Wednesday, September 16

The Future Of Marketing Is Smart For Consumers And Parks

Whether you know it as the Internet of things, enchanted items, or smart objects, the convergence of technology and marketing and customer experience will be a technological revolution. Call it smart.

It will be smart in terms of the technologies that are being announced and introduced daily — smart clothing, force touch, or innovative sports analysis tools — and smart in terms of the portable, multimodal (sight, sound, touch, readable), and interactive content that will be both functional and valuable to consumers. And it will finally drive home the idea that marketing and the customer experience is the same — from the very first touch point to the decision to upgrade or resupply.

Shaping Public Perception - The Next Step In Social Media 

For a few hours on Wednesday, the next step in social media was very much on topic for the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) 2015 Annual Conference. It was one of the first opportunities I've had to share new insights into how marketers are going to adapt — and what they might learn from the psychological and sociological insights of Yuval Noah Harari and Donald Hoffman. Take a look.

While my published decks never contain all the content delivered during any educational session, one of the more theoretical premises I've been exploring to date suggests that if humans live with a dual reality (objective reality and conceptual reality) as Hoffman suggests and Harari alludes to as the fundamental skill set that allows us to cooperate with flexibility and in very large numbers, then it could be true that the marketing/branding/public relations (the conceptual reality of any product) of a product can account for as much as half the value (or perhaps more depending on the product).

I expect this will play out in the near future as new technologies, some of which are included in my deck, fuse communication efforts and customer experience. After all, value is rarely determined by the objective reality of an object. It is more often determined by a conceptual reality — the mythical made formula — that we collectively agree upon. Maybe. I'd love to know what you think.

A quick closing recap on the NRPA 2015 Conference. 

Aside from this theoretical thrust of my presentation, it's interesting to note that parks and recreation departments across North America are still struggling with the practicality and tactical ability of social media (like most organizations). Most questions during the Q&A portion of my session dealt not with what is next, but rather what could be done right now to address time famine, message mitigation, brand management, and the pressures of constant change.

I'll be giving each of these topics space in the upcoming weeks, providing more depth and resources than what I could provide in a few seconds from the stage. I hope this short series really helps.

Special thanks to the 250 professionals (and live streaming viewers) who attended my session out of about 7,000-9,000 conference attendees, NRPA, and long-time colleague Dirk Richwine. I had an absolutely fantastic time speaking at the conference and look forward to our next opportunity.

Wednesday, September 9

The Shrinking State Of Social Media

Since social media started to make a move toward the mainstream about ten years ago, the general direction was expansive. People wanted more of everything — more friends, more fans, more followers, and just more. In fact, 'more' is the model where most marketing plans are focused.

The market, however, has changed and the once ever-present quest for an expansive presence has already shown signs of contraction. As many as 36 percent of smartphone owners are finding smaller audiences with messaging apps such as WhatApp, Kik, iMessage, and Path. Snapchat and Wickr have seen an uptick in usage too — about 17 percent of smartphone owners use apps that delete messages.

Such platforms are especially more popular with young adults, ages 18 to 29. Among this group, almost half use messaging apps and 41 percent use apps that automatically delete messages. Even recently popular networks like Pinterest and Instagram have cooled off among social nomads despite marketers trying to retool social platform strategies. (Maybe they've cooled off because of them.)

More isn't much of an answer when most people want less. 

Sure, Facebook has become as innocuous as the Internet, with 72 percent of all adults with an account. (Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, and Pinterest all hover around 25 percent.) But look at the reasons. Facebook does an excellent job creating the illusion of privacy while simultaneously shortening any marketers reach through targeted delivery and exposure limitations.

One would think marketers might take note. It's less, not more that usually wins for them on this social platform. More only happens when it contains a concept built on attraction (as opposed to broadcast). Take a look at 30 different campaigns and the common denominators are there.

• Successful campaigns are tied to something beyond digital.
• The initial distribution method is aimed at customer attraction.
• Most campaigns are built on engagement and participation.
• The content has appeal beyond its narrowly defined audience.

The lesson reads like one of the rules right out of copywriting school — less is more. And in this case, less is more because attraction marketing continues to beat out interruption marketing on a regular basis much like most people (except celebrities) are shrinking their networks to include a much smaller circle of friends — those they happen to meet in person and see somewhat regularly.

Not that this should surprise anyone. The emphasis on 'social' over 'media' was always the intent.

Wednesday, September 2

Why Do Marketers Still Struggle With Decision Making?

By most accounts, CMOs are increasing their organizational spending on social, mobile, and analytics. One recent study places this budgetary increase at 12.2 percent over the next year.

The increase is in addition to social media spending, which already accounts for more than 10 percent of most total marketing budgets. In five years, this same spending will eventually account for about 25 percent of most total marketing budgets. And none of this news should surprise anyone at all, especially with the increased attention that marketers are giving to the growth of online video.

Digital marketing and social media are mainstream even if measurement remains somehow elusive to marketers. 

What should surprise people instead is that marketers readily admit that they don't really know how to measure the outcome of their efforts. In fact, only 15 percent of CMOs say they have successfully proven a quantitative impact associated with their social media efforts. Conversely, 41.5 percent of marketers haven't been able to show any impact from their social media efforts. The mind boggles.

This apparently nagging inability to measure outcomes is a symptom and not the problem. The problem is how many organizations lack a marketing or communication plan and, even more commonly, how many lack good marketing or communication plans. If they did have good plans, measurement wouldn't be a problem as the key has always been to set realistic and measurable goals.

It's almost impossible to measure outcomes that aren't tethered to objectives. 

Likewise, it's almost impossible to not be able to measure outcomes if they are tethered to realistic, measurable, and specific objectives. And ideally, those objectives will be drawn from the organization's mission, vision, and strategic plan.

Why is this important? Because specific business goals — along with considerations like product or service life cycle, market share, consumer base, competition, proximity, resources and self-imposed restraints — lead to very specific marketing and communication goals. Consider just a few of them:

• Introduce new products or services. While awareness is worthwhile, introducing new products and services means more than people knowing something exists. Communication objectives can be grounded in outcomes like market position, brand recognition, and value proposition retention.

• Capture market share. Given market share is a key indicator of competitiveness among competitors and market viability. Subway, for example, focused on market share when it stopped defining its market as sandwich shops and started attacking the quick service market.

• Become an industry leader. Most companies that strive to be industry leaders market the influence of the leaders and knowledge of their industry more than they do their products or services.  Becoming a trusted source increases credibility and results in significant market advantage.

• Improve customer loyalty. Organizations that want to increase customer loyalty invest in marketing that reinforces individual relationships, personalization, and the best possible customer experience. Some include incentives, but only those that reinforce positive customer experience.

• Increase product profitability. Sometimes reining in a marketing plan, pushing loss leaders, or reducing non-productive expenses can mean more to a company than expansion. The same objective can also include add-on items that require no additional marketing and well-timed follow-up sales.

• Increase gross sales or revenue. Increasing sales (units sold) and revenue (money made) can sometimes be likened to a throwaway objective in that sales and revenues are often the natural outcome of every objective listed. So if you include this objective, make it specific — X percent of increase in the marketing budget will generate X percent increase in sales within three or six months.

• Become a good corporate citizen. Responsible corporate citizens that support the communities in which they operate often benefit from increased visibility, credibility, and opportunity. Outreach programs can be especially effective when they lift up communities, creating the most potential customers.

• Foster a strong corporate culture. Whether the objectives is tied to acquiring top talent or is more market oriented in better meeting the needs of the customer, a strong corporate culture pays dividends by positioning the company from its people out. Allocating more to internal communication can help.

• Nurture ideas and innovation. When companies make this their objective, marketing enjoys a pretty clear directive that their content and creative ought to aspire toward the same goals. Apple used to be the best example in marketing innovation but not so much nowadays.

• Increase store or website traffic. If this is the objective, it almost always has to be tied to some residual effect such as lead generation, conversation, or community building. The challenge with the concept is to keep it relevant so the traffic counts don't lose customers for life in the process.

• Shape public opinion. If we remember that the primary objective of any marketing and communication program is to change behavior or public opinion, then it stands to reason our objectives ought to define what change we anticipate. Once launched, measure the change.

Naturally, these objectives (most of which would need to be fine tuned and more specific to work) only scratch the surface. There are dozens and hundreds of organization-specific objectives that could be taken into consideration, including proximity, community culture, competition, etc. (For example, a marketing plan for an Asian restaurant in China Town would look very different from a plan in a suburb without one or a farm town without many dining options.)

In fact, these variables (and marketing's unwillingness to accept they exist) are the primary cause for confusion. Too many marketers are looking for some holy grail of marketing plan and outcome measurement that somehow manages to cast the whole of marketing (and each of its tactics) into a plug and play template. But outside of making a few marketing consultants rich on 10-step books in the short term and shifting marketing budgets to social, they work for relatively few organizations.

So before your organization jumps on social, mobile, and analytics wagon, make sure any budget increases are tied to strategic objectives that can be readily measured. Who knows? You might discover a different communication vehicle for your company, one your competitors would never consider.

Wednesday, August 26

Psychology And Neuromarketing Can Be Fallible. So what?

There has been plenty of buzz up about the Reproducibility Project, which aimed to validate about 100 psychology science studies by attempting to reproduce the studies. Marketers should take note.

For those who place their faith in scientific-like testing (and big data), the findings of the Reproducibility Project ought to be astonishing. Two-thirds of the original studies tested proved fallible and even those that could be replicated demonstrated irregular statistical variations. Specifically, the magnitude of the effect tested was frequently half as small as the original finding.

Never place too much faith in any marketing formula. 

Sure, there is plenty to be gained by running A/B tests in an attempt to convert your business thinking from "we think" to "we know." There are many successful examples. But just because the results of testing turn out one way or another doesn't ensure success. A/B testing isn't a sure thing in marketing.

The truth is that we must stop treating single studies as unassailable truths, especially when other variables could be influencing the outcome of any finding, outcome, or assumption. True scientific thinking, after all, comes with a critical mindset rather than a yielding one. And we need to be more critical now than ever before, especially as people attempt to manipulate our thinking daily.

You can find evidence everywhere. Journalists are more likely to write attention-grabbing narratives first and then find examples to fill in the blanks than ever before. Scientists are more likely to build studies based upon biased theories than rely on objective observations. And marketers, whether they admit it or not, generally attempt to validate their work more than they produce better outcomes.

And no, it isn't always intentional. Anyone who has ever gone to an eye doctor only to be prescribed an inferior prescription knows how easy it is for mistakes to happen. No matter how meticulous the doctor or technician might be in the office, you eventually have to try it in the real world.

It recently happened to me. In the office, it seemed monovision — wearing a distance vision contact in one eye and a near vision correction in the other — was a suitable option for my slight presbyopia. In the real world, it didn't work at all. Too much of my interaction with the world relies on intermediate vision for monovision to be effective. The same thing can happen in scientific studies.

There are reasons humans are mostly unpredictable. 

If you truly want to understand psychology and sociology as it applies to marketing, you have to make a real effort to understand humans. First and foremost, you have understand that humans are the only creatures on this planet that form flexible and scalable cooperatives based on abstract concepts.

Yuval Noah Harari, author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, is especially intuitive on this point. As he explains it, bees and ants can form scalable cooperatives but aren't flexible in their ability to change their social structure. Whereas chimps and dolphins are flexible in how they cooperate, they are only able to do so in relatively small numbers.

The reason, it seems to me, it that humans are also the only creatures on this planet to operate with a dual reality, a perceptional concept studied in depth by Donald Hoffman, professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. In sum, humans perceive an objective reality (what is true) and a conceptual reality (what we accept as truth) at the same time.

For example, the money in your wallet is a piece of paper. The concept that it has value is a fiction that we have collectively agreed to accept as truth. And, to be clear, it is this dual reality often discussed by Hoffman that provides us our unique ability to form flexible and scalable cooperatives.

Marketing and communication, at their core, only has one purpose: to change behavior. And as such, marketers usually try to change behavior by drawing attention to an objective reality or attempting to elevate (or diminish) a conceptual reality. And what makes this especially interesting is that in the last decade, especially with the advent of social media (and likely to become more prevalent with the rise of augmented and virtual reality), is that marketers spend more time targeting the conceptual reality.

So what? The greater the emphasis on conceptual reality, the greater the unpredictability of testing because humans, throughout history, have proven to be consistently inconsistent. And in knowing this, maybe it is time to treat your approach to the science side of marketing as an exercise in adjustment and not in the collection of unassailable truths that will one day be proven false. Good luck.

Wednesday, August 19

Everything Can Scale, Especially Mediocrity.

When marketers talk about automation, they don't always see the danger in it. Maybe it's because select benefits — lead generation, response counts, data tracking — outweigh most shortcomings.  But then when you move the principles of automation to something even more personal, like health care, it begins to feel frightening.

Health care professional Andy De Lao knows it. He warns that what we're scaling in health care isn't efficiency as much at it is mediocrity. Where care used to be extraordinary, he says, systems are making it "extra ordinary." You can even hear it in the vernacular. Terms like lean, defects, efficiency, output, capacity, scale, workflow, and productivity were all borrowed from industrial manufacturing.

Health care isn't alone. Those words creep up into almost everything nowadays — marketing, culinary arts, education. They seem to be everywhere. And sometimes, not every time, mediocrity follows.

Somewhere along the way, scalability becomes a setback. 

The last time I ate something from McDonald's (several years ago), I was keenly aware that it wasn't the restaurant that Ray Kroc built around the original quick service concept of Dick and Mac McDonald. Sure, phrase like quality, service, cleanliness, and value still exist, but with very different meanings than the original model.

Quality is now couched in comparison, the service is slower, the cleanliness sterile, and the concept of value somehow out of whack with the reality of the product. Half of the menu feels overpriced. Half of the menu feels cheap. What's worse is that the executive team can't seem to pinpoint the problem.

The problem isn't one thing that prevents McDonald's from getting its mojo back. It's everything. What we're witnessing almost every day at the chain is nothing less than a brand hemorrhage.

And the culprit? Scalability and mediocrity finally caught up with the clown. The systems that once made it a brilliant brand have crashed as it traded in a little on the phrases that made it famous.

Isn't this the same problem we're seeing with health care, where planning target volumes, designing intake forms, and timing medical consultations overtake the core function of patient care? Isn't this the same issue with education, where process is starting to beat out innovation? Isn't this the same challenge marketers have when attempting to understand the difference between automation and absenteeism in social media and content marketing?

I think Andy De Lao is right. There is some optimal point where art and efficiency can coexist. He applied it to his field of health care, but see it fits almost everywhere. Nothing great can scale forever.

The answer is simple: Automate the mundane, but not the art. 

Geoff Livingston gets it. He recently traded in writing columns for articles on his blog, noting that it helps set it apart from the more common opinion/posturing pieces that make up most blogs. And while that might seem like an odd analogy for health care, education, and culinary arts, it still fits.

There is nothing wrong with automation that schedules when you share articles, includes a stable of authors you really respect, or even makes you more efficient. But when you begin to phone in whatever if you are offering — blog post, patient care, or college class — mediocrity takes hold.

You see, there are some things that a restaurant kiosk or social scheduling or online class cannot replace. While all of them have merit, the real magic still happens with the human connection — spontaneous sparks that lead us light years away from whatever some mediocre outline prescribed.

Wednesday, August 12

Content Marketing Is Changing Advertising, Not Killing It

Ten years ago, ClickZ published an article that claimed advertising is dying. It's been a common theme there for the better part of a decade. The most recent claim was made just a few days ago.

ClickZ isn't alone. Fortune recently ran an article that cited the exponential growth of ad blocking and how some companies are trying to find workarounds that mitigate the impact (if you can imagine). Others are focused on specific networks where advertising is its own worst enemy, like Facebook.

These articles are all well and good to make you think, but most of them miss the mark in understanding what makes advertising work. Advertising isn't a medium or reliant on any particular media. Fundamentally, advertising is the art of persuasion and it has been around a very long time.

"Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art." — William "Bill" Bernbach, founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB).

As such, you can't kill advertising anymore than you can kill communication. All you can do is change its trust for the times — from attention grabbing special effects to emotionally authentic — and alter its distribution model — from mass media broadcast to social, mobile, digital, and environmentally interactive.

But hasn't the field always done that? The Golden Age of Advertising wasn't spurred on by the birth of television and mass media print alone. It was largely the result of the creative department becoming more important than account executives alone, with mass media serving as a spark only because it meant that a great concept had significantly more reach than any other time in history.

Given that digital has expanded the potential reach of mass media, a second Golden Age of Advertising could be pinned on content marketing, social media, and next generation technologies that will put digital at our fingertips almost everywhere. Maybe all advertising needs is to get back to its roots to be relevant and that means getting back to the creation of great concepts.

The M6 razor commercial is an excellent example. After being freed from the constraints of a 30-second television spot or a single page of print, the creative team behind the concept was able to tell a story that can hold the viewer's interest for three minutes while delivering two persuasive messages.

For my purposes, this 3-minute spot includes a third. While it's always easy to think content is king, it's really the great concept that remains sovereign. One unforgettable message has a real impact.

It also touches on what is wrong with turning out terabyte after terabyte of forgettable content. There is no great concept behind the bulk of content marketing and there needs to be if we want to benefit from the art of persuasion — the heart and soul of advertising. Without it, we're winking in the dark.

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