Back in the Mix

It happens every time I am working with a client–all my focus is on their project and not on my own business.  Yet, I am breaking a cardinal rule that I tell anyone looking to promote a product or service–being relevant when you don’t want something.  Active engagement without always trying to make a sale can be welcome interaction.

All of us are experts or knowledgeable about something.  Finding time to share what you recently read can  be helpful to others with the same interests.  In today’s information overloaded society we need all the help we can get to lift useful information to the top of our scope.    For me, Twitter is still one of the best tools for learning about breaking news or industry highlights.  I follow the right experts and the news comes to me.

I was surprised that this recent HBR blog didn’t come to my attention from someone I follow.  Bill Lee pronounced that “Traditional marketing — including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications — is dead.”  Though I suspect that real marketers don’t agree with him and didn’t want to promote his fallacy.  I don’t disagree that marketing is changing and there are many new tools to reach customers, but what still is important is the marketing mix.

If you are trying to sell a new product to a 75 year old man, I’m willing to bet advertising during the 6pm news show will be more effective than a streaming ad on Pandora.   Fundamentals are still important–understanding your audience, how they like to interact with brands and then picking the marketing mix that will achieve the goals.  Most importantly, are those goals measurable?   That is really how marketing is changing.   What CEOs aren’t getting is a dashboard that shows how hard the organization’s marketing dollars are working.

Part of the reason I selected Marketing Mixology as my company name was my belief about how critical that part of the planning process is to success.   I’m excited as I get to talk about Marketing Mix Optimization with one of my favorite agencies to work with, Creative Feed, at a Marketing Analytics conference in San Francisco.  I can’t post the presentation, due to some client confidentiality, but if you want to learn more, just ping me.

Innovation in the Most Unlikely of Places

Innovation is on my mind this week as my Twitter feed, Facebook updates and general news watching is filled with updates from the annual Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas. I’ve worked on enough products to know that coming up with the next great idea can often be an exercise in frustration.

The list of new ideas are quickly dismissed as too hard to implement, not valuable enough or not exciting. I would have loved to have been in the meeting where Skip Hop’s “Complete Sheet” was brought up as an idea.

Innovation at its simplest.

Beyond the thread count revolution, there has been very few innovations in sheets. They have become larger to adapt bigger mattresses, utlilized different materials and sold in value sets. Nothing that would be described as revolutionary.

Skip Hop has just turned the baby bedding industry upside down and, yes, their idea is patent pending.  If you haven’t been looking at crib sheets lately, here’s the genius in the Skip Hop Complete Sheet–the decorative side panels.  I bet at this point–you’re saying “that’s it?”   Therein lies the genius, it’s so simple that it was overlooked.  Today experts frown up any decorative materials in the crib due to the risk of SIDS.   What every new mom wants is the House Beautiful nursery.   Yet, they aren’t able to decorate the crib with the traditional bumpers.  The new Complete Sheet now brings some of that decorating flare back to the central part of the nursery–the crib.

Back to the meeting where this idea was discussed.   Someone probably said that it would be too hard to do with the different types of mattresses, or the material needs to be just right so the panels fit nicely around the edges and doesn’t shrink.  Thankfully any objections were overruled and now there’s these cool new sheets, which by the way, will cost almost twice as much as the standard crib sheet.

The quest for innovation is not only about customer satisfaction, but it is also about finding an attribute to charge a premium for and bring more dollars to the bottom line.   Right now it seems like the technology industry is struggling to understand what consumers really want.    Prices have been declining on most accessories and the economic free fall seems to have no end in sight.   However, I think the challenge to product development organizations is to bring customers true innovation and then the price premiums will return.

One final thought is that a great product needs to be heard and seen.   I’m not sure how long these sheets have been out, but I only discovered them because Skip Hop had an end cap at Target.   The ideal marketing program will include good distribution and consumer demand generation–which is often not supported in small and mid-size organizations.

Making a Customer Say “Wow!”

I read Tom Peters’ The Pursuit of Wow! back in 1994.  He wasn’t the first to write about exceptional customer experiences and he certainly isn’t the last.  Yet, as I talked briefly in my last blog, marketing trends come and go, but the customer really remains the center of it all.

Today a customer’s ability to transmit a good or bad experience is far greater than it was in 1994.   Back then personal PC use was just starting to cross the chasm.  Only the experienced were diving deep into bulletin boards and chat rooms.   You still sent a letter to Aunt Marge instead of an email.  AOL was just starting to have its time in the sun.   Your ‘bad’ customer experiences were usually cocktail party stories.

But now I can be in the middle of an experience [good or bad] and start tweeting away about it.   In a matter of seconds I have the ability to affect a brand’s public reputation.    As a marketing person I have no control over it.     What I do have control over is how the brand is empowered in the hands of employees.    Last week I had the great pleasure of hearing Dennis Reno, VP of Customer Experience at Oracle, talk about building customer satisfaction.  One of his key points is empower your employees to act with the customer in mind.

At Panera Bread today I had one of those experiences that will make me a Panera enthusiast for a long while.  As an independent consultant I have always appreciated their good food and free wifi on those days I need to get out of the office.     After ordering my coffee and chocolate croissant this morning,  I handed the gentleman at the cash register My Panera card [their loyalty program] and jokingly said to him that ‘someday it would be a magic card and things would just be paid for’.  In fact, my pastry was already free due to their loyalty perks and I was getting out the cash for my coffee, when the man said “no need, it is magic today.”

Now I don’t know if I looked like I was having a bad day [it’s possible as I hadn’t slept well the night before and had already driven back to my house once to get the wallet that I left behind], but he somehow know that I needed a little bit of magic in my day.  Just one cup of free coffee made my day–gave me that Wow! experience.   It inspired me to write this post.

I am working with a new service company right now to help them develop a customer experience that will set a higher standard of service for an industry that traditionally has only wanted to provide exceptional service to those who could pay for it.   It’s an interesting challenge as only Disney can manufacture experience–the rest of us need to create it, replicate it and hope that our employees with embrace it.

It’s my turn to go put a little Wow! in someone’s day…maybe you should do the same.

Innovation Through Insight

Tomorrow I am giving a talk on  “Innovation Enablement through Customer Insights”.   The description is “use customer intelligence to enhance product development, sales, marketing and retention efforts”.  This panel is part of a two-day conference on Relationship Optimization, sponsored by the Altamont Group.

Just like anything else, there are trends in marketing.  For while it was customer relationship management [CRM] software.  Then, NetPromoter scores were all the rage.  Guerrilla marketing.  Banner ads.  And, of course, the last couple of years have been all about social media.   Part of the reason I love marketing is that there are so many ways to slice and dice.  Yet, what always needs to remain at the core of any strategy or tactics is your customer.

I often feel that the customer is forgotten in many marketing pursuits.   A trend lately on Facebook pages is that you have to “like” the brand before you can see the content underneath it.    I hate this tactic as sometimes it’s a new brand that I want to explore and don’t want to commit to “liking” it, but I know that some e-marketing person has been forced to justify their existence by increasing the brand’s likability.

After looking at the agenda, I agreed to give the talk because I believe in providing the grounding voice in an organization.  I like intricate processes and systems as much as the next guy, but I also believe in simplicity.  Sometimes we, as marketeers, get too busy and don’t make time for the fundamentals.

For those who click on this link after hearing my talk, I hope you got three things out of the presentation.

Rule #1   Stop!  Eliminate the focus group of one. 

I am very thankful that I live in area that is filled with visionary and innovative people who keep creating gadgets that I didn’t even know I needed.  However, I wish that once in awhile they’d realize that Silicon Valley isn’t like everywhere else.  Two years ago I went to a family reunion on the Eastern seaboard and brought a portable iPod dock with me.   No one had seen one like it before.  They were familiar with the stationary docks, but this was cool.  Yet, the conversations we kept having back at headquarters were around the fact that the category was old–and everyone had a dock.   Yet, one look at shipment numbers of docks to the number of iPods/iPhones sold would tell you that there was still a long way to go to even get to a thirty percent attachment rate.   What we needed to do a better job at was segmenting our market and understanding who we needed to create new products for, and who we needed to just make aware that the products existed.

Rule #2 Listen!   Talk to each other.

I love this quote from Dave Frankland of Forrester Research, “We live in an age of big data, in which firms are data-rich but insight poor.”   Information overload is a reality for most busy professionals.  The amount of emails every day almost guarantees ADD-like thoughts around even the most important topics.  Yet, organizations need to ensure that they carve out time to have discussions around customer activities.  Events, whether they are user conferences, trade shows or in-store demonstrations, are rich with customer interaction.  The anecdotes and inferences from the events need to be expressed, and ideally, in a group of people to debate and decide what is relevant to future developments

Rule #3 Look!  Put a different frame around it.

Innovation shouldn’t stop at just the product or service.   Innovation can also occur within the marketing mix.  Understand the customer’s journey to discover new ways of communicating, distributing or promoting the product.   If you need inspiration, check out Adrian Ott’s The 24-Hour Customer.   She has an interesting thesis on time versus money that may help you think about how you can innovate your product or service for today’s economy.

Enough words for today.  I’ll post my presentation and any comments and insights from the discussion later this week.

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A Sponsorship that Worked

Last Friday I was in New York City for the first [and hopefully annual] BlogHer Writer’s Conference–presented by Penguin Group.  Besides the actual content of the conference being phenomenal, I was struck by how well the partnership worked.

Part of the reason I trekked all the way across the country for a one-day event was the fact that Penguin was not only going to be a sponsor, but they were going to be active participants.  What every budding writer wants is the opportunity to be discovered.    The likelihood of that happening while being a room filled with people in the publishing industry is far greater than simply being online 3,000 miles away.

BlogHer Writer's Conference

Captive Audience at BlogHer Writer’s Conference

The group seems bigger than it was in the photo above [only 200 attendees].  Now I have no idea what Penguin’s investment was in this venture, so it is possible that a straight ROI would look low.  However, if they find their next big writer and are able to capitalize on a long-term revenue-generating relationship, it could more than payoff.  Though, there is some return from simply exposing themselves to a group of avid readers.  I have never really paid much attention to who publishes what book, but I took the time to see what literary franchises are a part of the Penguin family and will pay attention in the near future.

But, what was truly impressive was that they didn’t simply put money behind the event–they put people in the event.  Every session had at least two people on a moderated panel.  Plus, there were small group mentoring sessions [no more than 10 people] where you interacted with the experts and got hands-on advice about what to do next in the publishing process.

When I am working on the corporate side, I don’t think that there is a day that goes by when I am not asked about some type of sponsorship–whether it be sports, music festivals, user conferences, etc.    Taking budget out of the equation, what usually makes me say yes or no is whether or not it simply makes sense to be there.  Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is my target audience in attendance?  Are these the decision makers that can influence my sales?  Even if you put on the most spectacular concert, it is unlikely that an attendee is going to go back to the office and talk about your brand versus how cool the band was.
  2. What is the quality of interaction with attendees?  Too often venues/conferences simply want you to put your name on a bag or a reception hour without giving you the opportunity to have some time to talk to attendees.  Make sure that you are set up for success at the show.  Or in the case of sports sponsorships, are you getting the increased brand awareness that you are looking for?
  3. What do you want to get out of the sponsorship?  Again, I don’t believe that there always has to be an immediate ROI, but you need to be clear to management about what the expectations are after the sponsorship.  Is there a measurement everyone can agree on? [Leads, Follows, Downloads]

Anybody else have thoughts on what makes a sponsorship work?

Creating a Larger than Life Presence

A good brand experience often comes when you least expect it.  This weekend I was walking around an arts fair when I saw this booth for Mrs. Meyer’s soap.   Now I have heard of Meyer’s soap, but I have never used it.

Booth at Los Altos Fair

Another Look Including Sinks

Their portable presence was truly eye catching and straight on for the brand.  It presents an aspirational look for a premium brand.    Having the sinks outside the Porta Potties was an added bonus for those who dare use them.  Meyer’s also closed the loop by providing free samples of their dishwashing soap.

To create this look for a small show, however, is probably cost prohibitive for most companies.

Having done many tabletops, however, there are a few inexpensive ways to make you look bigger than you are:

  • Pull up banner.   These are so portable to travel with and can be changed out as your products or message evolves.
  • Branded tabletop drape.  If you can’t afford the banner, at least invest in one dark colored tabletop drape that can move with you from show to show.   A little investment goes along way in providing polish.
  • Uniform.   Even if it simply is a matching polo shirt from Target, try to make it clear to attendees who is working your booth and can help them.   With more formal environments that require suit and tie, try to at least have staff color coordinate–using the main company color as an accessory.
  • URL card.   Realizing that most show attendees don’t want to lug collateral back with them [and are often unwilling to give up their email], I have often provided a special show URL for them to go to and download press kits, collateral, etc.   This way you save printing and shipping costs but still provide an easy way to access information.  This card is also a great place to put your Twitter and Facebook info.

Missing from the list above is freebies.   I go back and forth on this one.  If you are working for a company with reasonably priced products, a drawing at the end of the day from business cards is always a good way to go.   Your ultimate goal is to get people to try out your product/brand/service and tell others about it.  There is so much swag that gets wasted–how many stress balls do you really need?  Think about what you are trying  to accomplish with your audience and whether or not that freebie will help.

What is a “Do” PR Headline?

I will be the first to admit that as a blogger I don’t spend as much time editing and critiquing my own materials as I do for company and client materials.  So, I actually had to give pause when writing the headline for this entry as it doesn’t seem quite right to just throw a headline up when talking about writing good headlines.

A former colleague sent me a note after reading my last blog entry commenting on bad headlines.

“Before I edited a recent success story, one essentially said <name of big bank> uses <company name> for massive data storage.   Seriously, why should anyone care? What’s different, is there a unique quality that made them choose that company or that product, is there a unique situation or problem the storage is solving that might have wider audience appeal?  You have to keep it short, but you also need to say enough so someone can identify a problem he or she has or might have  or a benefit they’d like to have and therefore have a reason to read the story.  People write their white paper or solution brief or success story and the headline is an afterthought – something slapped on at the end, and yet it needs to be every bit as carefully crafted as the piece itself to draw people in without over promising.”

I could feel the years of her frustration in that paragraph.   It is always interesting to me how good marketing people think differently.  Too often I see mediocre work getting rubber stamped by people.    It can be a painful process to get just the right words, but it can be the difference in whether or not the press release actually gets read or written about.

If I was to sum up what NK wrote about a good headline, I would offer these suggestions:

  1. Imagine the headline that the journalist would write–if you can’t imagine a clever one, neither will he.
  2. What problem does your product solve?  Talk about the benefit in the headline.  Don’t tell how fast it is–talk about how going faster will make people more productive.
  3. Even if your product is a commodity, there must be interesting ways people are using it.   Dig deep to give people a reason to want to try it.  How are your best customers using the product?
  4. Leave the ego out of the discussion.   Being the owner of the words is not as important as being part of the team that finds the right words.

Looking at my headline above, I think it still needs work.  Suggestions?