Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

It's Not Just The Technology.

Microsoft's announcement of the Surface computer has come in a week when I've been assailed with reports of the risk of neck and spinal damage associated with the poor posture that laptop computers promote.

Touchscreen interaction is exciting (as Jeff Han has shown here). But isn't this a case of geeks thinking this will facilitate our desk-bound work so it belongs in a table when perhaps making it a wall-mounted device would have been ergonomically and physiologically smarter? If you're going to disrupt your market, then why not really disrupt it?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

On The Pull?

My ongoing efforts to convince the sceptical Sigurd Rinde that "Marketing Good, Marketers Bad" have led to his suggesting in a recent post that the difference between good and bad marketing is akin to that between attraction and seduction.

I, however, think there's an element of both required and that if we follow the AIDA pathology then attraction stimulates awareness and interest while seduction is required to generate desire and action. Can anyone improve this rather tortuous metaphor?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Have You Heard?

The role of storytelling in marketing is well known. In his book Sources of Power, Gary Klein has a whole chapter devoted to them in which he reminds us that stories are retold because they contain well-packaged wisdom. But, as Hollywood pitches prove, stories can be encapsulated in single sentences.

Thus, while browsing Guy Kawasaki's new venture Truemors, I was struck by how shamefully engaged I was in their top "story" which told how Mike Myers was kicked out of a yoga class for farting. I could not resist clicking on the headline and even before I had, I was already visualising the whole event and imagining how it played out. Since it was the most popular story, I clearly wasn't alone in filling in the gaps.

I shouldn't be surprised. From my time in the entertainment industries, I am a big fan of the tagline and its repeatability. What if you invented a tagline or series of taglines about your product/service? What if you just asked "have you heard about...."? Human inquisitiveness and sociability being what they are, you're very likely to get substantial positive traction if you stay truthful and timely in your claim. What is a marketing campaign, after all, but a series of claims/rumours designed to spread as far as possible for as little expense as feasible?

Postscript: Remember it's not a totally controllable environment. You might fall victim to something like the strange juxtaposition in yesterday's list of most popular stories. At number 1 was the Mike Myer's flatulence fiasco and directly below that, at number 2, was something entitled "Guy Kawasaki lets it rip again." You couldn't make it up. Or could you?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Marketing Moderation.

As you pour yourself a drink, would you stop to read detailed information about safe levels of alcohol consumption? It seems unlikely to me, but that's what the UK government believes. Unlike the absolute warning that Smoking Kills, the message is just too complicated and the strategy seems to overlook the fact that marketing is antithetical to moderation.

The Fatted Pig.

Tale from Alabama or marketing industry metaphor?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Computer Says No.

Having been asked to provide some last-minute input to a client's project yesterday, I emailed the results of my labours and discussions. When no feedback or acknowledgement ensued, I phoned and discovered that their internal mail servers were playing up and nothing was getting through. With a deadline approaching, all sorts of options were considered and I re-learned a vital lesson.

All our solutions were couched in terms of the client's infrastructure - could we fax it, what about dictating it over the phone, or finding a courier? Etc etc. I was pulled into that mindset for a good twenty minutes until the old "online email account" trick resurfaced from my past. Two minutes later the account was created, the password provided and the email received.

One's environment shapes one's problem-solving and often does so to your detriment. If you reframe your problem in terms of where you want to end up and ignore the receved wisdom on how to get there, I guarantee you'll find ideas come much easier.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why Innovation Isn't Beneficial.

A feature of digital television in the UK is the programme summary that fills the top 20% of the screen when you switch to a new channel. It remains for many seconds and, given that one has often arrived there via an EPG, it becomes very interruptive.

Does the instruction manual indicate how to disable this televisual equivalent of Microsoft's Clippy? No. Is it possible to turn it off? Who knows! And all because someone thinks that all viewers are the same and will view their "innovation" in a positive light.

A benefit is a benefit only if the user determines it to be. It can quickly become an annoyance if they don't. Marketers must remember that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Power Of The Positive No.

According to famed negotiator and academic William Ury's latest book, saying no decisively is not necessarily negative. It is saying yes to a future which is better because you say no now.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Green Marketing 101

My peripheral involvement in John Grant's forthcoming book The Green Marketing Manifesto has exposed me to many initiatives and a lot of clever ideas. It also made me see the similarities of the problems in green and geek messaging.

Accordingly, I revamped my previous marketing primer in order to address green issues. I’ve kept the headings largely the same because I feel that marketing is marketing regardless of your sector.

1) Marketing is not a department.
The greenness of your business must be integral – it cannot be a promotional add-on. Everybody has to take responsibility for your corporate greenness because perceived under-delivery evokes a greater consumer backlash than in other areas.

2) Marketing is a conversation, but most people don't speak green.
Successful green marketing must translate the initiatives of the converted into the needs of the agnostic. You may know how to distinguish between green, sustainable and socially responsible, you may even consider it worthwhile to do so. But that doesn't mean your potential customers do.

3) This does affect you.
Green marketing is not a niche but an increasing concern of customers in all sectors. You need both to address the greenness of your existing business and to develop the new business model that will meet the changing priorities of those customers.

4) Think what, not how?
Think of the "product" in terms of what it achieves, not how it does it. Provable gains not nebulous concepts. Socially responsible behaviour is not a difficult idea to enunciate, yet carbon footprints and sustainability are concepts predicated on technological aspects not the actual function. Long words confuse and confusion bores.

5) Think will, not can.
Think of the "product" in terms of what most people will be happy doing with it and not in the myriad possibilities it offers. There is an element of sacrifice in the changes you want to elicit. Don’t overstep the mark in terms of how much people are prepared to shift away from their current behaviour. You can’t market a revolution, but you can market constant evolution.

6) Only you RTFM.
The true science of green is both complex and controversial and far beyond what the average user wants or needs to know. What is important is that your claims are genuine. They will initially be taken on trust, but false promises ("greenwashing") will be found out and viewed as far more heinous than, for example, overstated broadband connection speeds.

7) Education is marketing.
Expensive, over-produced advertising may be visible but supporting low-level educational initiatives is much more likely to be effective. Do you want to grow your sales by shifting a few more units to the converted or do you want to grow the market?

8) You're not marketing to people who hate marketing.
Some zealots equate capitalism with anti-greenness and marketing with capitalism; but they’re in the minority. Green thinking is ultimately rooted in self-preservation and self-actualisation both of which have great current appeal. People want your information and your alternatives.

9) You're not marketing to people who hate hippies.
They're not barbarians, but nor are they ecologists - that's what you're paid to be. Their confusion is derived not so much from ignorance or indifference as much as information overload. So make the gains clear, the contradictions minimal and the incentives obvious.

10) Marketing demystifies.
The sense of a green tipping point is in the air but while there is less cynicism in the green sector regarding what can be achieved, there is far more cynicism about how companies will attempt to deceive. So it is all the more crucial to facilitate the conversation to encourage consumers to utilise more and more of your greenness. Get it right and you’ll be talking both socially and corporately about snowball effects that are not doom-laden warnings.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Humans Change.

Technology Changes, Human's Don't is today's proposition with which I disagree. Of course people change. Maybe not at some deep atavistic level but since when, thank goodness, have the majority of people in modern times had to (or chosen to) resort to their primeval insitincts? No, over time, both collectively and individually, people change.

Ten years ago, most people didn't crave myriad "friends", constant communication or fame. Today huge numbers do. Driven there by technology, media and socialisation.

So it is crucial to acknowledge that, at some level, people are constantly changing, albeit perhaps not for the better. The key for marketers is to nurture that change; to variously promote, shadow or follow that change; but crucially not to push that change beyond the point to which evolving people are comfortably willing to stretch.

Humans change. The real point is they have to want to do so.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Why A Cubicle Nation?

Some old movies depict typing pools or account departments of British businesses as soulless rooms filled with endless serried ranks of identical desks with identical worker. It reeked of conformity, repression and a lack of creativity. The mechanisation of man if you will.

But that is very much of the past, so the cubicle has always bemused me. What internal message does this archetype of North American offices send to its workers? Internal marketing is not just about keeping everyone in the loop so when will free-range workers replace the battery hens? Or am I misisng something?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Marketing Social Norms.

A Robert Cialdini study conducted in Phoenix hotels couched the green benefits of recycling one's room-towels in two different ways. One stressed co-operation with the hotel and suggested that if visitors recycled towels then the hotel would donate a portion of the economic savings to environmental charities. The other stressed the actual environmental impacts of not recycling towels.

The co-operation argument achieved much smaller success and Cialidini argued that this is because there is no sense of social obligation to co-operate with someone who offers you something provided you perform that favour first. He went on to prove this by achieving greater customer action in relation to signs that declared that the hotel had already made the donations in anticipation of their visitors joining with them in this effort.

But the greatest success of all was achieved in reaction to signs that asked visitors to join with the majority of their fellow guests who have, in the past, agreed to participate in the recycling programme. If they are like us, then we are much more likely to act as they do.

Wondering Lonely In A Cloud.

In a smoky whiteness - of an intensity last experienced at a Motorhead gig (don't ask) - I experienced a disorientating isolation that I recommend to all. Get yourself down to the Anthony Gormley exhibition at the Hayward Gallery.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Manual Strategy.

Rock, Paper, Scissors as a metaphor for business strategy?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Usability Equals Satisfaction.

I've written often and often scathingly about faux personalisation, the lip-service ascribed to the customer experience and other attempts at differentiation. However, another bizarre interaction with an insurance company (which chose to place more complete customer instructions on the back of an envelope than on their application has reminded me that this is all superfluous. It's usability that matters above all else.

Whether it's making a wine bottle easier to find on the shelf, the website easier to navigate or the form fit the supplied envelope, it's usability that is at the heart of differentiating yourself from the mass of mediocrity and the downright dumb. It's not expensive to do, but nor is it sexy and that's why it's so often overlooked by the marketing mavens who are all too often looking to impress their peers rather than their customers.

Make things run smoothly for your customer and you'll be so far ahead of the competition you won't need to contemplate the vagaries of branding, identity and image. Because the best way to fail to engage with your prospective customer is to piss them off, yet day in, day out that's what businesses do. They take refuge in their meaningless customer satisfaction surveys while failing to realise that the dissatisfied customer isn't talking to them, but sure as hell is bitching about them to anyone who'll listen.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Kodak Has Exposure Issues.

From the New York Times:

About 65 percent of camera buyers are buying their second or third digital camera, but this time they probably will not be focusing on the number of megapixels as they did in past purchases. (Anything over 5 megapixels is going to provide the resolution any amateur photographer needs.) Instead, they might want to think about how well that camera takes pictures, including the action shots.

The problem is, camera makers do not want to tell consumers too much about that. It is not that they have anything to hide; it is just that shutter lag is too difficult a concept to communicate in ads or marketing materials in stores. “No kidding, I am trying not to geek out,” said Jerry Magee, product manager at Kodak.

If Kodak calls that a problem, then they're building up even bigger problems for themselves.

Would marketing based around the question "Don't you just hate it when your camera doesn't capture what you saw?" be really so difficult to conceive?

Why assume that the explanation of technical elements implies a geeky exposition? (see Geek Marketing 101 #4)

How will your long-term users who already know about the problem feel about being patronised like this?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Strangers On A Train 3.

Businessman explaining to a prospect why he's happy to spend four hours with him (presumably playing golf) - "If you're with me, you're not with anyone else."

Translation: If you're not with the competition, you won't see through me.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Thinking About Thinking.

Last week, I attended the final of The Mind Gym's academic prize. Its aim is to "celebrate the latest thinking about thinking" and I heard the three finalists presenting research based upon:

i) the benefit of positive thought as a reliever of stress

ii) the mood-lifting benefit of putting one's best face forward

iii) the performance-optimising effect of having a secure support system.

The parallels with business are obvious, but I would just point out that it was the third study that won the prize.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Making The Conversation Work For You.

According to Robert Cialdini, it's not what you say, it's the way that you say it.

By getting the receptionist to change two words when someone called to book a table, a restaurateur managed to reduce no-shows from 30% to 10%. Instead of asking "Please call if you have to change or cancel your reservation." she now asks, "Will you please call if you have to change or cancel your reservation?" and pauses.

That pause is generally filled by a commitment to action from the prospect/diner, a commitment that cost the restaurateur nothing and saved him a fortune. How many opportunities do you have to get your prospects to make a commitment to you?

Seth Godin's Big Head.

Brevity is next to godliness in my book and Seth Godin's latest offering The Dip scores on that front. It can be read on a very short train journey (and was) but it also bears repeated readings, not because it's complicated but to remind you of the basic message at its heart. It even has some plagiarisable cartoons.

Unlike some reviews that bizarrely seem to have read its encouraging tone and its "when to quit" theme as a self-help tome, I see it as rooted in long tail thinking. The long tail is not just about retailers aggregating small unit sales into a big business, it illustrates the explosion of the marketplace into a multiplicity of niches - each of which can be seen as a sales curve with a big head.

Each head is highly lucrative, but each curve is now made up of increasingly informed and demanding customers. If you don't over-deliver to them, they will ensure that you never get out of the dip and if you can't work out how to get out of that dip, then you should quit and look for a niche to which you're better suited.

Because it's a deliberately small book, readers will have no excuse for not having time to grasp that powerful concept and all the more time for the really difficult task of working out how to be the first person in their world to achieve it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Death Of Blogging?

Notwithstanding the furore around the plateauing of blog numbers, my previous post about Twitter was perhaps a little hasty because word reaches me of blogging 6.66.

If you want to look into the future, cut out the middleman and go direct to the source.

Blogging isn't dead, but the dead are blogging.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Foot In Mouth Disease.

We live in interesting times when two chief executives air policy issues on a blog. Steve Easterbrook, Chief Executive of McDonalds UK has been following the Innocent blog debate that I mentioned earlier and has weighed in with a lengthy comment describing their eco-friendly policies and commitment to healthy food. This is all good and much needed in light of the rabid nature of some of the hostile comments, but I wonder if he reveals rather too much of his mindset in his closing line.

Having said all this, back to the innocent trial. At the end of the day, our customers will decide on whether this is a good idea.

Translation - we make the decisions, not Innocent and if the sales aren't sufficient our commitment to healthy drinks will end.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Why Knowledge Is A Brain Thing.

Charles Arthur technology editor of The Guardian writes an account of a leaving do at his old paper The Independent. It tells us much about the state of the newspaper industry and the real value of knowledge in any business as he describes how

The Indie lost its memory the other week. When it happens to a person, you call it amnesia; if it becomes part of how they are, you might make worse diagnoses, and wonder if they’re long for this world. I wonder too.

If you're in a knowledge business, your competitive advantage will derive from that knowledge and thus you have ensure that your knowledge is the best there is. That comes from having a real understanding of your business and from people getting out there and getting their hands dirty. It doesn't come from a database.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Innocent Until Found Guilty.

There's a very interesting debate at the Innocent blog centred on their decision to trial their children's drinks at a few McDonald's outlets.

Their aim was to get McD children drinking more healthily and presumably to expand their distribution and increase their sales. But Innocent, despite now having a £75 million turnover, is clearly seen by some of its users as a small non-capitalist business and the reaction has been vehement.

Now, I really like their smoothies and their style and, I'll admit, I was a little disappointed when they started to move into TV advertising, but I don't know where I stand on what, after all, is a trial. I suspect it won't go any further as the potential for tainting their image (unfairly or not) becomes apparent but the debate has many takeaways - from the transparency of the Innocent founders, through the nature of sacred cows (no pun intended) and the double-edged sword of customer loyalty.

Read all about it here.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Stamp Of Diapproval.

I'm currently reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road which I came to as a result of a number of personal recomendations. They all included the proviso "ignore the Oprah's Book Club sticker."

Marketing is full of labels, both literal and metaphorical. They're meant to serve as cerebral shorthand, but never forget that they actually mean different things to different people.

To me, the label that mattered was neither Oprah's nor indeed that of Pulitzer (which I just discovered today) but rather the metaphysical label that is a steer from people whose judgement I trust in this specific area.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Marketing Bollocks.

This is why marketing has such a bad reputation, this is why branding should not be verb, this is why I despair. It's an initiative, it's not a brand and its success is dependent upon its execution and not any superflous hot air. No kiddin!

The Cult Of The Amateur?

This book has created quite a debate in the US and while I'm not sure it will win me over, I am looking forward to reading it. To determine a UK publication date (June), I contacted the author who told me that he will be in the UK for a week at the end of June and would be interested in speaking/debating opportunities at that time. Anyone know of geek dinners, marketing industry gatherings or similar that might fit that bill?