Using Social Media For Good

Posted by on May 14, 2015 in Social Media, Uncategorized | 0 comments

social media bullying

In the relative nanosecond that social media has been in existence – compared to the time since homo- sapiens began grunting at each other – one can argue that it’s been both humanity’s greatest social advancement and the harbinger of its doom.

But what’s not to love about a technology that instantly bridges the gap that miles have placed between families, or links like-minded strangers, or helps find long-lost friends? Well, intrusive behavior, pack-mentality social uprisings, and unseemly personal behavior…for starters.

Additionally, social media has been fertile ground for bullies (cowards really) who spew hate and gleefully shame others from the safety and anonymity of their living room couches. In this not-so-brave new world, anyone with a spleen can vent his or her opinions, regardless of who they hurt. In their wake lay millions who suffer from depression, who fear going to school, who have low self-esteem, and who have had their lives upended. Some of these people, in fact, end their own lives just to stop the pain and humiliation.

So does the social media community, including marketers, have any culpability here? Shall we counteract what social media has arguably birthed? Can we – should we – be part of the solution, since we are part of the problem. And, even if we’re not, do we have a role in helping to create a community that rises up to combat what ails it?

Facebook, for one, thinks so. Partnering with Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and other engaged organizations, they’ve recently taken proactive steps to help prevent suicides. Now, according to a University of Washington report, if someone on Facebook sees that a friend has posted something of concern – perhaps threatening personal harm – they can now click an arrow on the post to report it. They’ll also be given the option to contact the friend who wrote the post, contact another friend for backup, or contact a suicide helpline.

Facebook then gets involved by reviewing the posts in question and proactively sending a message to the distraught poster. Then they offer the option to actually get involved by linking them with a professional or giving them tips about how to get through their difficult time.

What else can be done, one wonders? Should corporations sponsor campaigns that counteract all the bad with good? Can they encourage building up others’ self-esteem in some brilliant marketing campaign that aligns with their brands and their goals? Should they?

Could national brands like Chik-fil-A or Justice or Verizon (whose services are being used by the cyberbullies) benefit by aligning itself with an organization like Community Matters ( Would CFOs and CMOs cough up precious marketing dollars to spin the spotlight a little, taking it off of themselves and shining it on organizations that are rallying people to action?

Marketing has the power to move people into action. We know it gets them to open their pocketbooks. Can it also get them to open their hearts?

LGBT Marketing

Posted by on Apr 29, 2015 in Blog, Marketing | 0 comments


It happens so often that it’s not even a big deal anymore. The parents of an abducted baby in a popular crime drama are a U.S. Marine and his husband. The baby in a TV commercial has two mommies. An award-winning show features a transgender lead. In short, seeing LGBT individuals in the media just isn’t newsworthy anymore. In April 1997 Ellen DeGeneres made national headlines when her television alter ego announced that she was a lesbian – today, nearly two decades later, it barely registers when an athlete, actor or musician comes out.

Over the last few decades LGBT has gone mainstream in popular culture. It’s simply a reflection of our evolving society, where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people help create the colorful patchwork of humanity. Perhaps more importantly, it appears that acceptance of these “alternative” lifestyles is gaining unparalleled traction. But there is still a long way to go.

At the same time the state of Indiana was being boycotted for passing a law that seemed to allow discrimination against gays, actor James Franco suggested he was dropped from three ad campaigns due to his involvement in gay-themed films. Clearly, there’s still a cultural tug-of-war going on when it comes to complete acceptance of lesbians and gays (the pulling is probably still more one-sided regarding bisexuals and transgender people). So the question begs, can marketers afford to target the LGBT community? Maybe the better question is, can they afford not to?

Recent research has shown that gay consumers are a powerful, disposable-income-rich market: They have a 23% higher median household income and 24% more equity in their home than heterosexual contemporaries, according to a 2012 Prudential survey, they’re two times as likely to own a vacation home, 5.9 times as likely to own a home theater system and eight times as likely to own a laptop computer than heterosexual consumers. Some more stats from a 2012 Community Market survey: 26% of gay men say they will pay more for top quality brands, 30% have taken a major vacation in the past year, and 40% bought a new smart phone in the past year.

So how can advertisers go there without costly missteps in what could be a marketing minefield? There are some rules of thumb:

  • Be sensitive to stereotypes that reinforce negative images of LGBT individuals. Don’t make their appearance the punchline of an article or film. On the contrary, they should be depicted doing everyday things that people do: shopping, eating, hanging out with friends, or showing affection.
  • Stay clear of stereotypes. Advertising inherently relies on a certain level of stereotyping, but be cognizant of oversimplifying.
  • Do your research: learn and consider the LGBT perspective in any mainstream campaign.
  • Be authentic. Before you can even consider cozying up to the LGBT market, be sure the brand doing the targeting “walks the talk.” Does the company’s hiring practices reflect equality? Does it have a history of treating its gay and lesbian employees well? These things matter to a savvy LGBT community.

It seems there is a still a mile or two to walk when it comes to overall acceptance of people who identify as LGBT, and marketers can have an important role in helping this significant segment of society own their value by seeing themselves reflected in the marketplace.

Earth Day @ 45: Through the Lens of Green Marketing

Posted by on Apr 22, 2015 in Blog, Marketing | 0 comments

Earth Day

I don’t think of myself as old, but I am old enough to remember attending the 20th annual Earth Day celebration in 1990. It seems like just yesterday that hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to commemorate two decades of the event, which was first celebrated in 1970. While Earth Day was born out of the 1960s counterculture, there were a lot of heavy hitters behind it: UN Secretary General U Thant supported a day to honor the earth as a global observation, and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson helped establish April 22 as a day to be observed in the United States.

45 years after the first Earth Day, environmentalism has steadily moved toward the mainstream. Originally seen as a fringe movement, the push to go green has taken a prominent place in our nation’s consciousness. Not only is the topic discussed daily in the media, but many corporations have made environmentalism a key element of their marketing. In fact, some brands are entirely built around the perception that they are more desirable because they are better for the environment. What does green marketing really mean? How often is it based on genuine environmental goals, or simply a ploy to gain trust and attract consumers?

Green product, green marketing

The history of eco-themed marketing contains a huge variety of tactics and motivations. One end of the spectrum features companies where the eco-friendly nature of their product practically dictates the marketing strategy. A product developed explicitly along green lines will naturally target (and often attract) consumers who seek to minimize environmental impact. In marketing jargon, this consumer segment is termed LOHAS – Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability. The interests of LOHAS are typically defined as focused on responsible living, personal health and fitness, nature, and politics. As a demographic, LOHAS comprise a significant but not massive section of the total consumer base.

Method cleaning products is a classic example of a company where the nature of the product almost markets itself. The company rose to prominence using minimal paid advertising. The company founders recognized a demand for a distinct brand of cleaners that offered green alternatives to the industry giants. Simply by convincing stores to stock their products – with distinctive labeling that trumpeted their green nature – Method was able to attract and grow a loyal audience of consumers.

Sending a green message

Method’s story may be most instructive as an exception that proves a rule. Most companies lack the easy clarity of Method’s “green product + green marketing = consumer demand” scenario. What if you are an established business and not only lack a clear opportunity for green marketing, but risk negative consequences from the rise of sustainable marketing and awareness?

Tide laundry detergent, owned by Proctor and Gamble (P&G), is a study in how to embrace green marketing in the face of adverse conditions. In 2011, though the detergent was selling well, the company decided to proactively alter some aspects of their product and their marketing. P&G had two goals: influence how consumers wash their clothes in order to reduce environmental impact from the use of hot water in laundry, and define the Tide brand as a leader in green practices. The Tide Coldwater brand was introduced along with ambitious goals at a socially prestigious Clinton Global Initiative event. Though P&G expended considerable resources in changing the formula of some of their products, as well as in supporting a campaign touting the benefits of washing with cold water, the commercial context of the effort was always visible. P&G gained massive media attention, and the Tide name reached millions in the name of environmental education. The Tide Coldwater Challenge campaign is the apex of the total marketing effort. P&G has been able to leverage Internet and viral marketing in a manner similar to Method.

Pushing green through other means

Close attention to the messaging of the Tide Coldwater campaign reveals an important factor in the success or failure of green marketing. When Tide touts the virtues of using cold rather than warm water for laundry, the value proposition that it saves energy (and therefore lowers energy bills) is just as prominent as various eco-friendly messages. Method’s exceptional success story once again offers us a lesson: While the LOHAS market segment can be won over strictly through the promotion of sustainable values, mainstream consumers are not.

Whether a corporation’s green marketing is based on genuine environmental goals, or simply a ploy to gain trust and attract consumers, one thing is for sure – green marketing is mainstream and here to stay. I cannot imagine a world in the future that isn’t concerned about the nature of the products we are using.


Why We Love Branding (When We Don’t Hate It)

Posted by on Apr 16, 2015 in Blog, Branding, Marketing | 0 comments

angry birds   The majority of people who don’t work in marketing never think about things like ad buys, press releases and Marketo reports. But one thing that everyone seems to love to talk about is branding. So let’s look at why it’s such a hot topic, even among non-marketers.

When most of us think of a company’s brand, it’s in the context of a highly visible element such as a logo or advertising campaign. While these are certainly elements of some brands, there’s a lot more to branding than meets the eye. As a first step, it’s important to define what brand is. A good brand answers three questions:

  • Who are we?
  • What is our focus?
  • What is our goal?

That’s a good start, but it doesn’t really explain how a brand really functions. There are plenty of good definitions out there – here are a few of our favorites that some giants in the marketing industry have come up with over the years:

  • “[Branding is] the sum of all the characteristics, tangible and intangible, that make the offer unique.” (Landor)
  • “Branding establishes the direction, leadership, and clarity of purpose for a company.” (CoreBrand)
  • “The fundamental aim of branding is guiding customer choice and building lasting relationships with them.” (Allen Adamson)
  • “The corporate branding process affects all forms of communications, from advertising to public relations to product packaging. It is the intentional declaration of who you are, what you believe, and why your customers should put their faith in your products.” (Branding as a Business Tool)

So what does all of this look like in the real world? In practical terms, brands can manifest themselves in the following ways:

  • Graphic image “look and feel”
  • Slogans and taglines
  • Advertising
  • Logos and color schema
  • Creating an anthropomorphic corporate “persona”
  • Customer promotions and premiums
  • New promotional materials
  • Direct marketing

While some of these may be relevant in certain cases, they are uses of branding, not the brand itself. Campbell Soup’s brand isn’t, “Soup is good food,” even though it’s probably the most recognizable part of their identity.

Branding, like an iceberg, is 90% below the surface. Most people never see the behind-the-scenes stuff, but the elements that are visible to the public often become common point of discussion. On the surface, this would seem to be a good thing for companies that are trying to raise awareness of their products and services. After all, what could be better branding than having millions of people standing around their proverbial water coolers talking about an advertisement they saw on TV, or a publicity stunt that went viral.

A great example of this was when Taco Bell put their logo on a raft in the middle of the ocean in 2001, and announced that everyone in the world could get a free taco if the Mir space station (which was flying out of orbit) hit the raft. Of course, it didn’t even come close, but for weeks people were buzzing about the possibility. From a branding standpoint, that’s a home run.

The downside of this, of course, is when a branding element fails. This happens more often than one might think, and perceived failures aren’t always terrible. Exhibit A is the new logo for The Gap that the company rolled out in 2010. The logo wasn’t awful, but you’d never know it by the wave of negative reaction that led the company to quickly scrap the identity and revert back to its old look. This kind of thing happens all the time – people get used to a certain set of brand elements, and changes can make them feel uncomfortable. That’s why companies that decide to adopt new color schemes, change their logos, or change their names often find themselves on the defensive.

There’s an old saying that, “all publicity is good publicity,” but that’s simply not true. Brands are a critical part of any organization’s reputation, and perceived faults with the brand invariably lead to questions about the company itself. That’s why organizations spend top dollar on focus groups and A/B testing before rolling out any changes that might impact the overall brand.

Still Employed

Posted by on Apr 9, 2015 in Blog, News & Views, Social Media | 0 comments

work-677582_1280   The news landed with a resounding thud this week: Rolling Stone, with the smudge of “avoidable journalistic failure” on its hands, officially retracted its headline-making story about a student who was allegedly raped at a University of Virginia fraternity house in 2012. Not surprisingly, the journalism world is aglow with incredulousness about the fact that the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and Managing Editor Will Dana managed to keep their jobs. Ditto for the fact checkers and everyone else who was supposed to be verifying the explosive details of the story. After all, how can a screw-up of that magnitude go unpunished?

It’s not just social media and internet message boards that are piling on. “Rolling Stone just doesn’t get it,” the venerable Guardian laments. “Months after the magazine published a widely-criticized article about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, the details of which proved unverifiable, those responsible still refuse to take any real responsibility. Instead, editors at the magazine once again placed the blame for their errors where it so often ends up when it comes to sexual assault: on a young woman who alleges she was raped.”

It’s a difficult decision to understand from a journalism standpoint, but let’s look at it from a legal point of view. The bottom line is that Rolling Stone is facing massive financial liability from aggrieved parties (the fraternity in question has already filed a high-dollar lawsuit), and keeping Erdely and Dana on staff may be part of the publication’s strategy to avoid paying millions of dollars in damages. Paradoxically, firing the people who were responsible for the biggest journalism fraud since the New York Times/Jayson Blair fiasco would have made it more difficult for Rolling Stone to defend itself.

Rolling Stone HAS to deflect as much blame as it can while absorbing as little damage as possible to its reputation as a journalistic magazine. Because its main mission right now is to avoid more lawsuits, the magazine has to convince the world (and the courts) that it is guilty of sloppy reporting. Rolling Stone needs to protect itself by copping to “avoidable” lapses – honest mistakes – in its reporting because the only alternative is that its writer and editors acted maliciously in publishing known lies. That, friends, is libel. And THAT carries a hefty price tag. Firing Dana and Erdely could be construed as an admission of their wrongdoing.

So far, Rolling Stone is pushing all the right buttons to pave the way for a defense against lawsuits claiming that the story was the result of intentional malfeasance. This week a scathing 13,000-word report prepared by investigators from the Columbia School of Journalism at the behest of Rolling Stone threw the magazine under the bus but did not conclude that Erdely or Dana acted with malice. In the coming months we can all look forward to an “incompetence defense” as Rolling Stone tries to convince juries that the story was bad journalism but not an intentional attack. Let’s see how it plays out.

Net Neutrality And How It Will Affect Marketing

Posted by on Apr 2, 2015 in Blog, Marketing, News & Views | 0 comments

Arm Wrestle   It’s no secret that politics in Washington is a contact sport, and just about everything is grounds for an argument. One item that’s been in the news in recent months is the subject of net neutrality. In basic terms, the debate is over whether companies that provide Internet services can offer certain content providers faster speeds than other companies receive. It’s analogous to a debate over whether all drivers should share the same highway, or if people who are willing to pay more money can access special lanes that are less congested.

While most of the dialogue is centered around technological and regulatory issues, the final resolution of this issue will have a profound effect on marketing for decades to come. Let’s look at how various outcomes could change the game for companies and organizations that are trying to get their message out.

For a start, video is now an essential part of effective marketing campaigns — and it requires a fast connection — if a video stalls while loading, four out of five people will click away. Enormously popular with all types of consumers, it’s efficient and produces results.

A few statistics illustrate the impact of video:

If you’re concerned with marketing, you’re probably already thinking about short-term and long-term scenarios — with and without net neutrality. With video, factors such as speed, access and cost will be affected. While the issue is not likely to be resolved anytime soon, you may need to re-think content, distribution, and budget to maximize results.

Why Objects May No Longer Appear Closer Than They Are

There’s no doubt that consumers view faster content favorably and find it more engaging. Poor performance makes people act fast – they’ll quickly abandon content if videos don’t download quickly and seamlessly – whether using a laptop or mobile device.

With net neutrality, content is required to travel at the same speed, theoretically treating video distribution by newer, small and mid-sized companies the same as bigger brands with deeper pockets. Without it, many expect the rise of fast lanes with premium pricing. So, if you can’t “pay to play,” your video may be stuck streaming at a speed that won’t hold the attention of potential customers. That may call for adapting content – using shorter videos, optimizing video to play at slower speeds and mixing up how you get your message out.

Taking the Toll Road or the Back Road  

For now, significant portions of online video content – as with YouTube – is free. That’s how many companies reach new customers and it really helps the bottom line. In the search to generate profits, however, new economic models are constantly being devised and what is free today may not be free in the future – with or without net neutrality.

In the absence of regulation, marketing costs for using video may increase. Many expect a move to tiered pricing with fast lanes available only to the big national or global brands that can afford them. Needing to pay for the best user experience – a fast lane – or optimized video, will undoubtedly cost more. At the same time, blocking video content from others over price – forcing companies onto a slower back road – is unlikely to win loyalty for ISPs, mobile providers and others.

Consumer limits on data use, especially on mobile devices, may also extract a higher price. Marketing workarounds include developing sponsored content or aggregated content that would be exempt from any limits or additional cost.

Redrawing the Content Map

With projected tiered pricing for fast lanes, marketing campaigns might need to adapt their video content and distribution strategies. Tiered pricing and geo-targeting (which might begin to include ISPs) would make it more difficult to easily reach a national audience and might require the delivery of different content based on better video streaming performance in some regions vs. others.

The need to develop and distribute multiple versions of content to support a single campaign obviously costs more money. It’s good for business if you’re hired to produce content, less so, if you have to pay for it.

By 2019, 90 percent or more of Internet traffic may involve video bits. Whatever happens on this issue, marketers must focus on providing the best consumer experience possible. Especially with video, effective marketing calls for understanding the type of connections your customers have and creating content that matches their devices and needs. We’ll be counting on technological innovation and sheer marketing creativity to meet these challenges.


Goof Off Day

Posted by on Mar 30, 2015 in Marketing, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Silly    March 22, was officially National Goof Off Day. Well, it’s wasn’t actually official. That’s because the creators of this holiday, who came up with the idea in 1976 – as the result of a joke made by a 10-year-old on a radio call-in show – never actually bothered to get any government to declare it a holiday. This is somewhat appropriate, given its nature – a “day to do anything and everything…except what you’re supposed to do today.”

In the spirit of celebrating high-level slackerdom, here are a few examples of marketing campaigns that were so poorly thought out or executed that they were clearly undertaken by people who were observing National Goof Off Day. And before you email us with the biggest marketing disaster in history, please be aware that the “Chevy Nova flopping in Latin America because ‘no va’ means ‘it doesn’t go’ in Spanish” story is an urban legend that has been thoroughly debunked.

So, what makes for a marketing disaster? Well, lots of things, actually. And, with global brands and 24/7 real-time coverage, there are many new ways for marketers to mess up since the bygone days of the Edsel and New Coke.

We used to judge a bad marketing idea based on the sales results. Now you can be mocked instantaneously – in full, public view – by the very people you are trying to charm and influence. So your bad idea might get lots of attention. Maybe you still believe that even bad publicity is good for you? We humbly disagree – reputation is important and it’s hard to change once dinged.

In no particular order, here are some doozies that should make any marketer cringe:

Wal-Mart Creates a Sizable Problem

As the country’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart surely wants to provide a wide range of products to its enormous customer base. They went too far, however, with an online marketing promotion during Halloween. The “dress up” products for the festive holiday may have been accurately described, but the marketing copy was less than flattering. Labeled “Fat Girl Costumes” the company caught major flack and apologized, quickly revising the copy. The damage was already done.

Lesson? Don’t offend a segment of your customer base and subject your copy to multiple reviews.

McDonalds and Random Acts of Unkindness 

Trying to tweak the long running slogan (I’m Lovin’ It) for a Valentine’s Day promotion, McDonalds launched a campaign (“Pay with Lovin”) that not only sounded cheesy but also was also poorly executed.

Participating locations were charged with randomly selecting 100 customers to get a free meal. That works. The problem arose when the lucky customer actually had to “pay.” A McDonald’s employee was required to (randomly) select how the customer would earn their free meal by drawing a piece of paper from a heart shaped pencil box. Requests included asking someone to dance or writing a poem. So, chagrined customers had to perform on the spot instead of being free to grab an Egg McMuffin to go.

Lesson? Don’t make your customer do something you think is cute or clever to earn something free — especially when they just want fast food.

Malaysian Airlines and Short Term Memory Loss

Airline safety generally gets high marks and most airline promotions are benign and easily forgotten. However, one airline in particular – Malaysian Airlines — made the news for losing two planes in the space of a month with a major loss of passenger lives.

Despite the news, Malaysian Airlines launched a major ad campaign exhorting passengers to travel on their airline to achieve their “Bucket List” and to tweet places they’d like to see before they die.

Lesson? Think about your company’s recent history and reputation before you devise a campaign that might sound great — under different circumstances, not yours. And, do consult your crisis communications team as needed.

Let’s close with mention of a mere days-old entrant that will likely go down as a head scratcher – in a presumed corporate social responsibility category.

Starbucks and No, I Don’t Want to Talk About It

Baristas at 12,000 Starbuck locations have just been asked – if they want – to write “Race Together” on the side of your coffee cup and start a conversation about the issue, after they master spelling your name or alias on same cup.

CEO Howard Schultz has a history of getting involved with other social issues – can you name any?

Given the sheer magnitude of the mocking in social media – with lots of opposition and snark – count on this making the next annual list.

Lesson? Doing CSR right is tricky. A strong, clear link between your company’s product, mission and values helps and shouldn’t leave you vulnerable to an ask about your own corporate behavior.

The Pros and Cons of “Lipstick on the Pig” Marketing

Posted by on Mar 21, 2015 in Blog, Marketing | 0 comments

Lipstick on PigYou are the vice president of marketing at a software company. After months of planning, it’s time to launch the new version of your flagship product. Everything is ready to go – the press release is written, the analyst interviews have been scheduled, the new website copy is approved – except for one little thing: the software doesn’t work very well.

What do you do?

That’s a question that marketers face every day, and in many cases it’s a no-win situation. Proceed as if everything is working fine, and you risk getting back in the media (and among potential users) for having a lousy product. Go to the management team and encourage them to push the release date back a few months, and you’ll probably get a lecture about how important it is to have the product on the market by a certain date. Either way, you will probably be the person caught in the crossfire.

Assuming that the company decides to go with the first option, is there a way to protect the reputation of the organization, as well as your personal reputation and marketing community? In other words, is there a way to launch product that’s not ready for prime time without causing long-term damage? The short answer is yes – but it needs to be done carefully.

One of the reasons that the marketing profession has such a dubious reputation in many circles is the reputation for “spinning” negative stories into positive ones. Here are a few ways to manage a company’s marketing with integrity and in alignment with the company’s values.

1 – Before you start communicating with outside audiences, make sure you have internal agreement about the “real” situation. A lot of people are good at deluding themselves, so it’s critical to have a check with the people whose opinions matter. You may find that the senior executive team thinks that everything is great, while the line-level employees may sense impending doom. Make sure that the top brass takes off their blinders and that the rank-and-file stops grousing long enough to achieve consensus. You may find that things aren’t as bad as they may seem. For example, a software product may be working perfectly except for one feature, which is a lot different than crashing users’ computers when they try to install it. Know the scope of the problem.

2 – Deal in reality, not hypotheticals, when trying to assess the scope of the problem. An engineering VP might try to save his or her own skin by claiming that everything will be ready only two weeks late, when the reality is that it will take months to have a functioning product. It’s impossible for marketers to come up with an effective strategy when they don’t have all of the information.

3 – Once you know the situation, it’s time to draw up a revised marketing plan. This may involve announcing the product as a “coming attraction” and then waiting for several months to announce general availability. This may not be ideal for senior management, but it is a great way to protect the integrity of the company. Getting caught announcing vaporware is one of the best ways to develop a terrible reputation in the industry.

4 – If you are going to launch a product that is missing some key features, acknowledge that new features will be forthcoming in the near future rather than implying that they are already beginning. Customers in any industry for smart people, and notice if something doesn’t work as advertised. And they’ll make sure to let everyone else know, as well.

5 – if you absolutely need to launch a product by a certain date, and it is not ready for market, be sure to acknowledge this to the people you’re trying to impress. That’s why many software companies feel comfortable talking to reporters and analysts about beta versions of their products.

All of these examples are from the tech industry, but they are applicable across just about every vertical. Marketing has a reputation of being a BS-driven business, but the visibility created by social media and a 24-hour news cycle have made it increasingly difficult to get away with chicanery and obfuscation. The bottom line is that there are ways to make the best out of a bad situation without sacrificing your integrity or reputation.

Marketing: Globalize or Personalize?

Posted by on Mar 16, 2015 in Blog, Marketing | 0 comments

marketThe best form of marketing ever invented is a face-to-face meeting. That’s because if one follows the American Marketing Association’s definition (the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large), marketing really comes down to influencing people to make certain decisions. And a personal conversation is often the best way to accomplish this.

Unfortunately, that’s not really scalable, especially for companies that want to reach broad audiences, so organizations have developed strategies to reach many people at once. That’s why folks paid $4.5 million dollars for a 30-second television ad during the last Super Bowl – they wanted to reach nearly 120 million people at the same time. Sure it’s expensive, but it’s also a lot more efficient than making 120 million phone calls extolling the virtues of Budweiser or Doritos.

The big question for marketers is how wide a net they need to cast. It may make sense to spend millions of dollars on an ad for a popular consumer product with a potentially massive audience, but it would be useless for a local pizza parlor to buy a national TV spot. Someone in Seattle who sees an ad for a restaurant in Orlando is not going to go there for dinner, regardless of the promise of ample parking.

That’s why the most important thing to do is define the audience. One of the critical mistakes that companies make is not clearly identifying who they are trying to reach. For example, a consumer products company that defines its audience as “women” is going to need a massive marketing campaign to reach its potential customer base. Adding some qualifiers is a good way to start – for example, “women in their thirties 30s living in the 10 largest American cities” – but in most cases even that is still too general. Instead, think of, “women who go to a yoga studio at least once a month…”

Limiting the audience might seem counterintuitive, but it actually strengthens the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. That’s because even a basic advertising campaign in the major women-focused publications and websites could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, whereas focusing on one or two publications that really hit the core audience may only run a few hundred dollars an issue. It’s a much better use of marketing dollars. If you want a cup of coffee, it’s a lot faster and cheaper to heat up a cup of water than it is to boil the ocean.

Once the audience is defined as narrowly as possible, it is important to come up with a compelling narrative to get people interested. A software company that has identified its core market as “vice presidents of engineering at companies with more than 2000 employees” is ahead of the game, but the next step is to figure out what value it can bring to those potential buyers. In most cases, simply explaining how a piece of technology works isn’t enough to influence buying decisions. Instead, companies need to identify a significant problem that their target markets are facing and build the marketing campaign around helping them solve that problem. Explaining that a product is “J2EE compliant and is built on a CORBA bus” may be accurate, but “We will save you 30% on your development costs” is a much more interesting story.

The next step in focusing a marketing campaign is figuring out the best mix of tactics to reach the desired audience. This really depends on the industry that a company is working in, which is why it helps to have as sharply defined a market as possible. A local grocery store may want to invest heavily in sponsoring small community events to raise goodwill and brand awareness in the immediate neighborhood, because research shows that most people in cities travel less than a mile to shop for food. This approach wouldn’t make any sense for a global insurance company that is trying to reach senior executives at Fortune 500 companies. Instead, a media-heavy campaign focused on getting coverage in the top business publications might be a better approach.

One size does not fit all. Many organizations (including some of the best-known companies in the world) overspend on marketing because they focus their efforts too broadly. By pinpointing the target audience, creating a story to resonate with those people, and using the right channels to reach them, companies can save money while improving their overall results.

The Art of the Ad Lib

Posted by on Feb 3, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments


By Richard Berman, CEO of VerbFactory

VerbFactory keeps our plate full with clients in a number of fields, but we’ve always stayed away from political consulting. It’s not that we don’t love politics (or have spirited discussions about major issues in the office), but it is a niche specialty area that we simply don’t cover. Nevertheless, there are important lessons that every organization can learn by watching how politicians communicate.

In January, President Obama generated significant attention during the state of the Union address when he delivered a one line zinger about his two national elections, digging at Republicans by stating, “I know because I won both of ‘em.” It was a great sound bite, and media outlets from around the country took note of his “off-the-cuff” dagger, which was directed at the Republican members of Congress. It may have been great political theater, but anyone who thinks that it was improvised should look deeper at how elected officials prepare for public speaking events and leave nothing to chance.

American politics has long been punctuated by short quips delivered by politicians to change the tone of a campaign or policy debate. But while most of these are delivered effortlessly, they are often scripted and rehearsed long before a candidate or officeholders steps up to the microphone. Spiro Agnew once referred to his opponents as, “nattering nabobs of negativism,” and Lloyd Bentsen demolished Dan Quayle in a vice presidential debate by telling Quayle, “You’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Both of these were great lines that have long survived the men who uttered them – and both of them were written by professional speechwriters before being carefully practiced to come across as improvised. Agnew’s gem was penned by conservative wit William Safire, who later went on to write for the New York Times, and Bentsen reportedly practiced the line in a mock debate with advisor William Eckart

So what can non-politicians learned from this brand of verbal choreography? For starters, leave nothing to chance when it comes to talking to a reporter or addressing a large number of people. In more blunt terms, an interview was no time for original thought. Speakers need to be thoroughly prepared ahead of time so that they can deliver their knockout punches at the right time. This is just as important for a CEO on an investor phone call as it is for the founder of a startup tech company pitching a room full of potential funders.

Of course, one of the most important things is not only to prepare, but to make it look like you haven’t prepared. If Bentsen had insulted Quayle as part of his “prepared” remarks, he would’ve come across as petty, but because his line was delivered during a less formal part of the debate, he was immediately recognized as a rhetorical genius. Ditto for Obama’s line about winning two national elections, or President Reagan’s mock-exasperated “There you go again.” The reality is that politicians – at least the successful ones – have the ability to come across as charming and folksy at will, which is also a trait shared by top business leaders who know how to work a room.

Share This