Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

No Such Thing As Bad Publicity?

Your marketing idea may seem brilliant to you, but all too often you're too close to it. Step back and see if, for example, the suspension of a circuit board with wires above a highway might be misinterpreted. You'll be glad you did and. perhaps, glad that it was.

CEO Blogger Alert.

I met a CEO with a blog last night. Tom Glocer CEO of Reuters sees it as primarily an internal mechanism, but agreed that it has external ramifications - and that he needs to blog more frequently. But it's a start - one to which he's committed (regardless of the risk-averse concerns of some of his advisers) and if it were better known outside of Reuters, I imagine the external benefits might become more apparent to him.

He also gave an unexpected reason for Reuters' presence in Second Life - they have one full-time reporter in what, I believe, he said was their 198th press agency worldwide. They're there not so much for what is reported or for the potential sale of advertising on their virtual billboards, but because it will help the company to understand the expectations of today's 15 year olds in terms of user interfaces and customer experience when they grow up to be Reuter's clients in the real world.

Like other commentaters, I have never really got Second Life and some of the "virtual laboratory" claims made of it, as I have written here and here, but this is an approach that seems more liable to generate real insights.

Bonus link: This television report on the religious nature of the immersion of the virtual world aired a few weeks ago. It's the one labelled "virtual death".

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Keeping The Customer Happy.

Happiness = Achievements/Expectations.

To keep your customers happy, you have to give them products or services that meet their needs. In this way you can seek to maximise the top half of the equation.

But the bottom half of the equation is also key and here , in order to maximise happiness, your goal should arguably be to minimise that expectations value.

You could do so by continually disappointing your customers, but that's not a strategy with legs. A better approach is to manage expectations, though not as an excuse for poor performance. Just make your marketing honest.

Monday, January 29, 2007

You Tube Same As The Old Tube?

No doubt Jeff Jarvis will explain it all. But, as sceptical as I am about Chad Hurley's Davos declaration that they were more interested in creating a community around video rather than building something of monetary value, I am even more sceptical as to why a marketer would want to pay for an interruptive advertisement in an environment predicated on not being TV.

On Online Impatience.

Do you get frustrated by websites that are slow to download, inundated with pop-ups or hard to navigate? Of course, you do. The online revolution is a wonderful thing, but its greatest legacy will be the way that it has exacerbated our impatience. And, by extension, that of your customers.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Making Their Medium Your Message.

Courtesy of the Wooster Collective, I bring you this picture of a fightback against the fact that city dwellers are exposed to 5000 advertisements or urban spam a day. The details of the light crticism project can be read about here and viewed here. No permanent damage or spray-can is involved, but the message is communicated in a way that the various marketing departments should appreciate. I'm not sure they will though.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Shaking Things Up.

A commenter on yesterday's post pointed me to what I take to be a computing professor's take on Gourville's work here.

His citing of the phrase "comfort app" was particularly intriguing. Initially, I thought how well it captures the idea that a successful innovation must make users feel comfortable with it, but then it occurred that a corollary (which brings in issues of taste and fashion) is that it must also make current users feel uncomfortable about not switching.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I Could Have Been A Contender.

Effectively combining the attention-grabbing and neuromarketing themes of the past two days, the work of Harvard Business School's John Gourville quantifies why new offerings really do need to be remarkable.

The risk aversion of consumers and their investment in existing solutions means that your alternative needs to appear ten times as good as the status quo if it is to really catch on. Yes TEN times! Consumers overvalue products they own by a factor of three while product developers over-rate their products by a similar factor and the result is what he calls the "9X problem" which generates "a mismatch of 9 to 1 between what innovators think consumers want and what consumers actually want."

That makes you look at what you're trying to sell and the strength of supposedly vulnerable incumbents such as Microsoft in a different light doesn't it?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Attention Grabbing.

Last week I was encouraged to read that the annual meeting of the influential at Davos was hoping to be open to the public in terms of online access and participation. But the website is overwhelming and unwelcoming. I don't think I'm alone in that - note the paucity of comments/conversation in the sidebar.

It just goes to show that there's much more to facilitating a conversation than saying you'd like one to happen, heck anyone whose been in a bar knows that. Again and again, I find myself coming back to the importance of provocative writing as the way to grab the attention of the time-poor viewer. The Davos site has a vast number of headlines on it and while they relate to potentially interesting subject areas, none of them grab at me. I want to be grabbed.

The Future Of Marketing.

In 2006, an estimated $8 billion was spent on market research in order to predict customer behaviour. The academic study of brain chemistry during decision-making may change all that as the field of neuromarketing emerges. More here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Press Release 2.0?

There's been a lot of online discussion recently about the future and relevance of the press release in a connected world. Whereas some PR exponents have made intelligent suggestions like this, many non-PR bloggers have said that they're redundant and, by implication, that we the recipients of information will decide what is the "truth".

No argument from me about that last point, but I don't believe that it denies the marketer the right to try to craft a pitch that informs and educates (especially since such releases should be so crafted in the knowledge that they will be fully and swiftly dissected in the blogosphere). I thus see a future for press releases and, in light of the cynicism with which they're rightly treated today, that future might even become a rennaissance if their creators follow some simple dos and don'ts. The focus should be on,

  • Message Enhancement not Message Imposition.

  • Information not Hype.

  • Continuum not Interruption.

  • Responsiveness not Announcement.

  • It will take some nerve to stick to those guidelines - especially if you've failed to follow the golden rule of creating a product/service that is exceptional, but I don't believe you have any choice.

    Monday, January 22, 2007

    Strangers On A Train.

    Overhearing a phone conversation somewhere else in the carriage, I was struck by the assertion that "I don't mind paying if I get what I want."

    Marketers should realise when push comes to shove just how many customers think like that.

    Sunday, January 21, 2007

    The Hills Have Eyes!

    Today, having chanced upon a recent comment on an old post of mine, I went searching to see if there were others (perhaps there's a widget that would allow me to do this automatically, but at the moment I'm limited to trial and error). I found one! And what a comment.

    Oh my poor ego! Some months ago - when another bout of that cyclical whine that "the blogosphere is an A-list conspiracy" was whipping around the net - the muse struck and in five minutes I threw together my rules of blog club, got a few laughs and made a point or two. I was quite pleased with myself.

    Five days ago, Michael O'Connor came across that same post. But the reason he did so was that he was trying to find this much older post. Even though one knows it is a pure coincidence, the initial feeling is not exactly a pleasant one and the experience certainly raises questions about the nature of creativity.

    However, I guess it's entirely appropriate that a marketing blog should feature some unconscious plagiarism!

    Saturday, January 20, 2007

    Show Ze The Money.

    Amidst the head-long rush to monetise, people often forget that what they're actually doing is pimping their audience's goodwill.

    That's something much more profound than mere eyeballs and in this recent interview about his inevitable progression from computer to larger screen, Ze Frank nails it

    "How do you value an audience who, when I ask them to dress up their vacuum cleaners, send in 1,000 pictures in 20 hours?”

    Geeks And Girls.

    An article in yesterday's Financial Times by Meg Carter explained how Vodafone Australia are designing computer-generated agents to sound more life-like, so that a "human" touch can replace the hated push-button menus faced by so many customers in their dealings with call centres.

    I suppose it might be marginally less irritating and a move in the right direction. But the automation of any aspect of customer service always smacks of false economy to me and a failure to know your user. It's a suspicion that was not alleviated by the following exhortation of the human-ness of the Lara character being used and how she reflects Vodafone Australia's brand values,

    "She's 26, single, lives in Sydney, has a belly button (my italics) and drives a VW Beetle."

    Further evidence that geeks and female anatomy are relative strangers.

    Friday, January 19, 2007

    Permission To Buy.

    Having downloaded Permission Marketing back in 1999, I was grabbed by Seth's account of a $140 million example and contacted Chris, the man behind it, in order to nail down some of the details. It was a fascinating series of exchanges.

    The original post details the series of steps of the process during which permission was continually re-obtained so I'll focus on what I belive to be the two most critical ones. Namely, the initial pitch and the "closing" with the live prospects.

    In Gonzo Marketing, another of my favourite marketing books, Chris Locke suggests that to initiate a permission-based campaign, you have to engage in an interruptive trawl in order to seek permission. I've always thought this to be a potentially valid criticism and one which emphasises the importance of starting out on the right foot.

    Not everyone can have so a visible product as a building in Denver - "In essence, we had a 23-storey billboard" - and this stresses the unquestionable need for all businesses to develop some form of social engagement with their constituencies before they even think of pushing their services or products. You can't search for prospects, they have to find you and you have to focus on making it easy for them to do that.

    But, at some point, you do have to "sell". Once you've converted curiosity into genune interest, you need to help the people towards the close. In Denver, this was done via cocktail parties held not at their offices, not at the construction site, but at a hip bar that mirrored the brand aspirations of the development.

    Let Chris explain "The meetings themselves were fascinating. We didn't bring anything, and I think people loved it.....Instead of just saying this is the pool, this is the health club, this is the __________, we made the conversation as small as possible. Because there were only fifteen or so people at each event and we had four to five sales people attending, they were able to take the time to talk to one or two or three people at a time and answer questions."

    "In a traditional real estate setting, there would have been a slideshow presentation followed by an ask. Here, instead, we answered the prospects' questions. We didn't have to guess what things would inform their decision; they told us. For example, the temptation is to talk about appliances or wood floors or something when really what the prospect cares about is whether or not we'll clean the hallways. Do we have financing? There are too many different questions and we, despite a lot of experience, can't guess at what those are."

    In other words, the prospects were not sold to, but were able to access the specific information that each of them needed in order to want to buy. It's the simple but crucial difference. Sure, other phases of question-answering and negotiation followed, but to me the cocktail parties were the point of no return. They represent both a metaphor for and a literal example of the sociability at the heart of modern marketing. Help people to give themselves permission to buy and they will do just that.

    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    Geek Marketing Reinterpreted.

    Being able to see the world through other people's eyes is hugely informative to marketers but also very difficult to achieve.

    It was great therefore to read how a software developer in Texas has found and interpreted my Geek Marketing 101 post from his perspective. His reaction reveals areas of agreement but also interesting nuances that are easy to overlook.

    Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    5 Ways To Improve Your Podcast Please.

    What is it about me and podcasts? I get infuriated, leave them alone for a while and return only to get infuriated again while picking up some interesting insights along the way. But the return on my time investment is really questionable.

    There's lots of talk about how these new media are just that - new and evolving - but I'm not sure that I can accept the common analogy of early radio and TV. Those had the advantage of being the only media in town, but today we are far more easily distracted and far less likely to make an effort for less than perfect broadcasts. I'm clearly less tolerant than my forefathers who were bewitched by the cathode ray or the throbbing transistor and I don't like it when basic common sense is neglected.

    You're capturing good stuff but you want me to listen to a podcast about business issues and yet you don't produce your podcast in a business-like way. The following are no-brainers which too many for my liking seem to neglect.

    1) Pre-prepare your opening and make it short! Really short.

    2) Highlights - it's fine by me to put a brief written blurb which I can read before I click "play" but I don't appreciate the misleading false-start of edited audio highlights at the front of your cast.

    3) Lose the end gush - just say thankyou and stop the tape - I neither need nor want to hear your gushing.

    4) Tag - if you insist on producing a long show (over 5 minutes) then make it easy for me to browse and dip into areas which really interest me.

    5) Less is more - edit, edit, edit.

    Tuesday, January 16, 2007

    Madison Avenue RIP.

    “We never know where the consumer is going to be at any point in time, so we have to find a way to be everywhere. Ubiquity is the new exclusivity.”

    “No one wants to annoy the consumer. However, there are many annoying ads that sell products, and it’s very difficult to tell what annoys one consumer and what pleases another.”

    “We’re always looking for new mediums and places that have not been used before — it’s an effort to get over the clutter, But, I guess we end up creating more clutter.”

    About half the 4,110 people surveyed last spring by Yankelovich said they thought marketing and advertising today was out of control.

    Four quotes from a New York Times article that illustrates what's wrong with marketing.

    Know Why You're Different.

    Much as I espouse the need to be different, I was pulled up short in my scanning of Hugh's thoughts on entrepreneurship when he opined

    11. If an average guy in a bar can understand what you do for a living, chances are you’re halfway to becoming a commodity.

    I disagree - I think you must be able to explain to the average guy what you or your company does because even if he isn't your customer, he's likely to be your customer's customer, and it will clarify your own thinking. But if he can understand HOW you do it, then you're definitely lacking barriers to entry and about to get shafted.

    Monday, January 15, 2007

    Uncommon Knowledge.

    Some months ago, I read The Looming Tower which I see has made the New York Times list of best books of 2006.

    It includes stories of worldviews shaped by various forms of poverty and strict doctrines being deliberately distorted by others for political purposes and reminded me of September 12 2001 when, in an article in The Times, I first read the word Wahhabi. The writer commented that it was a word that we should all be looking out for in the future. In the west, I imagine a very small amount of people were aware of it. I now know it, maybe you still don't.

    People "know" stuff. I "know" stuff. You "know" stuff. Your potential customer "knows" stuff. It's crucial however that you really know what they know because your interpretation of common knowledge is just that. Your interpretation. Nobody else's.

    Saturday, January 13, 2007

    What Do Marketing Departments Do?

    Marketing is not a department, but marketing departments exist and I'm increasingly wondering what they do.

    Are they merely administrative ciphers allocating budgets to various out-sourced craft and communication specialists? Given their absence from Board representation, do they contribute to a business's strategic direction (as they clearly should)? And doesn't the dissonance between the skill-sets these activities require and the different focus required to actually think about identifying and meeting customer needs explain the lack of esteem in which marketing is held and the preponderence of bad marketing by numbers?

    This week in the UK, the complilation of music's Top 40 has been changed and it is predicted that, for the first-time ever, those rankings will be penetrated by an unsigned band called Koopa. In recent times, the industry has said that regardless of the technological revolutions that have changed music production and distribution, bands need them for their marketing expertise. When asked if their success would faciliate their obtaining a record deal, the lead-singer of Koopa asked "What could a record company do for us that we can't do ourselves?" Interesting times.

    Friday, January 12, 2007

    The Long Tail.

    "It’s been almost three years that I’ve been blogging now, and overall, I’m pleased about how this blog has turned out for me. It’s had a big effect on my life, much bigger than I ever thought it would. My existing clients now know much more about my day to day life than they used to, and potential new clients tell me they feel more at ease with me having read how I feel about what I do. My friends can keep up with what I’m doing, and I’ve met some really neat new people that I probably wouldn’t have known otherwise. And I got a chunk of it published, which was quite delightful."

    Not my words, but those at the end of a blog-chase that took me from Tom Peters to the inimitable and mischievous Halley Suitt and thereafter, through a series of links, to the blog of a small business person providing very skilled, niche services in Seattle. It is eye-opening, sometimes eye-watering and definitely not office-friendly (so there's no link here). But this extract is as good an endorsement as you will read anywhere of why every marketer and service provider should be blogging.

    Thursday, January 11, 2007

    Community - Undefined Word Of The Year.

    Another Minifesto

    Community connects.

    Community flows.

    Community participates.

    Community needs care

    Community creates social capital.

    Community lives.

    Community loves.

    Community is.

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007

    Because Of The iPhone.

    Yes, the iPhone is beautiful and potentially disruptive (though I'm immediately concerned about how careful one would feel obliged to handle something which is essentially a utilitarian device) but I'll wait to see if it really changes everything.

    The handset is only part of the users' communication experience and every element has to improve if disappointment is not to follow. This is classic because effect. Because of this device, "phones" may be looked at differently and expectations may be raised - but will oligopolistic monolith telcos really raise their game?

    In contrast to some people, I'm a fan of Apple computers as much because of what doesn't happen (e.g. crashes and spyware) as much as their superior tactility which is soon taken for granted.

    Making your product/service look and feel great will have a valuable internal and external marketing impact, but its delivery of consistent and continuous performance will have the lasting impact - even if the users don't consciously realise that.

    Tuesday, January 09, 2007

    Forget What You Know.

    While I always gain hugely from reading Kathy's posts and the abundant comments, it constantly strikes me how many of the latter make direct reference to software development.

    Now I know that's her core readership, but (especially when talking about user needs and experience) it's revealing how comforting it is for people to contextualise their comments/thinking within their work expertise. This happens in all industries, of course, yet as a non-geek it is always disconcerting when a comment suddenly starts talking a seemingly foreign language of jargon and technical terms.

    However, our work experience is not our only experience (let's hope) and greater revelations will emerge if we put ourselves in true user mode. Since, in this day and age, functionality must be a given, this means thinking beyond that. Reframe your mindset from one of relative expertise to one of how you feel as user in areas in which you are non-expert and, by implication, at the mercy of the supplier.

    Focus, as you would in those situations, in terms of the feelings that need to be met, the fears that need to be assuaged - then you will truly be in user mode and that is where the real insights lie.

    Monday, January 08, 2007

    Lightbulb Moment.

    Taking up Seth Godin's challenge about why compact fluorescent lightbulbs are so hard to market given that they are both green and economical, I have a very simple answer. The consumer advantages are appealing, but the consumer's first touchpoint with the product is a name that talks about size and technology.

    As I said in Geek Marketing 101,

    4) Think what, not how?

    Think of the "product" in terms of what it does, not how it does it. You may be interested in the latter, but your users generally aren't. Portable computer memory is not a difficult concept to enunciate, yet flash drive and USB drive nomenclature is predicated on technological aspects not the actual function. Long words confuse, don't they?

    Blatant Publicity Whore.

    I'm told I qualify as a new blog in the bloggies.

    Sunday, January 07, 2007

    The Horror, The Horror.

    Do you expect me to write in glowing terms about "the first ever talking avatar ringtone application" or a "new online game"?

    Well apparently PR companies are beginning to. The horror, the horror. All I wanted was a quiet little blog but 2007 brings missives from hucksters who claim to read my views on marketing and then demonstrate that they don't. Worse still, they're not sending me cars to test drive or other high-value goodies.

    Clearly, I must get some sort of publicity agent to raise my media profile via interviews and public appearances.

    Saturday, January 06, 2007

    Are All Conversations Equal?

    Depending on your worldview, he's either an ostrich or a realist, but this riposte to the concept of conversations and the misunderstood wisdom of crowds is a nice reminder to online zealots of the difference between ideology and practicality.

    Friday, January 05, 2007

    All About The Green!

    The retail banking sector has been notably devoid of marketing innovation, so a lot of interest was garnered by HSBC's decision last year to emphasise its High Street presence with a January sale. This year it has tweaked the idea by having a green sale whereby they make a donation to green charities for every product they sell.

    My reaction has been jaundiced to say the least. I see it as the equivalent of stamping organic on a food product that just creeps under the wire of that legal definition. It reeks of this year’s free gift with your banking - "Last year iPods were hot, this year green thinking is, so we’ll throw that into the mix and see what happens." - I'd be much more inclined to see this as an authentic reflection of the company if there were any coverage of what HSBC were doing about green issues in their own operations. But that part of the web-page doesn't seem to host any click-throughs.

    Thursday, January 04, 2007

    Cynical Ploy Of The Week?

    Are bloggers who suddenly write off-subject exercising their authorship right of expression or are they trying to boost their visits from specific gender or interest groups that are under-represented in their readership?

    Are bloggers who institute ranking tables providing a valuable service to their readership or are they seeking to draw those aspirant bloggers to their site to check the ranking?

    Are bloggers who create memes designed to promote less well-known bloggers acting out of altruism and the true spirit of the blogosphere or are they seeking greater traffic and more links?

    Are bloggers who do any of the above actually doing both things simultaneously, acknowledging that they have to give in order to receive and thereby showing their marketing savvy?

    Are bloggers who create a weekly post entitled, for arguments pupose, "cynical ploy of the week" tipping their hat to innovative minds and consistently interesting writers or are they making their own smart move?

    Wednesday, January 03, 2007


    Guy Kawasaki suggests that blogposts die young (even though he did a good job of resuscitating my Geek Marketing 101 some two months after I posted it).

    If that's true, it raises lots of questions about the worth of tagging/labelling posts and validates my tendency to self-link in the absence of a "related posts" feature in Blogger. All marketers know that you have to keep making the same points over and over again, the trick is to make them interesting each time.

    Tuesday, January 02, 2007

    The Art Of Prediction?

    In his list of music industry predictions, Bob Lefsetz makes this point about digital music,

    "The most interesting point is how the usage of music will change. People shoot MANY MORE digital photos than they ever did film ones. People will own MUCH more music than they did in the physical era. This is good."

    He may be right, but I already sense a digital overload/ennui amongst people who own an amorphous mass of music (as opposed to a collection of CDs) and more specifically, I'm always wary of the tendency to assume all digital content is the same. People own many more digital photos because digitisation has reduced the expense of a photo and crucially eliminated the hassle of getting films developed. Neither of these factors apply to digital music.

    It's important not to forget to look at the differences as well as the similarities when you look for analagous markets.

    Bonus link: I never met Ahmet Ertegun but I knew all about him and his brother from co-workers. Bob's eulogy for him is a lesson for anyone wondering about how to imbue a business with passion (as the fabulous comments section all attest).

    Monday, January 01, 2007

    Be Here Now.

    Against my better judgement, I attended a New Year's "celebration" and was again struck by the number of people who spent crucial moments not interacting with the hordes of friends and potential friends around them, but checking their phones and making calls or sending texts.

    Not living and enjoying the moment (just as people at concerts these days prefer to watch through their phones rather than have the first hand experience), but seemingly wondering if someone else is having more fun or deriving their own fun from telling others what they're doing.

    The lesson is obvious. In 2007, you should be creating a product or service that makes people want to be in the here and now; that makes them feel that they are where it's at; that theirs is the product or service that others are talking about and lusting after. That the grass in not greener on the other side.

    So add this to your resolutions. Your user needs to know that they have made the optimum choice and that everyone else knows that they have. That is the level of passion you want to engender. Anything less and their attention will wander and their thumbs will twitch.