Wednesday, September 28

Automating Marketing: Customer Contradictions

According to the recent 2011 Mid-Year Marketing Trends Study by The Kern Organization, an Omnicom Agency, 48 percent of all marketers have implemented marketing automation this year.

The decision to automate likely lies in marketing's increased desire to capture a mega-avalanche of data about all online and offline sales activities. Simply put, more organizations are being held accountable to their budget and to demonstrate beneficial results of marketing initiatives.

"Today's best marketers have truly embraced the trend of marketing being pushed to drive measurable revenue results," Steven Woods, CTO of Eloqua and author of Digital Body Language. "By being tied to the delivery of qualified leads and new revenue, marketing begins to claim its seat at the strategic table."

But Woods might be wrong because there is an irony here, given what most organizations consider their priorities. Let's consider the other side of the coin (and pretend these companies have the right objectives).

According to Kern, organizational priories are: acquiring a large number of new customers, increasing retention rates and revenues among existing customers, and increasing the quality and and quantity of lead generation (which generally fulfills the first priority). And yet, few firms are asking if marketing automation truly delivers a return on investment. Maybe the hard return on investment is an illusion.

Does marketing automation make marketers smarter or dumber?

Some might argue, of course it does. You can tell by the numbers. You can tell by clicks, calls, and purchases. Effective campaigns are measurable because numbers, any numbers, go up and up and up.

But do they really? Maybe not. For example, there is a retailer that sends me periodic sales emails. It's obviously an automated system, and I have no doubt that someone is measuring the success of each e-mail based campaign. They may be making analytic decisions based on my clicks and purchases.

The truth is that they have no idea why I didn't make a purchase (and they would have no idea why I made a purchase if I had). In most cases, it has nothing to do with their campaign or the emails that arrived on 8-31, 9-2, 9-4, 9-12, and two on 9-25.

 Respectively, I didn't make a purchase because the first three ads arrived prior to my credit card statement, which carried incidental charges related to our last vacation. The middle one landed on a Monday, which always means a fuller inbox. And the last two? I was too busy to read the first; and I was thinking about how much paint I need for the family room when the second one arrived.

 Marketing analytics will never tell them this. But I am sure, somewhere, someone is racking their brain to guess why I (and all the other collective people like "me") didn't respond to their sale. I can almost see their guesswork in the later advertisements. They had brighter colors, bigger fonts, bolder messages with more urgency.

Except their message wasn't urgent. Frankly, their sales messages were among the least important things in my life (except for those other marketers whose ads have long since landed in my spam folder).

Anymore, the hardest thing for marketing to grasp is the long term.

The rush to automate marketing isn't the only tell. It's how many organizations view social media. According to the Kern study, only six percent of these companies see social media as very important. Only 32 percent said it was important.

In fact, most organizations (87 percent) said they will be investing 0-25 percent of their marketing budgets in social media. And not surprising, 77 percent were not satisfied or only somewhat satisfied with social media.

Mobile isn't much better. About 34 percent reported no mobile budget for the next twelve months. And even among those who see it as important, they are focusing mostly on mobile web and content delivery.

So why do social media and mobile take a back seat? The same reason so many of these firms have jumped on marketing automation. Numbers do not always favor social media in the short term. Any campaign that lives and dies by a tweet or klout counts tends to move in a reactionary direction.

And there is the irony of what is starting to shape up as modern marketing. There is growing propensity to measure everything to the point that the information obtained measures nothing of importance.

It's no wonder that the same study placed 38 percent of these organizations as only somewhat satisfied with their marketing and only 20 percent very satisfied or better. When your entire satisfaction is based on short-term lead generation, new customers, and repeat sales on the fly, it's hard to find happiness.

Of course, if the retailer that emailed me six times in a 30-day widow really knew me as a customer, they would know that they've already temporarily won the long-term marketing war.

Their jeans fit me better than other brands. So, all it takes for them to sell me jeans is my need to buy a new pair, whether or not they send me a sales email. In fact, if they sell four pairs at 40 percent off next week, I won't need any more for awhile.

In effect, one random sales purchase could make every subsequent campaign (even if they are better campaigns) look dismal in comparison based on nothing more than random chance. And that's the advent of automated marketing. Weird, isn't it? They could cause their own sales decline, thinking it was a success story.

If you are interested in the traditional white paper, you can find it on their Marketing Trend Study page. Requesting the white paper will require typical lead generation information: name, address, email, phone number, etc.

Monday, September 26

Making It Up: Orabrush Marketing

About a year ago, the Orabrush success story was all about social media and YouTube — the opportunity for a small company and marketing student to reach millions of people, one person at a time. But its latest success has nothing to do with the millions of viral views that resulted in one million sales.

Their latest success, recently profiled by AdAge, was turning a $28 Facebook advertising purchase into one order of 735,000. The $28 ad purchase, reaching only a few targeted Walmart employees who lived near their corporate headquarters, proved more effective than a previous $20,000 or more spent on retail trade print advertisements. Even the message was targeted.

"Walmart employees have bad breath. Walmart needs to carry Orabrush. It will sell better than anything in your store."

According to the article, the vice president of purchasing for Walmart had seen the Facebook ad and believed it was reaching employees nationwide. A buyer called within 48 hours to let them know they had seen the advertisement and they could stop running it.

Afterward, Orabrush sent a customized DVD and sales kits, and placed the 735,000 unit order. The order expands Orabrush's retail space from 20 Walmart stores to 3,500 nationwide. Listen to the story.

With Walmart distribution in place, the company attracted the attention of CVS. Other major retailers will likely follow suit. It had already been accepted by retail outlets in Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

The story remains a remarkable one, especially because the company has never run consumer-targeted advertising trough traditional print and broadcast media. And yet, its success has been covered by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and ABC's Nightline, not because of a formal public relations pitch, but because they are making news.

All the followers in the world cannot duplicate the success caused by a few hundred. 

Marketing success, especially online, is not contingent on numbers or influencers. It's contingent on finding the right people to produce a specific outcome. And each marketing effort might even have different outcomes.

For Orabrush, their entertaining YouTube videos have always been about about the truth — that 90 percent of all bad breath is caused by the tongue — that people feel compelled to share. Conversely, their $28 ad buy on Facebook (and sales presentation) was all about being distributed nationwide.

Both methods outproduced commonly clever advertisements that can be funny or viral, but never sell a single product. And why didn't those advertisements sell any product?

In some cases, the advertisements never gave people a reason to buy even if most loved the advertisement. In other cases, people worked hard to reach millions that have no interest in or intention of buying the product. Or worse, marketers pandered to "influencers" all for a sound bite that might have even distorted their message. And that's fine, especially for the marketers who know better.

Friday, September 23

Saying Sorry: Netflix Actions Still Speak Louder

When the Netflix fiasco started in July, we pointed out that Netflix doesn't want to be in the DVD shopping and shipping business anymore. Back then, the price increases alone were enough to convince anyone. But we pointed out CEO Reed Hastings had said as much, several times over.

We also mentioned that Netflix wasn't done surprising customers. The company's long-term goals include moving streaming subscribers from household accounts to individual accounts, thereby doubling or tripling or quadrupling their rates when it "feels more natural."

But CEO Reed Hastings doesn't want to talk about that. He wants to talk about Qwikster

Qwikster is the new business that Netflix is spinning off to handle the DVD shopping and shipping business. The companies will not be integrated. Qwikster will have a new website. Qwikster will have new reviews. Qwikster will be billed separately on your charge card.

The real oddity, however, is how the entire announcement is framed up. Hastings nearly apologizes for not communicating one change, and then goes on to share all the changes they haven't communicated, again. Even the ending he wrote was off the reservation: "Actions speak louder than words. But words help people understand actions."

Sometimes that is true. But there is another line of logic left out of the equation. You can understand the actions, but it doesn't make the actions right. Most people learn that in kindergarten, such as the first time they play a prank on a classmate. Understand or not, a second black eye is hard to forget.

Communicating change is easy. Hastings chooses to makes it hard. 

Given that the first fiasco cost the company about one million of its 25 million subscribers, one would think that Hastings would have rolled the split, perhaps reducing the subscription rate of one of them.

Some customers might have seen him as a hero. It would have also carried a "we heard you" statement,  which would have helped the company sell the split. Ergo, we found a way to reduce rates and that requires us to offer both services under two different companies. The fallout might have been minor. But instead, their communication with customers looks a little bit more like this ...

At minimum, any other approach would not have overshadowed the upcoming Neflix-Facebook integration. And one would assume that it would be the communication Netflix wants people to see. Certainly it would have been better than the nightmare someone dreamed up.

Companies don't have to listen to customers. Sure, that's true. 

Bruce Temkin takes a very even-handed approach on the Netflix affair (hat tip: Geoff Livingston), even if he might be wrong that the move won't cost more customers. At minimum, it will prompt what Hastings wants many of them to do anyway — drop DVD all together and split households into individual accounts (something the new Facebook service can help them do). And then what?

It's hard to say. Streaming services are not like the original Netflix model. It's an increasingly crowded space that promises more competitors than the space that used to be the core service of the company. And without DVD shipping, Netflix doesn't just lose its value proposition. It leaves the doors open.

Still, for now, it is Hastings' call. Much like the recent changes to Facebook, company owners call the shots. Customers do not have to be part of the equation. All they can do is vote with their feet. And sometimes other companies will jump all over the opportunity to help them along, right out the door.

I understand what Hastings wants to do. I really do. He could probably accomplish it too, even if some of it feels a bit sleazy. But as it stands today, delivering excuses and calling them explanations is undermining the company's ability to accomplish anything it wants to do. It might even bury it faster.

Related Articles. 

The Netflix Apology: Good Idea, Bad Execution  by Patricio Robles

Parsing Netflix's Apology by David Pogue

Netflix Says It's Sorry, Then Creates New Uproar by Michael Liedtke

Wednesday, September 21

Killing Awareness: Long Live The King

How much would you spend to send the wrong message? It's a question Burger King might be asking.

For years, Burger King has relied on gimmicks to game its awareness, going so far as delivering one of the least appetizing fast food commercials in history. Most of it, of course, featured the frozen stare of an oversized Burger King "King" head. That is, until Burger King decided to do something different.

The King Is Dead. Long Live The King.

When the first "Kingless" commercial broke, plenty of industry people had opinions. Most of them said it didn't distinguish itself in the marketplace place enough. But according to the BrandIndex, Burger King's "Kingless" advertisements are scoring higher than they have in recent history. People like the new ads.

The new ads, featuring a clean food-centric spot with fresh ingredients to introduce the new California Whopper, have given Burger King a huge perception boost among burger buyers. And while some skeptics suggest that Burger King needs more than positive perception to gain any ground against McDonald's (50 percent market share vs. 13.9 percent), the campaign is clearly off to a good start compared to the well-known but negative perception generating King.

Awareness Works. But Only With The Right Message.

There are plenty of advertising colleagues who think the ad is a bore. And there are some who argue that market research is paying off. And then there are those who say it doesn't matter until Burger King cleans up its stores. So who's right?

All of them. And none of them. Advertising is not a take-it-or-leave-it net sum game among advertising executives. It's a take-it-or-leave-it net sum game among consumers.

While the advertising is arguably boring, it seems to resonate among consumers much more than their former spots. As a first spot, McGarryBowen did the right thing. The contrast isn't between Burger King and other burger joints as much as it's a contrast between what was their marketing and what will be.

Instead of selling a clown-like king, Burger King wants to sell burgers. And for the first time in a long time, one of its commercials made me think of food instead of losing my appetite. That has to count for something.

It also counts toward how awareness really needs to be measured — as part of a more complete formula. It never did Burger King any good to be the most talked about quick service joint no one wanted to eat at. And, reflecting back on the King pole dancing, the brunt of their own joke.

Anybody Can Get A Webcam And Make Monkey Faces.

Webcam 101 for Seniors... captured 7.3 million views. I think that's great. It's a cute video.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean you want to make this video your advertisement. Or that this couple ought to head up your marketing team next week. Or that this video exemplifies a viral video.

More importantly, think of some of the decisions made by Burger King while it was supporting its long series of king/clown commercials. Every time a new advertisement launched, it temporarily moved the sales needle while quietly shrinking market share and inspiring hate groups. The King was creepy.

Monday, September 19

Looking Inside: A Developer's Marketing Confessional

Wow. That is the first word that comes to mind after reading Jeff Hangartner's indie gaming articles a.k.a. confessionals at Gamasutra. Hangartner recently launched his own indie game studio, Bulletproof Outlaws, to market his first iPhone game and the article shares some of his marketing experiences from the purview of business owner and not a marketer.

The series is a must-read for anyone in marketing, public relations, or social media because it's a rare opportunity to see an authentic, even transparent, client perspective. Even better, there is no throwing stones like the Bruce Buschel article because Hangartner is all DIY.

On Social Marketing. Hangartner gives high marks to social marketing, recognizing that it's one of the most important segments of any campaign today. He understands that social marketing might be "free," but not really free. There are hundreds of things a new indie game studio could do, and social media carries the one cost you never get back — time.

• One account on various networks is enough; it's too cumbersome to splinter your impact.
• Quality connections are more important than quantity; but weak follows can help early on for things like claiming your vanity url on Facebook.
• Social networks work better without spam; participation carries more leverage than broadcast.
• Blogs can be incredibly useful; but he recognizes that he loves to write more than most people.

Area For Improvement. From his own experience and admission, Hangartner gives some of the best advice early in the article: start early. The earlier, the better.

All too often, entrepreneurs think about social marketing (and all marketing) too late. People wait for the product, wait for the website, and wait for anything else they can think of. But the reality is that the last thing you want to do is work to develop a network at the same time you are launching a product.

On Traditional Marketing. Hangartner nails down the truth of traditional marketing in that for most startups it requires a balancing act. You neither want to blow your rent check to gain additional leverage nor can you afford to hang on to every cent you make.

• Know the rules of any advertising program, including promo codes; they have strings, including who can review your product.
• Alexa can sometimes point you in the right direction; but it's also a lot of "mumbo jumbo."
• Impressions and clicks and purchases are not the same; find your own formula that works and then test it.
• Be wary and double check anyone who asks developers to pay for reviews; consider the ethics of it more than justifying it.

Area For Improvement. Like most marketers today, Hangartner is learning that numbers are important but searchable numbers tend to lie. Even here. I run different stat programs like many marketers and all of them tell a different story. What none of them tells is who, even on the lowest read days, whom those readers might be. Rather than discount anyone, you carefully weigh who you could help make an influencer over night. Some of them only need a cause to champion and they haven't found the right one and all of them beat anyone you might pay for a positive review.

On Maintainence And Public Relations. Hangartner entitled the article Game Related and Maintenance, but mostly it's about public relations (and a recap of some other marketing and social media details). Incidentally, he even proves my point about blogs with his own. One day, his seldom read blog jumped from nothing to almost 6,000 visitors before tapering off.

• Press releases, press kits, and DIY trailers are easier than ever to make; no help needed (maybe).
• There is always an ask on the table for exclusive stuff; he suggests waiting but is tempted.
• Continually check banner advertisement outcomes and don't keep the ones that are under performing.
• Always keep some level of maintenance going because people drift off if you are not present.

Area For Improvement. Specific to what Hangartner calls a press kit: it's mostly a sales kit. That's okay. As a reviewer, some of the content can help clear things up quickly. In other areas, the sales copy gets in the way of any real story. It's also missing something else. One vertical screenshot is something I wish all developers (and bands) had on hand before I have to slice their pictures to fit.

More importantly, the public relations pro he doesn't want to hire for a release (maybe a good idea; maybe not) might help him wade through the exclusive content scenario (if they are any good). While everyone wants exclusive content, I'd be wary of what it might do to every other relationship he is trying to establish. Likewise, the time he invested looking for answers might have taken minutes had he had at least one professional worth more than $5 per hour to ask.

On Psychology. This was one of my favorites of the four articles he has written so far, and the one that convinced me to make it a must-read for communication students. It's powerful and insightful because not all entrepreneurs share this stuff with their marketing teams. As the collective articles allude, clients juggle much more than their marketing and communicator contracts. And that is the sharpest point for any marketing and public relations person to take away: you are important but not the most important part of any company puzzle.

• As a business owner, expect highs and lows; always keep your ego and attachment in check.
• Checking the stats daily is addictive; there is nothing wrong with it until it dictates your emotions.
• Everybody has an opinion, especially friends; listen, but don't think you have to act on advice.
• Handing out business cards is less important than collecting them; keep in touch with the people you collect cards from.

Area For Improvement. Hangartner does a good job outlining the psychology of being a developer and an entrepreneur. Having worked with so many, I've seen first hand what many of them go through — especially game developers, artists, and other creative types. It's hard not to take some things personally when you put so much of your person in the creation. There is no way to improve on his experience, with the exception of one thing — finding one or two people whose opinion you can value will go a long way. The only downside is that many developers and entrepreneurs find the wrong people to trust or shuffle through a deck of them based on nothing more than what their gut says today.

This post isn't advice for Hangartner. It's advice for marketing and public relations.

Of course, this post wasn't for Hangartner. It's for marketing and public relations students as well as practicing professionals, especially those who always see the world from their perspective and cannot understand why their opinions don't carry more weight with their clients or prospects.

The answer is simple enough. Marketing, public relations, and social media aren't the one-dimensional exercise that so many people in the profession like to pretend they are. This series of articles ought to go a long way in helping students and professionals see that, at least I hope so.

Clients have hundreds of things on their minds, hundreds of people with myopic suggestions, and the constant fear of failure (which sometimes carries the consequence of paying the rent). They can't be like the firm or agency that has worked with dozens of different clients, experience that eventually teaches us how to distance ourselves from the attachment of the client (but not the work) or else we might find ourselves heartbroken on a monthly basis.

For us, there might always be another client. For some of the people who hire us, there is nothing else. Treat them fairly. And, even when they are wrong on some points, always take the time to listen to their ideas. They know more than you think. You don't have to educate them about every detail, but always be open to dialogue because nowadays, especially, many of them are grasping at everything.

Advice for Hangartner? He's doing most of it right. I only wish he would expand his target audience. They aren't gamers and other developers, which is where most of his efforts have been. There are people, on the other hand, who never actively look for games but would be interested in his offering.

Friday, September 16

Influencing Editors: Public Relations

Years ago, as publisher of a hospitality trade publication (and earlier as a staff writer for several others), we were mildly amused by the volume of errant pitches and press releases. Public relations professionals would send anything.

Well, almost anything. News and relevant content were obviously in short supply. We didn't see much.

Nowadays, seven years later, we have a different kind of publication. I still consider it a side project as an online venture, even if the subscription base eclipsed the one we sold years ago. (Mostly, I only call it a side project because it's too much fun.) And public relations professionals still send almost anything. 

Well, not all of them. Some public relations professionals are different from others. Let's see how. 

A tale of two public relations professionals and their pitches. 

Once upon a time, there were two public relations firms: Jack Sprat and Joan. And as you might have guessed, Jack Sprat, much like his namesake, could eat no fat. But Joan, like his wife, could eat no lean. 

That made for a curiously different public relations practice, particularly in the area of pitches. For every one release Jack Sprat sent out, Joan would send 10. And while her clients thought that was impressive effort, something very different was happening under the table. 

All the Sprat pitches received coverage. But all the Joan pitches received none, except one. And that one, if everybody is being honest, was a fluke. Joan couldn't understand it. And finally she could not stand it. 

"How is it, Jack, that I do ten times the work and come up quite dry," she scolded. "But you, oh so lazy, come out quite well."

"My dear Joan, you might see it if you read," laughed Sprat with a shrug. "I never send fat, just the meat and some bones."

The meat and some bones will always do better than everything. 

To be clear, the first public relations firm sent three pitches. Of the three bands they pitched, one didn't fit. But the public relations firm knew it and included some information about the band's nonprofit affiliation. We do feature causes, and it was a good one that tied in with their music. We'll cover it soon.

On the other hand, the second public relations firm sends us pitches on everyone they represent, not only new album information but remixes and coverage by other pubs. But most fall so far away from our musical leanings that we have to laugh. Don't get me wrong. I don't really mind. Sometimes the pitches are entertaining, even if it's all too clear they don't know who we write about.

Over time, you have to wonder how an editor or publisher might develop an impression of the firm. While I don't mind the 10-1 pitch difference, it doesn't earn much respect. Neither did asking us to exchange a few facts for fluff the one time we did cover one of their clients. 

Conversely, the first public relations firm even gave us a head's up when they knew one of their bands  would avoid one topic. We asked anyway and the band didn't bite, but no one was worse for the wear.

But the main point is much simpler. Lean makes a publisher look forward to more. But even funny fat and gristle begin to convince them that emails from that sender can wait. Think about it.

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