Tag Archives: branding

Marketing in a Downturn: Invest in the Upswing

14 Oct

My son just finished ‘book the 13th’ of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. Figuring I’ll never have time to continue past the few chapters I’ve skimmed, I asked him how it ended … did our fair Baudelaire children get a “happily ever after” ending after all?

He wouldn’t tell me directly, but he did describe a Lemony Snicket-ish metaphor from the books. He said that the story is like peeling back the layers of an onion. The more you peel, the more you cry.

Which brings us to the financial crisis.

Maybe you’ve read about this, but it bears repeating…here’s how I understand what’s happening:

  • Mortgages are defaulting, causing anything mortgage backed to default as well.
  • Banks now doubt each others’ credit, and won’t lend to each other.
  • Banks, in turn, are less likely to lend to businesses – and when they do, it will be at a higher cost.
  • Many businesses will postpone or cancel technology upgrades, equipment purchases, and expansion, freeze hiring and salaries, and reduce headcount.
  • Consumers will face job loss and lower wages.

Business-to-business concerns will find their customers cutting back orders. Marketers of high value, complex purchases like technology will be faced with longer sales cycles.

A slideshow by blue-chip venture capital firm Sequoia Capital is getting a lot of attention right now. Their advice tech startup executives: batten down the edges. Cut to the bone. Focus on revenue. Pay reps on their sales. Measure your marketing and only do what works.

During the tech bust starting in 2001, you saw a lot of this. From my standpoint, marketing and PR agency budgets were slashed or dropped altogether – even by large companies with stable revenue.

Decent advice. But as you do this, I’d like to suggest alternate point of view: Invest in the upswing.

What if, instead of across-the-board cuts, you took the downturn as an opportunity to reshape, refine and streamline your communications and marketing for the turnaround? There is no magic message or marketing trick to loosen corporate purse strings. Instead, position yourself to be the one they turn to when they’re ready. You could:

1) Revisit the message – Is the story you tell today getting you closer to the sale? Is it getting you there fast enough?

2) Reshape the strategy – Is your marketing built around what influences your prospects? Cut the marketing communications vehicles that are running fumes. Fix those that aren’t working like they should – is it time to incorporate social media into your website so your fans can share what you have to sell? Focus on reaching prospects where they are – through the web, via the media and in their communities both online and off.

3) Invest in relationships that matter – Every market is a community. Are you engaged? If you “go dark” in PR and marketing, will key consultants, editors, analysts, gurus reporters and influencers remember you when you return? Participate in communities, network with influencers, contribute to discussions through speeches, blogs and articles.

I’d like to start a conversation here if I can. I’m going to spend the next few weeks writing about marketing during the downturn – what’s going to work, what’s not going to work, what companies are doing well and not so well today. And I’d love to share your stories – post them here or email me at ken@kadetcommunications.com.


U-Haul or MyHaul?

25 Aug

My wife and I needed to move a couch yesterday, and re-discovered the great deal that is the $19.95 rental fee for a 10-foot U-Haul truck.  My wife admitted — and then was picked on for doing so — that she never realized that “U-Haul” is so named because they let “you” haul stuff.

So I suggested back that you’d never name that company “U-Haul” if you were starting it today.  Back in 1945, it made sense.  The country was on the move, and folks were willing to move themselves.  But it was almost impossible to rent a truck or trailer for a one-way trip.  Sam and Anna Mary Shoen came up with a business model, a name and painted a lot of orange trailers.  U-Haul was born with a promise to a “do-it-yourself” nation — as U-Haul puts it, “Serving U Right Since 1945.”

Today, the Shoen’s would probably have come up with “iMove“, “MyTruck” or “MyHaul” (and, for the record, I was picked on right back for suggesting this — U-Haul is a great name!).

Today, it seems like branding isn’t about the feeling that “we” the business are serving “you” the customer, but more about how “we” and “you” are all on the same side.  It’s not just a business where I buy stuff, it’s all about me, myself and I.  It’s not “YourSpace”, it’s “MySpace”.  There’s a burger joint that’s not the Burger King, it’s “MyBurger“.  At Coke.com, you can ‘Design the World a Coke,” as if you were a part of the great effort to bring cola happiness to every corner of the globe. There’s MyYahoo, iTunes and iGoogle (OK, so yes, “YouTube” is the exception…).

In social media circles, we talk constantly of engaging the consumer, of enlisting our biggest fans as advocates, of encouraging consumers to take over the brand by empowering them to discuss, review, comment and create.

This is an important, vital shift in the marketplace that is only growing in strength.  To a point. There’s a population out there with a passionate need to create and express themselves.  If they love a brand — or hate it — they’ll find an outlet in that.  They will “create” for your business, and you can be a part of that with them and with the right care and feeding it open all sorts of opportunities.

There seems to be a backlash.  Small example, interpreted far too broadly:  Microsoft Office 2007 puts files in folders called “Documents,” “Pictures”, “Music” and “Downloads” — they’ve removed the “My’s”. I think the pullback of the “my” trend will save the news business as well: While people want the news they want, and many want to participate in sharing and amplifying the news, the popularity of blogs and collaborative news sites like Digg and Metafilter indicates an equal desire for news judgement — whether it’s a guy with an opinion, the wisdom of crowds, or the (hopefully) evolving standards of a proud journalistic tradition.

The answers are complicated, and they are simple.  Complicated, because customers are diverse, individualistic, and exacting — and expect you to treat them that way.  Simple, because good businesses come by the right approach naturally.  They know that there are plenty of folks out there who don’t want “your business” to be “my business.”

They serve.  They entertain.  They inform. They deliver.  They don’t just create one more thing for me to do. They do something for me.

Toward Better Workshops

6 Aug

I conducted a nearly all-day brand positioning workshop in the Philadelphia area yesterday … the first I’ve done of this scope since I went independent from the Big Agency.  We unearthed more than a few insights about their target customers, and new ways of thinking about positioning the company, “de-positioning” the competition and expressing who they are in more compelling ways.  The client seems pleased — and they’re looking forward to how we follow it up.

Workshops are beloved by consultants, but often dreaded by participants, who believe — often not without merit — that they have more productive ways to spend their day.  But executives also rightly believe that there is merit to detaching fingers from keyboards and ears from phones to talk together about strategy and focus on the long term with someone from the outside.  The key:  How to ensure not just that everyone’s getting something out of the Workshop, but that everyone feels that it was valuable.  I’ve conducted and attended more than a few Workshops, good and bad… when I’m foisting myself on a client for the day, here are my guiding principles:

  • Is this trip necessary? Before planning a day-long workshop, I ask the client whether there’s another way.  Can we get the consensus we need over email, or a shorter call? Is this the best way to deliver the training?  Do we all need to do strategic planning, or would we be more productive reviewing and revising the strategic plan? Make sure there’s real value to gathering the participants in one room.
  • Make your goals have value. Everyone knows you need objectives. The key is to be sure that the objectives are ones that you can accomplish, and that your participants will feel that the accomplishments were worth accomplishing.
  • Avoid ‘death by PowerPoint.’ I keep the slideshow simple.  When I reported research results yesterday, I handed out the charts on paper and kept them off the slideshow. I think it made for less staring and more discussion.
  • What happens in the workshop does NOT stay in the workshop. There is something about bringing a consultant in to facilitate a workshop — especially if its off-site — that separates the discussion from business reality… so that what happens in the workshop is consigned to the ashheap of business history.

It takes timely follow up and a committed champion in the business to ensure that ideas, inspiration and decisions make it back to the office. How about you?  What works and doesn’t work in your workshops?

And finally… I was going to conclude this post by recalling a funny story about some big internal planning workshop I participated in at my old company.  But I can’t remember any of the details, which is probably telling.

The Brand is Who You *Really* Are

4 Jun

I’ve had a recurring debate with a technology client about their positioning. Without going into too much detail, some sales and marketing folks are concerned that top management likes to “get their hands dirty” with client projects rather than stepping back into a more sales and management role — concerned that it might make the company look too small for corporate clients. 

My take: Embrace it.  Play it up.  Celebrate it. Let the market know that the top management is among the best out there — and they’d rather get out there helping clients than sit home at the office. It’s part of the company’s identity — one of the traits that separate them from the rest.

Your brand is who you are — the promise to your customers that you will live, every day in every part of your business. It can’t be imposed, forced or created out of thin air.  It can be uncovered, enhanced and amplified.  It can be aspirational and inspiring … founded on who you are and expressing who you want to become. 

It was fun to see Fast Company’s hip’n’cool cover subject allude to this in its cover story on Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s forthcoming effort to reposition Microsoft:

Bogusky explains that with previous clients, instead of hiding qualities that may seem negative — such as Mini’s tiny proportions or Burger King’s fat content — Crispin exploits them. “It’s part of your job as a marketer to find the truths in a company, and you let them shine through in whatever weird way it might be,” he says.  

It doesn’t have to be weird, but if it’s true, it can shine. 


Reflections on Brand, Medium and Message

21 May

Some semi related stories on my mind today…

Back when I was a young PR agency pup, trying to establish our agency’s tech practice, my firm had yet to purchase a digital projector. We did our new business presentations on transparencies.  It just about killed me — how were we supposed to win tech business when we ourselves were so clearly tech followers.  It finally came to a head when a prospect said that they had a hard time choosing between us and a competitor … but all things being equal, they went with the firm that used the projector.  

The other day, I was talking with a client about launching a website for a business where building consumer community is essential.  The client has developed a terriffic network of dozens of interns working on various aspects of company marketing.  So he suggests a new tactic — what if we asked the interns, already engaged in social media outreach, to each start a blog, talking about our issues and linking back to the site? If nothing else, there would be search engine marketing benefits. 

I tend to have gut reactions to new ideas.  Then I figure out how to make them work.  So my gut reaction is that I’d hate to be a part of foisting dozens of junk blogs on the world.  My next thought is “why not?”  Why not have dozens of bloggers — clearly associated with the company — talking about the issues important to them and their work?  Why not make their ideas  on the company and its issues accessible from dozens of directions through the interns’ networks?

The media is indeed, at times, the message … and even, sometimes, “the brand.”  How you communicate says a lot about what you communicate.  Sometimes, it can even overshadow the message. 

Any stories to share?

Brands that Fly — The Global View

15 Apr

Whether we’re working globally or locally, it’s easy to focus on the familiar — to bring your own experience to your assessment of brands and ideas. I’m listening now to Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning show in their in-depth discussion of the long-anticipated Delta – Northwest Airlines merger … good discussion, worth checking out.  What I find interesting is how clearly the US market is nearly irrelevant in this merger.  Delta and Northwest have largely complementary strengths in the United States, and they’ll look for some costs savings here. 

But the hard truth that the experts are trying to get across is that neither the US market nor the coach flyer is very imporant hereWhat’s important is how the airlines compete for first-class business travelers and transoceanic service, particularly to Europe.  This means that for most of us, there will be no improvement to customer service, no additional US flights (more likely fewer), and no lower costs (more likely greater).  

It’s hard for many of us to get our minds around this truly global point of view.  As consumers and the public, we want to matter. But in global markets, our opportunities are in translating our brands — and the value behind them — to people far from our day-to-day experience. 

Being open minded means more than listening to other points of view — it means understanding your customer base or public well enough to recognize when the right answer may be utterly foreign to your personal experience or taste. The challenge that we’re seeing more and more often in this networked world, is how to effectively give up a little control and open up to those opportunities.

Social Media and B2B

11 Apr

If you’re a B2B marketer, the case studies for success with social media techniques are hard to find.  Sure, there are plenty of corporate blogs out there, and plenty of tech marketers are using RSS to share news… but if you really want to get real and cut through the hype, it doesn’t seem like there has been much appetite for social networking among true B2B companies.  In my view, there is a simple reason:  

Most people aren’t using new media or social media to do their jobs.

I don’t have stats on this. I do have a straw poll of clients and media that I’ve been taking over the past couple years. What I find is that:

  • most organizations don’t have time to read blogs, let alone write them
  • it is the rare client who knows what RSS is
  • most people are using LinkedIn for professional networking
  • most people don’t have MySpace pages or Facebook sites.

That’s not to say none of this is important. But B2B companies are being run by grown ups and grown ups aren’t using social tools to manage the buying and selling of products for their businesses.

Here’s what they are doing:

> Optimizing their websites for search engines and to make them friendlier to information seekers. Web search is the first cut for finding vendors; websites are expected to provide enough information to build a list of potential vendors.

>Using the webinars to reach out and educate prospect. The webinar has replaced the conference call and made it easier to reach prospects and customers worldwide.

> Turning their websites into news sites.  On B2B websites, you’ll find more front-page news, more opportunities to interact with the company, more fresh content.

What could or should they do?

> Turn webinars into podcasts.  Podcasts are a nice opportunity – they’re easy to listen to “later”.  They also can be used to lend some excitement and richness to a product announcement — how about a podcast with that boring partnership news release?

> Create community among user groups.  Social media tools are ideal for the traditional user group, which seem to be interacting mostly via rarely used online forums and annual meetings.  A B2B company could benefit by putting customers in touch with each other … and potentially with prospects, and social media tools could make this easier.

> Engage the media — and the market.  Give them choices on how to receive news — RSS, mobile, good ‘ol email? Provide them an industry newsfeed? How about creating a blog that lets you respond to market trends and news?

> How about being a blogger? A neat little online book called “The Zen of Blogging” makes the point that it’s not the blog, it’s the blogger. I’d say, it’s not the blogger — it’s just “you”.  Your company has news, a point of view, and a built in audience of interested folks out there.  The blog gives you an easy platform to respond to industry issues, respond to industry news, and highlight what you’re doing.  Whether you do it on the website or via a separate blogging platform, communications departments need to take on the idea of being part of a proactive, day-to-day conversation with the public. 

Sounds fun, actually. What do you think B2B can do…that will work?

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