Wednesday, November 14

Giving Traditional Ads Lift: Social Media

Coca-Cola Bears
One of the primary problems marketers and public relations professionals still face in attempting to explain social media is the measurement. It's a problem they created and they can't get out of it.

There are three reasons most social media measurements fail to impress executives. It's too broad in its attempt to quantify likes, followers, and fans. It's placed in a vacuum, without considering the interdependence of all marketing and communication. It's too direct response oriented, attempting to count clicks even if consumers respond to the social conversation in different ways — like visiting a store and actually buying something or bookmarking a link for future reference.

The reality of social media is the need for integration. 

New research published in the Journal of Marketing Research successfully creates a better understanding of the symbiotic relationship between traditional and social media. For 14 months, Andrew T. Stephen from the University of Pittsburgh and Jeff Galak from Carnegie Mellon University studied sales and media data provided by Kiva.org, an online company that facilitates small loans between individual investors and people in underdeveloped countries.

The authors considered a loan a sale, and categorized mentions of Kiva in newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio as traditional earned media, and mentions of Kiva on blogs and online social networks and communities as social earned media. In doing so, they found that each mention of Kiva in traditional media had the largest per-event impact on sales.

Over the time period studied, each unit of media publicity from a traditional media organization generated 894 additional sales from new customers and 403 additional sales from repeat customers. A blog mention, by comparison, generated 90 additional new sales and 63 additional repeat sales. A mention in an online community generated 99 additional new and 48 additional repeat sales.

The authors say the disparity between media forms is not surprising because traditional media typically has a much broader reach than social media. However, since social media mentions were much more frequent than those in traditional media, the authors found that when this was taken into account earned media in social channels had a substantially larger impact on sales than traditional earned media did.

The study also found that social earned media helps drive traditional earned media. "Conventional wisdom is that traditional earned media makes a large mass of people aware of something and then gets them talking. However, our findings suggest that the reverse may be more likely than previously thought," said the researchers.

Marketing, public relations, and communication needs to be integrated. 

You can find the study published here. But there is something else to consider. While awareness is frequently considered for its horizontal value (total impressions or reach), it has vertical value too — how deeply it penetrates, how long it will be remembered, how likely people will talk about it included.

When anyone mentions the Coca-Cola advertisements featuring polar bears, people respond with warm, affectionate, and almost nostalgic remembrance. This cultural penetration success story has very little to do with the total number of people reached times the total average of impressions per impression. Sure, those numbers help. But there are plenty of ad campaigns that never took off despite having the same numbers.

What made the Coca-Cola bears brilliant was the company's use of advanced animation (at the time) of the right characters at the right time while maintaining a hardwired connection to the fuzzy brand Coca-Cola wanted to reinforce. (Let's not forget that they did the same thing to Santa Claus.) It's pre-social success.

How this fits into social, though, is still pretty apparent. If an organization has a following on a social network, do you think those people will be more likely to see and remember a new ad? Or, perhaps, do you think people who see a new ad will be more likely to visit a social media outlet? Or, perhaps, if they share something related to the organization online do you think they might be sharing it offline too?

The point is that great communication doesn't confine itself to a medium. It's what gets in our heads or our hearts. Numbers alone will never do it. Because if it was all about numbers, every campaign would win.

Monday, November 12

Marketing To Races: The Biggest Lie In Politics

In post-election discussions, we can expect to see plenty of racial graphics. It's the kind of analysis that makes my skin crawl because it reinforces blatant ignorance — that people somehow pick candidates and political parties based on the color of their skin or presumed minority status.

Maybe some do — those that do are falling for a political parlor trick — but not really. It has much more to do with cultural identity as demonstrated by a study from Columbia Business School. The more someone identifies with cultural ideology, the more likely they are to be predisposed or sympathetic to specific issues — especially if they believe one candidate wants to reinforce that minority grouping and if that minority grouping believes (and is enabled to believe) they need help to "level" the playing field.

The reality is that minority groups don't need any special advantages, perks, or handouts to make it, at least not along racial or ancestral lines. To say that they do, it seems, is more racially loaded than saying they don't. Hispanics don't need "help" to make it. African-Americans don't need "help" to make it. German Americans don't need "help" either. While some people might need help to address some socio-economic disadvantages (e.g., growing up in a poor neighborhood), race doesn't play a factor unless people pretend it does. And if they pretend it does, then they likely have something to gain.

A personal and anecdotal analysis of minority status.

While some people argue that statistical data shows minorities have unfair disadvantages, they might consider that the continued reinforcement of such statistics is the problem and not the symptom. When you raise someone to believe that their racial minority is disadvantaged, they will eventually believe it.

The concept is easy enough to test. All you need to do is look to people who have the genetics of a minority but not the cultural upbringing of being in a minority, saddled by this concept that they are disadvantaged. Incidentally, I recently learned that I qualify to this unique subset.

My father's paternal lineage (my grandfather) was always a bit of a mystery. Most accounts speculated he was a Spanish-Irish solider serving in the British army. But in recent years, my German grandmother changed her story, saying that he was a Mexican-American serving in the American army (his name escapes her) in the post World War II theater around Berlin.

Not that I distrust her, but the news was somewhat of a surprise because it contradicted the little bit of ancestral thought that I had managed to scrape together for my kids. I was tired of guessing so I finally decided to splurge and purchase an ancestral DNA test. It turns out everyone was close, but wrong.

My missing 25 percent is Bolivian (with some distant Greek European). The United States lumps Bolivians as part of the greater Hispanic/Latino grouping used in politics. In fact, Bolivians represent the third-smallest Hispanic group in the United States. Genetically, for me, it's a dominant match.

Except, I never knew it. I was more inclined to think any early "disadvantages" were limited to poverty as well as a physical handicap (mentioned in comments) I was fortunate enough to leave behind. There was no predisposition in my life to think I would have a harder time succeeding because I was related to the Hispanic/Latino minority. I didn't need special grants. I didn't need to seek MOB status.

While I find it interesting that after almost 45 years that I qualify for these things — a minority group member is an individual who is a U.S. citizen with at least 25 percent Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Black, Hispanic, or Native American heritage — it seems I had a different advantage. I wasn't saddled with the label. Interestingly enough, many Asians aren't either. As a grouping, they have no problem excelling as a minority group in the United States, even if their ancestors began in poverty.

In fact, they tend to be among the least likely to pursue MOB status. So are Portuguese-Americans (my wife is half Portuguese), which has an exceptionally unusual relationship to the Hispanic/Latino minority grouping as Gregg Sangillo noted about Benjamin Nathan Cardoza's service on the Supreme Court.

Being a minority, identifying as a minority, marketing, and politics.

In much the same way Supreme Court Justice Cardoza has been used to discuss the uniqueness of  Portuguese-Americans, I think there is a deeper issue. There is a difference between "being" a minority and "identifying" as a minority because the thought of minorities continues to permeate our culture, both in marketing and especially in politics. To that end, it seems there are two takeaways.

• Reinforcing that minorities are disadvantaged is a lie. The people who continually attempt to label minorities as disadvantaged so they can "help" them does them a disservice. Individuals who have no knowledge of being in a minority group tend to excel at the same pace, suggesting race or ancestral heritage has very little to do with success. What is more damaging is the chronic promotion that these individuals are disadvantaged. They have a better opportunity to succeed without such dubious distinctions. They have a better chance at excelling in education without specialized tests or educational programs. And you can expect this to be heard more and more often by the Supreme Court.

• Cultural identity is a temporary status. Over time, cultural identity tends to change. Even if a certain minority group doesn't fully assimilate in a geographically-based culture or tends to maintain some semblance of their heritage, the minority group does change over time until it takes on characteristics that uniquely align to the origin. Ergo, in another 100 years, most Mexican-Americans will have almost no commonality to their Mexican ancestors (even if they preserve their heritage), much like Mexico bears no distinctions to Spanish or Native Americans. It has been this way throughout history and political pundits who ignore this simple truth will eventually be dismissed as being irrelevant to the bigger issues of ideology regardless of skin color.

Sure, I suppose both categories of exploitation among marketers and politicians (marketers to boost sales and politicians to curry votes) have some short-term gain. But over the long term, there is no truth to it, except one. The more we classify individuals based on race and ancestral heritage, assigning preset stereotypes into how they behave or what is important to them, we fall prey to circumventing the collective American experience in favor of one that panders to narrower and narrower special interests. I'd rather pursue Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision. It just doesn't matter.

Well, it does matter from a personal perspective. I am curious and fascinated by my newly discovered ancestors as much as I was curious and fascinated by the ones I have always known. Otherwise, I'm still just the same person before I knew anything (because racial and cultural identity is not innate).

Friday, November 9

Setting Education Standards: Is Meeting Them Good Enough?

When my son comes home with a C on an English paper, I usually don't give it much thought. There are always other opportunities to earn an A on something else to balance everything out. This time was different — the teacher had forced a four-point project into the five-point letter grade system.

In other words: 4 points equaled an A, 3 points equaled an C, 2 points equaled an F, and 1 point didn't even register. When my son asked about the grade (because we don't accept C work without explanation), the teacher said not to worry about it. He met standards. Meeting standards is C work.

Never mind that there was some confusion over what was taught. The teacher had taught the students how to meet the standards, but did not cover the much more subjective criteria to exceed them. She didn't know how to because the school district had recently adopted a new system called Springboard.

Program adoption and the trouble with education.

To be fair, I don't know enough about Springboard to comment. Basically, it is a foundational component for the College Board's College Readiness System, offering a "proven Pre-AP program that increases participation and prepares a greater diversity of students for success in AP, college and beyond – without remediation." That sounds good, except some teachers have said they don't get it.

Since they don't get it, they don't know how to teach it. And worse or equally bad, my understanding is that the school district rushed the implementation of the new program without developing a transition stage between the last system they had adopted that promised to do all the same wondrous things but didn't.

The reason a transitional cycle would have been useful is because while a sixth grader would enter this new program at the opening, an eighth grader would have missed the first two years of the program and also have to unlearn any unique attributes of the last program. After all, most education programs pre-introduce specific concepts at different times and presuppose that others have already been introduced.

The people who make decisions for educators don't always understand this, but it's not rocket science. Gaming developers, social network developers, technology innovators, and smart organizations do this all the time. They assess what people know and then build products based on easing them into an upgrade system. Ergo, it's easier to introduce people to smart phones as opposed to smart paper.

But beyond new program adoption, there are some problems (and solutions) to the entire process — enough so that we can break them out. They apply to real world management as much as education.

Problem 1: Expectation. Never give people a set of standards without the benefit of what they could do to exceed those standards. While I have dozens of examples, this concept was one of several I applied while serving as president of a local IABC chapter a few years ago.

In addition to giving the board members a list of expectations, I included a second punch list of what they could do to exceed expectations. What happened? Nine of 10 exceeded expectations, with the comparative weak link on the board opting to meet the baseline requirements.

The lesson is simple. If you show people (students too) what they need to do to excel, they will excel. Otherwise, most of them will be complacent in meeting the standards provided (with few exceptions).

Problem 2: Evaluation. The concept of the A-F grading scale is largely pervasive in society, especially educational institutions. For most education systems, it replaces the E, S, N model used in elementary school, even though A-F is still implied with the introduction of the S+ (B) and S- (D).

As an instructor at a state university, I've always considered an A-F grading system less than useful beyond a benchmark to show progress up or down. Otherwise, it's somewhat misleading. For example, the so-called C performance that meets standards inside academics doesn't measure up in the workplace. Employees that maintain a C performance don't last long. It's hard to win with a 70-79 percent effort.

Problem 3: Education. Perhaps more troubling is that the A-F grading scale has another downside. While the school system recognizes 70-79 percent as meeting standards, the reality is that 70-79 percent could be indicative of how much of the material the student retained.

If they only retain 75 percent of the material, chances are that they will be starting at a deficit when they enter the next class. This is especially telling in foreign language courses. Students who score a C in their first year are more likely to go down than up in subsequent years because "meeting standards" does not provide a strong of enough base to move forward with confidence.

Problem 5: Enthusiasm. Confidence is critical to any education. Having taught for the better part of 12 years, I've seen this in my classes with some students. There are always some who are surprised by receiving benchmark papers that score considerably lower than they expect. It puts them at risk.

It takes a special effort to pull these students up after resetting their expectations. If I don't, some of them will purposely underperform or give up all together. At my son's age, this presents a challenging proposition as kids his age carry these feelings forward as opposed to confining them to one class.

As plenty of teachers and I have concurred, course subject is only 50 percent of the educational criteria. The other 50 percent is instilling a love for learning that transcends the subject. The last thing you want to teach a child is that all they need to achieve is a C or, worse, that a C is what they are supposed to achieve. Not giving students (or employees) the opportunity to excel by earning an A or B is the same as setting them up to fail.

The solutions for education start as early as possible and then pay it forward. 

As classes become more encapsulated in high school and college, I am confident my son will eventually learn that teachers tend to have a greater impact than the course material. Some teachers you survive. Other teachers inspire.

As long as he can discover his own love for learning, it will be easier to dismiss those poor misguided teachers that teach to standards without inspiring excellence rather than assign any misgivings to the subject. The same holds true for managers. While people don't always see the connection, they are often teachers too.

Wednesday, November 7

Exhibiting Symptoms: Why American Apparel Was Singled Out

Last week, American Apparel was singled out for creating a controversial advertising campaign designed to capitalize on Hurricane Sandy. It wasn't the only one to run ads or sales tied to the storm. Urban Outfitters, Even Singer22, Owner Operator, and others all had Sandy ads.

But American Apparel was the only one that really received public pushback. Its creative was singled out out as being especially insensitive and even repugnant. Why? CEO Dov Charney blames the blogosphere. Specifically, he said, "about 25 of them" that decided to blow it up.

"Each blogger or Twitterer eggs on the other, and it becomes a big deal," he told Bloomberg. "The media is also interested in getting a rise out of readers."

Right or wrong, Charney misses the point. American Apparel wasn't singled out because the bloggers and media have it in for the company that frequently creates its own controversy. American Apparel was singled out because it has afflicted itself with an increasingly chronic case of brand weakness.

The advertisement on its own is a non-entity.

American Apparel targeted nine stricken states with an advertisement featuring the headline: "In case you're bored during the storm, just Enter SANDYSALE at Checkout." The copy line isn't very avant-garde or even that creative. It's hardly as offensive as advocacy channels pretended last week. Charney is right he shouldn't lose sleep over the ad backlash.

What Charney ought to lose sleep over is over the long-term brand damage the company's publicity stunts and near-porn ad campaigns have done to the brand over the years. While people still buy the clothes, few respect the business. And this increasing lack of respect is starting to manifest itself into aversion.

If you want an analogy, think back to grade school. When the model student made an untimely joke, everybody still laughed. They might have even called it clever or cute. The class clown, on the other hand, was promptly sent to the dean's office. Nobody had to hear what they said because everything the class clown ever did or said was little more than another distraction. Just make it stop, classmates said.

Brands that are starved for attention flail about.

Companies with strong brands seldom struggle for it. They never need to rely on publicity stunts. Everyone gives them attention anyway. They don't even have to make news. They are the news.

Weak brands don't have that luxury. They try too hard and then become poster children for bad taste instead. It's a mistake that a manufacturer like American Apparel can't afford either. The ad that was intended to help boost sales in order to offset East Coast store closures did not help sales at all. If anything, it is likely the sales made them worse and could carry consequences for several months ahead.

Ironically, this is especially bad news for American Apparel because it had been enjoying a sales resurgence of sorts while being less controversial for the last few months. When American Apparel is quieter, people tend to remember one of its primary selling points: The manufacturer's clothing line is made in America. Made in America means something. "Sandy Sale" means something else.

Monday, November 5

Marketing Psychology Convergence: What's Wrong With It?

Larry Dignan, writing for ZDNet, was covering the Gartner Symposium when analyst Andrew Frank laid out a scenario where marketing, data and IT will come together so algorithms will find and use so-called influencers. It's part of what many marketers consider to be the holy grail of marketing.

In this case, Gartner believes that it will produce a new area of specialty that it has dubbed influence engineering. Let's hope not. While data, marketing, psychology, and analytics could use some convergence, the direction is continually plagued by an overemphasis on developing one-way communication that drives action through influential third parties. That tactic already has a name.

It's called propaganda and it's a big step backwards. 

The dream of some marketers is becoming increasingly simplified under the banner of influence. They want to be able to reach consumers through third-party influencers in order to make purchases.

The idea is so old, it was nearly perfected by the father of modern public relations. Edward Bernays was a pioneer in manipulation by fusing media and communication with crowd psychology and psychoanalysis. He frequently used the media as his influencer, given the power it had at the time.

It worked so well as a dubious proposition that future public relations practitioners would spend the next century attempting to distance themselves from the work and toward a more enlightened concept, Scott Cutlip, the father of public relations education, among them. Rather than resort to using big data to identify and manipulate, he forwarded the concept that big data was best used as a measure from which an organization could realign itself in the public interest.

As a result, influencers were just as likely to reinforce the organizational message and brand perception in following public opinion as they were to be coerced by manipulated influencers. In other words, the difference between the two is philosophical. Specifically, it is tied to who changes and by how much.

The difference between propaganda and public interest. 

It's plainly simple. One marketer hopes to listen, analyze, and then market an adjusted message in the hopes of changing behavior to preset measurable outcomes. The other listens, realigns (sometimes at the core product level), and then reinforces how they meet or exceed public interest and expectation.

The tendency for marketers to attempt the other approach — manipulation — frequently wins out. It's also the very reason that many marketers eventually need to use their crisis communication plan, assuming they have one. They overreach by trying to perfect an image that they cannot hope to meet.

That is not to say Gartner is all wrong in its thinking. It is right that the science of psychology can link data architects and marketers. But where it is off the mark is in thinking that chasing down patterns of influence is the right use or that optimizing pitches is the crux of a successful business.

It's very much the opposite. Some of the most successful businesses and agencies in the world operate on the principle that the better they understand the consumer, the better they can meet customer needs. In other words, you don't have to optimize a pitch when you've optimized the product or service offering. And the way to remember this critical fact is to always ask who changes and by how much.

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.
 

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