Grown-up Marketing Strategy

14 Jan

My latest musical crush is Austin, TX singer-songwriter named Bruce Robison. I discovered him as the songwriter behind a heart-rending tune by the Dixie Chicks called “Travelin’ Solider“, and last year he put out an achingly awesome album of duets with his wife, the slightly better-known country artist Kelly Willis.

What’s cool about Bruce Robison is that he writes songs like a grown-up for grown-ups. In his song “Just Married“,  a travelogue from beginning to “now” of a thoroughly loving and real marriage, the “now” verse goes:

They say everything changes, and no one’s to blame
But the more things change the more I stay the same
And everything about me that she loved before
Are the same damn things she can’t stand no more.

Right? But just when you think he’s getting all cynical on you, he finishes with:

When my friends ask me how I am today
I just smile and say
It’s like when we were just married

There’s a tension in our lives — between wanting everything to be like it was — bein’ a kid for as long as you can — and adapting to the way life changes. While it seems like every other movie, song and self-help guide glorifies childhood that lasts forever, growing up is complicated, it’s messy and it’s hard. You know the world’s changing…and you may not want to change but you want to adapt, and at the same time hold onto what’s right, or in the song, to ‘a love so true’.

Marketing has this same tension over adaptation and change. Staying the same while everything changes in marketing isn’t just sad, they say, it’s contemptible. There’s a rush to the new, a drive to disrupt. Skim the marketing chatter and you’ll quickly discover that whatever you’ve been doing, you should be doing the new thing, and if you’re doing the new thing, you’re probably doing it wrong. Oh, and someone else is doing it in ways much more awesome than you could ever hope to do, unless you Innovate! Disrupt! Tear it all down and start over.

Here in the real world, the challenge of change isn’t just a matter of rushing to the latest fad. Everyone is busy. Swamped. Overworked. Underpaid. A lot of problems could be solved with one more new hire, and as soon as we finally get the [Marketo-Eloqua-Salesforce-new website-more technology-more budget] approved and finished. We need more leads in the top the funnel, more nurturing in the middle, more demand, more sales lit. The channel needs more attention, the blog needs more content, the media needs answers, we need more case studies, we should be doing more with LinkedIn and Twitter, and are our customers really on [insert hot new social network here], and who knows what else they are saying about us out there?

The reality of our changing media landscape is that it is more additive than disruptive. Every marketing communications channel has it’s place, and we need to drive them all. Web? Check. Solution sheet? Check. Case studies? Check. Daily social posts? Check. Blog? Check. PR? Check. Email marketing? Check. Webinars? Check. Ads? Check. Trade shows? Check. I’m sure we’re forgetting something…check check check.

Grown-up marketing is about more than checking boxes.  Grown-up marketing recognizes that you have to build a foundation from certain universal truths, forsake excuses and easy answers for hard choices about priorities, and adapt. Here are mine:

  • Customer insights drive the business. You’re in business because you understand something about what customers need, and have a unique ability to deliver. But customer needs have a habit of changing. There is a continual need for customer insights to drive strategy; it can come from frequent interaction with key customers, surveys, user councils, analyst reports, focus groups, insightful sales and service personnel, and directed, in-depth interviews.
  • Business objectives drive brand positioning. The brand strategy should flow organically and creatively out of who you are and — more importantly — who you want to be as a business. And the brand should be a platform to drive growth.
  • Brand positioning drives your marketing strategy. Brand positioning is more than a logo and a list of messages. It should express who you are and how you act with your customers. A good brand positioning platform will help you make choices and prioritize how you communicate to customers to drive awareness, preference, demand and sales.
  • Marketing strategy meets the customers where they are. Should you focus on getting into the media? Email? SEO?  Website? How about working with analysts? Facebook? User conferences? Trade shows? Super Bowl ads? The answer is: go where your customers are and give them a clear path to come to you.  It all comes back to those customer insights — how will the market know they need you? Where will they go to meet that need? Who will they ask for advice? This is where you need to be — with the right brand, positioning and message.  Oh, and if they have no place to go — create one!
  • Don’t take it on faith. Measure everything to know if it’s working. When I started out in communications, the most dreaded question you could get was, “how do you know if it worked?” You had to take it on faith that audience reach equaled minds changed and hope that sales or other action backed you up.  Today, we are in the golden age of analytics. If someone asks you if it’s working, you can answer. You can watch web visits rise and fall, and see what they saw and how long they stayed. It’s easier than ever to get direct feedback — through social networks or low-cost surveys or even phone calls and customer visits. Most importantly, use the data — know what’s important, know if it’s working, and adapt.
  • Invest in what’s working. Stop or streamline what doesn’t. Here’s where the hard decisions come in. Because at some point, if you’re checking all the boxes, something has to give.

Stay true to these principles and you won’t chase fads. Your strategy will have a foundation. When everything changes around you, and you find yourself staying the same, you’ll take a breath and remember what’s true, and adapt. Because grown-up marketing isn’t just about being a grown-up. It’s about growing.

5 Principles for Creating a Great Brand Promise

14 Oct

I’ve been thinking brand promises of late. Here’s what I believe goes into a great brand promise:Handshake

  • Singular Expression of Value: A brand promise is a singular expression of what makes your organization — or its offerings — uniquely valuable to your customers.
  • How You Want to Change the World: The brand promise shouldn’t just describe what you do and how you deliver it. It should express how you want your customers’ lives or work to be improved as a result of what you do.  How do you want them to feel before, during and after they choose you?
  • Build from Customer Insights: As a result, the brand promise should grow organically from insights about your customers. This is a combination both of what you believe, and what people outside the organization believe about what you do.
  • Be Aspirational: A good brand promise should reflect both who you are, and who you aspire to be.  It’s OK if you’re not meeting every aspect of the promise today…as long as you’re committed to getting there.
  • Put it up on the Wall: Your brand promise may not be a company tagline, but it could well be your mantra — and that of everyone in the organization. Put it up on the wall — it’s what you’re trying to live up to each and every day.

These are my principles. Your thoughts?

Welcome, new readers from our nation’s intelligence community!

17 Jun

I, for one, welcome my readers from the U.S. intelligence community. Now that I know you’re here, I surely will post more often!

* * *

I’d like to be more incensed about the revelations over the past few weeks about the extent of NSA data mining. But I find myself more nonplussed and amused. It may be because I’ve lived under two assumptions that I’ve always believed would comfortably cancel each other out: 

1. There is no such thing as online privacy. We’ve been living for years under the assumption that the government could listen to phone calls, invade our email accounts, and  track our online movements. Not only that, but if they have only slightly better imaging than Goolge Maps, they may well be able to watch me mow my lawn (or, more likely, send me periodic reminders that the grass in the backyard is getting a little shaggy).  

2. Most of the time, nobody cares. There are so many people connecting each day that very few of us are actually being watched or overheard or seen mowing or not mowing our lawns. It is, unfortunately, highly unlikely that the few dozen readers I have each day include members of any foreign or domestic intelligence communities (though, hey, they may just be excellent at covering their tracks!). Most of the time, as individuals, no one is watching

You probably already see the problem here.  No one is watching. Until they are. 

Americans don’t want less or more government. We want perfect government. Perfectly efficient in war. Perfectly effective in pushing the levers of our economy. Perfectly where they need to be when they need to be in times of emergency. Practically precognitive against terrorists. Perfectly invisible when we don’t want them around.

Perfection requires perfect more and more information from more and more sources…and the ability to analyze and synthesize it into something meaningful. 

Right or wrong…this is what we wanted.

The Ideal World PR Measurement Program

3 Dec

The PR budget is based on what is often an unspoken assumption: that getting the word ‘out there’ through web content and the media will help sell whatever it is you have to sell.  But does it? Now that I’ve seen it from both the agency and corporate side, here’s what I’ve learned.

The good news is that it really does seem like PR works.  More and more, I’m hearing anecdotes about sales that resulted from PR placements and campaigns.  This is really cool – that is to say, it’s gratifying that my work and the work of our agency is paying off. But those are just anecdotes, after all.  The measurement that really gets me excited is…

You can correlate PR campaigns with web traffic.  I’ve had the opportunity lately see something simple that not many PR folks do: correlate web traffic data to press releases.  For the most part, PR works – you actually do see a spike in web traffic when you put out a press release.  But what you don’t necessarily see is a big spike that you can attribute directly to what we spend the most time seeking: feature placement in a major medi a outlet.  What’s the deal with that? Should we not bother?  Um, no… because when you think about it, you realize that…

Your goal is more than web traffic.  Or maybe it wasn’t web traffic at all.  Maybe it was awareness. A VP of Marketing at a startup once told a colleague of mine that his goal for PR was knowing recognition of the new company by whoever sat next to him on the airplane. Perhaps fortunes are made of such awareness. Another tech executive recounted that it was always clear to prospects that their technology was a superior solution – but only after an hour-long PowerPoint.  How do you measure when PR raises awareness, or tells a story that accelerates time to sale?

Unfortunately, measurement tends to be expensive and time consuming.  You’ve got so much time in the day, only so many people to do the work. You have to make choices: should I do the work, or measure it?

Here’s my Ideal World PR measurement program:

Audience target and reach: I hate PR measurement that simply counts clips — which really only measures your success at generating clips … extent of reach into target market audience is much, much better.

Awareness: aided and unaided awareness of PR-driven messages, pre-and post campaign, or simply 2X per year. Answer is based on direct surveys of selected target market.

Web traffic:  If the web traffic increases following an announcement or campaign, it means something in the message caused someone to take action.  Action is good.

Inquiries: Correlate number of sales inquiries to PR campaigns, however those inquiries arrive.

Time to sale: OK, so it’d be hard for PR to take credit for this, but what if you could measure average time to sale across the business, then up the ante on your awareness and thought leadership campaigns, and then see if you had an impact on time to sale. Wouldn’t that be cool…as in really, really valuable?

Sales: Maybe you can only measure this by anecdote. Maybe there’s a way code PR related referrals that lead to sales into salesforce automation systems.

Let’s discuss:

We don’t live in an ideal world, of course, so here’s the study question:

What should you measure to get the most bang for the buck – to know the program is working and help you make better decisions for next time?

 

Five Leadership Positioning Strategies: What Kind of “Leader” is Your Business?

30 Nov

Everyone wants to buy from a leader. You want to buy from companies that give you confidence that when you lay down your money, to know that you’re doing right by yourself, your family or your business.

So if everyone wants to buy from a leader, every business wants to be a leader. So what kind of leader is your company? What kind of leader should you be? The answer can go a long way toward focusing your public relations and marketing efforts in the right direction.

Consider these five leadership styles:

1. The Visionary Leader: The company that looks ahead. Keeps the customers at the state of the art, and guides them to the future. Visionary leaders think beyond their own product, shape industries, and tell us which way the world is headed.

2. The Market Leader: The one that dominates market share because they sell the most. They are the leader because they make good products, sell them well, and at some point “everyone else” buys their stuff, so it’s a safe choice. Not the flashiest or the coolest, but solid and reliable. Many Market Leaders  are content to continue as Market Leaders; others look to extend themselves into the role of visionary.

3. The Technology Leader: The geeks and the nerds.  The ones who get known for making the best products, with the most elegant feature sets or innovative designs. As leaders, the team’s experts explain technology and advocate for better solutions. They quickly integrate ‘what’s next’. They position their team as the smartest guys in the room who can solve their customers’ problems with their smart thinking.

4. The Best Practices Leader: These are the process experts. They know what’s going on in the customer’s world, and are always thinking about how to solve problems and make things better. They’re team has typically been there, done that, and can send you a whitepaper on how to implement best practices that enable customers to lower costs and improve speed and efficiency.  The Best Practices Leader wants to sell their solution, of course, but doesn’t mind sharing their broader knowledge of how to do things right.

5. The Customer Service Leader: These are the customer advocates. They are there for their customers. They differentiate on service – fast response, easy to reach, easy to do business. Go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction. It’s a positioning that works in industries where most products are largely the same – what the customer needs is to know that their vendor will take good care of them.

Every company uses different styles, often more than one at once.  Choosing a primary leadership positioning style focuses public relations and marketing strategy. The key is to choose a strategy that fits, that amplifies the existing products, brand, and company culture.

For further discussion:

• Agree or disagree with these leadership positioning types?

• What other categories would you add?

• What style does your company use?

• What well-known companies would you attach to each of these leadership positioning styles?

Stop Being Interesting!

21 Nov

I’ve developed an extreme dislike for the word “interesting”.  It’s the word that leads off the dullest blog posts, and the most auto-pilot link sharing on Twitter.  Everything’s an ‘interesting take…interesting read…interesting article…interesting meeting…interesting link…’ Interesting isn’t it? Not really.

If it were truly of interest, couldn’t we find a better word, like “Intriguing”, “Fascinating”, “Spellbinding”, “Educational”, “Enlightening”, “Hilarious”, “Gut-busting”, “Wrong-headed”, “Spot-on”…need I go on?

Better yet, doesn’t the fact that you posted it presume that you found something of interest in it? That you thought we, your audience, would react to it? If so, could you not  simply describe it, and let your audience decide if it’s interesting?

The good writing principle is “Show, Don’t Tell.” Calling something “interesting” should live in the category of phrases where, “if you have to say it, it’s probably not.”

What’s up with people and the Facebook?

14 Jul

7:30 am, Saturday morning.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but people who post daily Facebook updates fascinate me. I don’t know how you do it. Maybe I’m jealous. As a lifelong writer-who-doesn’t-write (much…for himself, anyway), I’m impressed by those whose random thoughts that don’t simply flit across the brain like waterbugs to be eaten up by passing fish before they ever get where they’re going, but instead are netted and captured, or, perhaps, pinned, to find an odd sort of permanence on The Wall.

Or does your far-different-than-mine-brain captures it like lightning in a bottle, turning observation, musing, idea, complaint or bon mot into digital text in seconds? Is it a workplace diversion to post your latest photo? Is Facebook part of the daily checklist…where each day, along with getting dressed, shuttling the kids to and fro, working, making sure there’s food in the house and knowing where your next meal is coming from you fit in answering the question, “What will I share today?”

When you incorporate social media into your life – or into your business – what do you drop? Knowing there are only so many hours in the day, what doesn’t get done?

And why do we share? I’ll tell you why I do. It’s for the comments. And the likes. I admit it. (Is that OK to admit?) I want them at work, too. In public relations, we’re still judged on the media hit, sure, but what really matters is the response. When people post our story or write about us or link to us…what happens next? What do they think now… how have they changed… what are they telling their friends… what did they do?

[My kids just charged downstairs to play their latest obsession – the new Lego Batman game for the Wii. I thought you should know. Gotta go! But…hey…comments?]

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