know what category prospects put them in.   In comparison, education institutions rarely can articulate the category in which they compete.  Instead they rely on a mantra of 'education is good for your career'.  True, but not very helpful - it is like saying 'shampoo gets your hair clean' or 'cars are safe'.  There is no attempt to differentiate nor is there an equivalent to "industry leading" and there should be.

In addition, while educational institutions have a brand that would make most B2B firms envious they often treat all their prospects as if they're all on the same time frame.  If the prospect doesn't apply and enroll within 60 days they are often relegated to the rehash or forgotten bin.  In contrast, B2B understands the value of nurturing because not everyone is ready right now.  The marketing objective is often to raise a pain to level of where action is taken - and this takes time.  Nowhere is this more important to understand than in the marketing of Master's degrees. 

So, the next time you need a marketer with a fresh perspective for the edu space look no further than the B2B sector.  

Monday, June 21, 2010

Separate Marketing of Master's Degrees from the Rest

Should we continue to market the vertical stack of degrees?

For any given month, they say there are 2 million leads and 100,000 people who will enroll - for a 5% conversion rate. 

The historic thinking for growth has been to increase the payout and buy more leads, this in turn funded the tactics used to grow the size of the pool.  The usual focus was on acquisition and taking one's fair share of the conversions.   But at some point, either the increasing cost per lead or a slower growth rate suggests that we need to think about converting more than our fair share.  

If we take the point of view that in a given month there are a fixed number of people who will enroll, then the question becomes: How do we differentiate ourselves in order to grow? Some suggestions.
  1. Brand - Be known for something - there is simply too much sameness across institutions making it difficult to break out the mold.
  2. Message - Move beyond 'ease, convenience, and cost' - there are segments of the market where more specific messages and benefits work well.
  3. Proof Points - Targeted content - augment the good strides in identifying specific niche groups of potential students with customized content for each program segment combination.
For Master's degrees these suggestion take on more importance for two reasons.  First, conversion rate is much lower than the 5% average cited above.   Second, this audience researches their options fairly heavily over a period of time.   This combination suggests a distinct approach and possibly a dedicated team to service this growing segment.

Like many other categories, fragmentation is coming to education - I think it is time to adapt our marketing accordingly. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Five Easy Pieces: Ideas for Marketing Education

What were we thinking?

Walking around the Career College Association convention we had an iPad with a number of short presentations.  They were ways to engage in discussion around some fresh ideas we've been working with and sharing with clients.   Here is a brief summary and links to individual posts where the presentation can be found.  

  • Positioning Programs - a way to look at individual programs based on how graduates intend to use their degrees.
  • Leveraging the Curriculum - thoughts on how the course catalog can be used to battle 'sameness' and differentiate a program in prospecting, admissions and remarketing.
  • Marketing by Degree - a look at the emotional needs of prospects across levels of education and by interest stage. Fragmentation is only going to continue.
  • Organizing an FAQ - there are a 1,000+ questions prospects have.  Here's a simple suggestion on  a way to organize content to answer them.
  • Syllabus-Week - Master's degree seekers are different, they need to compare and think.  This one is an idea for creating a consumer-facing site where prospects are matched with faculty and programs.
ps - the iPad is a great way to give presentations in small groups.

Leveraging the Curriculum

How can we better use the course catalog?

Battling Sameness. Once the big three questions are answered (financing, timing, and credit transfer) prospects end up with several schools in their consideration set. And as Seth Godin argues, they all look pretty much the same at this point and it is up to the sales skills of admissions to turn interest into enrollment. Courses and faculty can help make the difference.

In prospecting, conversion and remarketing curriculum-based content can help meet objectives.

Key Message: free the course catalog from the shackles of a 19th century document to help differentiate your programs.

This is the second of Five Easy Pieces

Positioning Programs Based on Outcome

How do we use a degree to get a job?

Differentiation. We all make the claim that an education leads to a better career. But exactly how does that work? This presentation provides an answer to the question "How Do Prospects Use a Degree?" When a competitive set of programs are plotted according to the specialty of the curriculum and the specialty of the institution four different segments are created.

Key Message: prospects choose a program based on how they expect it to help them.

This is the first of Five Easy Pieces

Marketing by Degree

How do emotional appeals vary by degree level?

Fragmentation. All categories splinter into sub-categories, each with its own strategy, audience and market leaders. Eduction is no different. However, all too often the same approach is applied to both the level of degree (Associate, Bachelor, and Master's) and stage of the relationship (inquiry, admissions, and remarketing.)

A simple framework looking at the needs of prospects is provided to help refine and improve creative plans.

Key Message: segment by degree and stage as you develop marketing campaigns

This is the third of Five Easy Pieces

Organizing the Myriad of Questions

What three folders of content do we need?

FAQs. Like any high-consideration product, education spawns 1,000+ questions from prospects. To ensure that they are all adequately planned for this presentation introduces a simple way for organizing your content..

All prospect questions can be reduced to three topics:
  • Program - Institutional
  • Placement - Career or job centric
  • People - Social

Key Message: build out a content library around the 3 Ps of education marketing: Program, Placement, and People.

The fourth of Five Easy Pieces

Marketing Master's Degrees with the Syllabus

How can we use Syllabus-Week as a recruiting tool?

They are Different. All the research, both real and anecdotal, suggests that people seeking Master's degrees don't think or behave like other prospects. They tend to be more deliberate in their process and often have a longer time horizon. If Master's Degrees weren't the new black maybe we could get by with traditional marketing. But this sector is one of the most attractive segments to focus on.

Maybe what the industry needs is a comparative shopping engine or matching program that focuses on the prospect's decision-making process.

Key Message: facilitate the natural tendency of Master's seekers to compare programs.

The fifth of Five Easy Pieces

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lessons from Mirren: Cheat and Make it Up

How should we tackle new business?

Alex Bogusky recently spoke at the Mirren New Business conference.   The two key points from the videos:
  1. Cheat by breaking the rules: smart is being different, not the same
  2. Make it up 12 hours before the meeting: new is better than a rehash
Carrying this forward into the education market; here's my thinking.
  • Don't focus on generating and selling leads to schools, focus on helping prospects choose one school over another
  • Syllabus week is a new way and better way to market master's degrees because this segment researches like crazy
Actually, that last point came to me driving to the CCA conference last week so it is a couple of days old.  

Monday, June 14, 2010

Notes from the Exhibit Hall

What did we learn walking up and down the aisles?

Last week at the "Career College Association" (CCA) conference in Vegas there was a lot of talk about the big three issues:
  1. Impending regulations for the inquiry (lead) environment.
  2. The risks posed by loan defaults; or the 'new subprime market'.
  3. The opportunities created by rising costs and decreasing quality.
A decade ago Clay Christensen wrote a piece on disrupting education arguing that the 500 year-old model would implode when several conditions existed.   The necessary conditions are:
  1. Technology that makes delivery and consumption simple and foolproof.
  2. Sufficient numbers of non or over-shot consumers to create momentum.
  3. A business model that changes the economic model and prevents incumbents from fighting back.
Based on the conversations at the booths of vendors, agencies and a few institutions, we might be close.  There was a sense that the current lead and delivery models may not be the best or only way of doing things.   While no established company openly abandoned their previous business, they were very interested in talking about the implications and the art of the possible.   And when established companies talk this way, changes are a coming.

Consider the following companies that are doing things just a bit differently:
  • StraighterLine - focuses on delivering education starting at $99 a month.  
  • Zinch - reverses the recruitment process by making high-school students the center of the universe.
  • Instructure - a learning management system that gives its product away to teachers.

Maybe our thoughts about comparing curriculum and faculty across schools in a 'syllabus week' isn't such a radical idea.   And the thought of an 'on-demand' education taking courses from a variety of institutions isn't such a wild idea. 

Prediction: Openness in education will lead to building your own program and degree.  

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Impact of TV on Search

What happens to intent when one broadcasts loudly?

Search and television advertising are often held out as the ends of the communication spectrum - personal and full of intent on one side vs. shouting from the largest platform possible on the other.   But sometimes we get to look at the intersection.  

The chart below is for search traffic from Google Trends for "Kaplan University" (a former client) over the past several years. 

 We see slow, organic growth for two years followed by a step change at the beginning of the third year (week 104 is Jan 2009) and another change at the beginning of this year (week 156).   What caused the increase?

My guess: TV

In January 2009 Kaplan launched the 1-month "Talent" (see below) campaign with two commercials around the idea that traditional education has failed today's students.  They reintroduced the campaign in January of this year for a 3-month run.    What's interesting is that the 2009 media burst lifted the search volume not only during the campaign, but also for the rest of the year.   While it's too early to tell what the impact in 2010 is, there are some clear questions for marketers and agencies:

1. How will we pay off the interest of a break-through branding campaign?
2. How can we take the essence of the spot into interactive, social and digital realms?
3. What content would best support this type of interaction?
4. What is the long term value of branding?
5. How and what do we measure beyond the end of the campaign?
6. When do we get rid of the silos? 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Forget the Funnel

When was the last time we thought of ourselves as being in the funnel?

Joseph Jaffe's "Flip the Funnel" and Seth Godin's "Flipping the Funnel" both make sound arguments for working from the customer outwards - reversing the traditional sales funnel by focusing on customers as fans first. No argument there. 

But I for one have never thought about being in a funnel or at some stage of the buying process.  I am just where I am, doing what I'm doing without concern for gates or acronyms;  I don't think in terms of....
  • AIDA (awareness, interest, decision and action)
  • BANT (budget, authority, need and timing). 
I think in terms of wants or needs and may in fact have several alternatives in mind.  So rather than a linear process as seen from the sell-side it is really a complex set of moving parts and trade-offs on the buy-side.  To help me choose there are two pre-requisites:
  1. Get in the Consideration Set - this is the ultimate gating factor.  If a product isn't in this select group, then there will be no decision or sale.
  2. Engagement - this is where the rubber hits the road.  If a brand, company, or product doesn't get to an emotional connection there will also be no decision or sale.
Many times it happens to be either personal recommendations (as in the "flip" scenarios) or content that does the trick.   As marketers, if we focus on engagement and consideration then we just might be surprised the amount of business we do with loyal customers and their connections.

In short, I'm beginning to believe that the proverbial funnel exists solely in the minds of sale and marketing as a means of measuring progress against their objectives not mine.   

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Gaining Access to the Consideration Set

How does a product get on to a prospect's short list?

For any given business need a myriad of potential options exist making the potential consideration set too large to manage.  Hyper-choice, or having too many options, creates a kind of paralysis in the decision making process.   So we need to winnow the list down.

Since we've moved past the basic need stage of our lives to focus on wants and desires we're in the realm of emotions, perceptions and beliefs.   From a product marketing perspective this means providing more than just feature check lists.  In fact, facts alone are insufficient for an individual or group make a decision.  There must be more.

I had the chance to talk recently with a client about their white paper.  While written in impeccable prose and marketing terms, it fell short as a tool for generating interest and leads.  Here are my observations:
  1. The pain wasn't agitated enough to create urgency or action.  It was a nice-to-read piece and I learned some things but could easily have filed it away without further thought.
  2. It lacked the empathy required to base a relationship on; the tone was sterile and distant.  I didn't feel like the company was somebody I could easily explain the issues to.
  3. There was no follow-up plan or next step.  I was left with: "OK, now what?" on my mind. And given the objective of generating leads it should at least facilitate the prospect's buying process.
Gaining access to the consideration set often requires painting a vision of the future, offering a plan to get there, and providing the credentials to pull it off.    For in the end, clients buy our products and services when they trust us to either make their problem go away or get them to a new place. 

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Race to Rapport

How does a someone choose a college?

The college search and admissions process pretty much ends when a prospect feels like a school is the 'right choice' for them.  While often backed up with facts and figures, this is an emotional decision. Therefore, the institution that builds rapport first usually wins.

So how do two common tactics used to start the admissions process differ in terms of establishing rapport? 

Direct mail allows for more creativity in demonstrating why a school is different. Although I may have to retract that a bit after seeing the picture to the left: This is what Emmie, a high-school sophomore, has at home. It also supports a little more of a broadcast or outbound approach; buy a list and send a piece to prospective students - who may not even know the college exists. A serious drawback of direct mail is that there is a disconnect between the piece on the counter and the cell phone in a prospect's pocket.

Leads from an online source can be routed directly to call centers or admission reps for follow-up.  And we're talking sub-10 minute follow-up, not in the next day or so.  But this approach requires the prospect to first raise their hand first and hit a submit button on one (or many) of the myriad of education sites and portals.  The fact that every institution can appear on a portal levels the playing field in terms of awareness while at the same time diminishing the chance to differentiate one from another.  Most portals show a list of school banner ads along with a small amount of text associated with the "request more information" form.  There really isn't much there to help a person choose one option over another and get to that gut feeling that the school is the right one.  That's not a portal's job.

If time to rapport is the critical success factor for admissions then some more thinking is required to get from point A to point B.  Online prospects should have more information, maybe delivered in the 10 minutes between submit and hello.   Direct mail recipients, while often seeing personalized URLs, may need a different delivery form or connection method.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Story Telling with Curriculum

How can we improve the marketing of education programs?

Seems to me that there is an opportunity to use a course catalog to tell a story to prospective students about what they'll cover and accomplish in a given program.    Too often the really interesting material a college or university has to offer is locked up in a document not really fit for marketing purposes.  A couple of examples:

  • For a large online university, the descriptions for a particular program start on page 261 of a 400+ page document.
  • For a local school, what I'd learn in a web design course are spread across departments.  And this is after all the admissions, policy and graduation bumpf. 
  • For a school with both online and ground-based programs the descriptions for a history degree were at least in their own document; but that was several clicks away.
In all cases the writing style looks like it came out of a committee, not a strong copy writer. The best teachers and professors regale us with stories, anecdotes and facts and figures.  We should take a page from their success and repurpose course descriptions as telling a story.   

When it comes to building rapport with prospective students, which is the most critical factor in the admissions process, sometimes the answer to the question "What will I learn?" will tip the balance in favor of one institution over another.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Continuous Content Consumption

What do we do with our remarkable content?

The success of content marketing programs rests as much on contact strategies as it does on the content itself. In high consideration categories, where the research process is intense and occurs over a period of time, distributing high-value content to high-value contacts requires more than an eblast or a download.

In looking around for a framework on content marketing, I stumbled upon this one from the folks at Merkle.

I like it because it starts with the business objective: What are we trying to achieve? and goes through a structured approach to creating and measuring the impact of how content works.     However, the big boxes along the top seem to be missing a critical component:  Content Distribution or Consumption.

In B2B technology, education, and numerous other categories content consumption is a continuous process as options are considered, needs are crystallized and benefits weighed.  To nurture interest the where, when and with whom of content consumption must be mapped out as much as the other areas of the strategy. The role of content, be it stories or facts and figures, is to help the recipient feel more comfortable about one option over another.  In categories where personal sales ultimately close the deal, content should focus on getting you in the consideration set. 

In the end, the role of a content contact plan is not to help people decide, but rather to help them choose. 

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Content Marketing and Lead Generation

Are lead generation and content marketing compatible?

Often when discussing 'lead generation' we fall into the trap of thinking that it is about driving traffic to a form.   That is certainly one aspect, but in the grander scheme of things there are other aspects of lead generation.   The following illustrates one way to break down lead generation into various segments based on the business goal and focus. 
There are two possible goals: lead origination or lead conversion.  For each there are two possible ways to view the marketing focus.  We can strive for quantity or quality of new leads. We can strive for leads that require nurturing or those that close fast. 

And yes clients will want it all - "lots of well qualified leads that close fast because they have a connection with the company."  

The reality is that any company will have prospects in all four segments because of the different stages of demand that they are in.   Content plays different roles in each of the possible group.
  • Quantity:  broadcast enticing offers with a sense of excitement
  • Quality:  target exclusive offers with an opportunity to further qualify, e.g. survey
  • Nurture: respond to each touch with relevant content based on previous stream
  • Close Fast: convey a sense of missing out if action not taken
Direct response was built on the Quantity - Close Fast combination: "If you order now, we'll double the order."

However, in many categories where prospects need to consider their next step in the choice process the Quality - Nurture combination may be a better approach.   High value contacts deserve and respond to high value content.  Content marketing of a different form is required for this type of lead generation. 

As content marketing matures we will be segmenting the lead generation pool according to their needs and developing content accordingly.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Education and B2B

How do these industries relate to one another?

On one hand we have admissions directors working to help a number of applicants through the process.   On the other we have enterprise technology sales folks trying to help a number of prospects through the process.  While not usually put together in the same sentence, there are some striking common elements from a marketing point of view.
  1. Both decisions are complex and require a significant amount of work to reduce risk
  2. Both situations result in the need to provide substantive amounts of content
  3. Both types of organizations want to establish thought leadership and a quality reputation
  4. Both sets of buyers exist in a built-in social network where recommendations and influence abound
It seems that each industry can learn from the other; particularly from content marketing.  

In the end, both segments require the distribution high-value content to high-value contacts.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Diagnosing Demand

Note: this is a reprint from an old blog, but a recent conversation brought it back.

Two recent projects have allowed us to rethink the notion of ‘demand generation’.   In the usual sense the phrase refers to getting people to take a step toward becoming a customer - become a lead, ask for information or make a purchase.   And in this world people follow the traditional path of awareness, consideration, and purchase with time spent between each stage.

There are scenarios when the desire to satisfy a need is much more intense than in other cases.  A refrigerator dies, a job is lost, or a project is finally approved represent scenarios where people behave and think differently than the normal sales funnel.  A useful analogy might be to think of pain in terms of medical conditions.
  • Acute Demand: Characterized by the need for immediate relief. The decision to buy has already been made, now it is a matter of which option.  Marketing tactics must cover all the places where a person would look for treatment - search, directories, factual comparisons, product reviews, and direct response.  Those things that make it easy to make a decision in an extremely short period of time.
  • Chronic Demand: Characterized by an on-going need that a person has, but has yet to satisfy. The decision to buy has not been made, but the individual knows they should.  Marketing tactics must portray both empathy and information to allow the person to make a commitment.  Given the long-term nature of chronic situations, campaigns should run in parallel with and through the events that trigger decision with attention paid to those with veto power.
  • Latent Demand: Often an invisible need that hasn’t (and may not) surface.  No decision to buy has been made at all and its unclear whether one will ever be made because a need has yet to be articulated.  Marketing tactics should work on stimulating or confirming a need through the benefits of the solution.  Since common interests are the new demographics, campaigns should focus on where people congregate, both literally and figuratively.
As an example, consider the potential strategies for Pest Control:
  1. Acute: be everywhere a person would turn to if termites or fire ants are found.  Who would they ask? Where would they turn? to get the problem solved that day.  Yellow pages, Google/MSN/Yahoo!, and Angies’/classifieds should be at the foundation of the plan. Since resolving acute pains often relies on personal recommendations, this is a highly localized decision - even for national brands.
  2. Chronic: provide information around treatment options, health and safety concerns about the consumers house and family.   Provide content and advisories on where outbreaks do/might occur through the media the audience uses.  Become the content aggregator for a specific problem.
  3. Latent: be visible.  Often termed ‘air cover’ in media plans there is a need to create some form of name recognition when a person moves to either chronic of acute demand.    Sponsor community or elementary school programs; be a member of the community by actively participating.  Broadcast advertising might be appropriate here to efficiently extend reach in lieu of any targeting information.
To provide a fresh view on a marketing plan, ask yourself:
  1. When people buy my product, what percent come from each type of demand?
  2. Are my campaigns aligned well with each need state?
  3. Are my tactics delivering the right information to each type of person?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Woefully Behind, Tangentially Ahead

How does it feel to be a marketer these days?

Last week I had the opportunity to attend two events - Push Button Summit and #launchup - that showcased some latest things in digital media.   My conclusion - it is impossible to stay abreast of changes and that at my age I'm woefully behind the curve, yet surprisingly tangentially ahead of it in some ways.  

The six start-ups that presented at the two events covered everything from fingerprinting music (ripple wake) to moving achievements from games to mainstream applications (iActionable).   I left feeling that there is simply no way to keep track of all these developments; and certainly not at a technical level.    Now that nearly a week has passed there is a sense that on the business and marketing side of these companies there are lots of things we old folks still have to offer.  My list:
  1. Experience of turning ideas into solutions; just what pain does a technology solve?
  2. Thinking through the business model; how will the technology be financially successful?
  3. Simplifying the problem to a value proposition; why will the technology be successful?
So before the gray-beards of our generation get pushed aside for the next generation of technical wunderkids remember that experience is what created the gray in the first place. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wall of Pictures

What's new in chalk art?

Here are the results from Flickr for the search 'chalk art'.  This is part of an experiment for showcasing clients' imagery.

And using a MediaRSS feed for the photos used on this blog.

Friday, February 05, 2010

VC Paradox

What does it take to get your cake and eat it too?

The other day on Seth's Blog a post on "Hunters vs. Farmers" hinted at the dilemma venture capitalists have with companies.  In short:

Only hunters can bag the deal + raise money; only farmers can nurture it into a cash crop.

For start-ups it isn't hunting and it isn't farming; its both.   Hunting is a short-term, transactional process - I don't care what the next deal is, as long as I get it.  Farming on the other hand is a planned, sustained activity over a number of seasons.  The grounds suitable for hunting are rarely the same as those good for farming.   It is very difficult for a company to both, but that is exactly what a successful start-up has to do. 

There must be some mix that reflects the rapid evolution or mutation of a company from concept to sustainable business.  Call it hurming or fanting or something else entirely (I skipped the temptation to use farting).  This is why start-ups require a team, not just an individual, that is both harmonious and distinct. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Social Media, Strategy and Moon Shots

How do these ideas relate?

In a recent tweet I made the statement: 
The question isn't "What is our social media strategy?" but "How does social media help implement our strategy?"

It seems to have touched a nerve with an "amen" and a couple of RTs; so now I have to explain myself.  

The above questions apply to any media since the word social is simply a qualifier for a type of media.   Do we get worked up about 'what's our billboard strategy?' just because everybody is out driving around?   Nope.  And, since social media are tools for facilitating sharing (more on my thoughts defining social media here) having a strategy for a tool is viewing everything from the hammer or drill's point of view.   

As a business we need to achieve an objective defined in clear, measurable terms.   The best objective I can think of is: 
"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."  President Kennedy - May, 1961
Clear. Unambiguous. Measurable.

Strategy is not how we will achieve an objective; it is why will achieve one.  

Business strategy is often framed in two questions:  Where will we play? and Why will we win? Neither of which focus on the how; that comes later.   Positioning, differentiation, and alignment all help to frame the answers to those questions into a cohesive reason why the objective will be met.   In fact, strategy could often be replaced with the phrase 'reason for success.'   The moon shot was successful because people, industries, the military, and the government all came together for this mission.   That was the strategy: cooperation and collaboration on a humongous scale. 

In a more down-to-earth and contemporary problem, consider the marketing of Master's degrees - a very competitive market (have clients in this world.)   If the objective is to be a ranked program then there needs to be a reason for the outcome.  "Quality", "reputation", and "scores" are assessments or metrics that back up the reason.   An example of strategy for a well-funded research university might be 'commercialize our research into a series of successful start-ups.'  Now that's a differentiated strategy. 

Just how you pull off a strategy is all about tactics.  

Only when we know why we may be successful should we look at the portfolio of tools and figure out which ones to use.   Given expansive goals and strategies sometimes we have to make up the tools to do the job.  In 1961 we didn't have the rockets (or even the knowledge) to achieve the objective.  We created the tools.   It was not 'what is our Redstone strategy' it was 'how will the Redstone rocket help implement the strategy?'      The Redstone rocket provided a platform for man's entry into space - it was a first step. 

Like all media, social media has its strengths and weaknesses; it is appropriate for some objectives and strategies but not others.   If the strategy will benefit from collaboration and sharing then social media would be appropriate.   If the strategy requires stealth and big bang then it would not be appropriate.   Since these elements were so much a part of the success of the moon race it probably would have been considered by the program director.

So, if social media where around in 1961 - how would it help create a sense of community and purpose in order to put a man on the moon? 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Venture Capitalists and the CMO

Who's the most important member of the team?

There has been a lot written about the success or failure of a start-up resting on the shoulders of the CEO.  While the buck stops there, where does it start?

For technology companies the marketing function represents the conduit for moving from start-up to business.  As commented on "Cool is not a Strategy"  it is a long way from cool to cash.  Since venture funding goes to firms that have proven that there already 'is something' the real challenge becomes translating early adoption into a sustainable growth model.   Since marketers are paid to change history (new products, markets and segments) they are responsible for the road map of getting from here to there.    This means crafting a vision of the customers' world, even if they themselves can't, and leading the development of a series of incremental steps to get there.    

In a recent WSJ article on strategic planning the point was made that plans needed to be much more flexible and adaptable because we can "no longer count on a 'reasonable set of assumptions'".   Who better than the CMO of a young company to take on the responsibility of understanding the shifting sands?  She is out there every day; she can sense opportunity and respond.  

So when the venture capitalist asks about your team start first with the CMO.  Don't have one? Get one even if you have to rent one for a while.   This is too important to leave to the intern.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cool is Not a Strategy

Why should cool be banned?

Last week I sat through several presentations by start-ups; technical companies working in very different areas.   One phrase in the pitches stuck out like a sore thumb:  'this is cool'.   While cool relates to passion and can sustain a lot of late hours of development, it does not necessarily relate to a sustainable business.  Ok, Apple may have proven that wrong at the perceptual level -  but they are the exception and certainly didn't start that way. 

Customers rarely buy because something is cool, they buy because they suffer a pain.  It is this transition from garage geek to a business that requires a heavy dose of marketing.   It is our job as marketers to align the solution to the need and make the pain go away.   

There are numerous ways to present a start-up, often rooted in financials, market sizing, and barriers to entry.  What I really want to hear in that first minute from entrepreneurs and innovators is:  "Here is the pain that really pissed me off."   Now if enough people suffer the same thing and they can solve it in a cool way, so much the better.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Presenting Social Media as a Bike

How do I explain social media?

A while ago I wrote a post trying to explain social media using an analogy of bicycles.   Since this concept has found its way into meetings I summarized it in presentation form and posted it on slideshare.   Here it is for those interested in another take:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Job Descriptions for Products

What role does a product fulfill?

It's an old saying that customers don't need drills, they need holes.
Simply put, we buy products to increase our personal satisfaction - by either improving the positive or eliminating the negative.   So, we know what we want, but may have difficulty expressing it to companies.
A good job description consists of three key elements:
1. An overall description of the role. 
2. A defined set of responsibilities
3. A clear set of experiences or qualifications. 
Sounds like what we should publish for products. 
For a good description this topic see "Finding the Right Job for Your Product" in MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2007. 

Technology Branding and Positioning

What are the biggest challenges for new products?

Positioning products, particularly technical ones, requires addressing three key tradeoffs.
1. Omnipotence vs. Versatility:  you can't be all things to all people.
2. Marketing vs. Engineering: you offer features, but people need solutions.
3. Early adopters vs. Mainstream:  the original problem solved is rarely the same as what the overall market needs.
Giving up perceived size of market in order to gain traction is often a difficult concept to swallow.  However, it is sually worth it in the long run. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New B2B Tools: White Room and Paper Chunks

What should we do next with white papers?

The following is excerpted from a position paper I've been nurturing for some time; thought it was about time I shared it. This renewed interest was prompted by a webinar I recently heard on B2B marketing and social media from Tippit.

Originating in British Parliament, white papers present an authoritative overview of a particular issue and layout specific actions. Businesses adopted the term in the ‘90s as a moniker for sales and marketing documents that aim to educate the audience.

In B2B marketing, white papers are an integral part of the buying process and serve a variety of purposes. From the vendor point of view white papers accomplish the following:

  • Establish thought leadership and a presence.
  • Keep a vendor ‘in consideration’ and ‘top of mind’ during a long sales cycle.
  • Provide the tools to generate a cost benefit analysis.
  • Generate interest and leads.
  • Breed a sense of trust in order to reduce risk in making a decision.
They are part of risk management and lessen the fear associated with B2B buying decisions. A post from Marketo outlined four ways of managing risk:
  1. Get on the approved vendor list before a decision is needed.
  2. Facilitate peer recommendations to reduce risk; peers are often the first resource people turn to when researching.
  3. Leverage sales for referrals in addition to closing sales.
  4. Establish credibility and thought leadership to garner the ‘wisdom of the crowd.’
From a buyer’s point of view white papers help get a project funded.

While white papers are read and used by a large number buyers (and committees) the form factor remains the old document-based ‘paper’ in this day of tweets, Diggs, sharing and comments.

Borrowing from the success of ‘social media news rooms’ this [post] describes a new delivery model for this valuable content. Rather than just producing a PDF, the social media white paper consists of a variety of elements that facilitate content distribution and sharing of information. From quotes to slides to a printable version, reports are presented in a variety of forms that make it most useful to the audience.

White Room

Rather than a listing of PDF files behind a registration page, the concept creates a diverse set of objects that readers can use to meet their needs. To accomplish this; a new section [should] be added to a firm’s website tentatively called the ‘white room’ – a combination of the white paper and news room. To provide control of the functionality, content, and track distribution the white room is a separate part of a web site that contains a variety of sections. Using the standard sections of NewsCactus or PitchEngine as a guide it could take the form of:

  • Home: an introductory page for the section. Similar to many blogs, it contains a synopsis and listing of recent contents.
  • Overview: Provides a place to discuss what the section is about (optional)
  • White Papers: Listing of white papers with links to the actual page. Each page is designed to be found as part of inbound marketing strategies.
  • Highlights: Links to other events related to white papers, e.g. presentations, or speeches.
  • In the News: Listing of mentions of the firm as thought leader.
  • Multimedia: useful objects to associate with the white paper.
  • Company Kits: Fact sheets for company, leaders, and products.

Paper Chunks

The Internet has changed how we read and consume content [see the "Twitter Paradox"]. To facilitate consumption and spreading of information the following should be supplied.

  1. Content written in form that can be scanned. Use of bullets and short sentences, paragraphs required in this day and age of Internet-reading.
  2. Sub-heads written in the form of tweets that can then be used with url-shorteners to deep link and drive traffic.
  3. Plain text (not Word) and PDF versions of full white paper and key paragraphs.
  4. Audio version of paper (mp3 format).
  5. Three to four specific recommendations or points that can be forwarded quickly. Written for retweeting.
  6. Links to outside, relevant resources within the copy. No more than one link per 150-200 words.
  7. A description, synopsis of the piece in 30-50 word that can be emailed to others like the reader's boss.
  8. A list of key words associated with the piece; used to develop content to facilitate search traffic.
  9. Two or more multi-media objects – pictures, video, or audio interviews.
  10. Charts in clear template form for both PowerPoint and Keynote as well as on slide share – with speaker’s notes.
  11. Spreadsheets if providing calculation tools.
  12. Full contact information for key resources: all relevant channels.
  13. Links to social bookmark and network sites.
  14. Simple registration – accept LinkedIn, Facebook and twitter profiles.

Business Model

I have some ideas here too....

Designer Degrees

Where is education headed?

State-funded education continues to get hammered as budgets are cut. Colleges and universities will be "eating their seed corn" or dipping into the "rainy day" funds. And it's a vicious circle - laying off adjunct professors, which were the solution to the last budget crunch, means limiting enrollment caps, which means people can't get in, they can't take what they need, and they can't get out on time. High unemployment means both more students and less tax revenue. Education is being squeezed like a week-old lime; there's nothing left to give.

Kaplan (client), with its reverse articulation agreements with community colleges, is on the right track for some of the structural problems of education.

From a product perspective it might be time for a new marketing strategy: Designer Degrees

The only higher education degrees that are in demand, have students paying rack rates, don't have huge infrastructure costs and be created quickly based on contemporary needs are the "Master's". The once and former mark of failure or esoteric job requirements, i.e. flunked out of a PhD program or were in Social Work, these are now becoming products in their own right. In the past we’ve worked on general Master’s degrees like MBAs. Today we’re seeing the rise of specialist degrees. Recent articles in both the Wall Street Journal and NYT give credence to this trend and often stress the technical or specialist skills that they provide.

All categories fragment. The time appears to be ripe based on economics and market needs for this pattern to accelerate in the post-graduate world. The marketing challenge is learning how to develop and market tightly-focused programs.

From the beat of the wings of a butterfly comes the Master's in Jurisprudence in HealthCare (another client) targeted to hospital compliance professionals.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dear CEO: How to use social media

What would I tell a CEO?

We often talk about social media at the tactical level rather than strategic. So for a recent viewpoint in Utah CEO magazine I tried to relate social media to the business processes where communication was vital: Reputation, Customer Service and Establishing a Brand.

But first I had to come up with a definition that was grounded in business rather than technology. And that actually meant I needed to define marketing as well.

Here's what I came up with:
  • Marketing is the alignment of your company’s solutions with a defined set of needs to everyone’s mutual benefit. While it may incorporate advertising and promotion, those are not the primary functions of the marketing team — it is making sure that your product is in demand.
  • Social media are the vehicles that leverage human interaction to convey a message. Of particular interest to marketers are recommendations and complaints.