Showing posts with label research. Show all posts
Showing posts with label research. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 31

Digital Advertising Will Become An Added-Value Function

If you want to succeed in advertising and marketing, the first best practice to learn is how to stop following leaders and learn to leap frog over them. Right. Innovation is the fundamental ingredient to market disruption, especially for marketers who track industry trends. Their play books look different.

Right now, what some of these marketers and advertisers are telling me is that added-value content will always have a place but developing added-value functions can turn a customer's head. Why? These marketers know that it pays to be so good they can't ignore you (Steve Martin) instead of paying to win someone else over (SAP) to get some attention. Don't talk about something. Do it.

Advertisers and marketers can look at three critical trends to make it happen — technological advancement, physical-virtual convergence, and marketing functionality (innovations in operations and customer ease using technology, especially what we call mobile advertising today) for inspiration. All three point to marketing and advertising models that engage people beyond a click and start to consider every aspect of the customer experience.

• One device will eclipse the "any device" concept. When Google first announced Google Glass, I was surprised by the design (and perhaps a little disappointed). What surprised me was that despite Google knowing that 90 percent of device owners switch screens to complete tasks (Google | Think Insights), it opted to make Google Glass a standalone device (although it can run on an Android) and not merely a screen extension, which would prolong the battery life, potentially increase user storage, and reduce the number of components needed.

After all, almost every design and development trend suggests that we are moving toward an era where every smart phone has the power of a personal computer, making every screen and keyboard a potential extension of that device. The only reason you might want two devices would relate to privacy.

Otherwise, one smart phone with a hard or wireless connection will seamlessly transition from the phone screen (or some other device) to a tablet, to a desktop, to a television display, to a presentation projector with the speed and efficiency of all those tools as they exist today. One of the most interesting things is the very real concept of turning an entire room into a halo suite gaming experience. Outside of gaming, this is one step away from halo suite classrooms where students and teachers are projected into physical spaces in real time, with how they appear dependent on the perspective of the person in the space.

• The dual environment concept will cease to exist. For the better part of a decade, I've been helping communication-related professionals to stop thinking about "social media" as a medium unto itself with online friends as opposed to offline friends and more like another environment, where different mediums and duplicate media can be discovered (everything from newspapers to broadcast networks to seminars and classrooms). And yet, I know that the days of this effective analogy are numbered.

When you consider that 84 percent of shoppers are using their phones in a physical store (Google | Think Insights) or that up to 85 percent of the population use devices while watching television (The Guardian), it becomes readily apparent that what used to be viewed as two environments is converging into an augmented environment. Ergo, online and offline are becoming increasingly dependent on each other, with no distinction between brick and mortar or online stores.

You can see it at work everywhere. The breakthrough of Airbnb isn't a collaborative economy as much as it organizes the physical world in order to create new opportunities. The same can be said for Uber, which organizes personal transportation in select cities around the world. And, in the near future, proximity tools will help you find the shirt you see online inside the store you're in (or vice versa), right down to the shelf. And perhaps, with membership, make visiting the cash register optional by either automatically checking you out or allowing you to check yourself out.

• Digital advertising is poised to become a functional utility. Within the next year, more marketers will begin to retool how they view mobile and digital marketing by looking beyond promotional pushes and toward a deeper understanding of digital-to-physical engagement. McDonald's is already taking the first step.

While some elements of its new Monopoly iAds campaign are clunky, others are well ahead of other marketers in that McDonald's is trying to get people in the store whereas most marketers are trying to get them to like a Facebook page. Expect McDonald's to move the ball further down the field by making an optional digital game board next year (as opposed to a downloaded game board) and offering real time mobile rewards during in-store visits.

The underlying push here is not all about promotion, but rather developing digital advertising that becomes part of an organization's operation by offering a functional benefit to the consumer. The concept will manifest in different ways. Stores could migrate inventory lists into an interactive proximity app or chains could include citywide searches; a mobile app that can tell you what needs to be serviced on your car; games, tools, and utilities that deliver value-added mobile functions as opposed to value-added content alone; and physical events that include live social coverage, enticing people to attend right now.

Another thought about the future of marketing. Everyone always likes to talk about eyeballs, but sometimes the best marketing advice for any business is much more hands on and increasingly simple.

Even the woman who cuts my hair knows it. She doesn't market herself using Twitter, but she does take advantage of technology. At the end of every session, she schedules my next appointment. The application she uses automatically sends me a reminder the day before. If I have an unexpected conflict, I can change it.

Some people might consider this good customer service. Others might consider it good marketing. And therein lies the sweet spot. When your customer service and marketing efforts become so seamless that they are virtually indistinguishable from each other, then it becomes difficult for anyone to ignore.

Wednesday, June 12

Big Data Will Be The Blind Spot For Marketers

It's almost frightful how big big data will get. It's valuation is expected to reach $47 billion by 2017. It seems to me that estimate is too soft. Big data is like a boom town. I don't mean that figuratively.

The $4 billion Utah Data Center will eventually turn Bluffdale, Utah, and surrounding communities into boom towns. It's not the only place it will happen either. Government isn't the only player in big data.

Everybody wants an inside scoop on how individuals, groups, and mass populations operate for predictive and manipulative reasons. They want to uncover the non-existent philosopher's stone of human behavior so they can tell when someone who scratches their nose has malicious intent. They want to guess the direction of the public like they might plot the expected path of migrating geese. And they, marketers in particular, want to know which 140-character combination will not only get attention but also drive sales or, at least, pick up a follower that might buy a product within the next 100 tweets.

Some people will read that paragraph and feel spooked out. Some people will read it and salivate. It seems to me either might be an overreaction, but sometimes it's hard to tell. What is easy to tell is that big data will eventually lead to more blind spots than spoilers.

Analysts are too busy tracking online activity without concrete outcomes. 

Part of the problem, especially for marketers, is that they measure the wrong information. Forrester, ISTMA, and VisionEdge Marketing recently conducted a study that demonstrated precisely that.

What they found was that marketing performance management is operationally proficient but strategically stalled. The problem is exactly what you might think it is. Marketers are measuring marketing activity and not business outcomes, message effectiveness or predictive insights.

What does that mean? Marketers are too busy trying to prove performance to justify their efforts. They point to CRM and marketing automation to create dashboard reports that show how many people visited, shared and traveled down the sales funnel. They make decisions based on those measures too, and most of them revolve around the numbers they think matter, tying it to things like platform popularity.

It's not enough and I'm not the only one saying it. According to the analysts, only nine percent of CEOs and six percent of CFOs rely on marketing data to make decisions. In other words, most marketers have online clout and not the real stuff.

Big data will be rendered useless unless marketers measure on multiple levels. 

Less face facts. Although online sentiment can be useful, it's doesn't tell the whole story no matter how much money you throw at it. If it did, BP would not have survived the Gulf oil spill. If it did, JC Penney wouldn't be desperate after being right. In both cases, big data was off the mark.

Data needs to happen across every public, not just the public. Data needs to be discovered with multiple methods, not just one method. Even some of the most visible social media crisis events have been largely forgotten. Others were online loud, but many people never heard they happened.

You might find something different when you talk with people as opposed to react with them.

• Interviews. With the right interviewer, nothing beats a series of interviews. It's how some of our major clients have tapped my firm to write white papers. They work in other ways too. Once I interviewed 40 employees at a company that believed nobody saw the company like they did. I found out that they all saw the company the same way despite that belief.

Focus Groups. Brainstorming sessions and focus groups made up of trusted stakeholders or select demographics can transform reaction captures into think tanks. For example, when I conduct core and strategic sessions, the first 50 responses are often the least important. Once a group hits closer to 100, they start thinking about vision instead of what's expected.

Vetted Surveys. Instead of self-selected surveys, sometimes slanted with leading questions, try objective surveys (and control groups) with people who are solicited based upon belonging to a specific public or stakeholder group. Find out what they think of an organization, industry, and what's missing from the equation — not only what they expect but what they never thought to expect.

Big Data. As I mentioned before, big data has a place. Just remember that sometimes you have to distinguish between the public and customers. One example that comes to mind was the initial launch of the iPhone without physical buttons. The quieter majority of customers didn't care. They didn't seem to care that the USB port was left off their iPads either. Never-customers cared much more.

After you're done, don't forget that inside out is just as important as what's being said outside.

• Employees. No matter how great you think your organizational brand might be, it isn't all that if your employees don't believe it and protect it. Most social media crisis events happen because one employee forgets just how important every branded piece of communication can be.

Stakeholders. When working with the National Emergency Number Association (9-1-1), I was privy to some very intelligent ideas on improving emergency communication because the association's stakeholders included several dozen thought-leadership companies that had glimpses of future tech. Do you need another reason to talk to vendors, partners, shareholders, etc.?

• Customers. There is plenty that can be tracked when it comes to customers and there is much more to consider than a single click. The value of the lifetime customer is more. It's one of the reasons most major companies jumped at affiliate programs. Their marketing jumps in after one buy.

The Public. Looking at the public makes sense, but with obvious limitations. Listening to the public en masse can sometimes be a good thing because it often serves as a commonsense barometer. Other times, it isn't nearly as good because it can be manipulated by catfish or implied wrongdoing.

Doing all this work takes more time, which means you can't turn on a dime with every decision. But then again, if an organization could turn on a dime then its brand relationship must be pretty thin. Or maybe the better way to say it is: isn't it commonsense to talk to people if you want to understand them?

Friday, February 1

Multitasking With TV: Where's Your Message?

People still watch television, but most people watch it differently. As many as 42 percent of U.S. consumers now say that they access the Internet via their PCs or laptops (and 17 percent access the Internet via smartphones) while watching it. Almost 25 percent of them specifically sign on social networks.

These were among the most recent findings to come out of the KPMG International 2013 Digital Debate survey, and it raises a very interesting question. If consumers are multi-tasking television, the Internet, and social networks, then where do you want your message? Or maybe there's a better one.

Can marketers count 100 percent engagement when mediums only earn 25 percent attention?

A 25 percent share of attention is probably generous. I've seen my son and his friends, effortlessly toggling between the net, networks, text messages, television, and gaming console headset. It makes me wonder how any old school marketer can hope to reach him. They can't unless he wants them to.

The majority of purchasers like him are predetermined by other factors, leaving the close of any sale based largely on the manufacturer's ability to provide on-demand advertising and a means for a seamless transaction. And he is not alone.

Ideally, marketers need to develop campaigns that touch their audiences simultaneously. For example, a television ad might introduce someone to a product, while a simultaneously-placed ad on a social network/app/Internet brings the transaction closer to completion by giving consumers the ability to respond/purpose immediately or save information for future consideration. The bigger vision is to deliver communication like it ought to be created — integrated.

Technology is right around the corner to make everything easier.

Some people, including KPMG, believe this might change as smart TVs are adopted, but it's much more likely smart TVs will be leapfrogged by the next generation technology that follows Apple and Wii in providing dual screen functionality. Dual- or triple-screen functionality marries the allure of multi-tasking with multiple screens, much like they do across disconnected devices (until they are connected by airplay or cables).

The demand for more seamless innovations been steadily increasing over the last few years. In fact, according to the study, 14 percent of U.S. consumers (mostly ages 25-34) prefer watching television on a smart phone or tablet. Chances are that many of these consumers already use cable connections or airplay to toggle mobile content onto their bigger screens. In other words, they don't even distinguish between television and digital formats. They only see screen sizes.

Wednesday, January 23

Researching Colleges: Future Students Prefer Digital Stealth

Forget interviews. Forget phone calls. Forget campus visits. College bound students are researching future colleges with the click of a mouse or tap on a mobile application. Like many organizations are learning, the next generation of college student is more inclined to shop a future college online.

Almost 55 percent of prospecting students are investigating colleges every day, using social media networks and search engines over print guidebooks and direct marketing products. Almost 25 percent applied stealth to their searches, making it more difficult for colleges to pin down prospect interest or profile them based on any discernible psychographics or demographics. You know what that means.

Don't blink because your customer is invisible.

According to a new study conducted by Lipman Hearne, a national marketing and communications firm, and, a college search website, future students are researching schools online as early as their sophomore year in high school. And they are looking for very specific information, along with passive analysis, to determine what institutions might be a good fit for their college years.

1. Scholarship and financial aid packages.
2. Reputation in a major field of interest.
3. Affordable tuition and fees.
4. Strong academic reputation.
5. Job assistance after graduation.

In addition to prioritizing preferences, the report focuses in on prospect communication preference, noting that nearly half had visited a college's website on a mobile device (45 percent) and one in ten had downloaded an app from a college on a mobile device. What students are less interested in are text messages, unless they have an expressed interest in the school.

Students also turn to social networks as part of their research (85 percent reported having at least one social network account). And although most say that social media does not influence their decision, students frequently look for status updates, offerings, and even invitations. But what most won't do is use this information to start a conversation, poll, or ask friends for opinions on their school choices.

There is also some indication that colleges are over-marketing to students via email. The average prospect reported receiving as many as five emails from colleges that they have reached out to for information. The communication is intrusive enough that many have set a dedicated email specifically for college information. About 71 percent check this separate email account daily.

Not surprisingly (although surprising to some), more than one in three graduating high school seniors indicated that advertising influenced their application decision or influenced their enrollment decision. Students also identified online banner ads as more effective and easier to recall than other forms of advertising. Both of these statistics represent a dramatic shift in online behavior, which has previously suggested that social media is more influential than advertising. This might not be true in the future.

The Lipman Hearne study is available for a free download, but requires the typical form fill. It included more than 11,000 students as part of its survey process. It should also be noted that the research was conducted online, which sometimes skews data toward the medium where the survey was taken.

Looking beyond college bound applications and learning about consumers. 

While the study was conducted to better understand stealth applicants — students who investigate schools before and after applying to the school — it suggests that the next generation of consumers is already shifting their mindset. Specifically, more customers watch and listen to organizations without identifying themselves as potential customers. In essence, they are passive in their research.

Passive online participants (voyeurs) still represent a majority of online participation, even if many social media experts skew toward the more talkative and visibly engaged customers. But there is one difference between the voyeurs of the past and the voyeurs of the future. The voyeurs of the past were quiet because they weren't comfortable with the new tools. The voyeurs of the future know the tools and purposefully remain unengaged to avoid intrusive marketing efforts like emails and phone calls.

This could be a significant find because it seems that while the next generation of customer may be more reliant on digital research, they are also interested in remaining invisible to big data by giving off the appearance of disengagement. Note to researchers: Focus groups still require different formats.

Monday, December 17

Raising Expectations: Online Retailers

Online sales are expected to increase this year. Online shoppers are also increasing their already high expectations. Now that almost half of all online retailers are offering free shipping, more consumers are expecting free returns too.

In fact, one recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Shoprunner, which is a shopping services network, shows as many as 81 percent of online shoppers say they are not likely to make additional purchases from websites that charge for returns. Sixty-nine percent also say that the process for returning online purchases is too complicated.

There are hundreds of decisions companies make that impact brand.

While most marketers invest significant time in attempting to increase sales, far too few are concerned about customer life cycle — the potential for one client to make multiple purchases for months, years, or even an entire lifetime. Some invest everything into incentivizing purchases without ever considering the other touch points related to the transaction.

The reality is that everything counts. Customers are looking for ease of purchase, speed of shipping, cost of shipping, shipment packaging, product performance, return policies, and cost of returns. The impact any of these touch points and others have can make all the difference.

How much? According to the study, customers paying for their own returns decrease spending with retailers between 75 and 100 percent within two years. In contrast, customers who receive free return shipping will increase their spending with the retailer by 158 to 457 percent in the same period.

The survey goes a long way in suggesting that customers are more inclined to consider their entire experience as part of the brand relationship as opposed to product performance alone. (The same can be said of offline purchases too, where customers have become weary of less than stellar customer service.)

There are several other areas where many online retailers can step up their game. 

• 67 percent of online shoppers would purchase more online from mobile devices or computers if they are already already familiar with the same secure, easy check-out procedure.

• 77 percent said they would spend more online if retailers offered free 1-2 day shipping (but also admit that faster shipping options gives them more reason to procrastinate).

• 80 percent of consumers say they like the option of picking up online purchases in person, a concept recently included in a New York Times article covering how online and in-store shopping have changed.

But improving policies and technologies isn't the only area where retailers can step up. Customers are keen on seeing technology improve in-store purchases too. Mobile isn't only the answer for consumers. It is quickly becoming the answer for retailers too — everything from offering free Wi-Fi to finding out more product information to giving customers immediate access to inventory that is not readily available in the store can increase sales and improve customers retention in person or online.

Friday, December 14

Syndicating Content: Why TripAdvisor Doesn't Need Visitors

Bloggers have known it for some time, but it works for big business too. The goal of effective branding doesn't always begin and end with attracting visitors to an organizational site but creating content other people want.

For some time, TripAdvisor has been putting this idea into practice. The number of people who view TripAdvisor content on sites other than TripAdvisor has doubled since last year. Now, more than 300 million visitors per month see TripAdvisor content on sites like Best Western International and Thomas Cook instead. They aren't the only ones. More than 500 companies carry TripAdvisor content.

Site visits shouldn't trump sales. 

The program, which originally started as means for businesses (and TripAdvisor) to encourage more traveler reviews, has since grown into an array of services for travel brands to syndicate TripAdvisor content,  integrate site technologies, engage customers, and increase bookings.

"We recognize that a growing number of guests turn to social communities and online reviews for research before they book a hotel stay," said Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Best Western. "Now our guests read TripAdvisor traveler reviews without leaving our site, which not only saves time but also helps each guest choose the right Best Western hotel for their needs."

There is another reason for companies to consider the option, according to TripAdvisor. According to the September 2012 PhoCusWright survey, 53 percent of travelers won't book a hotel if it doesn't have TripAdvisor reviews, which includes 75 million reviews and opinions. The volume of user-generated content attracts about 60 million unique visitors (75 million if all 19 media brands owned by the company are included).

In other words, TripAdvisor content offsite is read by five times as many people as it is onsite. And interestingly enough, TripAdvisor doesn't care. As many as 60,000 unique domains carry TripAdvisor content, shifting the company away from attracting site visitors and reaching out to them instead.

The concept brings new meaning to the old concept that winning companies look for innovations, ideas, and spaces where their competition isn't. In this case, it turns out that the places where TripAdvisor competition isn't is everywhere they could have been — on the places they review.

Wednesday, December 12

Marketing Challenge: Big Data Casts Big Shadows

A new study sponsored by EMC Corporation found that despite the unprecedented expansion of the digital universe due to the massive amounts of data being generated daily by people and machines (an average of 5,247 GB of data for every person on earth by 2020), only about 0.5 percent of the world's data is being analyzed.

This provides both opportunities and challenges as only about 3 percent of potentially useful data is even tagged. (Ironically, only about 20 percent of all data being generated is adequately protected.)

The two-fold challenge for marketers in the next decade. 

If marketing firms and IT departments capture, organize, and analyze too little data, they are more likely  to capture big shadows with distorted information. If marketing firms and IT departments capture too much data, most of them will succumb to information overload paralysis.

This is doubly true because the amount of information stored in the digital universe about individual users exceeds the amount of data that they themselves create. Every day, algorithms are generating data about everyone who is active on the Internet that is only as good as the proposed algorithm.

The effectiveness of these algorithms can be appreciated simply reviewing the advertising content being served up on various social networks and ad revenue websites. If the advertising doesn't match your needs or interests, it is very likely caused by an ineffective algorithm that is attached to your data (and then attracts more erroneous data). The potential for advertising dollar waste is tremendous.

Author Geoff Livingston scratched the surface in his recent article Does a Social Score Make a CMO? Forbes attempted to determine the top 20 Fortune CMOs baed on social scoring as opposed to outcome measurements tied to their work. Social scoring is largely useless data, casting shadows that may or may not be true especially because people who work for big brands tend to attract more followers regardless of their contributions or real influence (even within the field).

Ergo, in some cases, it is the brand and not the person attracting attention. Likewise, other people work hard to game the system, either trolling for follow-back propositions or purchasing followers to inflate perception. Big data doesn't know the difference, despite claims to the contrary.

These are only small examples of the bigger problem. The point is that as data seemingly becomes increasing accessible that doesn't mean that its value increases with the volume. Even if Western Europe is currently investing $2.49 (USD) per GB, the U.S. $1.77 per GB, China $1.31 per GB, and India $.87 per GB to manage the digital universe, there are no guarantees that big data can capture more than distorted reflections of the people marketing wants to persuade.

Big data can be useful, but only when it is continually vetted by traditional research. 

Even as data measurements improve for anyone hoping to track, research, and predict consumer sentiment, marketers ought not become lazy researchers relying on slivers of data or online surveys. If social networks are an opportunity for organizations to be more human, then big data collection ought to work toward understanding behavior as opposed to dehumanizing population groups.

Some marketers today might be surprised to find that their best efforts to automate and insert keywords (as an example) might produce a measured response in the short term but fail in vetting sessions that involve live customer interviews, face-to-face interactions, or even focus groups. While the challenges are not insurmountable and provide additional opportunities beyond the digital universe, it goes a long way in demonstrating the need to think beyond the obvious, especially when what is "obvious" only accounts for a fraction of a percent, less than traditional methods used to capture.

While the study raised many of the questions above, there is additional information that can be gleaned from it for marketers and IT professionals. For more highlights from the study, visit the EMC multimedia overview page. It presents eye-opening information about how much we don't know vs. what we think we know as well as an even analysis of challenges and opportunities for big data.

Monday, December 10

Ending The Daily: Don't Blame The Tablets

There is plenty of speculation as to why Rupert Murdoch's The Daily folded, but don't fooled by some of it. Any contention that the tablet is to blame is a mistake. The medium wasn't the problem. It was the message. It was the business model. It was misunderstanding what consumers want from digital news.

For every failed newspaper-turned-news tablet, there are dozens of successes. And none of these successes are crippled by issues experienced by the News Corp. experiment, despite Felix Salmon outlining all the tablet troubles some news outlets are experiencing with tablet delivery.

Here are few of them. But most are fixable.

The most prominent issues with tablet native news, according to Columbia Journalism Review. 

• News applications are clunky, with most requiring a long download for every issue.
• Navigation is difficult and unintuitive, with pages less than dynamic and without a search.
• Archival issues abound, with most tablet editions being limited to single issue reads and no history.

But anyone who understands the native apps and the web a little more than the bold digital experiment by Murdoch won't be fooled into thinking that the tablet is at fault. All you have to do is flip over to Flipboard to get an idea of what can be done without the deep pockets News Corp. once had.

• News applications need to drip stories in a steady stream, not make standalone issues.
• Navigation is easy when the content is arranged by topic, letting readers prioritize content.
• Every great native app can built with archival content in mind, including related links.

While I haven't had an opportunity to fully review the free application process for Liquid [Hip], an alternative reviews site, I do know the benefits outweighed any issues. Thanks to the innovative partnering opportunity and programing ability of UppSite, converting web-based content to a native app isn't perfect but closing in on perfect.

The biggest advantage is that stories are delivered as they are published, making it faster to retrieve reviews than a browser. And while navigation still needs to be improved by allowing publishers to set major categories and listing the rest of any index as alphabetical (suggestions made by our firm), the potential already exists. Once it is complete, including a search, archived content isn't an issue.

While some people might note that web content ported to a native app lacks some media-rich dynamics that publishers want to take advantage of, it seems to me that it still makes the best blueprint. Content delivered one story at a time is better than trying to build editions. Dynamic content, ranging from videos to interactive features, can still be built in easy enough. And, if publishers are paying attention, then they might appreciate another trapping that The Daily exhibited. Weak content.

It wasn't that the content was weak per se, but the depth of reporting didn't justify the price. Native apps (or web news sites) need to do a better job balancing short-content appeal while still delivering the depth of reporting that used to set magazines and newspapers apart from the spoonful-sized stories that electronic (television and radio) provided. How do you do it?

Building a better news experience for people with mobile phones and tablets.

It's relatively painless, really. All publishers need to do is write an executive brief-like lead story (around 350 words) that opens up three to 10 in-depth stories or point-of-view pieces or dynamics (graphs, videos, etc.) that paint a complete picture (along with archival capabilities). Doing so creates the reader choice that most people crave — which is why they search for more content after spending 15 minutes or so with a post online.

So no, it wasn't the tablet that doomed The Daily, which was filled with surface content that couldn't justify a high subscription price. Like most failed digital products, it was the development team behind it focusing too much on developing something for a medium as opposed to people who use that medium. If they had done that, then The Daily would have been the best practice and not the pitfall to avoid. But no matter. Sooner or later somebody else will spend their time in the right place and finally get it right.

Friday, November 2

Branding Loyalty: Big Brand Vs. Store Label

According to a study by the Integer Group® and M/A/R/C Research, 77 percent of general shoppers compare store brands to brand names. The downside? Most of them (90 percent) won't risk the change.

"Certain categories appear to be immune to the store-brand swap," said Craig Elston, senior vice president, IntegerTM.
"Categories that offer shoppers frequent innovations such as performance or variety, and categories where personal stakes are higher, are more difficult areas for private [store] label products to compete."

The study noted several exceptions across various demographics. About 76 percent of African-American shoppers (and 69 percent of shoppers, in general) will not swap laundry detergent. The brand is too important to them.

Health and beauty is also a category where shoppers prefer a brand name to a store label. Seventy-four percent of Hispanic shoppers (and 65 percent of general shoppers) will stick with their brand.

Trust and the perception of quality dominate decision making.

Part of the reason is associated with the perception of quality. As long as a brand can keep its brand promise, store labels will have a difficult time finding any leverage. In fact, trust accounts for 51 percent of a purchase decision, much higher than influencers, online reviews, or any other factor.

Store labels have an additional challenge too. Lower quality store labeled products have led to fewer store label shoppers than two years ago. And to compensate, retailers haven't done much more than building better brand identities (e.g., nicer packaging). They ought to focus on better products.

Case in point: When customers were asked if they thought the packaging had improved, 14 percent said that the labels do look better. However, even with better packaging, they prefer the brand they trust.

There is one exception highlighted by the study.

Sixty-eight percent of the shoppers prefer store label brands (generic) in the over-the-counter medicine category. But this unique outcome has much less to do with the identity and more to do with a cultural phenomenon tied to an external directive — insurance companies, health care providers, and some doctors have convinced consumers to look for generic first. Consumers have adopted this mindset across the board.

Without any external directive, implied or mandated, customers rely on brands that deliver on their brand promise. You can find the study here (which includes the common lead generation form).

While the study is interesting, it does miss some deeper issues related to consumer psychology as well as a holistic definition of brand loyalty in that it is much more than an identity. Ergo, the trust factor is directly tied to the relationship between the brand and the consumer. Identity only reinforces familiarity.

Where supermarkets and retailers attempting to introduce store labels frequently make a mistake is they try to entice consumers based on price points. With the exception of price point shoppers, most consumers are only motivated when their preferred brands break a promise (quality failure), do not meet a specific need, the product is temporarily unavailable and there urgency in finding a replacement, or there is an external driver (like health care policies).

If you focus too much on true price point consumers, marketers have to appreciate that they are only their customers for as long as the low price can be maintained. (Price point shoppers have no brand loyalty.)

Likewise, free samples aren't enough either. While customers will sometimes be receptive to a free sample, their purchase decision in the future will only be swayed when their preferred brand has been compromised by one of the four points mentioned above. In fact, many consumers accept free samples strictly to reinforce their brand loyalty to the preferred brand.

Monday, October 29

Building Brands: The Social Media Connection

There are three takeaways from a new report on social media and brand building by Forrester Research. Marketers might find them familiar. Some social media practitioners might not. But suffice to say that social might be more of a brand reinforcer than a builder, something we've said all along.

• Social media is part of brand building, but not a standalone solution.
• Social media provides the story, leveraging emotional elements.
• Social media improves the relationship with engagement and loyalty.

All three takeaways point to the same assumptions, however. Organizations have to employ social media as an effective tool or tactic and not as a magical strategy simply designed to give awareness a lift. Too many companies view social that way today. They count likes and followers instead of brand reinforcement, repeat business, and customer engagement.

One of the best lines in the report is right up front. Principal author Tracy Stokes points out that many organizations are asking the wrong question. They are asking "what is the social strategy?" instead of "how does social media change the brand strategy?" Personally, I might even ask a different one all together.

Are we living up to our brand across every connection and contact?

Among marketing leaders, most of them get part of it. Ninety-two percent believe that social media has fundamentally changed how consumers engage with brands. But what doesn't add up is that only half of all marketing professionals see their social media efforts as strategically integrated into brand plans.

Part of the challenge is simply because social media is still in its infancy. Sure, social has come into its own as a tool, with almost every marketer (B2C and B2B) seeing it as a relevant marketing tool. But what I mean when I say it is in its infancy is that the tail still wags the dog or, in other words, social media and social networks control the brand.

It's not all that different from television when it first burst onto the scene. Advertisers would walk onto the show set with a product easel and talk about the product. These advertiser cameos were often stiff and unconvincing, but consumers didn't care because nobody had done anything different.

That slowly began to change, with one of the first examples being a 10-second spot that aired before a baseball game. The commercial, without any interference (a spokesperson and easels), was pretty shabby (even for $9), but what Bulova attempted to do was establish a brand message on its terms.

It took some time for most brands to catch on. Years after Bulova, even McDonald's struggled to break away from the idea that people wanted brands to have pretend dialogue with them. McDonald's did much better when it started advertising skits in the vein of Sid and Marty Krofft.

It isn't much different than how many social media practitioners act today. They jump on a network and then adopt the platform, sometimes trying to jump into trending conversations. Brands ought to work harder establishing what consumers can expect from their presence, making sure it reinforces the brand and not just coupons and gimmicks for the favor of a connection (unless it the brand is price-point driven).

And even then, it cannot neglect that brands are established by an integrated communication strategy. The Forrester white paper delivers a few good ideas. They range from humanizing a company and creating groundswell for riskier ideas to correcting a negative image and working toward common causes. You might notice that all four of these ideas are measurable beyond awareness and attention.

What will the future look like for social media?

The topic deserves a post on its own, but some ideas are already moving full steam ahead. Forrester is looking at the unification of corporate and brand identity, connection planning (not channel planning), and tent pole events that give brands a lift as opposed to trying to deliver 24-7 messaging.

All three are good ideas. Our own research shows that offline communication is critical for most organizations. It gives the company an opportunity to talk about events before, during, and after the fact. Because these conversations directly relate to consumers on their terms, it creates more touch points — from curiosity about the event to real-time reporting to post-event conversations, which give people who didn't attend an idea of what they missed and those who did attend some fond memories.

But all of it, regardless of what is done, will share a commonality. It will all tie back to the brand. And the brand identity, although some people argue otherwise, will be established and managed by the company (not by social media). Specifically, brand managers will be charged with making sure that everything done at every level of the company keeps the brand in mind. And if it doesn't, then the organization will adjust or adopt a new brand that they can live up to.

If you are interested in the white paper, you can find it online here. One word of caution. Like many white papers, it is being offered in exchange for including your name on a lead generation list.

Wednesday, October 17

Sticking With Tactics: Do Marketers Know Strategy?

A recent study by Econsultancy tells the story. Marketers believe in content marketing. Ninety percent of those surveyed say that content marketing will become more important in the next 12 months.

It's not a surprise for anyone working in social media. But what is even more telling about the survey is something else. Only 38 percent have defined a content strategy. It's also likely most don't know how.

What happens when you work without a content strategy? 

The entire communication process becomes tactical, relying on the tips of the trade but never really reaching business objectives, campaign goals or even brand reinforcement. Remember Bud TV?

But perhaps even more disturbing, even those that are in the process of planning a strategy demonstrate thin objectives. The top three goals: increase engagement, increase site traffic, and raise brand awareness.

Seriously? While some of these might be considered outcomes, none of them are well-defined objectives on their. Rewritten, marketers might consider increasing brand loyalty, positioning themselves as source experts, or improving positive brand recall (e.g., not only increasing awareness but also ensuring people get it right and have a positive impression of it).

Even some of the lower scoring answers — improving SEO links, generating leads, influencing stakeholders — represent a tendency to focus on tasks that lead to something but seldom define what those tasks are likely to lead to. Ergo, marketers are becoming too reliant on "doing" something but many of them don't know to what end while others plug in "increase sales," which ought to be a given. (Businesses are in business to sell things, hopefully in such a way that they actually benefit people.)

Establishing objectives always starts with a situation analysis.

Many companies do not start their planning process with an understanding of organizational purpose (preferably one underserved in the market), their long-term achievable position in that market, or a handle on their most pressing issues within the company that are holding them back. If they did, it would likely change the fundamental nature of their organization and establish different objectives.

To give you an example, I worked with a company that developed an environmental solution for the construction industry to meet certain environmental protection regulations. They could have picked any path to do it, but the shortest path made the most sense — prove to the construction industry that they have the most cost-effective solution (lower cost and fewer fines) and prove to the environmental policy makers that they had the best available technology (in order to be recommended or even mandated).

The communication plan was built around this understanding because if the company could prove its value to general contractors and necessity to policy enforcers — everything else would fall into place. Sales would increase. Brand awareness would increase. Their reputation as innovators would increase.

There were many ways to accomplish this, including partnering with regulators, cooperating with environmental organizations (shifting them from aggressors to educators), and targeted educational communication to companies that would purchase their technology among them. I'm not going to list all the details today.

I mention it merely to illustrate the point. Without a strategy, they would be chasing likes, follows, SEO links, web traffic, and lead generation like many marketers. So the question becomes ... to what end?

This is why a communication strategy is the most important part of a campaign. If it isn't, then your company can waste money chasing the wrong numbers for very little results beyond a short-term spike. At the end of the day, especially in this economic climate, you most assuredly can't afford it.

Wednesday, October 10

Marketing Madness: How Stereotypes Hurt Campaigns

I've always believed companies need to be culturally sensitive, but I've never been a fan of most "cultural" marketing campaigns. A new study by Columbia Business School underscores the reason.

Columbia Business School's Michael Morris, the Chavkin-Chang professor of leadership, and Aurelia Mok, assistant professor, City University of Hong Kong (she received her Ph.D. from Columbia Business School in 2010) set out to better understand bicultural identities and how marketing cues might influence their response. It turns out that culturally-skewed campaigns may not resonate.

Cultural campaigns ignore the integration of cultural identities. 

The researchers do an excellent job setting up the myth. When a Japanese-American woman strolls through a food court at the mall, is she more likely to opt for sushi or a hamburger? It depends on the woman. It depends to which degree she has integrated her cultural identity.

Prior research found that bicultural individuals switch between their two sets of cultural habits in response to cues in their current setting. Morris and Mok show that these responses differ between two kinds of bicultural individuals: "integrated-self" individuals exhibit chameleon-like behavior, expressing Asian tastes after exposure to Asian symbols, while "divided-self" individuals behave like cultural contrarians, expressing American tastes even after exposure to Asian symbols.

This holds true even when cues are presented subliminally, suggesting that unconscious motives are at work. It's these unconscious responses that can add the most weight, but it's also the hardest to measure.

So the researchers devised a subliminal priming technique in which participants were repeatedly flashed "Asian" or "American" while reading words in a word recognition test. The cues could not be seen, but were flashed long enough to be caught by their subconscious minds. The subjects were then shown different products that they could click on for more information.

These Asian-Americans did not skew toward Asian presets. Instead, subjects responded based on their degree of bicultural integration. In some cases, integrated individuals experienced a self-defense response that caused them to respond with less interest to marketing messages that skewed Asian because they felt (consciously or subconsciously) the ads were exclusionary and even caused them anxiety in losing their self-identity versus a cultural one.

The brilliance in understanding people and not stereotypes.

Modern marketers place considerable effort on lacing campaigns with cultural markers in the hopes of reaching a specific segment of the population. The idea might show cultural awareness, but it is equally likely to prey on stereotypes and cause some members of that segment to become disinterested or even disassociated with the brand, depending on how integrated the individual's identity might be.

It is especially prevalent in Hispanic marketing efforts, which often attempt to reach a Hispanic public based on the pre-conceived belief that they fit certain stereotypes. They do not.

Not only does Hispanic marketing run the risk of alienating diversity within a broad definition (e.g., Cuban vs. Mexican vs. Dominican Republican, etc.) but each generation removed from their cultural identity becomes less motivated by Hispanic messaging and more likely to identify with being American. In such cases, much like Asian groups, they may even have an aversion to the message.

Likewise, although not part of the study, there are other differences as well. Hispanic and Latino publics in California, Florida and Texas are all very likely to have different regional identities unique to their geographical region. But despite this, marketers frequently insist on developing campaigns to the broader base.

Certainly, some cultures seem to be more resistant to assimilation than others. But at the same time, given cultural identity is strongly associated with individual preferences and not groups, marketers need to start asking themselves if attempting to capitalize on cultural identity is worth the long-term risk of alienation. And, perhaps even more importantly, if attempting to base marketing campaigns on stereotypes is the exact opposite of what they are trying to accomplish.

People are more likely bound and identifiable based on specific interests and experiences. Marketers need to give more cadence to those identifiers than cultural bias, especially in a country like the U.S.

Friday, September 28

Organizing Business: The MarComm Office And Beyond

Put Process Before Position
When you work with startups that aspire to be corporations, you would be surprised how often it happens. One of the executives starts developing an organizational chart. The first thing they do is develop silos — disconnected departments that report to managers who report to the head.

If you mention how startups need to be more fluid (and all companies for that matter), they rebuff the notion by harkening back to the days when they worked at some company where they made up titles like guru and ninja. "Like that?"

Expect them to smile as they assign absurdity to the redefined suggestion. No, not like that.

Put processes before positions. I learned this at 16. 

It applies to every department, but communication tends to be among the most confused. It's the reason so many companies report that their communication feels disconnected within the organization. The reason is that they fill positions without much thought for the process.

Many organizational charts end up with: marketing manager, designers, copywriters, public relations manager, public relations specialists, social media manager, social media specialists, web developers, web designers, programmers, app specialists, internal communication manager, international communicator, trade show specialists, and so on and so forth.

Given that this is just the communication department, there isn't any surprise many startups run out of money. They staff positions. Even if they don't, they eventually will because once an organizational chart is established, they will continually hire based on reactionary needs — we need more of this or that, as if people are produce and never mind that one of those team members doesn't do enough.

My first job was working at Wendy's. And while some people might take exception to idea that communication departments can be likened to quick service, they knew what they were doing. I've applied to it many permanent teams and ad hoc teams all my life. It's not the position, but the process.

How Wendy's organizes your lunch. The variables don't matter. 

In a perfect world, Wendy's will staff one person on the register, one person on drinks, one person to make sandwiches, one person on order assembly. They duplicate this for the front and back (drive-thru). In the middle, serving both sections, one person staffs the grill (they are designed to have two grills if they are extremely busy) and one person staffs the fries. There are also support people, at least one in the back room and management in a pinch.

Marketing In The RoundThat might sound like a lot of people and it is a lot of people. But these are not hard positions. There is a fluidity to the operation based on what needs to be done. The person on the register can also manage drinks and order assembly. The grill person can manage fries or even sandwich making in a pinch.

In some cases and depending on the skills sets of the team available, every process can be covered by one or two people. There were some days that I worked every back register team position, along with fries, and assisted grill. It wasn't easy (or what corporate would have wanted), but I managed. Unexpected slams happen. It's also why I became a crew manager before moving onto a different job.

I'm not suggesting that one person do it all in a communication department, although some companies require it. But what I am suggesting is that you establish and prioritize the processes you need and cross train anybody who doesn't have the necessary skill sets much like Geoff Livingston and Gini Dietrich came close to suggesting in their book Marketing In The Round.

If the future of business is integrated, then companies need fluidity.

This isn't a 1950s economy. We don't need 1950s organizational charts. We need fluidity.

Writers need to learn multiple writing styles to communicate across different mediums, including some programming language skills. Designers ought to be comfortable with some programming language skills. Everybody needs to be presentable and professional, both online and off. And depending on the reason for contact, public relations can be adjusted up the scale.

Sure, there are some specialties that are always worthwhile (like database management), but that is the point. If you can prioritize which specialists you really need around the processes you expect to utilize the most, then the positions and job descriptions will make more sense. And everybody will know more about what is supposed to be done, even when someone calls in sick.

It's not limited to communication either. Many marketing professionals I've worked with are also exceptional product developers and are especially adept at designing user interfaces on paper if not in code. Some of them become good at these skill sets because of their interaction with customers online or during marketing research sessions. Some of them are also good with sales teams. Others have intuitive ideas about operations, budget priorities, media buys, etc.

It really just depends. And that is the point. How do you create an organizational chart based on positions when you don't understand the processes or the people who might fill the jobs? Even if you could, you might never maximize your proficiencies or replace people when they move on.

Or, like many companies, you may jeopardize the morale of the entire organization by trimming the fat you allowed to come on in the first place just because somebody needed a specific title and nobody else bothered to learn their job. Isn't that why companies can sometimes lay off hundreds? I think we might be smarter or more sensible by now. Think about processes first and then fill your organizational chart and outsource when you really do need a specialty.

Monday, September 24

Thinking Different: New Ideas For Solar

Sometimes watching the various communication gaffes and tit-for-tat soundbite stalking during campaign season is almost unnerving. It makes for a case study example of all the most basic public relations rules (e.g., there is no such thing as private communication) and sometimes entertainment, but it really doesn't move much forward. It's an exercise in attempting to drive up negatives. That's about it.

But what the nation really needs are solutions, and I don't mean some of the solutions that are typically presented as contrasts during the political season. I mean the kind of solutions that don't subscribe to red-blue ideas. Here's one example of what we ought to be hearing from a presidential candidate.

How to make alternative energy work without the nonsense. 

There have been many schemes cooked up around solar energy. The worst of them, probably, was Solyndra. It received at least $70 million from a Department of Energy loan guarantee without much of a business model, proving why government is best left out of corporate investments based on preferred policy and not profitability. Government could have created the market instead of the company.

What might have worked is a government program that gave distressed homeowners (and then later expanded to other homeowners) guaranteed loans to have solar panels installed on their homes. They could make the purchases from any U.S. owned and operated solar panel company, creating jobs fueled not by government directly but by consumer choices in the new market.

The loans would be paid back, plus a modest interest rate, from any excess energy sold back to power companies (not the already distressed homeowners). The immediate benefit for the homeowner would be a reduced power bill, thereby either increasing their disposable income or stretching any benefits from local, state and federal programs. The immediate benefit for the power company is that it can sell any excess back on the open market. And then it gets better.

Once the solar panels are paid off, the distressed homeowner could collect excess income from the power the solar panels generate. If they are on a federal program, half of the energy sold could be deducted from what they normally receive in government aid (giving them a modest boost and freeing up government program money) and move them closer to independence, not further away from it.

It would also reduce the environmental impact of solar farm schemes that aim to turn large parcels of land into solar wastelands (and displacing whatever ecosystem that exists there). Instead, it moves solar panels where they belong — on real estate already wasted (e.g., roofs). At the same time, the guaranteed increase in demand would eventually lead to cheaper solar panels, opening the market to people who can purchase them outright without having to wait 25-35 years to see a return on investment or seek government assistance.

This kind of program wouldn't necessarily work everywhere, but it would in Nevada and many other states with a similar climate. It would have been especially worthwhile to Nevada because the state doesn't currently export any significant energy (fossil or otherwise). Indirectly, however, it would benefit every state because this idea would lead to energy independence and possibly rein in volatile energy prices.

Diatribe is dangerous because it depresses new ideas. 

What does this have to do with communication? Everything. As long as people are polarized between moving toward alternative energy (without a clear understanding of it or its economics) and tapping traditional energy solutions, everybody is too busy trying to sell their plan without looking for new ideas. How can they? They are too busy selling whatever is on the table.

While I am certain that my little idea isn't perfect and would probably need some fine tuning (thousands of pages if it is a government job), it's an illustration of what might be possible if people invested their time in solutions rather than whose idea and ideology it might be or what they can get out it.

Instead of politics, it produces a win for every stakeholder, while stimulating the economy, protecting the environment, and nurturing energy independence. It helps people in need, opens a new market, lifts the economy, and brings in private enterprise (without looking like a payoff to past campaign donors). It is absolutely ridiculous these things need to be at odds. At least, I think so. What do you think?

Monday, September 3

Dueling Studies: Labor Day Blues Or Silver Lining?

According to the New York-based Conference Board, consumer confidence fell to 60.6 in August, down from a revised 65.4 in July and the 66 level analysts were expecting. As published by USA Today, the index now stands at the lowest it has been since November 2011 at 55.2.

But according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan, the final sentiment index climbed to 74.3, a three-month high, from 72.3 in July. As published by Bloomberg, this gauge averaged 89 in the five years leading up to the recession. (Bloomberg reported confidence was down a few days earlier.)

The causes are easier to understand. The economy is struggling under the weight of rising gas prices, economic uncertainty among business owners facing more regulatory burdens, and the high unemployment rate that remains above 8 percent (but is even higher when people who have stopped looking for a job are factored into the equation). There are other factors too.

Sentiment, on the other hand, is not only elusive but also relative to who you are, where you live, and what you read. We live in a world with too much information for its own good, and some of it is suspect.

How media selection can dictate consumer confidence and economic perception.

When you look at headlines from various news outlets, the message is as mixed as the reality. "Consumer sentiment is a bit brighter in August," reads one. "Consumer confidence takes unexpected fall," reads another. "U.S. consumer confidence rises but outlook still grim," claims one. "Consumer confidence crash stifles gains from housing report," states another.

None are wrong or right. The variations in reporting are dictated by which studies are reported, how they are reported, headline semantics, and in-story sources. It's kind of a mess.

But the point here is that dueling studies and sources, along with what people share across social networks, can skew how people see the world. People are more likely than ever to self-select the reality they want and then see all of the other media outlets as biased.

At the same time, the media have increased its own online analytics, carefully tracking what people are looking for and then delivering based on those results. If one story gets more attention than another, someone is sure to say "we need more like that." This isn't really new, but it does seemed pronounced.

How individuals can navigate the influx of communication overload.

Without a doubt, relying on affirmation media will bias an individual's perspective even if the media stories themselves are not intensionally biased. Instead, it's best to develop a slate of media outlets that challenge ideas as much as confirm them. Once you focus in on a story, check up on the sources.

When most people read news stories, there is an assumption that the newspaper has already vetted the source. This isn't always the case. So when it comes to business stories in particular, take a few minutes to look up the sources. Even if the journalist isn't biased, the sources within the story might be. If they are, you can weight their contributions accordingly.

Along with those sources, find a few more on your own as well as any your social connections might turn to from time to time (preferably with ideas that confirm and challenge your own). This composite of information can be augmented and adjusted based on your geographical location, industry, company, and individual anecdotal observations (adjusting for your own bias).

When it comes to the economy today, nobody really agrees. Most of it depends on what indicators people want to focus in on to prove their point. The real tells are a little bit different. Most people don't feel better off than they were four years ago, which is what continues to shake consumer confidence. Even those who might be better off on paper, feel pinched because the same money doesn't go as far.

At the same time, this doesn't necessarily mean that the news stories ought to influence individual and business decisions. Some companies do very well in a recession while other do not. Some local economies are recovering and some are not. In other words, while individuals and small business owners can think of the news as the canvas they paint their story on — the story is still their own.

Monday, August 27

Dropping Confidence: Marketers Need To Adjust Expectations

One recent survey by an online coupon site doesn't see the holidays shaping up to be as strong as last year. In researching shopping attitudes and behaviors, its results revealed more than 7 in 10 consumers (71 percent) have a dismal view of the economy. One in four are worried about being able to make all the necessary purchases. Only three percent felt the economy was in "good shape."

The survey from coincides with deeper studies, including one published by Bloomberg. The latest decline marks the longest series of declines since 2008. Part of the problem is that gasoline and grocery prices have risen, but there is no real job growth.

The first study mentioned was designed to look at how consumers plan to shop for the remainder of the year. And RetailMeNot concluded that the lackluster economy has helped to create a demand for discount shopping (namely coupons). We have another tip for marketers following study highlights.

Highlights from the RetailMeNot consumer sentiment study. 

• Women (46 percent) are more likely than men (31 percent) to start shopping earlier than November.
• Most (23 percent) will start shopping in early November; Some (12 percent) on Black Friday/Cyber Monday.
• An increasing amount of people (15 percent) plan to wait until after Cyber Monday to begin shopping.
• 54 percent of respondents will finish between Black Friday and their gift-giving holiday.
• 31 percent said that they will be done with their holiday shopping by the end of Cyber Monday.
• Women (58 percent) are more likely than men (50 percent) to finish shopping after Cyber Monday.
• Nearly a third of respondents (31 percent) intend to do their holiday shopping online.
• More than 70 percent of consumers (71 percent) think the economy is in "bad" or "terrible" shape.
• A quarter (25 percent) believe the economy is "okay;" fewer than 1 in 20 think that it is "good" (3 percent).

One of the most compelling statistics is that 4 in 10 respondents (40 percent) say that they should be able to get most of what they want, but cannot afford it all. Only about a third of respondents (36 percent) are not worried about being able to buy all the things they need in the coming months. Nearly 1 in 4 feel it will be difficult to purchase things they need over the next several months, let alone what they want.

Marketers might have to try something new if sentiment doesn't shift. 

What is most concerning about consumer confidence is that what was once called the "new normal" is beginning to erode into a self-fulfilling acceptance that things might get worse. There is little faith that the existing administration can do anything.

Marketers might be able to help consumers (and themselves) three-fold. Market first (people will be making shopping decisions earlier), market online (people are making decisions online even if they are planning to shop offline), and market fair (offer discounts that might help stretch the budget). All three might seem like common sense, which is why there are two more worth consideration.

Marketers could make a lasting impression by making purchases more experienced based. Shopping for experiences is one of the few types of purchases that hasn't slowed down (e.g., travel is up). The reason is pretty simple. People are looking for distractions that give them a chance to breathe.

Second, although this might sound like contrarian advice, is to ease up on push and plus marketing. If there has ever been a time to help consumers find exactly what they need as opposed to padding sales, this might be it. The trade off is an exchange of short-term gain for long-term loyalty.

When consumers are in a slump, customer satisfaction becomes too important in establishing long-term relationships. Given how many marketers claim they want long-term relationships online, it only makes sense that they adjust their objectives accordingly. Too much urgency or attempting to plus sell the transaction could pressure consumers into making an unexpected decision — buy nothing at all.

Monday, August 20

Emerging Markets: Will Shift Social Scores

A recent study by eMarketer pinpoints something marketers may need to consider in the near future. Emerging markets lead the world in social networking growth. And these markets are very likely to eclipse North America (China already did).

This simple but important truth could change the way people look at online measurement. With the fastest growth rates in the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific, places like North America will represent a smaller and smaller portion of the global audience.

Specifically, some estimates suggest 78 percent of the U.S. population is connected to the Internet, but it only represents between 10 and 11 percent of the global online population. Conversely, 38 percent of China's population already represents 22 percent of the global online population. India already represents 5 percent of the global online population, with only 10 percent of its population.

It also means marketers have to erase some of their previous preconceptions in terms of influence or importance. Looking at Alexa rankings or influence measurements might not mean what social media experts told them they meant. Some search engines will likely be impacted too.

There are several ways to think about the global population shift.

One old rule of thumb (although it was as erroneous then as is it today) was to ignore anyone who didn't meet a specific global threshold. Nowadays, it's even less true. Unless a site or social network account is attempting to cater to a global audience, it's not likely to have a global rank as high as its country, regional, or local rank.

Ranking or popularity doesn't have anything to do with content quality. It has everything to do with potential reach. If the potential readership has a smaller audience, then it likely won't perform at higher levels. It's a lesson I wish some communicators would have considered before dropping their communication blogs.

Some thought they were losing their audience, but the reality was that they were catering to an ever shrinking reach against the total population. Ergo, as online demographics diversified, a smaller percentage of people were interested in communication-related topics. Likewise, as time goes on, fewer people may be interested sites with English content or Western-style visuals or even hot topics.

Mashable scratched the surface of how global participation can shape a network. It compared participants in the U.S. and participants in the U.K. on Pinterest and discovered some very different statistics. In fact, the interests of U.K. participants looked vaguely familiar to me. They were similar to the online interests of U.S. participants five years ago (but on different networks).

What seems to be happening on the small scale is similar to what happens on a global scale. In this case, U.K. small businesses and consultancies are moving into Pinterest ahead of consumers. In the U.S., the migration patterns were flipped. Small businesses mostly stayed away until public relations and social media specialists began taking an interest, based on independent blogger traffic spikes.

It's a small example, but one worth considering. If your content or connection isn't geared for a global audience, you'll either have to accept your company's smaller global reach or begin altering the content in consideration of other cultural expectations and influences. The latter isn't necessarily the best idea. It all depends on what your companies does, who it serves, and where those people might live.

Friday, August 17

Marketing Research: Listening For You Or To Them?

Last year, American Express must have been pretty happy. It had the most dramatic increase of voice and positive sentiment across social networks among banks. This implies it was doing something right. But was it really? Maybe all the other banks were doing something wrong.

The real evidence of an outcome came later. In April 2011, the company reported a first quarter net income of $1.2 million, up 33 percent from $885 million the year prior. The baseline analysis alludes to the idea that sentiment may be predictive. In this case, maybe. American Express had just moved aggressively into online commerce.

But there were several other factors in play for the company. It had settled litigation with MasterCard and Visa. It had launched several premium products. Cardmember spending was up 17 percent.

One year later, the story was much the same but not nearly as strong. Cardmember spending was only up 12 percent and net income only grew 10 percent (without the benefit of settlement payments). And according to Digital: MR, it was still the most talked about bank on social networks.

It also carries a great introductory APR, but its regular APR is not nearly as competitive. And its stock performance, which is among the top ten, does not reflect the same exuberance as its conversation points.

Sentiment analysis can be useful, provided it is not a distraction.

Personally, I'm a big fan of sentiment analysis. It can be used as a benchmark for communication efforts. But marketers ought not mistake sentiment as the end all in marketing measurement, making decisions that upturns mean "do more of the same" or downturns mean "do less."

In fact, in digging deeper into the American Express sentiment, we found that much of the buzz comes from a smaller group of passionate advocates than, let's say, Citibank, which has considerably more reach from a broader base of people. My only point is that not everything is as it appears to be.

My second point is that if your marketing team is only using sentiment analysis as a means to track positive impressions and share of voice, then the research time is probably being wasted. There is a big difference between listening "for you" or listening "for an industry" and really hearing consumers.

In reality, only about 20 percent of research investment ought to be tracking impressions or attempting to snuff out complaints or improving positive:negative sentiment ratios. There is something much more important to consider: who are these people anyway?

The more you hear from consumers about everything else, the better your communication.

Instead of dropping every dollar on sentiment analysis, there are much more interesting things to learn about any particular segment of the population you might identify as customers or prospects. And none of it really has to do with your company.

What kind of music do they like? What were the last three movies they saw in theaters (and liked)? What were the underlying messages, if any? What kinds of books are they reading? Are they rigid in these tastes or more eclectic? Would they rather go to a fancy restaurant or buy new clothes? Is there a difference between what they buy and what they like? What kind of political leanings do they have? Are they aggressive about it or not? Do they cook? Are they struggling or secure? So on and so forth.

While you always have to keep in mind people feel this level of marketing research seems creepy, the takeaway is that marketers have a better chance of building a relationship if they hear what people are saying instead of listening for the latest mention. Or, in other words, marketing insight might be more powerful than marketing research.

It's a valuable lesson from old school copywriting — you communicate to a person, not an audience.

Monday, July 16

Going Social: 2012 FedEx Ketchum Social Business Study

While some companies are still arguing about what constitutes a return on investment for social media, others are forging ahead with social business models. Never mind that there isn't a definitive definition.

What has been worked out, according to the 2012 FedEx Ketchum Social Business Study, are the elements that it will include. Everything else that a social business might be is a work in progress.

Key elements of a social business model from the study. 

• A non-linear flow of information between the organization and internal/external stakeholders.
• Input that drives the decision making, business processes, organizational structure, and innovation.
• The flexibility to listen and adapt to shifting marketplace opportunities in real time.
• Distribution of the ownership of social media tools across a broader set of internal stakeholders.

Simply put, a social business model aims to employ social media as it has been by a few companies even before social networks became prominent. The general idea is to move away from the notion that social media is merely marketing but rather an engaged dialogue that leads to transformative change in every area of operation. It presents one of the greatest opportunities and threats to business long term.

In essence, what people are calling the next wave of adoption is really what many people realized social media was meant to be. It's not merely about the amplification of what the company wants to tell people, but rather a vested interest in increasing the company's intelligence by removing silos and including the customer as an active participant as opposed to connecting with them exclusively at the point of purchase and when there are problems.

In theory, it sounds close to perfection. But there are some concerns. According to the study, companies are still concerned about employee privacy, content ownership, legal/compliance issues, and the inability to correct misinformation that appears on the web. Some of issues are more valid than others.

What are valid concerns? What are not? What's being missed?

• Employee Privacy. Social media has a tendency to both expose individuals (strangers want to "be friends" with the business contact) and tend to associate people with the company brand (even during off hours and even when they leave a company). It's a semi-valid concern because employees haven't adapted to the new environment. Mostly, people want to selectively be associated with their companies.

• Content Ownership. The general concern is that when employees generate a high level of interest and develop their own online networks, they tend to take those networks with them even though their association with the company had a hand in developing those connections. Although it's a risk, it's largely invalid because it's a risk that companies have faced long before social media. When people move, so does some intellectual property and so do some customers.

• Legal/Compliance. The legal/compliance issues are largely invalid, trumped up by some executives who never wanted to have the social media conversation. The reality is that as environments change so does the governance of legal/compliance issues. Many government agencies are even encouraging companies to communicate more, not less.

• Misinformation. While the Internet has some growing up to do in terms of understanding credibility, concerns over misinformation are largely invalid because it's not a new threat. If anything, more sources of information on places such as the net can better protect a company than the fewer sources that used to exist. More and more, people check four or more sources of information before making decisions. Ergo, they know misinformation might exist.

• Improper Vetting. This is the concern that ought to be on the radar, but generally isn't. Just because you increase the size of your input pool doesn't always mean you increase the size of its intelligence. Or, in other words, customers aren't always right and crowd-sourcing runs an equal chance of becoming done by committee. In fact, crowd-sourcing may have killed touch screens on the front end. Thank goodness companies didn't listen until people had the opportunity to change their minds.

• Shutter Clearance. Sometimes companies really don't want everything on the table. It's not for any malicious reason as some people like to argue. Judgements made on half-baked ideas don't necessarily make for better products. For example, I can't imagine what someone might have thought watching me write a first draft. Sometimes we all need some breathing room to think and fully realize something. At the organizational level, this might translate into fewer not more people having a big picture view.

The 2012 FedEx Ketchum Social Business Study is worth a look. 

All in all, the 2012 FedEx Ketchum Social Business Study makes for an excellent primer. The highlights I mentioned above only scratch of the surface of the content that can be mined there.

Sure, I think the buzz term "social business" is trumped up as if these things never existed (being a "social business" is what convinced Corning to make specialty glass for iPhones), but what might be different is that some of it is more likely to play out in public. That said, no matter what you think you know or feel about social business models, it's in your best interest to pay attention to what is being produced, created, and innovated as a result. This study, specifically, makes an excellent primer.

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