Friday, December 30, 2011

7 New Year's Resolutions for Marketers

What should we focus on in 2012?

The collection of New Year's resolutions for marketing are out.  Here' my summary as well as a list that I found interesting to consider.
  1. I will think strategically and focus on 'why' we will be successful, not just 'how.'
  2. I will know in advance what the objective is and how I'll know that it has been met or not. 
  3. I will go on a data diet and abolish vanity metrics. 
  4. I will tell stories and respect a consumers time when asking for something of value.  
  5. I will abandon militaristic language in favor of communal terms - e.g. lead vs. inquiry. 
  6. I will view media as a set of tools that integrate to support a seamless experience. 
  7. I will experiment because nobody has a silver bullet. 

Some sources:
  • South African marketer San Beckbessinger's list of 10 requests. 
  •'s discussion of the most personal device used.  
  • A guest post on Multichannel Merchant. 
  • Fast Company's 8 Bold Resolutions post
  • Hubspot's 12 resolutions for inbound marketing. 
  • Hugo Guzman's list for internet marketing. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Santa on the Range

Do cowboys celebrate the season?

Of course.

Had the opportunity to go to the C.M. Russell Museum this week in Great Falls, MT.  The collection of Christmas cards and images included the above.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Grabbing The Next Deal

Why do consumers act on promotional requests?

A lot of promotions are limited in quantity or time; "if you're one of the first 100 customers who call in the next 10 minutes" is a common approach to creating the sense of scarcity.  But what if you're dealing with products that aren't in short supply and are always available.   Some researchers from Santa Clara University asked the question:  Does a unique opportunity alone impact compliance with an offer?

The answer is 'yes'. 

It turns out that "the unique opportunity effect appears to be the result of heuristic processing, i.e., people relying on a rule of thumb that says they should grab an opportunity available to few others."   So that direct mail piece that you got saying you were pre-screened for a loan works because it stimulates some innate process that triggers the brain into acting.  

While the question as to why our (Western) culture relies on this rule goes unanswered, there are some potential implications for marketers.
  1. Always try to create the sense of exclusivity that the consumer can recognize. 
  2. Communicate the use of segmentation and targetting to explain why an offer is unique to the recipient.
  3. Allow the consumer to strut their stuff; find ways to facilitate the sharing of not only the offer but also the acceptance of it. 
But be wary of the conclusion that promotions drive loyalty.  If we are wired to respond to unique opportunities then we are simply acting like moths to light bulbs - flying to the next cool thing.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Rolling up the Trends: Communal Commerce

What do all the 2012 trends add up to?

When looking at all the trends coming out they seem to point toward one destination: communal commerce.  I chose 'communal' over 'social' to reflect the notion that there is an objective or goal - to buy or not to buy, that is the question.   Plus, there are a vast array of platforms, technologies, etc. that come to play as people make choices that probably wouldn't necessarily be considered social, e.g. Amazon's Price Check, but still have a role in answering the question 'What do you think?'

The key elements of the new world order appear to be:
  1. Influence from a wide spectrum of players in the decision making process. (social sharing)
  2. Ubiquitous and immediate access to facts, opinions and transactions. (mobile consumption)
  3. It is as much about the experience and the badge of success as it is about product acquisition. (satisfying needs)
For a good idea of what is going on in the space see Social Commerce Today which focuses on compiling examples of selling with social media.  

An opportunity exists for agencies to tie all this together and then solve the valuation question:  What is a 'like' or other communal event worth to me? Where should I allocate my resources?  Some interesting presentations (some require registration) on the topic. 
  • Active Networks shared some of their learning on an Omniture/Adobe webinar
  • An AMA presentation done by MicroStrategy on integrating with FB analytics. 
  • Facebook Mobile Social Commerce slideshare from Horizon Studios which talks about the 'mall in your pocket'

Sources for trends:

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Contrarian 2012 Trends

    What won't happen next year?

    There are numerous posts and articles on the marketing trends for next year that provide better insights than I ever could; examples include:
    • A collection of Consumer Trends from trendwatching.   
    • The five digital trends from Mashable's presentation at ThinkLA's Trends Breakfast
    • A compendium of Social Marketing thoughts:  with a good summary by Brian Solis
    So, I'll take the easier route and think about what won't happen.
    • We won't be able to glean game-changing insights from all the data.  
    The data of activity, particularly communal or social, is generated by a sample of our audience.  According to Boston Consulting Group's study it is possible that posters and readers are the same folks.  And with 40% neither posting or reading in the 'past week' there is the risk that this lens into consumer thinking is not very representative.   In addition, as an organization we simply don't have the capacity to look at the world thru an integrated lens if we're not already doing it.  Until the CMO and CIO become either glued at the hip, or one and the same person as noted at the Forrester summit on the topic, the odds of getting to the desired end game this year are as long as winning the lottery. 
    • We won't think or act like consumers.  
    Consumers are consumers; nothing more.  They don't think about funnels, being on a journey, or how best to proceed toward their (un)stated goals.   They just do what is easy and interesting for them to do.  While both McKinsey and Forrester have good descriptive observations of what goes on out there they aren't blueprints for execution. We on the other hand have to design campaigns, select media, create content, make choices, etc. all to achieve specific financial objectives.  Thus, until our goals are better aligned with our audience there will always be friction between the company and the audience.   Add to this the historic channel orientation and we've got an organization that is somewhat hand-cuffed in its ability to act and think consumers.

    Since companies aren't created equal, some marketers will overcome these two challenges and gain substantive advantage by leveraging the opportunities outlined in the trends.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    The 2012 Challenges for Marketing

    What reality do we face as we plan the new year?

    The trends are out.   They tell us what is happening and where we are going (maybe).   This leaves us the fundamental problem of wrestling some large issues to the ground.
    1. Channel Blur:  we have reached the point where media fragmentation is no longer a set of discrete choices; they all interact to support whatever it is the consumer wishes to do.  So, how do we migrate from a functional, siloed team to one that surrounds the consumer with interesting content?
    2. Data Deluge: all these digital platforms produce copious amounts of data; but we don't yet know how to either glean insights or identify business drivers.  Wharton professor George Day describes the gap that emerges when companies can't keep up.   So, how do we separate the wheat from the chaff to develop appropriate indicators of performance?
    3. Brutal Transparency:  the world is instant, harsh and unforgiving; it is clear that the emperor has no clothes. So, Clark Kokich of Razorfish asked the all important question: how do we migrate from changing the reality of our product not its perception?
     To paraphrase McKinsey's recent survey results (registration required) of CMO's:
    "The digital transformation allows us to interact and serve our customers in new ways.   To accomplish this we must derive deep consumer insights and overcome internal hurdles – from metrics to technology to skills -  in order to deliver a compelling experience on their device and not our site."
    Going to be a good year....

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Consumerology, Media Plans and the Fluid Fog

    What could we do if we could see all that you do?

    Marketers have budgets and a need to connect solutions with needs via a communication plan.   Consumers have a myriad of options to consume information, transact, and communicate; they don't really care about those plans.   But, what if we could see across content, commercial, and communal sites?  What could we do?

    A colleague has suggested that we could produce a Consumerology, or blueprint of how consumers interact and transact.   (Book of same name)   This would provide insights into how people actually progress along the customer journey - what content, what devices, what sequence and what result.  This would be particularly valuable in a category like 'retail.' An HBR blog post from frog design illustrates a mapping approach to the journey. 

    Going beyond the research and strategy there is one other option when you have access to all of this data:   Create the Media Plan based on three elements:
    • Content Consumption Habits:  what types of content do people consume when?
    • Device and Place Preferences: how and where do consumers use content to aid their journey?
    • Path and Flow Rates: what scenarios exist in the landscape that maximize media efficiency and effectiveness?
    Since marketers must deliver results in the face of an ever-changing media and technology landscape, anyone who can help devise plans from the myriad of scenarios has a distinct advantage - and possibly a seat at the table as a key member of the agency roster.

    The idea of converting data into media plans came about based on a discussion I had with Varolo,  a company that pays people to watch ads.  While too small to provide substantial reach it could be used as a research platform or more interestingly as a platform for creating media plans by profiling what members who like an ad do.

    And if you integrate consumer transaction data, the story gets more powerful.

    Friday, December 09, 2011

    Evolution of Search (Part 2)

    How can we leverage our content in search? 

    This week's presentation by Dan Zarrella of Hubspot on the Science of SEO confirmed that search is just a part of the marketing mix.  A synopsis of the key takeaways from the presentation:
    1. Search is not dead, but it is not the only game in town.
    2. Before they buy, they Google; so write for humans, not spiders
    3. Social takes a back seat to search and the conversation isn't going to help your rank
    4. Ranking well can make you seem more trustworthy
    5. Most people don't trust PPC ads and they don't admit to clicking on them
    6. Your site is listed next to spam; be distinguishable by experimenting with media
    7. Linkers work early and need fresh stuff to work with so focus on the timeliness, not buzzwords
    So, what do these thoughts inspire:
    1. If you're telling people about a new or killer deal in one channel, make sure it is prominent in all
    2. Communicate the essence of the offer in bold, novel ways - particularly those that tap emotion
    3. A brand's site is necessary, but not sufficient; think of it as a launch pad not destination
    4. Social media is a stimulus, just like TV advertising - it points people in a direction
    5. Let your brand ambassadors know beforehand, give them time to share via links
    6. Analyze content based on RFM - recency, frequency, and monetary performance metrics
    On the last point there should be publication goals that might appear to be quite aggressive - as in several times per week (if not day).   A recent study on the lifespan of the a link within social media suggested that its impact was measured in hours.

    Tuesday, December 06, 2011

    The Content Graph

    What is a person's content consumption habits?

    The 'social graph' illustrates the six degrees of separation of a network - or simply who is connected to whom. Facebook and Google among a host of others have APIs that allow us to tap into those connections for a variety of purposes with advertising being a common theme.  Last summer Scott Karp, CEO of Publishing 2.0 wrote a piece on the Content Graph that looked at the world of content thru the eyes of a distributor.   In his view it is the connection between 'content brands' or platforms that create a new alternative for sharing content.   In fact he argued five years ago that:
    "The real competition in New Media will be among content remixers."

    If I read it right, Scott's view is on connecting the outlets in order to capture brand ad dollars, not the contextual dollars already owned by search.   And to scale it has to have that elusive quality of 'quality' because brands care about association.  So, the idea is to directly share content across properties and outlets. 

    Today we're seeing applications like Flipboard,  Zite (acquired by CNN), and AOL's Editions launch as personal remixers.  They learn from your habits and serve up similar content. This suggests that the role of remixing and editorship is personal and no longer the purview of an intermediary.

    Since we're now in the recommendation or sharing economy, the ability to connect who consumes with what is consumed should be of interest to marketers. In fact, both Blue Fin Labs and Networked Insights are linking the social graph to the content graph - often for the purpose of developing media plans.  

    If we are allowed to choose both our own content and its distribution then there also seems to be an opportunity to understand how the content itself is consumed, by whom and where.   If we can tag individual elements of content and track its consumption then we have the ability to define the value of specific chunks, or at least sources, of content.  This then could provide for interesting pricing models and valuations for properties - it won't be eyeballs or circulation anymore. Since websites and publications are simply containers for what is of value, the future focus will be on the items themselves. 

    All this leads to the conclusion that we require a framework for knowing how content works - something more to think about.

    The Biases of Rose-Colored Glasses

    Why do we often see just what we want to see?

    Two recent posts on the Adobe Industry Insights blog got me thinking - they were on the biases we bring to the table.  Both Congruence Bias and Expectation Bias deal with the tendency to highlight the things we believe, and avoid the things that we don't believe.    We test things we believe are going to work, i.e. they are safe and often based on what others have done, and then we support the results based on what we believe should have happened.  In both cases we have a natural tendency to want to 'prove ourselves right'. 

    This all plays out in defining and demonstrating the ROI of marketing campaigns.

    In a recent direct-to-consumer campaign we cast the net wide in terms of targeting.   It should come as no surprise that the results were poor - we included people that probably wouldn't respond.   What we didn't know a priori was just who would be prompted to visit the store.  The key question in our mind was: What characteristics of consumers correspond to response, not how do we maximize response?    This led to some interesting conversations, both internally and with the client.  My advice when it comes to testing:

    "Be wrong, be very wrong."

    Monday, December 05, 2011

    The Social Matchmaker for Brands

    How can we find birds of a feather?

    In the science of social networks homophily is the 'love of the same' and often represents the foundation of self-organization.  Shared interests, values and beliefs bring people together.  This leads me to the conclusion that:

    Common interests are the new demographics. 

    The rise of accessible social interests and sharing maybe we should be thinking about matching consumers with consumers rather than consumers with products (the traditional point of view.)   As marketers can we broker introductions among prospects, customers and sales people - all based on a common set of passions?   Would this be a better approach than trying to work down a funnel?

    Matchmaking typically requires aligning a set of attributes (e.g. the 29 Dimensions of Compatibility) amongst a set of people to winnow down the choices.  However, for social matching the goal is not 1:1, as it is in dating or education, but rather many:many to build a community.

    The ideas around participation and engagement now become part of the mix. We need to observe what people do in addition to asking what they think.  We need to apply the concepts of 'collaborative filtering' to matching.

    Friday, December 02, 2011

    Reporting, Analysis and Insights

    Why do we suffer from report inflation?

    Reporting isn't sexy, so we call it 'analysis'.   Analysis isn't worthy of C-level discussions so we call it insights and strategy.  So, let's put some context of how each is used.   Here's how I look at:
    • Reporting: Give me answers to questions I already know I need answers to.
    • Analysis: Tell me why what I expected to happen didn't happen.
    • Insights: Tell me something I didn't know I needed to know.
    As a business operating with many parts 'reporting' should be the lingua franca across the organization - the same concepts, similar metrics, and the foundation for any discussion about performance and goals.   Analysis on the other hand tends to be unique to a specific area and often requires domain expertise to understand the nuances of a business.   Insights are often derived when a fresh perspective is applied - either from outside or from challenging some base assumptions.

    If the above is a reasonable description then it should follow that the skills necessary to accomplish the tasks typically don't reside in anyone individual or even group; they are completely different. 

    Too bad we try to put square pegs in round holes.

    Thursday, December 01, 2011

    EPIC Content

    How can we help consumers choose?

    As marketers, our job is to align solutions and needs to everyone's mutual benefit  - that's how I define it to first year business students.   Easy to say, very hard to do.  And we know we're successful when they choose our product over the other guy's.  

    So, how is a choice actually made?   What elements are required to come to a decision?  

    The psychology and biology of decision making is a fascinating area and fields like neuromarketing make it even more so.  Since we probably can't conduct fMRI's on every consumer, is there a framework that starts with the classic left brain - right brain dichotomy of rational and emotional thought?   What kind of content should marketers produce to increase the odds of winning the battle of choice?

    Like the totem pole, we need to tell a story about our products and brand.  We also need to offer the proof points necessary to defend a decision.  So, here's a simple structure of categorizing content:

    • Emotional:  satisfying the needs and aspirations of consumers is critical.  For without that, there is no decision.  This includes what might be termed branded content.
    • Promotional: often times consumers need an incentive to overcome the risks of trial.  These days, the deal has turned into a badge of honor of sorts; it is certainly becoming more social. 
    • Informational:  as part of the process we need to satisfy the rational part of our brain.  We're smart, right? We don't let our emotions decide? (actually we do)  The pervasive comparative fact sheets do have a role.
    • Communal: as social beings we want to both share and get recommendations from others.  We also use these as a short cut. 

    This isn't the place for a 'channel strategy' per se since they are business artifacts driven mostly by budgets and span of control rather than things consumers think about very much.  There are clearly advantages for using one channel over another - direct-to-consumer promotions via email or SMS make financial sense.  As does using broadcast print to stimulate interest via emotional tugs.  (Although I did hear a radio ad for a Groupon from Hoopes Vision the other day.)  The key point is that all the tactical decisions have to reinforce one another. 

    Our job then is to figure out a holistic approach that blends the four types of content into a seamless experience so that no matter where the consumer turns the appropriate content is available.

    The AAA of Content

    What is it about content that people value?

    It may not be the content itself.

    Sitting at the hotel bar last night with a journalist (and wine guy) the conversation turned to content - its production, distribution, and protection.  It seems that there may be three things consumers value above and beyond the stories, images and news. 
    • Access
    • Aggregation
    • Accreditation
    My favorite examples of this are flipboard and Original Signals.  
    These platforms have longevity whereas most content has the half-life of a mayfly - once consumed it is spent. So the value, and investment dollars, flow toward solutions that provide the AAA's because we're lazy and don't have the time to do all the work.