Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Monday, March 31, 2008


Flext - 97% of users can't help recommending it to others.

That's what it said on the side of the bus. But what does it mean?

Did they actually recommend it to others? Did they do so in some helpless Tourette's manner? Is this a statistic that's been extrapolated from some concocted research question and did people act on the recommendation?

In a time when potential customers are increasingly cynical about advertising messages, it seems to me that it's increasingly crucial to make those messages unambiguous.

ADDENDUM: And to have a product about which you can be unambiguous.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


John Grant reminds us that it's Earth Hour tonight 8pm local time and suggests that we join him in getting the blogosphere to flip to a black background, taking our lead from Google who went black screen today.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thinking Inside The Box.

A combination self-help and business book, Michael Port's Beyond Booked Solid focusses on scalability issues and how to expand a small enterprise.

It is filled with pragmatic tools and techniques designed to grow a business via innovation and leveraged income, but the key message is that of developing a mind-set that works on your rather than in your business.

To some extent that's just a reframing of the old adage of keeping one's eye on the big picture, but it's something that can't be repeated too often. Constantly reminding yourself and your colleagues of why you're in business (and specifically what customer needs you meet by doing something better than anyone else) is crucial to evaluating everything that you do day to day.

If your marketing tactic du jour, your latest product development or your inter-departmental meeting isn't centred on that, they're not worth your time and resources.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

They Really Don't Get It.

At the risk (i.e. certainty) of attracting some snarky comments, I have to admit that I sometimes feel like I'm sending out the same few ideas here - over and over again. But, then I notice another example of corporate idiocy and realise how far there is to go.

Today's two examples:

1) A television advertisement breathlessly announcing the details of a business conference. It managed to register the name of the event in my head but not the contact details - there wasn't enough time. No matter, the internet is a wonderful thing. I google that name. And what do I get? Not the event site, but a couple of local listing sites that mention the event yet have no link to it. The reason? The official website - where valued customers can book tickets - turns out to have a slightly different name from that of the conference. Go figure.

2) I try to contact the local council to report a collapsed manhole cover in a nearby street. My phonecall is answered with a message telling me that, if I don't want to wait on hold, I can make a report online by "typing the following name into the search engine of the council's website." Not only do they not realise that I'm more likely to use the search engine of my choice rather than jump through their hoops, they then go the effort of spelling out the url of the county site rather than that of the sub-site they know I'm seeking.

I've heard similar stories this week from across the corporate globe - colleagues and friends frustrated by encountering walls of ignorance, inertia and incomprehension. Within agencies, within giant organisations, within whole countries even. The amazing reality is this. They really don't get it.

But there is a silver lining. Although many of the "players" haven't noticed that the environment has changed, at best, are trying to adapt their old models to the new reality, a significant proportion of individual people (aka customers) have done so. They know what's possible. They'll increasingly demand it. If your organisation is one of those that does "get it", you are so far ahead of the game, it should be hard for you to fail to clean up.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ken Dodd - Marketing Guru.

"There are two ways to do a show. You can do it at the audience or you can do it with the audience. The best way is to do it with the audience."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Predictive Marketing.

As you can see, it snowed this weekend. I saw evidence of it on the news (where families were seen sledging down green hills) and briefly outside the window. However, this was not the serious weather event promised by the media meteorologists. A few weeks ago, there were winds gusting to 70 mph and some houses were damaged, but this too was not the threatened re-run of the 1987 hurricane.

It seems to me that weather forecasters have strayed beyond using their training to present forecasts and have been moving towards predicting weather as event, hypeing the weather into headline news whenever the abnormal is deemed likely to occur. They've blurred the line between their expertise which consists of the technical skills and knowledge that go into creating their product/service, and interpretation of the impact of this product/service on its users.

The former (objective information) is what people want and expect from meteorologists, the latter is messaging (subjective information) that is less than helpful because your reaction to serious weather warnings may be different from mine, which may be different from a farmers. In other words, it's situation specific. The pertinent knowledge that differentiates our reactions is known only to us and not to the meteorologist.

Marketers fall into this trap all the time. Rather than communicate the expertise which is embodied in their product/service, they engage in predictive marketing and tell their potential users how they're going to feel about and use that product/service. So, just as I now have far less faith in meteorologists' warnings, users who subsequently discover a gap between the marketer's prediction and the reality, become similarly sceptical and prone to ignoring them.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Provocations Of The Week.

Three sentences I've heard this week.

"Media is moving from a source of information to a site of action."
Clay Shirky

"The Internet is a collective hallucination."
Jonathan Zittrain

"Information processing is being dissolved into behaviour."
Adam Greenfield

Made me think. A lot.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mass Frustration Marinade.

Adam Greenfield started his talk yesterday by characterising his past few years of working in user experience as having been "marinated in the mass-frustration........of intelligent people."

What a great phrase. If nothing else, marketing's aim is surely to reduce mass-frustration. Person by person.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cognitive Overload.

So today I listened to Clay Shirky talk quite brilliantly about his ideas. I then went to another venue and discovered Adam Greenfield (another member of NYU's ITP and one week into a new job as Nokia's head of design direction) outlining ethical guidelines for ubiquitous computing. In the evening, Sir Ronald Cohen founder of Apax expounded on entreprenurialism. And those are just the highlights, so you'll understand that my brain is a little fried.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Who Do You Think We Are?

The reporting of Bebo's acquisition by AOL revealed that the name wasn't initially an acronym for "blog early blog often" after all. That was a belated bit of PR spin. The original and much smarter reason was that it was a meaningless word to which users could append meaning and qualities.

It's an approach which emphasises the reality that you can't dictate brand values to your users. But it's not an excuse for inaction. In fact, it means you have to work harder. It requires an active passivity. It only works if you show that you actually stand for something.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Marketing Is Not An Expense.

Marketing is the price you pay for creating mediocre products.

That's a phrase that was apparently repeated at a panel at SXSW. It went down well, but it's so wrong. Without knowing the context, I can only observe that it sounds like yet another example of the tendency (prevalent in geekdom and beyond) to believe that marketing and advertising/promotion are synonomous and that great products sell themselves. They're not and they probably won't.

If you create mediocre products, you probably will have a high price to pay but it won't be an increased marketing spend - indeed you're already behind the eight-ball in that respect because marketing starts with deciding what products/services you can develop to best meet customer needs in a certain area. If this leads to mediocrity then your marketing effort is wrong-headed already and frankly there's not much point paying a price in promotional expenditure.

If you create great products, you're in much better shape obviously but you still need to distribute, support and communicate in order to ensure they sell. That may not involve advertising or direct marketing style promotion. It may not even cost you much. But it most certainly will involve marketing.

Marketing is not an expense, it's an investment cost that is inherent in the creation of your product/service from development through promotion and distribution and on to the sales experience and post-sales service. That's a subtle accounting distinction but a crucial one. The price you pay for not understanding marketing is much worse than mediocre products - it's commercial extinction.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Skills 2.0.

While I was a bit sceptical about some of its assertions and assumptions as regards the causes of "The Rise and Fall of the Ad Man", the recent BBC3 documentary of that name (which UK readers, at least, can view here) has certainly produced a lot of discussion online.

Drawing some parallels between the allegedly changing media landscape of the late 80s and today Iain Tait has mused upon the skills needed for the creative organsiation of the future. Coincidentally and serendipitously, Mark McGuinness has produced a great overview of the specialist/generalist argument which lies at the heart of the matter.

My inclination is towards the generalist, as long as the aim is to have depth as well as breadth of expertise. Generalism today is not about being a jack of all trades and master of none, it's about diversity - all the more so in our fast-changing times. Crucial also is the ability to see the overview - strategic and analytical thinking are skills through which specialist input can best be filtered, assessed and directed.

In a way I suppose this reflects my general marketing philosophy. The user/customer is essentially the generalist in the equation, certainly in comparison to the creators of a product or service and it is crucial for all those specialists to focus on using their skills to meet generalist needs rather than to overcomplicate things. So don't be beholden to the specialist. Yes, they can supply very specific skills, but in too many cases they do so from within a very specific silo mindset and there are commercial and creative dangers inherent in that.

By way of illustration, let me return to "The Rise and Fall of the Ad Man" and the comment of the brilliant John Hegarty - a man who has thrived in both the 80s and today. His defence of the quality of modern advertising, specifically the Sony Bravia work, finished with the assertion that it had picked up all the awards going. True enough, but those are awards that are given to specialists by other specialists. The aim should not be to win awards. It should not be to focus on the specialism. It has to be about an outward focus on people who are not specialists.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Intuition Is Not Intuitive.

"I know it will take me months to master maybe 40% of its functionality, so why would I put myself through that?"

A typical and unsurprising comment from some technology focus group research that I saw recently. But what's the solution? Intuitive interfaces for sure. But let's not forget what intuition is - it's defined as immediate cognition. The trouble is cognitive biases mean that cognition (and thus, I assume, intuition) can differ greatly between individuals.

Along with others, I've recently been testing the new xda Orbit 2 from O2. It's elegant, has great audio quality and made me want to use it, but that's where my problems started. I've finally got around to locating a helpful and extensive online pdf instruction manual (sadly not a website). But the crucial "out of the box" experience was, for me, not what it should have been and I understand that some more technically-astute users have also been "unintuitive" - in one case being unable to find a feature that was heavily touted on the website. It's a salient reminder for any company, not just O2.

Supplying a tiny "getting started" instruction booklet may seem like smart, unintimidating marketing but if it leaves a user floundering, it's been counter-productive. I'm a great fan of Apple and many would argue that their interfaces are the most intuitive around, but regardless of he truth of that I'm also very aware that they supply extensive help menus and support materials both in the box and online. It's crucial that you do so what ever your product/service.

The "instruction manual" is your marketing. It's crucial to those two great drivers of product loyalty and love - customer experience and usability. Rule 1 - get average "users" to write it and to do so from the viewpoint of a novice not someone who's been using your product/service for a long time (i.e. you). Indeed, I'd go so far as to argue that you should be thinking about the "instruction manual" while youre creating the product - doing so will stop you overcomplicating both things because if you can't pitch it, nobody will buy it.

The bottom line is this - nothing will turn off a prospective user more than being made to feel stupid or inadequate. People are inherently inquisitive, they like to explore and learn but you have to make it easy for them. Reward their effort with feelings of mastery and they will be hooked, make it difficult (especially at the outset) and they'll stick with what they already know or find a company that understands how they feel.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Tribal Gatherings.

To reposition themselves from dusty department store to modern retail destination, Selfridges has often hosted art exhibitions. In their Oxford Street basement, you can currently find an exactitudes show featuring Ari Versluis's photographic documentation of group identities.

This time they've extended the idea into their merchandising.

That's joined-up marketing.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Be Original Or Shut Up.

I've followed for its cartoons, but recently came across this brilliantly subversive idea on their blog. What they've done is incorporate software that blocks your comment if it repeats what somebody else has said. In their words, be original or you can't belong because you're just adding noise.

Something all marketers should live by.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Consistent.

The merits of consistency in marketing/advertising tone have been debated ad nauseam and, for the record, I'm fairly ambivalent because I think it's the viewer/reader who ultimately deciphers the tone of your message and does so on a personal, individual basis. You can be different things to different customers. The big problems only really arise when you are contradictory and that is why this effort from EDF Energy caught my eye at a friend's house.

As you see above, there's a big splash about being green on the envelope and they urge you to recycle it. Since that recycling involves opening the envelope in a slightly different way, it's a pity they give that instruction on the back and run the risk of the envelope being opened before the message is read. But that's quibbling isn't it?. But, then so is pointing out that each of these envelopes still contains one of these.

Of course, this ensures they receive their payment or meter reading slip and that's fine with me, but I'm not sure what it does for the environment. And yes I did say this was contained in each envelope, because here's a company who like all the rest uses CRM only for selling purposes. They don't use it to ensure that a customer who buys both gas and electricity from them doesn't receive two lots of meter reading slips and envelopes within two days. Every billing cycle.

Now perhaps these are small blips in the grand scheme, but small things matter. They matter both in terms of mirroring a genune conviction and in terms of appearing competent and capable of joined-up thinking. Customers expect that of you. No it's not easy being green. But it's surely easier not to contradict yourself.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tell Me Something New.

So, it's criticise advertising week apparently. Here's a visually confusing billboard that's about ethical investment funds and not coffee. But the thing that caught my eye (and for which you'll have to click on the image) is the list of attributes on the right hand side.

Claims two and three both refer to "our award-winning" investment team and not much else. Repetition aids recollection, but if you do it too obviously, you run the risk of appearing either patronising or having not enough to say. If you've got my precious attention, tell me something new.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Fly Singapore Airlines Why?

I've never flown Singapore Airlines but their TV spot this weekend completely amazed me. I know they and their Australian tour partners wanted the viewer to fly with them but their voiceover justifications were as follows.

They use new planes - cue picture of plane but no technical specifications.

They offer "thousands of entertainment options" - but give no details.

They provide "great service and comfort" - again no evidence.

USP stands for unique selling proposition. If you're buying expensive advertising, I think it helps if you've got something unique to say.

Addendum: If anybody can find the ad online, I'd love to have the link because I failed in my search and it would help people judge.