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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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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?

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?

Why Brett Favre needs a good manager

25 Oct

Just sat through another thrilling agonizing loss by my hometown Minnesota Vikings tonight.  As I follow the postgame commentary on Twitter, I catch the inevitable tweet — this time, as it happens, from  Steve Rubel, that ‘it’s time for Favre to retire.

I don’t buy it. Favre should ask out of the game? Hell no…players want to play, and I wouldn’t want any other kind on my team whether it’s grade school soccer or pro football.  At the same time, just as players play, managers have to manage.  At some point, when you see your quarterback hobbling across the field and, worse, avoiding sacks with a wild, underhanded fling…don’t you think it’s time to call a timeout? Maybe have a talk with your guy? See if he’s doing OK?  Give him a chance to breathe?

Being a manager isn’t easy.  There are lots off techniques in the toolbox, but they call come down to being able to see the goal clearly, know the path to that goal, and get the best out of your people so you all can get there.  If you don’t like confrontation, you don’t want to manage. If you can’t put yourself in the place of your team, get what they’re feeling, you don’t want to manage.  Same if, knowing where your team stands, you don’t like telling hard truths or making tough decisions.

Seeing Favre at Lambeau last night — alternately brilliant and baffling — reminded me of how important it is to have a manager that will help you look good — and save you from yourself.  I remember what one of my favorite managers said to me when I started at Fleishman-Hillard.  I’d just taken the job from another communications agency, and, eager beaver that I was, I asked him about my billable hours goals.  He said:

“Ken, don’t worry about billable hours. It’s my job as a manager to worry getting you the hours. You just do great work.”

That’s what it’s all about isn’t it?

Applying the tourniquet

7 Jun

There’s a comfort in metaphors.  The gulf oil spill is or will soon be “Obama’s Katrina,” as if there was something heshould, or could, be doing.  Maureen Dowd says that the problem is that:

“Oddly, the good father who wrote so poignantly about growing up without a daddy scorns the paternal aspect of the presidency.” (via Clive Crook)

Clive Crook remarks at The Atlantic that, “Apparently it’s a great idea to elect a president who is calm in a crisis, except when there’s a crisis,” noting that we’re all acting like little Malia Obama, waiting for daddy to put a Band-Aid on the Earth…or maybe a tourniquet.

Leadership — in government and in industries — is about more than giving comfort and simply being there. It’s about mobilizing people around solving problems and achieving a vision.  Where there is a leadership crisis in the Gulf today isn’t that the government can’t convince people that it is doing everything it can to address the crisis, or that the President isn’t sufficiently comforting.  It’s that there is no vision for addressing the crisis.  Like in the wars of the past decade, we don’t know what success looks like — if it is even possible for us — that is, BP, the government and “humanity” — to cap the well, protect the coasts, and undo the damage that has been done.

But in many cases, leadership is a chicken and and egg question. Are leaders successful, or does success breed and create leaders?   Can a leader mobilize people around a vision while the crisis bleeds — and no one knows how to apply the tourniquet? Or will having a solution confer the opportunity for someone to lead — and define their own vision of success?

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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