Listening to Your Customers In the Digital Age

January 19, 2012

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new” – Steve Jobs

What do customers want?

Let’s do a focus group and find out. This tried-and-true approach to innovation leading to brand extensions, new product categories, and new marketing approaches has and continues to be used as a cornerstone of market research efforts.

In an interesting BusinessWeek article dating back to 2005, titled “Shoot the Focus Group”, the author states that although there are plenty of examples and ample evidence that Focus Groups fail time and again, companies keep using them.

“The old-fashioned focus group still has its believers even with fiascoes like Pepsi Edge and a decades-long new-product failure rate of about 90%.” – BusinessWeek

You probably know the famous examples of the failure of Chrysler’s Aztek car and the surprising success of PT Cruiser, Coca Cola’s “New Coke”, Ford Edsel, and plenty of others horror stories of focus groups gone wrong.

And why is that? I like Gerald Zaltman’s explanation that “The correlation between stated intent and actual behavior is usually low and negative” which also reminds me of an episode of Mad Men where Don Draper chastises a hired researcher to do a focus group for one of their clients, see below.

Excerpt from Mad Men, Season 4. “The Rejected”.

Faye: Well, I’ve done everything but finish the report.

Don: How’d we do?

Faye: Well, it turns out the hypothesis was rejected. I’d recommend a strategy that links pond’s cold cream to matrimony– a veiled promise.

Don: Hello, 1925. I’m not gonna do that, so what are we gonna tell the client?

Faye: I can’t change the truth.

Don: How do you know that’s the truth? A new idea is something they don’t know yet, so of course it’s not gonna come up as an option. Put my campaign on tv for a year, then hold your group again, maybe it’ll show up.

Faye: Well, I tried everything. I said “routine”, I tried “ritual”… all they care about is a husband. You were there. I’ll show you the transcripts.

Don: You can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved.

So, what’s the problem with focus groups?

In a Harvard Business Review article, Turn Customer Input into Innovation, Anthony Ulwick says “companies go about listening to customers all wrong”. Customers are asked to offer a solution to a problem but they aren’t informed enough, aren’t experts in the field and have a limited frame of reference.

“The problem, when there is one, is simple: Companies ask their customers what they want.” – Anthony Ulwick

The solution, according to Ulwick, is to focus on outcomes. This means that instead of asking for customers to submit solutions to a particular problem, they should focus on understanding what customers value most.

Leveraging Social Media for Market Research

But how about using social media? I strongly believe that traditional marketing tactics can be greatly enhanced by using digital tools and when it comes to market research, social media channels should be top of mind. That includes paying attention to comments on your blog, using your Facebook Fan Base to test new ideas, monitoring Twitter feeds, and more.

“I’ll take the status update that someone wrote from the couch in the comfort of their own home as more accurate than the comment they made in a focus group room when they are given a $100 gift card to show up.” – Mike Volpe, CMO at HubSpot

Whether social media will replace traditional market research is up to debate, the active use of social media to complement market research can dramatically improve a company’s success ratio for new product launches and maybe take away some of that bad rap focus groups have.

Additional Reading

Here are some interesting articles if you’d like to dig deeper into this topic:

Note: Mad Men is Copyright of American Movie Classics Company LLC.


What Are Your Brand Touchpoints?

December 8, 2011

White fenceA nice post by Nick Westergaard on the “12 Most Underutilized Brand Touchpoints” talks about the stuff many people relegate to second plan when thinking about their company’s brand.

You have your logo, your tagline, your website… but how about product packaging,  brochures, and holiday cards? Yup, holiday cards deserve some branding love too. It’s all about how you present yourself and your company to customers and prospects in every single touchpoint. This means every place where someone will see your company (or read about it) should have the same consistent message, look and feel.

So what are the 12 touchpoints? They are:

  1. Packaging
  2. Invoices
  3. Packing Slips
  4. Price change letters/ renewal notices
  5. User guides
  6. New business proposals
  7. Vehicles
  8. Search ads
  9. Holiday cards
  10. Inter-office / company newsletters
  11. Employees
  12. The back of the fence (this is a Steve Jobs analogy, about what goes inside your product or at the back of the fence where people usually don’t even look)
Check out the full article here: http://12most.com/2011/12/05/12-underutilized-brand-touchpoints/

What is your list of touchpoints?


Content Marketing Starts With Your Brand

November 18, 2011

Branding used to be a high-level exercise bigger companies went through as part of their strategic marketing processes. You get an agency, brainstorm cute pictures, logos, and tag lines, come up with the visual guidelines, and move on. Every now and then you refer back to those branding guidelines that tell you the correct position for your logo and the approved color scheme.

Fast forward to today. You’re not doing passive marketing anymore, you’re actively seeking out, enticing, educating, and engaging your audience. You are creating content. Your colleague on the other side of the cubicle is creating content. Even the receptionist with her Facebook updates is creating content. Where is your brand now?

It Starts With the Brand

Content marketing experts tell you to find your voice. They tell you to be authentic, to show there’s a face behind the tweets, there’s people behind the whitepapers, and that there is a personality for your company. This is all good, and is all part of branding.

How is branding related to content marketing? When you think of your company’s brand (whatever size company you may be working for / with), you have to consider the following aspects of who your company is:

  • Purpose: why do you do what you do?
  • Values: what do you stand for and how you behave?
  • Promise: what differentiates you from everyone else? Why are you relevant?
  • Voice: how do you present yourself, your look and feel

If we put it another way, think about how your company behaves, how it is perceived in the market, and what it wants to stand for. For example, how is your company in relation to the following “attributes”:

  • Serious vs. Playful
  • Funny vs. Taciturn
  • Outspoken vs. Introverted
  • Analytical vs. Impulsive
  • Likes to socialize vs. Keeps to himself
  • Wordy vs. Concise
  • Courageous vs. Prudent

Looks like a personality test? Well, it kinda is. Your ‘brand’ has a personality, a voice, a look. When you create content, you have to keep those things in mind. It helps with maintaining consistency, in presenting a unified front whether is via an eBook, a video, or a presentation.

Your Brand and Content Marketing

If you are a one-person shop, going through this exercise is faster. It’s all in your head and you basically have to decide if your company’s brand will be an extension of your own personality and behavior or if you’ll give it a different twist. For larger companies this will involve getting leaders from all areas together to understand what exactly makes the company unique. It will also involve documenting your brand attributes and communicating it to the rest of the company.

If you are thinking about putting together a social media policy, for example, it would have to follow the brand strategy for your company. When hiring someone, the brand is an important factor to consider. The company’s culture will be extremely close to the brand as well and is what will ultimately drive the brand and sustain it.

So as you put together your content marketing plan and decide which angles to approach certain topics, think back to your brand. That’s the first step in creating the best content.

 


Are You Spending Enough on Online Marketing?

November 3, 2011

Although the level of marketing spend doesn’t usually correlate to marketing effectiveness, it is useful to know how others in your industry or other companies of similar size are spending their money on marketing.

Forrester Research has recently released a study, “Benchmark Your Interactive Marketing Maturity“, that aims to give you some metrics to figure out whether you are putting your money on the right marketing tactics.

Five Benchmarks

According to Forrester, you should take a look at the following:

  1. Annual interactive marketing budget: this involves branching out from the pure email marketing tactic and looking at mobile, tablets, and the like.
  2. Share of advertising budget dedicated to interactive marketing: shift the money from the typical print and TV ads and invest in online channels.
  3. Percent of interactive budget earmarked for emerging media: invest in new technologies and start trying out channels before your competition does.
  4. Size of interactive marketing teams: unless you have people dedicated to interactive marketing, not much will get accomplished.
  5. Number of agencies leveraged for interactive support: it is difficult to find an agency that can do it all, so typically you will have to use a couple or more.

Comparing Your Numbers

Sure, knowing the benchmark metrics help a little but what are the numbers? If you’re a small company then the report won’t be of much help because it breaks down the survey respondents into those with less than $1 billion in revenues, $1 billion to $9.9 billion, and those of $10 billion and more. In other words, is a good benchmark for the big guys.

So if the survey finding that the median of annual interactive marketing budgets is $7.19 million leaves you thinking “if I only had 10% of that!” don’t despair. It is still interesting to see the percentage of allocation for each type of interactive initiative and then compare to how your own company is doing. If nothing else, serves to start a conversation about where the marketing money should be spent.

Using the Benchmarks

There are many ways in which you can analyze and use the report:

  • Look at company size and compare with your own budget. Bigger companies will allocate more resources, and depending on what you sell the online venue might require a bigger piece of the pie versus those that need to rely mostly on traditional channels to reach their audiences.
  • Your business goals should determine priorities. The purchasing process your buyers follow, your overall business objectives and competitive positioning should be taken into account when comparing what others are doing.
  • New is good, but be careful. Sure, interactive marketing and new shiny toys are great, but beware of untested tools and tactics. In other words, test, test, and test some more before jumping in.
  • Get the right skill set. Which means, hire the right people with the right skills to manage the programs you plan on investing in.
  • Use agencies wisely. Big and smaller companies need to really assess the role agencies play in their overall marketing strategy and what types of agencies are appropriate.

Measure Yourself (Free!)

Luckily, Forrester has created a free online tool based on their study results that allows you to plug in your numbers to get a high-level comparison based on benchmark data.

It’s worth trying out: Forrester Benchmarking Tool


How An Old School Product Leveraged A New Mobile App

September 20, 2011

It has been out for a couple months now, the new myStain app from Clorox, but only now I have seen an interesting account of the marketing campaign and results highlighted in an article from MarketingNews (an AMA publication, requires registration).

Clorox myStain AppAs I first started reading about the mobile app that gives tips on stain removal, I wasn’t sure who would actually want to download it. Well, it seems the app has been downloaded over 75,000 times and 50% of users have shared the app via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter, according to the MarketingNews article.

In addition to that, Clorox got a bunch of good press and, according to David Kellis, PR manager at Clorox, “this app helped us make [our site] more searchable, more functional. It opened our eyes into how we should be positioning [the way] people search for stain solutions”.

The transformation in the perception of the Clorox brand was also a key success for the company. For me, it showed that even a near-century-old bleach brand can leverage modern technology to create something not only creative but really amazing. What a great way to connect with customers and refresh their perception of your brand.

For more about the app, the Mobile Marketer blog has a good overview.


Apple’s Marketing Genius

August 26, 2011

With Steve Jobs stepping down from the CEO post at Apple, is inevitable we look back at the history of such an iconic company. Marketing, at Apple, has always been a differentiating point and key to their eventual dominance of the electronics consumer market and their resurrection in the personal computer industry.

While Brand Republic’s post “Appointment to view: Apple’s History of Marketing” takes us back to the early days of Apple advertising the Apple-1 in 1976 until today’s iPad commercials, Tom Hormby’s “Think Different – The Ad Campaign that Restored Apple’s Reputation”  is a great analysis of the role marketing played in lifting Apple from almost demise to what became the greatest turnaround in that company’s history.

There’s been speculation about Apple’s ad spend but it is clear that Apple’s marketing has always followed a set of guiding principles, no matter how much money they had for the marketing budget at the time.

For more about Apple’s best ads, check out Advertising Age’s “The 10 Best Ads to Come Out of Steve Jobs’ Reign at Apple”  and Marketing Week’s “Apple: A History in Ads”.

Apple: History in Ads

Apple Silhouettes Commercial

10 Best Ads from Steve Jobs


   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
You may also want to check out this video showing the original marketing group at Apple at the launch of the McIntosh reminiscing about the old days, telling tales and sharing some insider stories of what it was like to work at Apple in the early days.

Finally, Guy Kawasaki’s book “The McIntosh Way” talks about his career as a McIntosh Evangelist, the early efforts of Apple to dominate the personal computer market, and more. His book is now offered as a free download.


How Viral Marketing Can Kill You

July 13, 2011

Flu Shots Sign picture from Confluence! by smilla4 @ FlickrViral Marketing, or the spread of ideas (also called Word of Mouth Marketing) is usually thought of as a good thing. You create a video or a campaign and everyone starts talking about it. You go home happy and maybe even get a promotion. But sometimes the “viral” element more closely resembles the bad kind, the on that kicks you in the teeth and puts you out in bed for a week.

Scott Stratton, author of “UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging.” tells in his book a personal account of how a viral marketing campaign went wrong. It is the best example I’ve seen so far of a)someone owning to his mistakes, and b)a marketing idea backfiring really bad.

The Start of a Good Idea

As Scott tells in his book, he was into motivational speaking and decided to put out a short video (this was in 2004, way before YouTube became the default video sharing site) in his website. It was really a rotating slide show with background music and some inspiring text on top, nothing fancy but was well done. You can watch it at www.thetimemovie.com.

His intent was to get people to watch the video, and contact him for a speaking engagement. Did he get what he wanted? Well, yes and no. He did get over 4 million views (yes, 4 million!) but… things didn’t necessarily work according to plan. Here’s why.

Breaking the Bank

After creating and uploading the video to his server, which was just a regular ISP that hosted his site, Scott emailed a couple hundred people from his list about it. Emails started coming back saying they were getting a “Page not found” error. Oops, what’s wrong? Well, his server had a monthly bandwidth limit, meaning only a certain number of hits to the page and downloads were allowed based on the plan he had at the time. That meant people were going to his site and because he had already exceeded his monthly allotted bandwidth, the server was denying visitors the video!

As he called the ISP and asked them to remove the bandwidth limit, the video went back online and people starting watching it. In droves. He got a $1,400 bill (a bit more than the typical $9 per month he had before the video went up) due to the hundreds of thousands hits he was getting on his video page. And that was just for that last week of the month! Ouch!

Engaging Viewers

Having put up a landing page to capture people’s email addresses was a good idea, but a friend pointed out that it was too confusing, there was just too much about him on the page and no clear call to action. With a quick redesign, he increased conversion from 8% to 24% and started amassing 4,000 new emails per day that he would later use for his newsletter.

Trying to avoid even more expenses (the scar left from the monthly hosting bill was still visible) Scott then decided against using an ESP (email service provider) and went ahead to email his newly acquired list using Outlook Express. Yup, not the full featured MS Outlook businesses use via an Exchange server, but the stripped down consumer version that used to come free with every new MS Office installation.

The process was simple, but time consuming. He would download the new emails captured by the landing page (19 hours downloads) and manually cut and paste each one into the email client. Out of frustration he deleted 140,000 email addresses. In the first couple weeks.

After also playing with free open source scripts to help get the email addresses imported into his email client, and not being able to do so, Scott caved in and went with Aweber, an email service provider which made the job of getting emails and sending out newsletters much easier.

Successful Failure?

There are those who would love to win the lottery, and those who actually play it. That’s what this next episode of his viral marketing gone wrong reminds me of. Scott was trying to get speaking engagements and created a great video that went viral. The problem is that he never actually believed, or was prepared, for the number of speaker kits he received. Back in ’04 when you wanted to screen someone prior to offering an speaking engagement, you would ask for  a “speaker kit”, which consisted of a resume, pictures, and tape reel showing snippets of that person actually giving a talk.

So after two weeks of the movie going live, 50 requests came in. How many speaker kits did Scott have prepared for the eventuality? Zero. And he was personally doing every speaker kit himself (printing, making copies, punching holes, and mailing). About 785 speaker requests came in before he was able to work out a good process to fulfill them properly. Requests for one of his “Relaxation on Demand” CDs were so many he had to refund people’s money because he couldn’t have burned the CD’s (yes, he was doing it himself) on time… and people complained they just wanted the product!

So, in the end was it all a waste? I wouldn’t say so, since Scott was able to book over $100,000 in new business but he definitely lost some potential business. The worst that could have happened I guess is if his reputation had been ruined because of that, which didn’t happen.

A Viral Marketing Lesson

“Please learn from my pain” – Scott Stratten

What can we learn from Scott’s mistakes?

  • Define success: what do you consider success? How will you be able to tell whether your viral marketing campaign was successful? Define metrics that you’ll use to make sure you haven’t wasted your time or money.
  • Be prepared for the traffic: can your website, call center, sales reps, and other relevant operations handle the potential surge in traffic? Sure, today you have YouTube to host videos but make sure you have all pieces in place before you start the viral engine. You don’t want it to break as the user is clicking your “buy now” button or similar.
  • Collect and Engage: make sure you have a way to collect information from those interested in learning more about your products or services, and have a process that will make collecting such information easy on you. Tweak your landing page, and test different versions. Also have a plan for following up and keeping up the interest and dialogue.
  • Plan for the success, and for the failure: be prepared, and react fast. Whether your success is bigger than anticipated or the idea failed miserably, know how you will handle it and make sure your team (if you have one) is ready.

Failure stories abound on the Internet, I just had not seen such a detailed account of “I screwed up” from someone like Scott. For more info on his book, check out the link below.

P.S.: If you’re in San Francisco you should come to the San Francisco Marketing Book Club where we’ll be discussing UnMarketing during our upcoming meeting.

Amazon Link to UnMarketing

UnMarketing Book cover


Reinventing Marketing at GE

July 7, 2011
General Electric Ecomagination Marketing Advertising

GE's Ecomagination Ad Campaign - Result of the Marketing Transformation Process

Who would have thought that General Electric (GE), one of the most admired companies in the world didn’t have a substantial marketing organization up until recently. And I’m not talking in number of people (they had 2,500 marketers a the time), but in its role related to strategic decisions, branding, and overall market direction.

In “Unleashing the Power of Marketing“, Harvard Business Review tells us an interesting tale of how GE transformed its marketing operations and gives us an interesting framework for applying to other businesses. The goal at GE was to transform marketing from a support function to an active player in driving revenue.

“Our framework centered on giving marketing a revenue-generating role in its own right.”

It’s a story worth reading, but since you may not have access to HBR (the article above requires subscription), here’s a summary.

Marketing as a Function

Building products that sell themselves is a neat idea and had worked well for GE for years. But, as the article points out, “The businesses were maturing, and like other companies, GE was learning that it could not win simply by launching increasingly sophisticated technologies or by taking existing technologies to new markets. Some of its best-thought-out new offerings were fast becoming commodities.”

GE then started to create a framework for its marketing group and came up with three core components:

1. Principles
After a thorough assessment of their expertise and functions, GE came up with eight disciplines organized into two groups, go-to-market activities, and commercial essentials. They became the core principles driving their marketing organization.

2. People
Their next step was to understand the roles marketing should play at GE. They came up with four roles: Instigators, Innovators, Integrators, and Implementers.

3. Process
Having identified what they wanted from marketing, GE then started putting together metrics for evaluation of the marketing teams and started a process called Maturity Evaluation.

Principles of Marketing at Work

It started from the top down, with Jeffrey Immelt (the CEO) pushing marketing to have a “line” role instead of the historical “staff” role it had at GE. Marketing started to be held responsible for critical operating mechanisms like pricing and quantifying customer value. Marketing started to play a role in determining not just what the customer needed but also in applying technology to better meet customer needs.

As marketing started to work in new innitiatives, expanding its role, more funding was provided and new offerings were created.

“In all these initiatives marketing gets into the game at the start, sizing “white space” opportunities, meshing unmet needs with new technologies, and moving our brand in new directions.”

A new Marketing Framework was created, comprised of eight disciplines:

  • Strat­egy and innovation
  • Brand­ing and communications
  • Sales force effectiveness
  • “New World” skills
  • Mar­ket knowledge
  • Seg­men­ta­tion and targeting
  • Value cre­ation and pricing
  • Com­mer­cial activation

Throughout the transformation process, this framework was refined and always referred to.

Key Marketing Roles

As they progressed with their marketing transformation, GE also identified a few key marketing roles that would become essential for transforming the organization:

The Instigator
Marketers have to challenge the status quo and look for new and better ways of doing things.

At GE some units had a tendency to develop products because they could, not because the market needed them. Marketing helped business leaders think outside their usual market and started to identify opportunities that weren’t even on the table previously. It’s more than market research, is looking outside and understanding the changes happening in the marketplace, in buying decisions, and in who your target market really is. Armed with data, marketing leaders could then discuss new directions with business leaders and show other approaches to growth.

The Innovator
Turning marketplace insights into untested products, services, or solutions.

While in the past marketing was relegated to simply passing information along to the groups responsible for innovation (R&D or engineering), the new marketing team started taking an active role in more than just advertising or market research expanding its reach beyond product features and functionality to include pricing, delivery, customer engagement, and new business models.

For example, in the Aviation market GE used to sell engines on the basis of thrust and other quantitative metrics and has since changed its approach to focus on operational efficiency and resource productivity.

“Innovative marketers use unique marketplace insights to come up with products, services, or solutions based on untested ideas.”

The Integrator
Building bridges across silos and functions and between the company and the market.

At GE it was recognized that marketers sometimes have to be translators. They have to speak product language with R&D and customer language to the sales force. But more than that, marketing has the capability of bringing disparate groups in the organization together to assess market dynamics and help the company cross-sell bundled products. During crisis (like the recent economic downturn), marketing can help bridge the gap between businesses and help them have an integrated view of distribution, pricing, sales, and more.

The Implementer
Executing on ideas.

“Getting things done” is probably the most critical skill of a marketer, even more at GE where those without direct P&L responsibility have a tough time getting resources and driving change.

“Marketing leaders have to build coalitions and persuade others, using functional expertise, insights, and teamwork rather than authority”

At GE, for example, marketing had to gain trust little by little. First, by giving business units competitive information, industry analysis, and the like. With time, and success in the early efforts, other units started to request help with specific projects.

Marketing Maturity and Knowledge Gap

Understanding what needs to be done is only half the battle, the other half is getting people to actually execute. GE started to hire marketers effectively doubling the marketing organization in size from 2,500 people in 2003 to 5,000 today. CMO’s were appointed for each GE business and also at the corporate level, tapping both internal staff as well as hiring from the outside.

They also conducted a Marketing Maturity Evaluation, to better understand what was missing from their marketing toolbox. This evaluation became an annual affair where CMO’s would convene their marketing teams and go through the survey for measuring specific skills, performance results, and understanding possible gaps.

The maturity evaluation surveys had a list of 35 skills and 140 definitions. Each capability had a description of what success looks like. The teams would score their units and review the assessments with business leaders, then they would roll up the score to eight capability areas and see if the scores were aligned across the organization. As marketing teams worked on these self-audits, they created a common language across all marketing staff regardless of business unit. With results in hand, CMOs and CEOs started to see areas that needed improvemeent and could work towards getting the right training or resources needed.

Transforming Your Marketing Organization

Think you have a tough time? Well, if GE can transform its marketing organization and reinvent itself in only a few years, think how much more you could do and how much faster!

Start by looking at what marketing capabilities you need in your team. Then, do a gap analysis (or maturity analysis like GE) and candidly assess where you and your team stand. Put a plan in place to either hire or train people to reach the level you require and also identify what roles marketing should play in your company.

Do you see marketing as Instigator, Innovator, Integrator, or Implementer? Maybe different situations require a different profile, but in that case be ready to get your team members up to speed on what each role requires.

If you have to get different results and don’t know how to start, I hope this story gave you some food for thought.

 

Further Reading

Additional resources related to General Electric’s marketing transformation:


Content Marketing eBook and Infographics

June 23, 2011

A Content Marketing eBook

Content Marketing is all the rave, that’s part of what drove me to do some research on the history of content marketing and publish this free eBook, A Brief History of Content Marketing. I was curious to see how marketers of the past have used content marketing strategies to attract and engage customers before the Internet Age.

The result was a fun project, and many findings. Who would have thought giving away free recipe books could save a company? Or that Microsoft (of all companies) was the first of Fortune 500 corporations to have a corporate blog?

Download the eBook and let me know what you think.

Brief History Content Marketing eBook

The Rise of Marketing Infographics

Also interesting to me was the amount of Infographics, especially ones related to marketing, that I came across during my research and that have been released just now. Here are some great Content Marketing Infographics you may enjoy.

Content Marketing versus traditional marketing

Content Marketing Grid

The problem with content marketing infographic

The Rise of Content Marketing Infographic

Appetite for Content Infographic

Content Marketing Grid Infographic

 Did I miss a great Content Marketing Infographic? Let me know!


A Tough Road for Marketing Automation

June 20, 2011

Marketing Automation is a hot topic. News about multi-million dollar investments in the space has sparked not only interest from marketers but a multitude of competitors crowding an already jammed market. Is like driving down the highway only to see the traffic stopping right after you take the next curve. As the traffic is slowly moves, some cars faster than others, many drivers start wondering if they should take the next exit.

What’s Ahead for Marketing Automation Vendors

Continue reading my thoughts on what’s ahead for marketing automation vendors on a recently published article at the Marketing Automation Times website.


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