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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.

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?

One Facebook to rule them all, one Social Inbox to bind them…

16 Nov

One member of my family  informed me that they find Facebook so useful and convenient that they, essentially, only share family news via Facebook.  Which would be great, except that many members of that same family don’t check Facebook regularly, or (horrors!) don’t have Facebook accounts.

In other words, because it’s convenient, it’s OK if the communication itself is unsuccessful.

Which brings us to the new Facebook Social Inbox. As reported by Christopher Heine at ClickZ,

The Social Inbox will include regular Facebook messages, e-mail sent to @Facebook.com addresses, mobile phone messages (SMS), and Facebook Chat discussions.

Not only that, ClickZ reports,

When a brand sends an e-mail or direct message to a “liker” on the Facebook Messages platform, it will appear in an “Other Messages” section that sits directly below a “Messages” folder. In simple terms, the “Messages” folder will house conversations with friends while “Other Messages” will hold messages from entities that users have “liked.”

There is a part of me that suspects that I’ll find this insanely useful and part of me that asks, “what’s the point?”

The “insanely useful”  side sees how bringing email and Facebook comment threads together could be a lot of fun…and a way not to “miss” those vitally important family updates.  This is what my relative wants…has been begging for, in  fact. The Social Inbox is a people-centric system — your messages publish to them they way they want them — whether it’s SMS, email or Facebook chat. You don’t have to keep family and friends’ communications preferences in mind when you communicate.

On the other hand, what’s the point? Facebook already is a big ‘ol social inbox.  Would an enhanced Social Inbox that keeps me abreast of  the stream of social conversation throughout my day enhance my experience of life … or replace it?

I watched the video and I was moved…and I’m impressed.  And a little creeped out. Facebook’s Joel Seligstein talks about how with Social Inbox a couple can have a virtual shoebox of every communication they ever share — from, to paraphrase — making dates over texts to love letters to picking up the kids.  What he doesn’t say is that it’s all supported by the brands you “Like” — friendly folks from cool and useful places that you bring into an ever closer circle in your social orbit.

In the end, I’ll try it out because that’s what I do. Businesses and brands would be foolish not to want to be Facebook Liked, and thus to gain a spot in the social lives of their fans.

But my prediction is two-fold: 1) that heavy Facebook users are going to embrace this and will become even more deeply emeshed  in the Facebook ecosystem; and 2) the intensity of centralizing nearly all social interaction around Facebook will intensify the backlash…hastening the launch of “what’s next” … because you know it’s coming.

What say you?

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.” 

Which communications matter most?

7 Apr

Do some communications matter more than others?  Well…yes.

There’s the big speech by the CEO to the industry group that positions you as a leader.

The message to employees that cutbacks are coming, but we need to continue to focus on the mission.

The blog series explaining your position on emerging industry standards.

The news release that expresses how this technology will change the market.

The employee magazine article on the new line of business…that has to inspire without disheartening those that work on the old stuff.

The customer letter announcing elimination of support for discontinued SKUs.

The whitepaper for the technology crowd.

The email to the disgruntled customer.

The conversations with reporter and bloggers on your latest news.

The online app that you hope goes viral.

The response to the Twitter user who wonders why no one is picking up your phones.

The quarterly earnings report.

The answer to the question, “So, what do you do?”

The invitation to join a user group.

The letter that closes a plant, or cuts back on the health plan.

The words that guide and inspire visitors to the new website.

The email to the latest potential “whale” of a prospect.

The product ad.

The investor presentation on your startup as the ‘next big thing’.

The analyst interview.

The how-to tips for the weekly podcast.

The copy on the packaging…

Maybe a better question would be, “Which communications don’t matter?”

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