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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.

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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?

Don’t create marketing…reveal stories

5 Apr

I’ve been writing like crazy today, and I love it. Why? Because I seem to have a modest talent for telling business stories in ways that move people. I love the rush of telling stories and making clients happy with the stories I help them tell.  It makes their jobs easier, and lets me keep this as my job.

One client lets me write feature stories for their company magazine; my style for them is no secret. I interview the people involved, look at what they say, and knit together a narrative that let’s them tell their story.  It’s a style that works as well in feature stories as it does in web copy and press releases.  The goal is not to “spin” a story out of whole cloth, but with words to shine a spotlight on what it is that keeps clients going each day — solving customer problems, innovating, selling products, building a brand, advancing reputation.

I’m a public relations and marketing consultant but I’ve come to believe we spend too much time creating marketing. Instead, we should  invest our time revealing our stories. Pull back the curtain, and you find products that change peoples lives and make their businesses better. You find brilliant scientists, committed customer service reps, passionate sales people, visionary leaders and even innovative marketers.

The thing is, most companies hire sales people and product people and process people and business people — each articulate in their own ways.  They don’t hire writers, or reporters. Business people make stories, and live inside them. Call a writer to hear the stories, bring them out into the open, and reveal the idea at the core.

Do you have communications that matter? Let’s talk?

An Avatar for Real Marketing

21 Dec

The reviews of James Cameron’s Avatar were written before the movie premiered:  Visually stunning, weak/derivative/borderline offensive story. I saw it over the weekend; my Twitter-friendly review:  “Dances With Wolves meets The Lion King.” Maybe throw in a little Lord of the Rings. Is it a good movie? Sure. And if I were 13, I’d have been blown away.

But the more I think about it, the less impressed I am. When you’re making and selling a movie, that’s OK. Strip away the art (you can’t, I know, but stay with me for a minute), and you’re selling a 1.5-3-hour experience.  If you can get people to the door, it needs to impress folks enough to get them to tell their friends so that they walk through that door or buy that DVD.

As a communicator and marketer, “looks pretty but dumb story” is just wrong. It doesn’t work for brands and it doesn’t work for reputations.  What works?  Smart stories about what you do to make yourselves valued.  Real stories about the good you do, told by the people and businesses who benefited.  Long-term commitment to your customer’s cause.

“Looks pretty” is just a short-cut unless the organization has a strong brand story to tell at its core.  If you have that story, and know how to tell it…well, then you can move people.

Work With Me, People – Part 1

23 Oct

Kadet Communications helps clients move people through communications strategy, brand positioning and storytelling.  It also is a one-man-show, which means that when I want to have an all-employee meeting on strategic communications, it helps to have a vivid imagination…

President: Alright, let’s call this meeting of the Kadet Communications team to order.  At the last meeting, we wanted to see how we’re doing, so we asked the Chief Strategist to get some feedback from clients and colleagues.  Tell me what you found.

Chief Strategist: Let’s step back for a minute.  What we agreed is that we should treat Kadet Communications like we would a client, review our positioning and make adjustments where necessary. If we’re going to talk about this, we need start with objectives.

President: Hmmph.  OK, the main objective is the same as that of our clients: “sell more stuff.” Or in our case, get more clients. I’d also add that we want more opportunities to earn in-depth projects and long-term relationships.

Happy now?

Chief Strategist: Quite! So, as you noted, I was sent off to get some feedback on how we’re doing. I talked to clients and colleagues because our Strategic Communications process always begins with reflection on the inside and input from the outside. You see, it’s only by…

President: Yes, yes, we understand. Get on with it.

Chief Strategist: Right then.  We talked to about a half dozen people. Let me put them up on the screen:

You’re always getting us to think differently…to consider more than just this one project.

When I think of you, I think of technology. You have big time technology experience that translates from big companies to small ones.

You’re strategy really comes from experience. Strategy comes easy because you’ve been there before, but you always considered not just what we should do, but what would work for our company.

You get to the heart of the story—understand clients’ needs and goals, and communicate them perfectly… the balance of classical marketing and PR to online social networks.

President: I love it.  That sounds great!

Chief Strategist: Well, yes, but there’s a gap.

President: A gap? What gap? I see no gaps…

Chief Strategist: Here’s the thing: When you ask people to describe you, and each one responds with a different answer, you may have a brand positioning problem.

President: Maybe you’re over-thinking it.  Each of these responses fits into our core message of Strategy. Positioning. Storytelling.

Chief Strategist: But ideally, we’d hear that back from people. Let’s ask the team…how do we describe ourselves?

PR Manager: Smart PR and marketing strategies that work!

Writer/Storyteller: Compelling writing that moves people!

President: I tell people that we do communications that moves people depending on what they want.

Chief Strategist: See?

President: Hmmph. Don’t we have work to do?

Chief Strategist: Of course. But positioning and storytelling are critical — this is what we tell our clients — everything starts with the story. What is our story?

President: You know, my favorite story since we set up shop two years ago is our client where we did the whole thing. When we started, they had two businesses — one in data storage, the other in business process optimization — and they could talk about one, or the other, but never together. No one knew what they did, they were losing cross sales opportunities right and left. The employees were all over the map.  Their prospects heard a lot about technology, but little about what it would do for them.

Chief Strategist: Right. So we interviewed their people… executives, sales… consultants.  And we interviewed and surveyed customers. We analyzed competitors’ positioning….

President: And we found gaps!

Chief Strategist: Indeed we did. So we showed them the responses. We found out that customers indeed didn’t know about the two sides of the business. And the customers viewed them as tech experts with deep knowledge of whatever our client did for them.

President: So if they wanted to be a strategic partner who could solve an array of problems, the customers didn’t see it. We  held a  workshop to get everyone together on this…

Writer: If I might move this along a bit…we repositioned them as making critical business processes like the stuff they do work better and smarter…so that their customers would have high performance solutions. We laid out a brand promise around delivering high performance solutions and the confidence that they’d be right for the customer.

Chief Strategist: And it worked — now their marketing and sales are coherent, their message is consistent, and they get more chances to cross-sell to existing customers.

President: Then we worked with them on a new website, new marketing materials, new whitepapers, and a communications strategy.  I love that story.

Chief Strategist: So what have we learned from this?

President: We’re pretty good at this stuff!  But…that was a long story.

Chief  Strategist: Right.  And what makes us the best?

President: Well, we have the experience to handle just about anything in public relations.

PR Manager: And we do smart strategy based on what works, not the media of the moment. And, our goals are the business goals, not PR goals.

Writer: And write good…heh…I mean, well. And we really shine when we bring deep client insight into our client stories.

Chief Strategist: So what we really need to do is bring all of this together…

President: Hmmm.

PR Manager: I’ll get the coffee.

What We Can Learn About Tech and B2B Marketing from Comic Books

3 Sep

My  deep, dark secret is that I like comic books.  I was hooked on super heroes the day my 5th grade teacher gave away his comic collection to his class, and though I stopped collecting years ago, I never stopped being a fan. I still follow the industry, and even pick up a title or two (or three) for escape or inspiration.

So with the planned acquisition of Marvel Comics by Disney making the news, I can’t resist the opportunity to combine my vocation with avocation.  And I’ve thought for a long time that corporate communications and marketing — especially B2B and technology marketing — has something to learn from an entertainment business like Marvel Comics.

The comics industry is fun to watch, and they do a number of things that translate into B2B and technology marketing.  To wit:

1. They remember that it’s about people. In comics, Marvel’s breakthrough was superheroes like Peter Parker and the Fantastic Four, who acted like real people with real problems.  It’s all about real people doing extraordinary things.

Beyond the product, your people vital are characters in the company story — from the visionary technologist to the insightful marketer (hopefully) to the customer service rep who goes above and beyond, businesses can grow awareness and loyalty by pulling back the veil and making the corporate more personal…and real.

2. They know that the customer owns the product. At a company like Marvel that has shared the soap opera of its character’s lives for nearly 50 years, the editors and creators clearly recognize that the characters and stories live in the hearts of the fans.  They are stewards of the story, responsible both to respect what came before, and to innovate in ways that keep the stories vital and break new ground.

There’s a parallel in B2B and technology — every purchase impacts the livelihood of the purchaser. It may be a part of their day to day business, or fuels productivity.  The customer, in other words, is invested in your success. So it’s only natural that they want to be respected and heard.  It’s why users groups and conferences are so important for many tech businesses, and why companies that are socially engaged in their markets tend to be more successful.

3. They know that being social gets results. Comic books are largely sold in specialty stores and online rather than through mass market retail.  Comic publishers like Marvel deal constantly with the push and pull of B2B channel marketing — their audience is store owners as much as the comics fan — often simultaneously.  Their channel to the audience is an often bewildering array of online and traditional magazines, national and regional cons, fan blogs, gossip columns, discussion forums, social networks and even a couple national newspapers.

The result is an industry where the channel, fans and media are incredibly close to the creators, editors and publishers. You get weekly interviews with the Marvel editor-in-chief, a teriffic ‘inside baseball’ blog by their executive editor, Q&A’s with writers on major storylines via podcasts and text, individual creator websites and forums, writers’ Twitter feeds…et cetera.  They produce news themselves, and participate in the hurly burly of the media market.

Of course, not every business generates the kind of passion that comics do.  The point is, they’re out there participating. And they are out there producing.  As a media business, they recognize that they have something to say every day, their customers have something to say every day, and they use all the tools available to say it.

Any other secret or not-so-secret comics fan/marketers out there?  What say you?

4 Measurable Social Strategies for Corporate Communications

25 Aug

I thought I’d collect my last few posts into one big ‘ol post.  The point to all of this is to show that you can think about social strategies in terms of “valuable activities you can measure.”

The challenge, as always, is to measure them in sales. But in many ways, that’s just not fair. First, it’s clear that we know that marketers firmly believe that many online public relations activities work — and traditional PR activties — without being able to tie them back to sales.  Second, there are many corporate activities that either support critical operations (i.e., accounts payable, accounts receivable, running an IT network, maintaining office space, etc.) that you can’t necessarily tie back to sales, but you know is important to the business.  They, like communications, are part of the basics of doing business.  The key is to do them — and measure them — efficiently, strategically and with focus — not just on sales, but on your goals for the kind of business you want to be.

Herewith, four strategies… and there are more from whence they came:

Idea #1: Doing a Better Job at PR and Media Relations.

Do the reporters and editors that follow your company post on Twitter? Do they have blogs? Are they using RSS?  Are you outsourcing all of this to the agency?

You may be missing out for a couple reasons. First, reporters and editors appreciate having direct relationships with representatives of the company. Next, tools like Twitter and blogs make it possible to reach certain reporters in ways that you never could through email — commenting on what they do, sharing ideas and more.

But what is more interesting to a reporter — a Tweet or blog comment from the director of marketing at COMPANY, or one from an agency representing…who knows? Use the agency for strategy, ideas and formal pitching…in between, if you’re not connected with them, you may be missing opportunities.

Measure by clicks to your website, search ranking on key topics and sales.

Idea #2: Getting in front of…or catching up to your competitors.

You might do a few searches and find that no one is talking about your brand and think, “My customers aren’t using social media — I don’t have to worry about this yet.” But…are you sure about that? Maybe they just aren’t talking about you… The first, most important step is to make sure you’re watching — that you’re monitoring the forums, topics and keywords that are important to your reputation and sales.

If your competitors are being discussed without you, there’s an issue to address — how can you become part of the conversation?

If customers are complaining about competitors’ products, is there an opportunity?

If no one talks about what you do…there may be an opportunity to start something new — a web portal, blog or partnership — or an indication that online resources need to better support offline interactions.

The remedy is to actively monitor, evaluate and plot a strategy that delivers for your company.

Measure by links back to your website from social networks, tone of key messages visible online, search engine positioning.

Idea #3 sits right in the wheelhouse of corporate communications:  Being ready for the crisis.

It’s true that if you keep your head down, you’ll probably be OK for a while. But eventually, something will happen. You’ll recall a product. Or well-connected customer decides to vent their product/customer service frustrations on you.  Or some ‘enterprising’ employee decides to make a video ‘unbecoming’ of the brand. Or an energized group of consumers decides to be offended by your new ad campaign.  Should your brand’s first participation consumer and influencer communities online be an apology?

Again, it pays to be watching…and listening.  The earlier you catch wind of a brand or reputation crisis the better.  What if, like Comcast, you keep an eye on Twitter for service complaints and make sure they are handled? The better connected you are with those online communities, the easier it will be to respond.  The better you understand online communities and social networks, and how you’ll get the word out in crisis, the better for your reputation as well.

Measure in how long the sales hit lasts — if at all.

Idea 4: Empower Employees…and manage them.

Employees are consumers. Employees are people. Employees have networks both professional and personal. And you never know when that will help … or hurt … your corporate goals. Employees engaged online — through blogs, private forums, social networks like Facebook or Twitter, or industry forums — are ambassodors of the brand. They are problem solvers. They are recruisters. They are sharers of the promotions you want to “go viral”.

The Knowledge@Wharton blog offers some great case studies in a recent post — Del Monte Pet Foods chats with consumers about problems and ideas to shape new products. HP has 50 bloggers engaged in product communities every day.  E&Y uses Facebook for recruiting.  As Joe Kraus of Google is quoted in that post:

“What all organizations need to prepare for, said Kraus, is a completely social web, where “your users will simply expect to be part of the conversation.”

What communications needs to provide is policy that guides engagement but does not constrict.  Or, to put it another way, to encourage employees who want to help the company, while offering reasonable advice on how to do so without hurting the company, or their own livelihood.  Charline Li offers an informative listing of corporate policies that are great examples of how very different companies come at the challenges and opportunities of online social engagement.  Worth a read…and a whole new post that I’ll save for next time.

Measure by improved search engine positioning, increased media attention, greater website traffic and sales leads.


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