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.