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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.

Trade Media Dying – Now What Are You Going to Do?

19 Apr

There’s been another massacre of traditional media — this time Reed Business Information announcing that it will kill off 23 publications, including Graphic Arts Monthly, Converting, Control Engineering and a number of others that could once be found on every desk and in every lobby of every company in these industries. 

Some, like Matt Kucharski at PSB’s The Lead blog are lamenting the loss, and I don’t blame them.  I’m not one of the “traditional media is dead” guys that Matt decries.  Good journalists, storytellers and industry advocates are out of work, and their publications have been powerful engines of lead generation, awareness and credibility for companies in their industries.  

At the same time, I think Matt misses the point when he argues that:

“…instead of relying on the trade publication to be both the content developer AND deliverer, we need to take on the distribution role ourselves. Let the publication write the article — and then YOU take responsibility for putting that article into the hands of your key audiences — through your sales force, through social media, through email, through Web postings.”

The point about separating means of distribution — the media — from the content — is right on.  But I don’t think that B2B marketers ever had a problem touting the coverage these publications delivered.

The problem is that B2B marketers stopped supporting them through advertising — presumably because they no longer delivered the kind of ROI in terms of leads and awareness that justified the kind of ad rates to support their staff, printing and distirbution costs. This leaves the media outlet two choices if they want to stay in business: 

1. Re-organize operations so that they require less advertising; or, 

2. Become so entirely valuable to the people that they serve that those businesses are willing to pay for their content. 

(Actually, Reed took a third option — shut ‘em down).  

I have to think that a site like Whattheythink in the printing and graphic communications industry has the kind of model that can work.  I believe they started up in 2000 and were always 100% online. There’s a mix of paid and unpaid content — and the best stuff requires a paid membership; and there’s advertising, too.  Content includes company news as well as highly columnists, interviews with top industry executives, and in-depth event coverage.  

Starting out as a glorified newsletter , they’ve managed to become “indispensible”, adding more focused offerings, advertising opportunities, blogs, newsletters and community features.

The site also has added offerings over the years, including webinars and consulting.  Their full-time staff is, as I understand it, extremely small, but they bring a regular stable of respected editors and consultants to their readers. 

The point is not that “traditional media is dead and good riddance”.  It’s that trade media — if they want to be in the journalist business — need to evolve from “printed/online publications that create advertising opportunities for marketers” to “enterprises that deliver indispensable coverage of their industries.” 

Some Social-Tech Industry Standards

18 Feb

Most people … and most companies … don’t live on the cutting edge. In fact, most of us don’t even live in the world of “state  of the art”.  Every so often, admit the hype and excitement over that which is new and shiny, I like to remind myself that not everyone lives out on the bleeding edge, cutting edge, or even “state of the art”.

In technology, we talk about “industry standards” — protocols used by everyone so that one machine can talk to another.  The great majority of people and companies live in an ever-evolving zone of industry standards… doing the basic things that they need to do to live, work, communicate with each other, get things done and do business.

What are the industry standards these days?

The industry standard has a computer and that computer is connected to the internet.

The industry standard has a cell phone; the cell phone is most likely not connected to the internet — but we can be confident that it will be  soon.  Despite what you read, the industry standard does not have an iPhone (read the whole article).

If the industry standard doesn’t have a Facebook page, it’s thinking about it, since about one out of every three people in the US do…but those that do, don’t check it every day.  But the industry standard does have a social network presence on Facebook (if you’re older) or MySpace (if you’re younger).

The industry standard  shops online.

The industry standard checks email daily.

The industry standard gets most of their national and international news from TV.  The Internet helps.

The industry standard sees the front page story, the national or New York Times story, and TV news coverage as a badge of importance (my opinion, based on lots of anecdotes).

The industry standard does not Tweet or blog, or necessarily read blogs. (but those who Tweet do blog)

The industry standard doesn’t know what RSS is (and those that do are in turmoil).

The industry standard uses the phone book (if you believe the industry, anyway).  The industry standard wonders why they get so much junk mail and spam.

Agree? Disagree? What’s on your list of industry standards?

Journalism, Dresses and Augmented Reality

22 Sep

Each work day for me starts with a skim of what’s been sucked into my Google Reader.  Here’s where I stopped skimming and started reading this morning. Enjoy!

Kevin Hillstrom’s “Glieber’s Dresses” Series. Iconoclastic direct marketing guru Kevin Hillstrom has sucked me in with his ongoing story of the tribulations of the executive team of a fictional old-line cataloger trying to make their way in a marketing and merchandising world that threatens to pass them by — if it hasn’t already. What I love about Hillstrom’s series is the way he’s able to gently (or not so gently) poke fun at executive foibles and the blinders we often wear based on our roles and experiences, and the line you have to walk as a consultant. But more that that, Hillstrom uses the dialog as a way to highlight just how challenging it is to change…and a path toward how to focus in on what’s most important.

This week: Gliebers Dresses’ other consultant makes fun of them at a big conference.

Saving Journalism from the Bottom Up, from The Same Rowdy Crowd. As the StarTribune newspaper of the Twin Cities emerges from bankruptcy, former journalist and current communications savant Bruce Benidt issues a call for ideas on saving the newspaper industry.  His point: Let’s get a bunch of smart, original thinkers together, create highly local communities of information and commerce around the civic life of our community, and re-build a model that will support the professional journalism we need from there.  Is there a community organizer out there who can help Bruce make this happen?

Augmented Reality — Early, But Worth Watching, by Jeremiah Owyang. I’m fascinated by the bright shiny toy of “augmented reality” — using video to add data to your real-world experience — walking down the street, reading a book or doing a video conference. Owyang, newly minted consultant with the Altimeter Group, offers three videos that illustrate some of the ways innovators are trying out the technology.  Too early to say on whether it will catch on, but worth watching…and pretty cool.

Jeff Jarvis at The Buzz Machine. I read Prof. Jeff Jarvis and I get pissed off.  His writing style echoes his title — it hums and stings and screeches like an industrial lathe. But I respect the heck out of what he’s doing — if poking smart people in news media prods them to create something new and sustainable, I’m all for it.  Today’s post discusses the difference between paying for information and paying for “content”…and says that news media publishers “flatter themselves” if they think they’re in the information business.  They have always been, he says, in the business of selling format over content. So what will the next winning format be?

“When you see something that’s taking advantage of new technology to give people something they want that they couldn’t have before, you’re probably looking at a winner. And when you see something that’s merely reacting to new technology in an attempt to preserve some existing source of revenue, you’re probably looking at a loser.”

The Vision Thing and the Crowd Thing

20 Jul

I was reading Jeff Jarvis’ post reacting to the news that BusinessWeek is up for sale, and it got me thinking.  It seems to me that The News Media have two editorial/journalistic paths to address what the Web hath wrought:

1) The Vision Thing — Have an editorial vision and express it.  Deliver great journalistic product. Build community around “fans” of that vision. See The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and many, many independent news blogs.

2) The Crowd Thing — Have a brand that attracts an audience.  Have a brand that attracts and engages those readers — and encourages them to contribute. Deliver content that drives community reaction and builds audience.

The Vision focused media will need to see getting people to pay for their content as their primary source of revenue.

The Crowd focused  media will need to view delivering an audience to advertisers as their primary source of revenue, whether that is through links and clicks, affiliate relationships or advertising.

The Vision folks will reduce costs by not being over concerned with perfect  alignment with their readers, as Stephen Baker recounts the typical editorial process at BusinessWeek.   They will create ways to listen to readers, and for readers to interact with each other and the editorial staff, so that editorial is inherently in touch with readers, readers feel “a part of something.  And the product may challenge and annoy the readers as well.

The Crowd folks will play the vital role of filtering the news to meet the perceived interests of their audience. They will give up a measure of control to the audience itself — putting journalistic effort behind what interests the crowd and and bringing editorial standards to crowd-sourced reporting.

Newspapers cling to a Vision while dipping their toes into the chilly waters of the Crowd.  Media with a Vision risk trying to hard to activate a Crowd that would prefer to be engaged.

And since these days, every organization is a media organization — what path will your company take — will you drive your Vision, or run with the Crowd?

How to Be the Media

22 Jun

“We are the media” is a common Web 2.0 rallying cry. The upshot — every business needs to think about itself as if it were a multimedia producer with a goal of generating attention, awareness, interest and action — or sales for the business.

Adam Singer talks about this on the Top Rank Blog in the context of an organization’s agility.  His point is that it’s vital to find ways to keep contributing fresh content to the web — it impacts search engine results, improves digital PR, meets growing consumer demands and has a host of other benefits.

But what does it mean to think like the media? Or, to put it another way, how do the media think, and how can thinking like the media improve marketing and corporate positioning?

Here’s my list, and I’d welcome input from actual media folks:

1. Find stories and tell stories. The hallmark of journalism is the ability of reporters to observe, ask questions and bring people’s stories to life.  I’ve had the opportunity to play reporter for a client’s internal newsletter, and the results have been rewarding — I talk to their people and let them tell their stories — about successes and challenges and their own interests and concerns. The results are rich stories that inspire other employees to learn, strive, collaborate, innovate and sell.  These stories may well find their well to external audiences and I hope they do — there’s value in these stories — in themselves and in the conversations and ideas they can generate for the company.

2.  They generate attention. Being the media isn’t “art for art’s sake” — tbey want people to read, and view and interact with them.  From a business standpoint, we’re talking about creating content that will interest and excite your constituents — customers, prospects, partners, investors, employees, and community. Perhaps more importantly, it will encourage them to generate conversation…to whit…

3. They spur conversation..and word of mouth…and keep it going. The media want to make a difference in the lives of their audience.  And, besides the satisfaction they get form this, they want more people to consume what it creates, so that they get more subscribers, can charge more for ads and make more money.  So when The Atlantic comes out with a new cover story on “what makes people happy”, they get that story out influencers, they blog about it and they do everything they can to make sure people know that they have something exclusive, unique and special.

4. They plan ahead. The trade media are good at this.  They create ‘editorial calendars’ each year.  They lay out milestones — trade shows, seasonal events, conferences, special issues.  Then they tell people what’s coming, so advertisers can advertise and companies can participate. Can businesses to the same?  Sure — there are a lot of company events you can plan for — product launches, prime selling seasons, key trade shows, quarterly earnings — and have a content strategy for each.

5.  They listen…and react. Or at least they should be.  New media companies do. They are watching web analytics to see what stories are doing well … they’re even promoting stories by showing their site users what articles are most popular and most emailed, and offering them tools for sharing stories. They are opening their content to conversation — sometimes moderating, sometimes not — and participating in ways that keep it going. And they’re scanning the rest of the web to create links and to be sure they know where their story is going, so they can react quickly to changes.

This discipline is particularly critical in a crisis.  The question:  are you listening, and do you have the tools and skills necessary to react…quickly…in a crisis.

6. They meet their customers where they are. You want to roll your eyes when you see your daily newspaper editors talking about Twitter — it sounds like Grandpa talking about “the hippety hop music”.  But the truth is that it’s a sign that they’re paying attention to where their audience is — or is going.  Are you?

7. They think about their audience constantly, and communicate every day. Here’s where daily media and new media are strongest. Every morning, your daily newspaper or TV news organziation holds a meeting. They talk about what they’re seeing out in the world…what’s happening…what’s interesting…what’s news.  Do you do that for your organization?  Every day, every minute your online presence is saying something to your constituents.  Is what you said yesterday relevant today?  Is what you’re saying today moving people?  Are you getting the reaction you want?

The tools are there — from blogs to Twitter to YouTube to Flickr to iTunes your own website and email lists.  What’s on your channel today?

Any media folks want to add a comment…What can we learn from you?

11 Essential PR Skills

25 Mar

I’m preparing a “PR 101″ course for a client this week. I’m glad to do it — the client is a non-profit that has never done much in the way of deliberate communications and marketing, and will need to rely on volunteers to keep any kind of communications program moving.

The exercise has me thinking about what it takes to do PR these days. In a lot of ways, PR is easier.  For example, when I started work at a big agency in 1992, typical assistant account executive duties included stuffing press kits, sending out faxes, poring through the Bacon’s directories to build media lists and doing daily newspaper scan-and-clips.  Doing media relations could be expensive.  If you wanted to generate media attention for a national consumer campaign, you’d be prepared to spend thousands of dollars on Nexis or Dialog databases, or you were cold-calling big national media lists (it didn’t make sense, but happened more often than you’d believe today).   Needless to say, every bit of that is now digital, searchable or automated.

As has been noted here and elsewhere, what is essential about public relations has not changed: moving people to action by creating credible, meaningful relationships between an organization, and the people and groups important to its success.

What’s changed?  The media, the available, the audience and their expectations of organizations.  There are more media, they move faster, and expectations are high from organizations, influencers, clients and the audience.  The risks and opportunities are higher than ever.

What are the essential skills for today’s public relations practitioner?  Some are tangible skills you can learn and practice; others are more of a “state of mind”.  I’d start here — I’d welcome your comments — what would you add?

  1. Sweat the small stuff. PR people are problem solvers. We’re i-dotters and t-crossers. We make sure the reporter has the background, and the VP has the right numbers.  If the event requires a microphone, mariachi band or glockenspiel, we find it and get it there.  We listen — and make sure the message comes across, and make sure it isn’t misunderstood. My dad liked to tell us kids, “don’t sweat the small stuff” when we’d get too riled up on the details and lose sight of the big picture.   A core PR skill is to do just that — so others don’t have to sweat it.
  2. Know your audience. Who do you want to hear your story? What do you want them to do?  You’d be surprised at how many communicators and marketers have trouble answering this simple question.
  3. Know the media. PR people need to be experts on who’s wielding influence for that audience.  Otherwise, how do you know what stories will work and won’t?  There are too many PR people read the paper, but they don’t follow news online.  Or, they get their news online, but don’t read the paper.  They don’t read blogs, or they only read blogs. They’ve never set up an RSS feed, tried out Twitter and Facebook — or think they can get all their news that way.  They’ve never seen the evening news or watched Oprah and Ellen, because no one they know is watching.  The point is to get to know the media.  Love the media. Get to know who’s doing what and writing what and saying what. Note bylines and blog profiles, followers, audience measures and ‘authority’.   Know where the conversations are happening.  And where you and your organization can and must get involved.
  4. Be the media. Another “these days” thing. PR needs to think less like a facilitator and more like a producer.  What are we going to communicate today?  How will our audience get our story?   How will we meet them where we are?  How will we “move” them today?
  5. Think outside your organization. Be objective. Sometimes, you have to be the voice of your audience with management.  What stories will fly and what won’t?  AIG needed someone to do this — to tell them how the public would react to their actions and force them to reconsider their decisions.
  6. Research…and synthesize. The ability to gather and synthesize information is vital to just about everything we do — from understanding the audience and market environment to getting background on reporters or bloggers before an interview. The ability to help your organization better understand their environment — and connect that understanding to their ability to achieve objectives — is vital.
  7. Understand measurement. The web promises measurement and analytics never before available to the public relations profession. It is vital for PR people to gain a better understanding of web analytics and to build a greater degree of feedback and measurement into programs.  In my time at big agencies, our measurement offerings were too expensive for most clients. This is unacceptable.  We need to do a better job with understanding and building in measurement and feedback loops into our programs, and that starts with building a basic understanding of how websites work and web analytics.
  8. Understand objectives. This is a simple one:  We don’t do PR to generate clips or website hits or blog posts or links or viral action.  We don’t even do it to raise ‘awareness’ or generate ‘word of mouth’.  We do it to increase sales, maintain and build customer loyalty, muster support, gain votes or influence public opinion.  We do it to change behavior. While  all of the traditional PR measures may well influence behavior, they are not an end in and of themselves.  This is why the Skittles experiment is, in my view, doomed to fail. There is no clear benefit beyond generating marketing buzz, which benefits marketers and agencies far more that it drives sales and brand loyalty.
  9. Write. Storytelling is essential to communications.  Nothing has replaced good writing.  Not 140 character limits. Not video. Not the web. It all starts with good writing.  But it doesn’t end there.
  10. Communicate in multiple media. The big change in the media world is the primacy of multiple media. Get to know them.  Where can podcasts augment press releases?  Where can video be more effective?  Where can a game, animation or image communicate what the written word cannot?    PR people don’t need to be expert in every form of media, but they need to understand the uses and appeal of each.
  11. Be smart. Reporters constantly complain about bad PR pitches. Bloggers do, too.  There’s no excuse for a cold call. It’s too easy to do the research. They know it, and you know it, too.

That’s just my list, and it’s just a start. What’s yours?

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